The other reasons why Labour lost in 2015

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For the most part, Margaret Beckett has managed to avoid the firing line for her 35 page report as to why Labour lost the 2015 GE.  Essentially, the report (which can be read here) does not fit easily into the Labour Right’s or the media’s frame of reference… vague or bland was the best they could come up with.  The press tried to whip up some excitement about ‘the suppression of a secret report’ about focus group findings but the task of blaming Jeremy Corbyn for Labour’s defeat in 2015 eventually proved too convoluted.  However, Jamie Reed MP did his best in a valiant effort for Progress:

Any Labour leader who refuses to listen to the country and who prizes the views of Labour members above Labour voters and former Labour voters will likely find that although they may secure the Labour crown, they will lose the Labour kingdom.’

In other words, the lesson from 2015 is that ‘the LP has the wrong membership’.. which reminds me of an old joke about the wrong electorate (but repetition of the word ‘Labour’ 6x in one sentence must be worth a mention).

 

Coming from the Left, I thought that the Beckett report was fair enough but that there were plenty of things left unsaid, that might have been usefully included.

But first, let’s be absolutely clear, the Tories won a majority because the Liberal Democrats imploded (-15.2%).  

Given that in most LD held seats, the Conservatives were in second place, it was unsurprisingly that they took LD constituencies.  Conservatives replaced 27 LD MPs, and now represent virtually the whole of Devon and Cornwall, coast to coast.  Those constituencies alone provided the Tory majority.

The unasked question is ‘Why were Labour in third place (gaining only a few thousand votes) in constituencies which have high levels of poverty, high unemployment, high self-employment, high housing costs, inadequate transport/infrastructure and a historical lack of investment?’

That blame cannot be laid on the 2015 campaign.  The fact is that New Labour governments never focused on addressing the problems of rural Britain… and there certainly are big problems in rural areas, all across the UK.  Although, to be fair, Huw Irranca-Davies MP did try his best to highlight them at the Labour Party Conference 2014.

So Scotland … what a tragedy for a few great Labour MPs, like Katy Clark and others, but the truth is that many, if not most, Scottish Labour-held seats were profoundly neglected by their Blairite MPs.  Their constituents really were ‘taken for granted’.  As Ben Margulies puts it, ‘the SNP won by defeating the “rotten structures of Scottish Labour”

Again, this cannot fairly be laid at Ed Miliband’s feet.

Ian Williams in Tribune describes the birth of New Labour:

‘Clinton set the model for New Labour – ostentatiously disavowing calumniated “special interest groups”, while pandering to the right…..  Unlike Clinton, the Blair administration did a lot of good work – but party bosses did not want anyone boasting about it, in case it alienated the financiers whom they hoped would replace the unions as bankrollers for the party.

In both cases, the plan was to hollow out the popular base of the parties, denying members effective input on policy or candidates, to reduce it to a PO box for corporate donations. As we saw in the Labour Party, it became a self-perpetuating career escalator for machine politicians that eventually ruthlessly weeded out any signs of dissent and any ties with the unions apart from topping up the collection box.

And nowhere was this model more surely adopted than by Scottish New Labour MPs.

Yes, the tipping point in Scotland was the referendum … and it was Ed Miliband’s fault for supporting the idea …. But who in their right minds thought it was a good idea for Labour to join forces with the Tories in the No campaign!!?

The idea is surely repugnant to any left-winger but yet again the transatlantacist right of the LP were seduced by US fantasy politics which promotes ‘bipartisanship’ as a high ideal to which they should aspire. Perhaps, if they had actually been in touch with their membership, they might have realised sooner that it wasn’t an aspiration shared by their fellow Scots who saw it as further evidence of ‘Red Tories’… and the dissipating Labour vote (ignored from 2007 onward) finally rotted away.

Anyway, the collapse of the LD vote and the loss of 40 Scottish MPs might have been mitigated, had Labour not made another fatal mistake.

What on earth possessed them to oppose the EU Referendum?

