I Voted for Jeremy Corbyn to lead the Labour Party Twice – Last Thursday is why

The first thing I did as an adult, aged 18, was join the Labour Party.

Well, strictly speaking, the first thing I did was buy every type of spirit my local express supermarket sold, mix them all with cranberry juice and then spent the next 24 hours regretting said decision…. But the first major decision I made, was to join Labour. It was my first direct debit. My first membership of any group or organisation that I had chosen to join. My first difficult decision as a grown up.

It shouldn’t have been a difficult one. I had supported Labour throughout my school years – something which wasn’t easy through the naughties. Seeing the wars in Afghanistan & Iraq and having to somehow justify them to my school mates. Seeing tuition fees be introduced and having to defend that, even as I knew I would have to pay them myself one day. Having unpopular policies; ID cards, 90 day detention, PFI schemes put forward by the people you’re supposed to agree with, whilst they cosied up to Rupert Murdoch and allowed the wealthiest to get away with murder, just so long as the poor weren’t quite so poor…

But I still joined the party. I have always lived under the theory that politics is the art of the possible and that compromise is part of that. Staying ideologically pure may let you sleep at night but it often times doesn’t accomplish much. So I worked under a simple theory; join the most left-wing electable party you can and work within them to make them closer to your position.

Years passed. Elections were lost. The austerity myth was developed. A leadership election took place. Once again I voted on my premise of picking the most left wing electable option and went with Ed Miliband. He wasn’t the Blair clone his brother seemed, whilst he seemed infinitely more viable at the ballot box than Diane Abbot. He seemed poised to take on the austerity myth, to rally the Labour base and still reach out as a credibly electable bloke in a suit.

Then he drove straight to the centre of the road and got crushed.

So by the next leadership race I was angry. A lot of Labour members were. Things got worse when Harriet Harman told her MPs to abstain on exactly the sort of policy Labour MPs are elected to stand against. It seemed our MPs had given up fighting the austerity myth. That all they were willing to do was carefully manage the demise of a party both ideologically and in terms of its political purpose.

Then along came a man who said the opposite. He voted against the bill. He refused to accept the austerity myth. He described the situation the party was in without political spin, he described the situation the country was in with facts. His name was Jeremy Corbyn.

Going into the 2015 leadership race I was firmly behind Yvette Cooper. She had been a brilliant front bench shadow minister. She did a fantastic job holding the Tories to account, she came across as smart, eloquent, caring. I wanted her to be our next leader. All she had to do for me was prove her left-of-centre credentials. It wouldn’t take much, just something, anything, to tell me she believed what was on the back of her membership card; that she would be the leader of a democratic socialist party.

Instead she went to the centre. They all did; Kendall, Burnham. They rejected Corbyn’s facts, Corbyn’s correct assessment, they seemed to embrace the austerity myth. All the talk was of accepting the country’s decision post-election. There was no talk of changing minds, of busting myths, of making a strong case for Labour values – it was capitulation. It was accepting the errors of our ways, of repenting for our sins… bud we hadn’t sinned and our biggest error was going to the middle of the road, becoming ‘Tory-lite’. But here they were – the mainstream Parliamentary Labour Party – advocating three shades of Tory litism.

My mind was made up. I was voting for the only one of the leadership contenders who was living in the real world, who had his basic economics right, I was voting for Corbyn… yeah, weird when the furthest left-wing candidate in the Labour party is the closest to the economic mainstream in British politics, but that’s the situation we were in.

So I voted Corbyn. A last minute realisation had Burnham suddenly push to the left with promises on nationalising the railways and such, but it was too little too late. The chance for Cooper or Burnham to be the next Ed – most left wing viable option – was gone. The membership went nuclear and we went for Jeremy.

Time passed, criticism came. Plenty of the criticism was valid. He was not a polished politician; but then, that was the point. We’d had our fill of the same second-hand care salesmen politicians, we wanted someone different, someone who avoided spin, who stuck to his principles. He was a message that the politics of style over substance had to end. Nobody listened.

