And why I hope it doesn’t happen.
I heard it said, and argued, that in UK the system we elect MPs rather than parties Governments or Prime Ministers and that therefore based on our constitutional arrangements there is no case for an early general election now that the Prime Minster is due to change based on the opinions of Conservative party members.
And technically this is quite right, in terms of our formal constitutional arrangements. But I’d argue firstly that our electoral system and system of government is a little more nuanced than that. Whilst we do in fact vote for individual MPs they are now branded on the ballot paper based on their Party allegiance and straight away this is moving in practice, if not in principle, from us voting for individual MPs rather than a party platform.
Increasingly, at least for General Elections if not actual government, the UK has been moving toward a more presidential system. Voters vote in a very large part based on the national parties, exemplified by the party leader. That isn’t to say local candidates don’t make a difference, they clearly do. But generally the shifts in voting behaviour from one GE to the next are broadly mirrored across the UK. Particularly popular and competent (or unpopular and incompetent) can and do buck national trends… But mostly they don’t.
The reality is that we do in a large part cast our votes based on the platform and personality outlined by the party leaders. In 2015 David Cameron was widely credited with pushing the Tories over the line to their very unexpected majority win in the general election. People voted Tory to make Cameron the PM based on the policy platform he was front and centre espousing.
Furthermore he specifically promised to serve a full term. When electors voted either for their local candidate, or the national conservative party they had a reasonable expectation that this would mean they would have Cameron as their PM broadly following the program of government he promised. And of course Cameron did have something to say on the topic of early elections after the PM changes himself…….
So regardless of the formal constitutional arrangements I think there is a strong argument that based on the reality of our democracy as practiced there where the PM changes a general election should be sought even in normal circumstances.
But we are not in normal circumstances. The reason there is a vacancy for the position of PM is because of the epochal, seismic decision in the referendum to vote to leave the EU. Something that is likely to result in the biggest constitutional, economic, legal and public policy changes that this country has seen in my lifetime.
New PM Theresa May is going to have to make far reaching decisions, about massively important issues, that will affect everyone in this land (and beyond) for decades. The very existence of the UK as a political entity is under threat depending on how the new PM acts.
And…. They are not going to have a mandate to do any of this (I’d argue that Cameron wouldn’t have either BTW). The ballot paper had a simple question on do with wish to remain a member of the EU or leave the EU. It gave no instruction as to what to do next. It didn’t allow us to say choose a preference for WTO rules or EEA rules. It didn’t ask about free movement of people. It didn’t ask what happens to UK law derived from EU law should it be scrapped or grandfathered until replaced. It didn’t let us know if Scotland could secede if they voted remain but the rUK voted leave. The people have *not* spoken on these issues, we have not had a say.
And our political parties have not got a mandate for these issues either. None of them fought the last general election explaining what they would do in the event the UK voted for leave (well I guess the SNP does so maybe I’ll let sturgeon off the hook).
How can any of them, especially a PM that no-one in the country other than the 300 or so Tory MPs, got to choose, claim a legitimate mandate for the specifics and the details of such a massive constitutional, economic and political change?
The referendum was a once in a generation things, the political fallout once we activate Article 50 and actually begin the process of leaving will be a once in a lifetime thing. It is simply unacceptable on a democratic level, a moral level and a practical level for this stuff to happen without the British public having some sort of say over how it is done, why it is done, where it is done and when it is done.
Our country deserves to have a say on how this happens, and who is doing it.
Now of course as a partisan Labourite I really don’t want to see a general election right now. It will be a disaster. I’m not sure what party finances are like having just fought a general election, I’d heard it was in a bad shape, though a learned colleague of mine Rob thinks I might have got that wrong…
But the state of the party is terrible. Whether you think that Corbyn needs to go or stay one thing is for sure the party is in disarray and there seems little likelihood that we’d even achieve the kind of support Ed Milband got if we went to the polls right now.