Was this ‘Hell yeah’ politics, toughing it out, holding the line?  Even pro-EU voters were invited to feel patronized.  Talk about handing a majority to the Tories.

ComRes opinion polling (post-election) found that 17% of Conservative and LD voters, and 33% of Ukip voters would have considered voting Labour, if Labour had been in support of a referendum on the EU.  In terms of MPs, that alone would have deprived the Tories of their majority.  ComRes estimated that Labour would have gained 8 seats leaving the Conservatives with 323, 3 short of a majority.

The amazing thing is that in spite of losing 40 Scottish MPs, and 27 LD seats going straight to the Tories, Labour still increased its vote in England and Wales by 1.5m in 2015 whereas the Tories only gained 500k.  But unfortunately, Labour largely built up its vote in unwinnable and safe seats, and although, there were 22 gains, the loss of 48 meant that Labour ended up with only 232 MPs.

In fact, the British Election Study team found that

‘Miliband was seen as having a more successful campaign than Cameron, perhaps against low expectations. This rating of who ‘performed best in the campaign’ switched in Cameron’s favour shortly before the election’

 

It also seems that the Ed Miliband team made the false assumption that the Tories would lose votes to Ukip, and disillusioned LDs would switch to Labour.  In the event, Labour probably only gained about 8% of the 2010 LD vote, former LDs being more than prepared to vote Conservative.  (Amazingly a lot of LD votes must have gone to Ukip – only half of Ukip’s 3.8m votes seem to have been taken from former Con or Lab voters )

The final cutting irony was that the collapse of the LD vote meant that the Tories gained a further 7 MPs because Labour supporters (and others) withdrew their tactical votes for the LD MP.  For example in Lewes constituency which was considered to be a safe LD seat, Norman Baker MP lost 7925 votes which split fourways between Ukip, Labour, Greens and Conservatives.  The new Tory MP was elected with only 805 votes above the 2010 losing result.

In the final analysis, Mark Doel of Sheffield sums it up…it was the UK electoral system that won it for the Tories. Not since universal suffrage has any party with less than 37% of the popular vote gained an absolute majority in the UK parliament. In fact, the swing to Labour (1.5%) was almost twice that to the Conservatives (0.8%) ….

Talk of David Cameron “sweeping to victory” adds wind to the sails of a government that acts as though it has a massive mandate when, by any account, a 12-seat majority is tiny, especially as it is built on the fluke distribution of an historically small proportion of votes. We must stop allowing the Tories to present this result as “a convincing victory”.

Charles Cronin of London adds:

‘…Lynton Crosby’s seeming effortless success in promoting the Tory party’s domination of the media could only have succeeded with the editorial support of the media. The BBC, as it must, covered and followed the press agenda. Don’t give too much praise to the creator of the message: it was the messengers that swung it.’

 

However, I cannot finish without pin-pointing the role of the Blairite wing of the Labour Party, in Ed Miliband’s failure to win the 2015 GE.  This is of overwhelming significance for the electability of Jeremy Corbyn in 2020.

Professor Eunice Goes‘ assessment of the 2015 campaign was that:

Ed Miliband was a flawed leader but the responsibility for the Labour’s colossal defeat on May 7 does not rest solely on his shoulders. Party divisions, plots, constant media attacks paralysed the party, in particular its policy development process. When the electoral manifesto was finally approved last spring the proposals that came out were confusing, unconvincing and uninspiring as Miliband tried to cater to all factions and ended up pleasing none….

And writing before his election as leader, her contention was that Jeremy Corbyn will not be allowed to lead the LP:

‘.. he will be de facto prevented from leading the Labour Party. The weekly duels in the House Commons with the Prime Minister David Cameron will be the least of Corbyn’s worries. He will be torn apart by his parliamentary party and the media. He will not be able to develop a single policy proposal, as he will be spending most of his time and energy explaining and justifying every single word he uttered during his long parliamentary career about Europe, Trident, coal mines, people’s quantitative easing or Israeli oranges. In other words, his leadership will collapse under pressure from opposition and resistance from all fronts.