But then a moment of opportunity. Brexit happened, the Prime Minister stepped down, the Tories were vulnerable. This was our chance! Every Labour MP needed to get on Television, write newspaper articles, tweet, whatever, that right now we needed a general election! The next Prime Minister would be unelected. They would be unsettled, potentially unpopular and the Brexit result would rally people to vote to stop it. This was it, our moment to strike, barely a year into a new parliament and we had a chance to get the Tories out!

So why, at that moment, the PLP decided to try and oust Corbyn I will never know. I imagine it was like that tweet that went round after Trump was elected:

TORIES: Brexit is the stupidest, most self-destructive act a political party could do to itself.

LABOUR: Hold my beer.

To me it was an act of stupidity unrivalled in British politics. The most ridiculous aspect of it though was the incompetence. A line of Labour MPs all queued up to call Corbyn useless, incompetent, unable to win, unable to function, politically inept, whatever. Meanwhile they were squandering the best chance we would get to hit the Tories, perhaps for years. You want to talk political ineptitude; that was political ineptitude.

Then there was the incompetence in ousting him. The whole PLP seemed certain they wanted him out – even my local MP who I wrote to on the issue – but they weren’t really sure what to replace him with. The Labour Party displaying the competence it claimed it’s leader lacked… In the end – after an aborted leadership bid from one of the only Labour MP’s to possess less charisma and political ingenuity than Corbyn – Owen Smith came forward. A man no one had heard of, standing on a platform no one was sure of, in an attempt to do something immensely stupid which was almost certainly doomed to failure; but remember folks; Corbyn is the incompetent one!

It was hilarious. In the way a car crash involving a car full of clowns is hilarious. My mind was made up well before I ever received my ballot paper. In 2015 I had voted for Corbyn because he was the only candidate speaking the truth, living in the real world. This time I had a plethora of reasons to vote for the man; the principle of giving someone more than a year as leader before ousting them, the lack of competence from his opponents, the seemingly absurd reasoning of pinning the lost Brexit vote on him, the identikit candidate put up against him, the fact he was still the only one talking about the issues the membership cared about…

Corbyn won again.

That should have been the end of it, a chance for unity. Yeah – and Eric Pickles might fly…

I think one of the problems the PLP was facing was that they viewed their struggle as them versus Corbyn. Never themselves versus the membership which is what it was always a matter of. Yes, lots of young people and lefties have joined the party since Corbyn has been leader – making the Labour party the party with the largest membership in the country – but Corbyn won his first race against three mainstream PLP candidates thanks to the membership of the time.

I can’t speak to what any other member of the Labour Party thinks, or why they have done what they did. But I wanted Corbyn to face an election as leader for one reason above all else: I wanted to give the electorate a choice. I’ve been on doorsteps, I’ve leafleted, I’ve done the whole trying to get my work colleagues, mates etc to turn out and vote. Any argument against Labour, I can counter. The one that irritates me the most though is the ‘they’re all the same, aren’t they’ argument. It annoys me because it is wrong, even under Blair-Brown, who for all their failures and mistakes, did right by public services, reduced child poverty and introduced a minimum wage. They did things to make the country a better place which the Tories would never have contemplated. But they also did some crap and rightly or wrongly, the public perceived the distance between New Labour and the Tories as small – a view which has persisted in some people’s minds ever since.

Just once I wanted to be able to campaign for someone who I actually believed in. To put someone forward who could not be seen as Tory-lite. If the public rejected him, fine, but we tried, we gave you the option; don’t turn around and complain when the NHS is privatised, your kid’s educated in a class of forty and poverty is the norm rather than the exception. Don’t complain about rich people holding all the power, tuition fees going through the roof, no houses being built. Don’t complain that all politicians are the same, that they’re all in it for themselves, that they don’t car. We gave you a choice. That’s all I wanted.