I have to be honest if I was Theresa May I’d be desperate, desperate to have a General Election, increase my majority, give myself a strong mandate, and probably bury the Labour Party for a decade at least.
Even though I think for the sake of democracy there absolutely should be a general election, selfishly I really hope there isn’t one at least until Labour have sorted our mess out.
I dread to think where the left will be if it is soon.
At some point in the next few weeks we are going to have a new Prime Minister, who will be elected by approximately 0.2% of the British public (Yay we got our democracy back…. Wait what?).
Whether it is May, or Leadsom (and for some reason I have a suspicion it might be the latter) they are going to be in a right old pickle about what to do about #Brexit.
Right from the start I think that nobody in the Leave team particularly expected to win. Especially not those like Boris, and Leadsom, whom it appears were not true believers in the cause but who had taken it on for political advantage. Clearly no planning had been made for the strategy of what to do in the event of a leave vote, not just by the Government and EU countries but also by the actual people pressing for a leave vote.
It is my view that those who were angling for leave had blithely expected that in the event of a leave vote then the rest of the EU were going to treat us well. That it would come to a simple determination of pounds, shillings and pence, it would be in the economic interests of the rEU to ensure shared free trade access so they’d be bound to come to the table.
I heard this view articulated many times during the referendum campaign and I thought that it was a catastrophic error of judgement. My view, which I think is being borne out by subsequent events, is that in the event of a UK vote for Brexit the rEU would have no choice whatsoever to treat us harshly.
I was sure that whatever impact a potential full Brexit onto WTO rules might have on the rEU economies (worth about 3% I understand), the potential cost of encouraging further countries to consider exit would be many times greater. That as with Greece and the bail out, the EU would need to make sure that the Brexit medicine was one that no other patient would want to take. *
And on top of that whilst there would clearly be costs to rEU economies to take this line, there would also be advantages…. I have no doubt that the French agricultural lobby would quite like constraints being put on British agricultural exports to the EU, and that the motor industries would quite like the pressure on the likes of Nissan to relocate their production facilities to mainland Europe.
But the idea that any country could leave the EU, and receive more advantageous terms for access to the single market than EU members would certainly mean the end of the EU. It represents an existential threat to the future of the EU and there is surely no way that Germany and France could countenance this, particularly with in France a “Frexit” being mooted by the far right or a Neexit in the Netherlands.
So it was no surprise to me when the rEU made it crystal clear that there was no room for negotiation on the freedom of movement for any country wishing to have access to the single market . I have no doubt whatsoever this position will not budge, and that the end result will be that either the UK loses access to the single market, or we accept the free movement of people. I cannot see another option.
So this will put May/Leadsom in a terrible bind. They are either going to have to push the button on full withdrawal and WTO rules, that everyone agrees will cause terrible financial upheaval in at the least the short and medium term (though most accept the WTO rules would actually cause the UK to be permanently weaker, so in the long term too) or they will have to fundamentally betray the lions share of the leave voters who have, let’s be honest, voted explicitly to stop immigration as the touchstone issue for voting leave.
I really don’t know what is going to happen, and I am especially worried about how the Tory leadership election will still further tie the next PMs hands.
Leadsom’s path to victory will surely be predicated on an appeal to Tory leave voters that May, and the Tory establishment, having backed remain cannot be trusted to put the referendum result into action. That they will look to squirm out a compromise of some description. That only Leadsom, as a Brexit supporter, can be trusted to actually do what needs to be done.
May will then have to counter this, particularly if it seems momentum is starting to swing toward Leadsom. I’ve no doubt that as the front runner she will want to give herself as much room as possible to manoeuvre but she might find herself needed to give categorical assurances about specific action in order to win the contest. As we saw with the GOP selection in America a candidate that no-one expects to win saying “out there” stuff that resonates with a core base can get momentum and cause centrist establishment candidates no end of heart ache.
