Tag Archives: Labour

What on Earth just happened in Sunderland?

What on earth just happened in Sunderland? The Liberal Democrats came from a very poor fourth place to take what had previously been a safe Labour seat on a 40% swing. And this for a pro-remain party in a region that voted 60/40 in favour of Leave. What is going on?

No, you shouldn’t read too much into a single local council by-election, but you can see trends. And it’s looking very, very bad for Labour. Is their strategy of backing a so-called “Hard Brexit” to cut immigration in order to protect their flank against UKIP seeing their pro-remain vote defecting on masse to the Liberal Democrats? Are Labour in the English regions about to go the way of Labour in Scotland?

And today comes the news that Tristram Hunt is leaving Parliament for a more rewarding job elsewhere, forcing a by-election in Stoke-on-Trent Central, a constituency that politically looks a lot like Sunderland in many ways.

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Richmond Park

Congratulations to Sarah Olney for winning the Richmond Park by-election and becoming the first woman Liberal Democrat MP of this Parliament. While it looks like a major upset it’s actually consistent with local government by-election results up and down the country, which have frequently seen 20% swings to the Liberal Democrats.

Commiserations for Labour candidate Christian Wolmar. I’m sure he’s a decent bloke and I respect him as a transport journalist and writer even if we disagree on HS2. But Labour fought a confused campaign with the party leadership on a completely different page than the candidate on the one central issue the election was about. Still, a lost deposit has got to hurt.

Kudos to The Green Party for choosing not to field a candidate in order not to split the vote.

And as for the losing former MP Zac Goldsmith, good riddance to bad rubbish. He forced the election for reasons of personal vanity and got hoisted on his own petard in spectacular fashion. And we haven’t forgotten the awful dog-whistle racism of his losing campaign for Mayor of London. In a year when the populist right has been in the ascendancy, he’s managed to lose twice.

It’s too early to tell how much this one by-election will affect the wider political landscape. It may well succeed in moving the Overton Window slightly further away from a hard Brexit. It at least ought to bring the Liberal Democrats back into the national political conversation. It’s time for the media, especially the BBC, to stop acting as if UKIP were the only third party that matters. While it looked like it would take a generation for the LibDems to recover from the electoral disaster of 2015, politics is far more volatile now, and those who wrote off the party might now have words to eat.

If it’s the start of a national revival for the Liberal Democrats, it’s potentially very, very bad for Labour. Ever since the EU referendum, they have been acting like rabbits in the headlights, unsure of which way to turn. This is a parry whose own electoral base is split; the traditional small-c conservatives working class in their post-industrial heartlands have little in common in either cultural or economic interests with their voters in the cosmopolitan cities. With a resurgent Liberal Democrats on one side and Paul Nuttall’s UKIP targeting the traditional Labour supporters on the other, they cannot triangulate without exposing the opposite flank. They’re probably too entrenched in their strongholds for Scotland-style wipeout, at least on a national basis, but it’s hard to see them as a potential party of government any time soon. Their problems go way, way deeper than their awful leadership.

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Oh dear. Labour’s candidate for the Richmond by-election has been deleting tweets from a few months back calling on Jeremy Corbyn to resign as leader. Oops.

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Labour has lost its identity?

Writing in The New Statesman, Jonathan Rutherford concludes that Labour has lost its identity. The interests and values of the progressive metropolitcal middle classes and the socially conservative working class have diverged so strongly that it’s next to impossible to construct a coalition that includes both. He sees Jeremy Corbyn’s weak leadership as a symptom rather than a cause, and the “dead hand of the 1980s hard left” is merely accelerating the inevitable.

It’s a long article that’s well worth reading in full. Here’s what he says about globalisation, and it’s as much an issue for the Tories as it is for Labour.

The US economist Dani Rodrik describes a “globalisation trilemma”: ‘‘democracy, national sovereignty and global economic integration are mutually incompatible: we can combine any two of the three, but never have all three simultaneously and in full’’. One option is to align democracy with global markets by opting for global federalism. A second is to align the nation state with global markets to pursue global economic integration at the expense of national democracy. Rodrik argues that more globalisation means either less national sovereignty or less democracy.

National sovereignty is an emotive issue, but what does sovereignty really mean for people’s daily lives?

And then he turns to a subject which I’ve covered many times before, and for me represents the core distinction between “progressiveism” and “liberalism”.

Progressive politics has become over-reliant on its abstract values that exist prior to people’s everyday experience and which it superimposes on their lives. The result is a politics of altruism that uses the state to administrate and manage groups of people towards an already defined ideal. Labour must always stand up for the poor and those who suffer injustice, but instead of creating agency in the powerless its mix of paternalism and altruism ends up uncritically favouring minority social groups over the majority and imbuing them with the virtue of victimhood. Disorientated by its own cultural isolation and virtue signalling, Labour no longer knows who or what constitutes the labour interest, nor what the majority of its individuals consider their best interests to be.