Still, Corbyn’s second election win opened the floodgates of criticism. Apparently I was a naïve youngster being led astray by entryist Trotskyists… I’ve never met a Trotskyist entrysist. I can barely spell it. Nor was I naïve in my actions. I wanted what I wanted out of experience of seeing our centrists fail, our centrists fail to grasp the importance of challenging the austerity myth, of failing to distinguish the party from the Tories, of failing to inspire.

I will, however, admit I was naïve in 2010, when I voted for Ed. It was my first leadership election, I was only twenty. I had no experience of this sort of thing, and I voted for the person I liked the most. It was a mistake. I saw in Ed traits I liked and had in common with him. I liked that he seemed to be where I was politically. I hoped he would succeed, even though there was little basis for believing it. That was naivety. Voting for Corbyn was voting based on experience, knowledge and out of a desire for seeing change implemented.

Still the criticism came. The PLP seemed unsatisfied with just destroying the party’s electoral chances, now they wanted to go to war with their (ever increasing) membership. And the criticism kept coming from across the political spectrum, from the Guardian, from within the left, from within the membership. We were reckless, naïve, fools. We were idiots. We were dangerous. We were entryists and Trotskyists (Or Marxists, or Leninists or one of those Russians who died because of Stalin or in poverty – there were quite a few.) We were more concerned with ideological purity than electability. We were bullies. We were… I gave up listening to the criticism.

I was happy with my choice and I would bear the responsibility for it. All I wanted was for Corbyn to get one chance in a general election. One chance. If it went to hell, then fair play, hands in the air. But I wanted him to get that chance and would vote for him as leader as many times as needed for him to get it – which I expected would be at least once more before 2020 rolled around.

Then Theresa May called a general election. Wow. You have no idea how happy I was. Not many others on the left seemed to be apart from some Corbyn fans. This was going to be a disaster they told us. It would be 1983, it would be a landslide, a wipeout and so forth. I didn’t really mind. The thing that I hated the most at that moment was the infighting, the slow death by a thousand cuts that Corbyn was suffering. Another three years of it was more than I could bear, so to skip to the end, to have the election now was perfect. We would get to put Corbyn before the electorate, worst case scenario the Tories go from one majority to another and Corbyn gets ousted. Best case; we actually get the Tories out of power. Spin the roulette wheel, I’m all in.

The beginning of the campaign was as expected. The Tories expected to win big. The polls said they would win big. Everyone talked about the Labour casualties, the Labour losses, how this would be a disaster for Corbyn and for Labour. At one point I remember looking at my phone at work and seeing Bet365’s over-under odds on Labour seats at 162.5. This meant that, so far as they were concerned, the chances of Labour getting more than 162 seats were the same as them getting less. This was insanity. I quickly placed a bet.

But was it insanity? Len McCluskey was saying 200 seats for Labour would be a success. It seemed expectations were being managed. Oh dear. Then quite a funny thing happened. The two parties released their manifestos. The substance of what so many Labour party members had wanted put to the electorate finally went live. And then a really funny thing happened; Labour’s support began to increase. It was almost as if a decent number of the public backed the vaguely social democratic policies of a proper left-wing Labour Party leader; nationalised railways, scrapping tuition fees, putting the tax burden on the rich were things people wanted… Shock horror.

The odds shortened. 180 became the new over under. Then 200. McCluskey seemed to have lowballed Labour’s chances. The polls narrowed. May got spooked. Pundits began to talk about her chances of a landslide ebbing away. She’d still win, but not by the margin she’d been hoping for. YouGov were even predicting a hung parliament – even though they were taking criticism for it in the process. After all, Jeremy Corbyn couldn’t force the Tories to lose seats right?

Then a really, really hilarious thing happened.

I would like the election result to be seen as vindication for people like myself. People who were members before Corbyn, but who backed him on two occasions nevertheless. I would like the result to vindicate anyone who joined the party and voted for him. I would like it to be a vindication for anyone who voted Labour, said a nice thing about Corbyn, dared to bet that Labour would win more than 162 seats. I would like that a lot, and I say fair play to everyone who has made amends for what they may have said before June 8th.