But when this will happen the right of the party will have few reasons to rejoice as there is no greater electoral turn-off than to see – as we’ve witnessed in the past weeks – the spectacle of Labour apparatchiks treating the party’s membership and their democratic choices with such contempt.’

 

The experience of the last 4 months bears ample witness to Eunice Goes’ prediction… and yet, there is still room for hope.  I am not alone in feeling reassured that the Corbyn/ McDonnell team is much more experienced and streetwise, than Ed Miliband’s.  In addition, the membership have been exposed to the Labour Establishment’s contempt for democracy.

Let’s hope that the ‘We had to destroy the village in order to save it’ mentality from the Labour Right eventually fades away, even if it is only out of self-interest.

 

http://www.scribd.com/doc/295975145 /Learning-the-Lessons-from-Defeat-Taskforce-Report

http://www.progressonline.org.uk/2016/01/23/all-my-sons/

http://www.huwirranca-davies.org.uk/what-can-labour-do-to-win-the-rural-vote/

http://blogs.lse.ac.uk/politicsandpolicy/53094-2/

http://www.tribunemagazine.org/2016/01/letter-from-america-ian-williams-3/

http://www.britishelectionstudy.com/bes-impact/learning-the-right-lessons-from-labours-2015-defeat/#.VqzyKuk27oA

http://www.theguardian.com/politics/2016/jan/24/lynton-crosbys-role-in-the-tory-election-victory

http://blogs.lse.ac.uk/politicsandpolicy/even-if-he-wins-jeremy-corbyn-will-never-be-able-to-lead-the-labour-party/

http://think-left.org/2015/08/30/what-the-labour-establishment-didnt-really-want-us-to-know/

Hilary Benn being Foreign Secretary is a Mockery

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We are briefed by the media that Jeremy Corbyn will reshuffle the Shadow Cabinet this week.  Of course, they don’t call it that.  Even the BBC calls it a ‘Revenge Reshuffle’.  Just as Ed Miliband was consistently smeared as a brother-back-stabber, so the right wing of the LP and the corporate controlled press are wanting to associate Jeremy Corbyn with vindictiveness and spite.  This is a classic advertising ploy which trades on human psychology … in fact, mammalian psychology… which is primed towards fairness.  Their aim is to induce ‘disgust’ at Corbyn’s unfairness.

If this were not so detrimental to democracy, it would be hugely funny!  Of all people, who would think it likely that Jeremy was spiteful?  However, it is clear that it, and the rest of the media rubbish, worked to a great extent in undermining the character of a thoroughly decent man like Ed Miliband.

However, to return to my main point that Hilary Benn remaining as Foreign Secretary is a mockery. What on earth (or who on earth) made him think that he didn’t have to resign?

Yes.  It was a free vote but being Foreign Secretary is rather special.  We now have the lunacy of a Foreign Secretary who voted in favour of bombing Syria, opposing 75%… the vast majority…  of the Parliamentary LP, the membership and the leadership (who was elected only 3m ago with an overwhelming mandate of 59%).

Hilary Benn should have resigned, just as Robin Cook did over Blair’s invasion of Iraq.  He has created a totally untenable position for the LP.  His decision was not some trivial matter of foreign diplomacy.  He voted knowing that it meant innocent people, children and the elderly, would die as collateral damage.  And he did so, knowing that the overwhelming majority of the membership, the PLP and the leadership, did not support his position.

To add salt to the wound (although I’m very glad of it), it is perfectly obvious that this was a trap set by Cameron to split the Labour Party… the British bombers have seen very little action because they were not needed, and there was none of the faux-urgency that Cameron pretended.

To be clear, Hilary Benn may have been honestly persuaded by the arguments (however weak) and obviously he should follow his conscience … but that same conscience should have told him to offer his resignation as Foreign Secretary before, or at least, after the vote.  He has compounded the error, either accidentally or on purpose, by allowing the profoundly serious matter of bombing Syria to be turned into another opportunity for Corbyn-bashing.