It is never a good idea to go into any sort of negotiation with your hands tied, but if one thing has become abundantly clear over the last couple of weeks is that those in positions of power in the UK now are always putting short term tactical advantage over the long term good. And I fear the new PM, even if their instinct is to be rational and reasonable, will be in a position where the only thing they can offer the rEU is a deal the rEU will just reject out of hand.
Now normally I’d have said that when push comes to shove if a tory government has to make a choice between doing something for the electorate, or doing something that is in the interests of the economy generally, and the city in particular, they would always jump one way. In the past, whatever else I’d say about the Tories, I always thought that they would be loath to do something that seriously damaged the economy, or at least the financial economy anyway….
But now? The truth is that many of the Tories are quite mad when it comes to Europe, I’m not sure there is a great deal of rationality anywhere. The swivel eyed head bangers are the norm now. So where does the new PM go? If they go WTO rules they will almost certainly be deliberately torpedoing the economy at least in the short and medium term. Additionally this is an option that would almost certainly cause Scotland to cede from the Union meaning the PM who did this will have broken up the UK. A combination that will surely destroy their credibility and legacy as well as ending their tenure as PM.
Or they fundamentally betray their main body of support, doing a deal that does not give their supporters what they expect and potentially leading to the party haemorrhaging support to UKIP for a decade or more.
This will represent a terrible frying pan/fire situation, and who knows what they will do about it.
The smart move now, if the candidates didn’t have to win a leadership election would be to play things cool in the run up to the French and German elections to give some time for the sting to be taken out of things and a bit more calm and realistic negotiations to take place. To put off doing Article 50 (some think this might end up being for ever) until a broad deal can be outlined with the rEU. This would then give them the chance to have a second referendum on the terms of the deal, or even a General Election (which as I argue here isn’t looking good for Labour ATM) fought on the basis of said deal.
But I’m not sure that smart move will be an option.
I’m worried, very worried.
So right from the get go I like Corbyn. At no time in my lifetime do I remember a Labour leader who’s personal politics so closely matched my own. Corbyn, as an unvarnished real person, who clearly believes passionately and sincerely in the things he says, is amazing, and inspirational. A national party leader sticking publicly for trade unions and working class struggle, who’da thunk it?
You’d think that someone who thought this couldn’t help but support Corbyn. But the truth is I didn’t vote for him a year ago, and I don’t think he is the right leader for the Labour party now.
I get that this is an emotive subject. People in our movement really love Corbyn, I just hope that anyone who reads this and disagrees with me is able to take this in a comradely fashion. That I think differently from you doesn’t mean I am a Blairite shrill, or a closet Tory, or anything else. Just means I have a different view on Corbyn’s leadership of the Labour party.
Me I have always subscribed more to Zweckrational when it comes to determining my political stances and actions. I admire those who act solely out of conviction regardless of the outcome. But I just can’t see the world in those terms, so how much do I care about what an oppositions says whilst in opposition? Sweet FA.
Due to the nature of our constitution and political system (more on that later) where a government has a working parliamentary majority opposition counts for nothing. All they can do is offer empty platitudes, and nothing, nothing they do will have any significant impact on the lives of the British public unless they are able to persuade government MPs to rebel.
Nothing the Labour party says in opposition will make the slightest bit of difference unless by saying those things they make it more likely that after the next election the Labour party will form the government rather than the opposition. I literally couldn’t give a flying feck how much of a warm fuzzy feeling I get from hearing someone on the Labour Front bench say something I agree with if I don’t believe that policy will ever get put into action.
Now I know not everyone sees things in these terms, and I totally accept that if you don’t see the world like that then you may well draw different conclusions than I do from the same evidence. Life would be sooooooo boring if we all thought the same thing.
Given how switched on my very small readership is I reckon you can all guess where I am going with this. Namely that my opposition to Corbyn is based on my assessment that I don’t think he is going to win a general election for the Labour party. And whilst I don’t think we are in great shape to win whomever is in charge, I think that there are candidates within the PLP whom I could imagine winning a general election, where I cannot envisage it in a million years under Corbyn.
So why not then?