I’ve said this before and I’m sure I’ll say this again: The form of identity politics adopted by large parts of “The Left” are a dead end, and fuel the growth of far more unsavoury types of identity politics in response.

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Pushing the Self-Destruct Button

Labour are two parties, and it was only a matter of time before they split. According to James Kirkup in The Daily Telegraph, Jeremy Corbyn’s deselection threat means Labour’s civil war is now a fight to the death .

Jeremy Corbyn has today confirmed that the struggle underway in the Labour Party is now the political equivalent of total war.

He did it with these words, at the launch of his campaign to keep his job, when he was asked whether Labour MPs should face mandatory re-selection to stand again as Labour candidates at the next election:

“There would be a full selection process in every constituency but the sitting MP… would have an opportunity to put their name forward.

“So there will be a full and open selection process for every constituency Labour Party through the whole of the UK.”

The hard-left takeover of the previously moribund grassroots of the party means it’s not just the “Blairites” who are under threat. It’s everyone who won’t follow an agenda set by the Trotskyite hard left.

Yes, we all remember the breakaway SDP was all but wiped out in the 1983 General Election. But once you start deselecting MPs, don’t expect them to ride off into to the sunset without a fight. They will no longer have anything to lose from forming a breakaway party.

It’s not impossible that the breakaway party may end up with more than half of the Parliamentary Labour Party, which means that they, not Labour will become the official opposition.

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Are the Tectonic Plates of British Politics Shifting?

Jonathan Calder thinks nobody knows anything about British politics any more.

In April I wrote:

“That party membership is such a minority taste now suggests that the 19th-century model of political parties we still embrace is hopelessly outdated.

Yet no politician has the vision or overweening ambition to wrench it apart and allowing something more attuned to our needs today to take its place”.

Party membership is growing again, so I was wrong about that. But maybe the tectonic plates really are moving.

Already, Remain and Leave across the UK, and Yes and No in Scotland, seem more vital and more coherent identities than the old party labels.

There is a high probability of a significant realignment happening within the next few months, and not just on the left. “Left” and “Right” no longer describe the real political faultlines in England, the big divides are more cultural than economic.

Labour is fundamentally split between its middle-class activist base and its working class roots to the point where there is no reason to exoect white working-class small-c conservatives to vote for a party more concerned with middle-class identity politics. And that’s before you throw the cultish behaviour of the old-school hard-left into the mix. Do you really expect people in Rotherham to support a party who seem to care more about Palestine and Venezuela than the north of England?

The Conservatives are just as split, between neo-liberal internationalists and little-England social conservatives, with cultish Randite libertarians mirroring Labour’s Trotskyite left. It may be that Theresa May will win the leadership election and hold the party together in the short term. If Andrea Leadson wins, all bets are off, and the chances of the party splitting are high.

The Liberal Democrats are seeing a surge of membership as one party who do still have a coherent idea of what they actually stand for. But in the longer term will liberal values be served by a small dedicated party, or as a faction with one of the new parties that may emerge from the breakup of Labour and the Tories?

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Election entrail-readings

Britain had mid-term elections on Thursday. Some in the media used the horrible Americanism “Super Thursday” to describe the combination of elections for the devolved governments in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, the election for the Mayor of London, local government elections throughout England, and a couple of parliamentary byelections thrown in for good measure.

It was a mixed night for the Liberal Democrats; modest gains in the English council elections and just about holding on in Scotland, but very poor results in London and in Wales. One extrapolation of the results into a possible parliament puts the party on 19 seats, an improvement on the eight in the current parliament, but a long was from the 57 of the last one.  It’s a small step on a very long road to recovery.

It was just as mixed for Labour, with Sadiq Khan roundly defeating the disgusting dog-whistle racism of Zak Goldsmith in London, but at the same time the Scottish Tories have come back from the dead and pushed them into third place in Scotland. Scotland now has very different politics to England, and what was once the dominant party is facing a third-party squeeze. Scotland may be heading towards a two-party system, and Labour won’t be one of them. That has huge implications for British politics as a while.

Writing in Politics.co.uk, Ian Dunt minces no words, and says the zombie result is worst possible outcome for Labour.

So this week’s elections might just be the worst possible result for the party. There’s enough there for Corbyn supporters to pretend everything’s fine and that arguments to the contrary are a product of media conspiracy, but not so much that they might, you know, actually win a general election.

Dunt thinks Labour are dead, but like Zombies, they don’t know it yet.