 

John McDonnell at The Peoples Assembly Against Austerity

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Targets should be to tackle homelessness, food banks, joblessness, withdrawal of social care, climate change not GDP which just measures how much wealth has moved to the top.

 

John McDonnell MP Shadow Chancellor The Peoples Assembly Against Austerity 05 12 15

What do the Labour Right think will happen if ‘they get their party back’?

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To be honest, I’m a bit mystified by the pronouncements of the Labour ‘modernisers’. Their thinking doesn’t seem to make any sense.

In the last two weeks, since Jeremy Corbyn won the Labour leadership with 59.5% of the vote, we’ve heard Charles Clark say “It’s obviously been a very bad week for him.” (?) and that Yvette Cooper is waiting in the wings to take over as Labour leader if Jeremy Corbyn gets fed up with the job (?).

Much more ominously, there are ‘reports that elements of the British Army may rebel if Jeremy Corbyn is elected Prime Minister, and a serving general quoted as saying that “The Army just wouldn’t stand for it”.

Has it been a bad couple of weeks for JC?

Off the top of my head, he has put together a huge and an inclusive shadow cabinet, which comprises 52% women; made a very successful speech at the TUC and gained praise for his appearance at PMQs.  If that’s a bad week, then let’s have more of them.

However, as Phil Burton-Cartledge writes:

 ‘Driven by the press and then echoed by the broadcasters, the media assault on Jeremy Corbyn this week has perhaps been the most scurrilous, smeary, and desperate I have ever seen.’

Richard Seymour sees this as a continuation of what he calls Project Fear in which the Labour Right has tried to frighten JC supporters but he says:

‘.. there will be war in the Labour Party. Project Fear was just the panicked, clearly ineffectual start. And in that war, the right wing will have the backing of the media, the spooks, the civil service, and a good chunk of the membership.’

John Rentoul agrees that ‘..there won’t be defections. There will be a civil war instead.’

He continues to write of the Labour MPs:

‘How many of them could say, in their heart of hearts, that Corbyn should be prime minister?  Eagle is tribal Labour, but I know more than one MP, and there must be many more, who, asked to choose privately between Osborne, who is likely to be leader of the Conservative Party by then, and Corbyn, would reluctantly prefer Osborne.… But Labour MPs are not going to defect.  It is their party, and they intend to take it back.  It would be hard for them to fight an election with Corbyn as leader and, perhaps even more so, with McDonnell in a senior position, but they don’t think Corbyn is going to last.’

So the Labour Right’s plan seems to be at least partly based on Jeremy Corbyn getting fed up with their machinations and resigning.  Then Yvette will step into the breach, untainted by association with the Shadow Cabinet (unlike Andy Burnham who gained 2% more support than Yvette in the leadership contest).   It seems like a fair guess that the ex-ministers who flounced off (refusing to serve even before they were offered posts) intend to form a Shadow-Shadow Cabinet.  Charles Clark remarked in a television interview the party was preparing to fight the next election without the newly appointed leader.

Really?

So what do they think would happen then?  Do they think that the 49% of full members who voted for JC, and the 60k new members who have joined since JC was elected, will welcome Yvette, Chuka, Tristam, Liz et al with open arms as the saviours of the LP?

Isn’t it much more likely that they will be blamed for undermining JC and crashing the LP?

Quite apart from the logistics of Tom Watson being elected as Deputy leader and the likelihood of a new leadership contest, I would make a fair guess that there would be a mass exodus of JC supporters if Yvette were to be parachuted in… and how likely is she to be elected?  Even with Liz Kendall and Yvette’s votes combined, they gained less than 22%.

Nevertheless, according to Luke Akehurst’s ‘conventional wisdom’:

Some of his grassroots supporters will go through the same painful process of awakening and political education that led to many Bennite activists becoming successively Kinnockite then Blairite in the 1980s and 1990s. Their idealism didn’t survive repeated interaction with electoral defeat and hostile working class voters on the doorstep. It’s natural to want to win. And people get older and in many cases their politics matures.