Well firstly I think it is important to note that our political system is incredibly unfair. It doesn’t play with a straight bat, it isn’t designed to fairly treat the electorate, to accurately represent the views of the British public or anything like that. The whole system is designed to “create a stable majority in parliament”. It’s possible (admittedly unlikely) under FPTP to get 25% of the entire vote and not win a single seat.
Understanding the psephology on the UK wide election system is kinda key to why I do not believe a Corbyn led Labour party will ever win a general election. Now some of this is opinion, and some supposition, but some of this is just the way it is. Many Corbynista readers of mine may well come to radically different conclusions. Fair enough. I’m not lying or anything though just I think something different from you.
So let us just suppose the supposition that there are hundreds of thousands or even millions of working class, and/or disengaged young voters out there, just waiting for a Corbyn type leader to be in charge of the Labour party is 100% accurate. (I’m not so sure but I’ll come onto that later). Is that going to push the Labour Party over the line at the next election?
Well because of the FPTP system I really don’t think it is that simple. Firstly the truth is that disengaged working class voters who have not recently been voting Labour tend, in the main, to live in the same sort of areas that engaged working class voters live in. And, fortunately for us, most of those areas tend in the main to have Labour MPs. In a UK general election extra votes in seats we were already going to win in really don’t make any different whatsoever. A MP with a majority of 1, 10,000, or 50,000 all have exactly the same amount of influence.
So a huge proportion of any of these extra supporters are not going to actually benefit the Labour party because under our system any of them who live in a current Labour constituency, or in a rock solid Tory one, their votes just won’t really count. It isn’t fair, I don’t like it, I don’t actually think it is particularly democratic, but it is the system we have (And I will perhaps at some point in the future write a blog about why I think Electoral Reform ought to be a touchstone issue for the Left if we ever want a Syriza or a Podemos to happen in the UK).
So just attracting a huge number of votes, per se, isn’t actually very helpful unless they live in the right places. So if lots of the live in my, weather vane, swing constituency, Plymouth Sutton and Devonport, then that will make a really big difference, but most are probably going to live in places where it really doesn’t count.
For me though the biggest concern is about though whether or not they will make the difference even where the seats are actually in play.
So we hear a lot of talk about slagging off the “right” in the party in the circles I swim in (lefty Trade Union official and all that), something I have been known to engage in myself( not very comradely I know).
But the Labour party does have wings, other than those I, and most of my left comrades, subscribe too. There are right of the party MPs, councillors, engaged members, disengaged members, supporters, and most crucially voters.
Labour got 9 million odd votes at the last General Elections. And some of those will be wishy washy social democrats, or former Tories won by New Labour or former Liberals won by Ed Milliband. And as it happens a lot of these kind of voters do live in the kind of mixed background constituencies then tend to be swing seats in the mixer in a general election.
And I worry about losing these voters, because when we change policy and leadership it isn’t necessarily a zero sum game. It isn’t that the Labour party can automatically “bank” every single voter and look to win new ones. Sometimes in adopting policy positions you also alienate existing supporters, maybe convincing them not to vote for you, or worse still vote for the other side.
So if the Corbyn leadership wins a new vote here in Plymouth Sutton and Devonport that is great news, but only if it doesn’t put someone else who voted Labour last time off. Now if it convinces a right leaning Labour voter to jump ship and vote for the Tories then that is actually bad. When a voter switches it counts double (one more for them, one fewer for us) meaning we’d have to attract two new voters, for every one that switched just to stay still. And to move forward we’d have to attract three voters for everyone that switched.
Now here is the point are the Corbyn numbers so strong that they are indicating that we are doing this? Corbyn got 250k votes in an unprecedented mandate for a political leader, but those numbers are tiny compared to what is needed to turn our huge 2015 defeat into a Labour majority at the next election.