There are still those who make the very valid point that Corbyn did not win. To them I would say; neither did the Tories, they are clinging to power thanks to a Northern Irish party with terrorist links (ironic right?) and that Corbyn’s ‘victory’ stems from his increasing Labour’s vote share, seats and doing it all despite his own MPs sabotaging him at every opportunity. For Chris Leslie to call the election a missed open goal is like saying Mandzukic’s Champions League Final goal isn’t very good because Real Madrid still won the match. Corbyn did his bit, the Emily Thornberrys, John McDonnells, they did theirs. Where were you Chris? Deflecting shots past the keeper?

We tried. The Labour Party membership put forward a candidate who was different. A man of integrity, of substance over style, who presented a set of policies which no one was ever going to mistake for a Tory party manifesto. We did it and were called reckless, naive idiots for it. So please, let us just have this moment, just this moment to rejoice. To go ‘screw you!’ to everyone who doubted. It’s not out of vindictiveness, or because we’re nasty bullies. It’s because those months of seeing the party rip itself to pieces were hard and all any of us can think now is how much better could it have been if the PLP had backed him. So please, give us a moment and forgive us if we don’t welcome every member of the PLP with open arms and let us savour this moment as well, because what comes next is going to be hard as well.

Indeed, I am less optimistic now than when I was when the election was called. The Tories will go on, propped up in a MayDUP coalition of chaos. I think they’ll get behind their leader in a way our PLP could learn lessons from and if they don’t, I fear what a Boris led Tory party could do at election time. The way to overcome substance may well be to double down on style. I hold little faith that the cult of Corbyn and the remnants of Blairism (or whatever title you wish to bestow on them) will find common ground. I worry the media will not learn their lessons, that the bias will continue and that death by a thousand cuts will simply be deferred. I worry my generation will see the battle as won and look away whilst the Tories screw us over again. I worry the future is not much brighter than in was a few months ago.

The Labour Party is still not where I want it to be. It still has issues I want to see corrected. But considering where the party was in 2008 when I joined and where it is today, I have to say I feel happy and vindicated in my decision to join. I feel vindicated not just against the criticism of Corbyn – who I’ve never had a particular affinity for (a near teetotal, Arsenal fan who takes pictures of man-hole covers is not the kind of person I’d share a pint with… for obvious reasons) – but for the reasons I joined the Labour Party in the first place. For believing that joining Labour and working from inside to make it better was the right decision. For putting up with crap like Iraq and ID cards. For the brilliant people I’ve met in the party and the inspirational stories I’ve heard from fellow members, councillors and MPs that inspire me everyday and make me believe change for the better is possible.

The Labour Party may never be perfect, but it is the best left of centre party the UK has. It is, I believe, incumbent on all progressives, liberals (whatever your slogan) to join it, make it better and work within it for the success of left-wing politics. It’s worked in the past, it’s faired better than anyone could have expected lately and it might just get us a government one day.

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Post Election Happenings

Post election, I worry about what might happen.

There are, broadly speaking, three likely outcomes:

  1. Hung Parliament
  2. Mediocre Tory victory
  3. Tory landslide

In the event of 1, Corbyn (and his allies (Momentum etc)) will claim a victory for Labour. Not least because the % of the vote they will need to achieve that outcome will be pretty hefty and refute the notion of ‘unelectable’ Corbyn. And indeed, his opponents would have to conceede the point. Anyone closing a 20 point polling gap to next to nothing, getting out the youth vote in large numbers and hitting high 30s+ in polling figures is not someone you can accuse of failure.

Equally, a Tory landslide would force Corbyn to stand down just from the sheer realisation of the futility in persisting. The problem is, what happens if/when the middle option happens, or, to put it another way, how big would the Tories have to win by for Corbyn to step aside.

At the moment Corbyn is pretty much the only one who can decide when Corbyn goes. He has proven popular with the membership – many of whom are new (pro-Corbyn) members – and could almost certainly retain the leadership unless the party are royally smashed.