Trade unions will get fed up with not being able to deliver on pay and conditions and public spending for their public sector members because we don’t have a Labour government (they may also get jittery if we lose councils as they would prefer to negotiate with Labour employers not Tories).

MPs will feel they have to act or the electorate will sack them.

At least, Luke Akehurst sheds a little bit of doubt – ‘if conventional wisdom does prove correct’…. What conventional wisdom?  What planet do these professional politicians live on?

Can’t they see that whatever else happens over the next 5y, the political landscape has changed.  Globally, social democratic parties’ collusion with neoliberalism is being rejected and the electorate is polarizing between the far right and the left.  If JC fails, the LP under a Blairite/Brownite, committed to austerity-lite will, almost certainly go the way of Pasok. They had already lost 5m voters by 2005… and now they’ve lost the two subsequent general elections!

I could say more about the hubris and extraordinary sense of self-entitlement that has been revealed by the posturings of the former LP elite.  However, least said…

As far as I can see it, the choice for the Labour Right in the PLP is to join in the democratic debate and put their weight behind JC as leader, or ‘win their party back’ and reduce the LP to a hollow shell.

To improbably quote Blair’s old friend and member of JC’s Shadow Cabinet:

Asked whether Mr Blair was “right or wrong” to say that Mr Corbyn “is not going to be prime minister”, Lord Falconer said: “I have no idea. What we’ve got to do, to try to do is to make Labour an effective opposition and we need to try to make Labour a party that the public think can govern.” 

However, there is a very real danger to worry about, and it is not the rubbish about the national anthem, rugby matches and so on.

With reports that elements of the British Army may rebel if Jeremy Corbyn is elected Prime Minister, and a serving general quoted as saying “The Army just wouldn’t stand for it”, it seems that some in our established institutions regard democracy as optional.  We are allowed to make our choice, but if they do not regard it as an acceptable choice then they may feel perfectly entitled to disregard it.

As Bernadette Mearden writes:

Does the British establishment, in its entirety, really believe in democracy? Perhaps for some elements, the best reply to that would be – up to a point.

So is there any hope for Democracy?  Noam Chomsky was askedWhat is your opinion on the emergence of figures such as Jeremy Corbyn in the UK, Pablo Iglesias in Spain, or Bernie Sanders in the US?  Is a new left movement on the rise, or are these just sporadic responses to the economic crisis?’  He replied:

It depends what the popular reaction is. Take Corbyn in England: he’s under fierce attack, and not only from the Conservative establishment, but even from the Labour establishment. Hopefully Corbyn will be able to withstand that kind of attack; that depends on popular support. If the public is willing to back him in the face of the defamation and destructive tactics, then it can have an impact. Same with Podemos in Spain.

Chomsky is right.   If the public is willing to back him in the face of the defamation and destructive tactics, then a left movement which reaches out internationally, and particularly across Europe, can create the conditions for a better world.  However, the call to fascism by the army general does not argue for an easy transition.  Before we get to that point, the Labour Right will have to decide whose side they’re on.

References:

http://www.mirror.co.uk/news/uk-news/yvette-cooper-waiting-wings-take-6475790#rlabs=3%20rt$category%20p$7http://www.mirror.co.uk/news/uk-news/yvette-cooper-waiting-wings-take-6475790#rlabs=3%20rt$category%20p$7

http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/node/22092

http://www.leftfutures.org/2015/09/how-to-manage-the-anti-corbyn-media-storm/ 

https://www.jacobinmag.com/2015/09/jeremy-corbyn-labour-benn-kendall-blair-leadership/

http://www.independent.co.uk/voices/jeremy-corbyn-will-not-spark-defections-from-the-labour-party–just-a-civil-war-10509520.html

http://labourlist.org/2015/09/whats-going-to-happen-to-a-corbyn-led-labour-party/

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/politics/Jeremy_Corbyn/11878514/Jeremy-Corbyn-cabinet-minister-attacks-new-Labour-leaders-policies.html

https://www.jacobinmag.com/2015/09/noam-chomsky-bernie-sanders-greece-tsipras-grexit-austerity-neoliberalism-protest/