This isn’t scientific but I personally know lifelong Labour supporters who are put off by Corbyn. People who have told me if the status quo continues they won’t vote Labour at the next election. I will vote Labour whatever the outcome, and I’ll do everything in my power to convince them. But certainly in my corner of world, in the people I know in my extended circle of acquaintances there are definitely votes lost as well as votes won.
I believe, and I love to be convinced otherwise by some robust evidence, that the Corbyn effect will not put on votes in the places that we need to put them on (I understand the internal polling from the Labour party on recent election bears this out BTW), and conversely might lose us some votes in precisely the places where we can’t afford to lose them.
So are there really millions, upon millions of new voters out there just desperate to vote for a radically left wing, anti-austerity Labour and ready to do so now Corbyn is leading the Labour party?
Again I’m not so sure. I wish there were, and I hope I’m wrong. But for me the evidence just doesn’t stack up. I mean if this was really true for one thing why didn’t the Greens do better at the last General Election?
I mean they are a credible, national, political party. They aren’t an obscure sect like the TUSC, most people, particularly youngsters in one of the key supposed Corbyn demographic have heard of the greens. Their “brand” is strong amongst these sort of voters (much stronger than Labour’s post Iraq). They fought the 2015 election on a policy platform not massively dissimilar to the public pronouncements of Corbyn. Why did they not pick up these millions of votes? I’ve been asking this question for the last year and I have yet to hear a credible answer why.
And the polling that we have been getting as a national party really isn’t that encouraging. I read an interesting article in Red Pepper about why the traditional reading of the 1983 general election was all wrong (well worth a read, and some good points though I don’t agree with all of it). But one of the arguments, about polling struck me. Which was the extraordinary national poll lead that Foot was initially enjoying in the early part of the Thatcher government. Poll leads that Corbyn has never enjoyed.
Generally in UK politics when an opposition is likely to sweep to power at the next general election they need to, at this stage in the parliamentary be enjoying comfortable double digit leads. Even with the Tories in a shambles, unpopular to the max, having omnishambles left right and centre we are at best hovering a couple of points ahead of them under Corbyn. Sometimes level. Even occasionally behind. These bluntly are not the numbers of an opposition about to surge to power in a general election. They are worse numbers than Hague got before 2001, and worse than Howard got in 2005.
The recent local election results were solid, not spectacular. Broadly we matched Ed Milliband’s performance in 2012, and we all know how that movie ended….. Surely if we are on the cusp of winning the General Election we should be surging ahead of where Miliband was at this point in the cycle?
More than that though the Corbyn effect does not seem to have “done the do” in Scotland. After years of ineffectual Blairism and imposed leaders and diktat the new left wing Labour Party in Corbyn was supposed to help us on the long road back to recovery in Scotland (surely necessary if we are to win a majority again) and actually the Scottish Parliament elections were an utter disaster for Labour. We fell behind the Tories, in Scotland. LABOUR BEHIND THE TORIES IN SCOTLAND.
That still seems surreal to me. Now I know that Scottish politics is a different beast now, and that Scottish Labour’s problems and long standing, deep seated, and absolutely cannot be laid at the feet of Jeremy Corbyn. But it does rather give lie to the argument that Corbyn is a panacea that can with new ideas and new voters be a quick electoral fix for Labour.
In fact our biggest win on the night was Saddiq Khan in London. And Khan clearly tried to at least distance himself a little from Corbyn (I’d say he distanced himself a lot), and fought the kind of centrist campaign with an appeal to voters outside of Labour’s natural constituency which had the hallmarks more of traditional New Labour triangulation than a Corbyn-esque appeal to new voters and a disenfranchised left wing base.
Now I accept that I could have this all badly wrong, my analysis might be miles off, I could be being overly pessimistic. Maybe I have just badly misjudged a paradigm shift in British politics (and to be honest that would not be the first time!) but for me the evidence doesn’t in any way point to Labour becoming the next government under Corbyn.
In fact based on my assessment of the polls, the rigged system, and our election results I think we are heading for an increased Tory majority at the next GE if Corbyn stays…. And because of that I really think he has to go, in the interests of the party, the country and most of all working people and our Trade Union movement. Gifting the next election to the Tories is the worst thing anyone in our movement can do for our cause.