Meanwhile Jonathan Calder asks why via Labour did surprisingly well in the south of England, and talks of his expreriences campaigning in Richmond & Barnes in the 1983 general election.

On the last weekend of the contest the young activists (this was a long time ago) were sent out to call on the Labour supporters identified in our canvass and ask them to consider a tactical vote for the Liberals.

This approach received two distinct reactions. Working class voters were generally happy to consider the idea, even if they had a Labour posters in their window.

Middle-class Labour voters, typically teachers, however, were often offended to be asked. You had to vote for what you believed, they told me, even if your candidate had no chance of winning.

It is this second group of voters, I suspect, that Jeremy Corbyn appeals to. Which means that he may well be surprisingly successful in maintaining his party’s Southern outposts.

But it also means that he may struggle to resist the appeal of Ukip to working-class Labour voters.

And speaking of UKIP. reports of their death appear to have been premature. Seven seats in the Welsh Assembly and second places in both byelections suggest that their rightwing populism is going to be around as long as nobody else is willing to address the concerns of the traditional working-class vote. More ominously, the odious BNP came within a whisker of winning a council seat in Pendle, Lancashire, which went to the Tories with Labour a distant third.

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What’s needed now are real left-wing radicals

Nick Cohen writes in The Spectator about how the left’s problem with anti-Semitism is a symptom of a deeper problem and suggests what Labour needs now is a takeover by real left-wing radicals.

Perhaps anti-Semitism is not taken as seriously here because the Nazis stopped at the Channel and we never had to live through our own version of Vichy. But there is a more contemporary reason for the failure to tackle it, or even admit its existence, that could unravel social-democratic politics.

Most Jews are white. And across the middle-class left, it is held that racism is not racism when it is directed against whites in general and that entitled aristocrat of our age, the straight white male, in particular. The dangers for centre-left parties should be obvious. In Europe and in Donald Trump’s America, the white-working-class base of social-democratic parties is falling away. Voters will carry on leaving if they keep hearing expensively educated voices tell them in perfectly constructed sentences that they are the oppressors who must be overthrown. Why should a white man with miserable job and no prospects tolerate a left-wing elite that casts him as an overprivileged villain? If I were in his shoes, I would loathe the lies and point-scoring and want nothing to do with such politicians.

A ‘left-wing’ egalitarianism that takes so little notice of class is fake. Like a ‘left-wing’ foreign policy that is on the side of the reactionary and obscurantist, it will first infuriate and then fail.

But he fears that when the left abandons the currently-fashionable middle-class identity politics, what will replace it won’t be the genuine radicalism that the centre-left needs, but a timid acceptance of a consensus set by the Tories

Like a case of dysentery, the Corbyn moment will pass. My fear is that it will be replaced not with a serious commitment to reform, but with the terrified conformism that characterised the Labour party after Tony Blair became leader. Labour will be so desperate to prove it is strong on national security that it will agree with whatever the generals and security services propose. It will be so desperate to appear economically reputable that it will endorse rather than oppose the stagnant system the Cameron government has presided over.

Nick Cohen is sounding more and more like a stuck record on this issue. But it doesn’t mean he isn’t right.

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The Reshuffle Omnishambles

The omnishambles of the Shadow Cabinet reshuffle has laid bare what many of us have been thinking for a long time; Jeremy Corbyn is completely useless, and is quite out of his depth as Leader of the Opposition. It makes me wonder what proportion of those who voted for him as leader are now themselves wondering what on earth they were thinking at the time.

He’s neither a natural leader nor a deep political thinker. His principled leftism is little more than simplistic dogmatism that’s unable to cope with any kind of out-of-context problem. He is probably an honourable man personally, but he’s nevertheless surrounded himself with awful people like Seamas Milne, doctrinaire Stalinists who behave as though they consider the moderates of their own party rather than the Tories are the real enemy.

As long as this goes on, it’s hard to imagine anything other than a deeply-divided party going down to catastrophic defeat at the hands of the Tories at the next election. For us Liberal Democrats, the only silver lining might be a Liberal revival filling the vacuum left by the disintegrating Labour party. But even then we face the prospect of a Tory administration with a thumping majority, as happened during the 1980s.

There is one thing even worse, though unlikely. It’s Corbyn somehow managing to beat a Tory party that imploded after Cameron’s idiotically ill-advised EU referendum. If you think Corbyn is disastrous as Leader of the Opposition, imagine how bad he’d be as Prime Minister.

Meanwhile, while the media focuses of Labour, the Tories can do what they like without opposition or scrutiny.

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Ken Livingstone has a lot in common with Richard Dawkins. The recent public pronouncements of both seem to come from their unfiltered Id. Saying the July 7th bombers “Gave their lives to protest against the war” is at best grossly tone-deaf, and at worst something I really don’t want to think about.

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