So the worst case scenario for the Labour Party could well prove not to be a landslide defeat, but rather a medicore defeat. Something of a game theory situation occurs where we ask how bad a defeat will it take for Labour MPs to rebel, how big a defeat will it take for Corbyn to willingly stand down and how big a defeat will illicit a split in the party if those two events can’t reconcile?

I would suggest anything around a 35 seat Tory majority or less will be enough for Corbyn to continue. Anything more than that but less than 50-60 will see Labour MPs rebel and Corbyn want to stay (potentially causing the party to split), whilst significantly over a 50-60 seat Tory majority will force Corbyn to admit defeat. Exactly where Labour MPs and non-Corbyn supporters draw the line for splitting and where Corbyn and his allies draw the line for admitting defeat could well prove to be the determining factor for whether the Labour Party as is still exists in a week’s time.

That’s just my musings though and it will certainly be interesting to see what happens, both on June the 9th and the days after. Either way, I hope the Labour Party can avoid a split and, if not form a government, at least continue to form a united opposition.

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The Labour Party – Incompetency

So when Brexit happened, it should have been a fantastic moment for Labour. Not in the sense of ‘wooh! Brexit, we totally wanted that!’ but in the sense that it was a crushing defeat for the government and as the opposition party that generally means good things are afoot.

Then Labour stabbed itself in the eye. Then the foot. Then for good measure decided to start surgically removing limbs one at a time until it resembled the black knight from Monty Python…

It could have been so different. With Cameron gone, Labour had the easiest political line and narrative to push in modern political history; ‘We want a general election, and we want it now.’ Given an unelected PM (I know the arguments surrounding not electing the PM directly) a divisive policy being set as the government’s main agenda for the foreseeable future and the obvious discontent felt across much of the country that the result indicated, it should have been a clear and simple argument to make which would a) at worst, damage the government in the short term or b) result in a general election.

Now one could argue Corbyn’s chances of winning any general election at the time weren’t great. That said with the Tories in disarray, Labour united in their narrative and a lack of clear leadership in what the Tories were offering – compared to a clear and decisive ‘No to Brexit, no to austerity’ ticket on the other hand, you’d think Labour could have at least stood a chance of removing the government four years early.

That however would have required competence from Labour, and what is becoming increasingly apparent is that asking for competence from Labour is like asking a wolf not to eat those chickens over there in the corner. You know, the ones covered in butter, that can’t move, that are singing ‘eat me! eat me!’.

Now let me be clear, who exactly that charge is levelled at. A lot has been made of Corbyn’s incompetence. A lot. And he is. But only mildly so, in the way most in politics are. Hell, if the Greens were the main opposition party I’m sure they’d be equally incompetant. Remember when their leader went on the Daily Politics to discuss the Greens’ policies and botched it completely?

Equally the Lib Dems’ only time in office was hardly a raging success either for the country or politically for them as a party. The bottom line is most people are incompetent. And if you’re not used to doing something – being in power, being constantly in the public eye, presenting a coherent narrative and scoring party political points etc then you will be more incompetant at it that those who are so experienced.

So when John McDonnell had his little red book moment, or when Corbyn had his first anemic PMQs performances, and stupid run-ins with journalists, this was to be expected. Equally some of the stories told by his shadow cabinet hardly seemed surprising for the leadership of a lifelong backbencher. The job of the rest of the party in these moments was to support him, educate him, aid him in whatever way needed and at the very least; not knock him.

Of course the last of these points had already run into stormy waters when his opponents in the leadership race said they wouldn’t serve in his cabinet. When he needed the experienced heads around to support him, they instead labelled him unelectable. So when the coup began it was not surprising that it was happening so much as it was surprising that people claiming to be more competent and electable than Corbyn had chosen the worst possible moment for such a leadership bid.

Why was it bad timing you ask? Well, firstly they had gone to early. Like a cycling race where timing your attack to catch the leaders before they open an insurmountable lead, so to timing is critical in political assassinations and boy did the coup plotters mess up on that front. Regardless of who the leader is, attacking them before seeing out a year in charge is going to get the hackles of a lot of undecided party members and supporters up. You don’t have to like Corbyn to at least think he should have a year to try and get things going in the right direction.