So what about the PLP then?
Let’s assume for a moment that every single Labour MP trying to get rid of Corbyn is an evil, war mongering, right wing Blairite closet Tory (and of course this is palpable nonsense. Many are good socialists, friends of working people and Unions). That every one of them was effectively an enemy of working people and the Labour movement.
They are still the MPs the Labour party has, they are still the people who have to run the opposition. They are still the ones who have to hold the Government to account. They are still the ones who have to be able to be seen, by the great British public (many of whom do not share the obsessions to the Trade Union movement and of Left Activists) as a government in waiting if we are to have any chance of forming the next Government and beating the Tories.
Even if you think the Parliamentary Labour Party have got it wrong, even if you disagree with every line of my analysis, we are, unfortunately, where we are. Jeremy Corbyn has lost the confidence of the PLP. I do not see how it is possible to be the leader of the opposition if you cannot command the confidence of the party in parliament. It is too crucial to the role of leader of the opposition.
Even if Corbyn fights and wins a leadership challenge that isn’t going to change. And the Labour party will be hamstrung at National Level (that is if it doesn’t split and that would be even worse). If this muddle continues until the next General election, be that next spring or in 2020 there is no way we are going to win. The status quo will I’m sure hand the keys to number 10 to the Tories for the next 10 years or more.
But I’m not prepared to take it that all of the PLP, and by extension any on the left who are not opposed to what they are doing, are evil working people hating rightwingers.
Most of the arch progress types in the PLP refused to serve in Corbyn’s cabinet. The people voting in the no confidence vote, and resigning from the shadow cabinet represented a large cross section of opinion within the party. There were righties, centrists, soft left, and even a few authentic left wingers.
Isn’t it just possible that the people who have most closely watched Corbyn’s leadership, who require him to martial them as an effective opposition, might have some insight into his qualities as a leader of a national political party with aspirations of Government that the rest of us, at a distance, don’t enjoy? For all there are anti Corbyn rebels whom I acutely dislike and distrust, there are many for whom I am full of admiration. Many who gave him a chance, and now feel that he doesn’t cut the mustard.
Now they may be wrong, but it doesn’t mean that they are insincere, and it doesn’t mean that they are against the interests of working people and our movement in general.
Leading a national political party is about more than just the positions you espouse, it isn’t just about saying things and hoping people agree with you. It is quite possible for someone to tell you things you agree with (Like Corbyn does to me) but at the same time be failing in terms of your performance as a leader of a political party. And one of the jobs of the leader of the opposition is to marshall your Parliamentary party. Corbyn clearly can’t do that, and clearly won’t be able to do that in the future.
If we go into an election like this we are going to lose, and if the Labour party splits we are probably going to keep on losing for some time. This seems to me patently obvious and I don’t really see how anyone can disagree, though again I’d love to be convinced if someone can paint me a convincing picture.
Let’s be clear I’m not saying that if we change leader that we will win the next General Election. The Labour party is in bad shape whatever happens. We are heading, post Brexit for some damnably tough times, particularly if, as is seeming increasingly likely the Government goes for WTO rules (with all the pain that will bring to our economy), bad times often weirdly make it easier for the right, and the divide and conquer of the working class is only going to get worse under this new Tory government.
But I can just about imagine a Labour party under Owen Smith, Dan Jarvis, Tom Watson winning if things go badly enough for the Tories. Certainly I can imagine them leading Labour into being the largest party in a hung parliament.
With Corbyn, particularly with him in open war with the PLP, I see nothing but oblivion. And that is why I think Corbyn has to go. And when he does I’ll be gutted, gutted than things have contrived to mean I couldn’t have a leader I actually believed in, rather than just someone who isn’t as bad as the Tories.
But give me the choice of the worst Labour government ever, against any Tory government ever, and I choose the Labour one every single time.