Second, they had chosen a time of Tory party disarray to launch their own, even more acrimonious, civil war, which thus diverted a lot of negative attention from the Tories onto Labour. Rather than scoring points on the Tories, Labour became the media punching bag. Rather than mounting a credible alternative, calling for a general election or, you know, anything productive, we got an expensive, damaging civil war that left us in the same place we started but worse off, whilst the Tories emerged from their moment of grand disaster with a new leader and a swell of support.

On top of this, the coup failed, not just because of the awful timing, but also because it was so catastrophically ineptly enacted. Attacks on Corbyn at the time focussed on his lack of charisma, his poor political judgement and other such comments. So when deciding who should run against him it might have been nice if political competence and charisma had been used as qualifying factors. Instead it seemed like the whole parliamentary party had decided he had to go, but no one could quite figure out who should replace him. In politics it is usually a good start to have an alternative to the thing you dislike. Ed Miliband demonstrated that quite aptly.

The eventual selection of a man whose name I literally can’t remember, who had the exact blandness and political identikit approach and feel that the membership had rejected in selecting Corbyn was such a poor choice as to warrant the question (by myself on a daily basis at least) of what the hell are you people doing!?

I suppose I could rant about the coup attempt all day, the bottom line is attacking a man for lacking competence before demonstrating none yourself is the single stupidest and most counter productive thing I’ve ever seen in modern politics from any party. To see it from Labour, a party I pay money to each year, a party I campaign for, defend, love… it wrenches you inside.

None of this is meant as a great defence of Corbyn I quickly jump to add. The man is incompetent – though not as bad as made out by many and there have been things to applaud – though usually from his shadow chancellor, who, unlike Corbyn, has grown into his job somewhat and advocates a perfectly balanced radical yet responsible approach to the economy that should be lauded as a brilliant strategy and exactly what the country needs. If the party could unite for one moment to put a consistent narrative to the media (and the media in turn could get its own head out in the game) it might go some way to addressing the Tory’s lead on the economy with the electorate.

Alas, instead, the party is tearing itself apart. By committing itself to Brexit, Labour have handed the Lib Dems a load of support from the Brexit Remain camp. Within the party, ‘moderates’ (who were most likely to back remain) are pushing for a tougher stance on immigration, whilst the Corbyn faction (more associated with leave) are backing a more liberal approach. Add to this people like Lord Donoughue calling for a change in tack on climate policy (because it’s bad for working people to try to avert a massive climate crisis, as if the impacts for these things never fall most on the poorest…) and you have a party full on questioning its direction and identity.

And what of potential leaders within the party? Well, Andy Burnham, a two time failed leadership candidate, is out spouting the anti-immigration line in his bid to become a local mayor. Apparently the left has to appeal to racist voters, because if we don’t legitimise their views, then the far-right will. I appreciate the need for a grownup and genuine debate on immigration, I reject the notion that involves pandering to the lowest common denominator.

Meanwhile others are keeping shtum. Probably in the hope the party won’t have disintegrated into two parties two years from now and will instead be crying out for someone to rescue the situation. It’s a problem the left has; we always pin our hopes on some brilliant leader to fix everything, rather than actually living our values and seeking co-operative success. And it’s a pity because things needn’t be like this.

Imagine, perchance, an alternative reality. Say in the wake of the Brexit result, Corbyn and his team had gotten together and taken a vote. Now is the time to strike, but we need a clear, concise, co-operative agreement on how to proceed. One that not everyone will agree with, but that everyone will follow. The question would be simple; push for a general election in advocacy of preventing Brexit, or push for a general election with the ‘best deal for Britain following Brexit’ line. Either way, it should have been a collective decision, collectively pushed.

Worst case scenario; Labour loses a general election. Corbyn gets to go down as the guy who forced the government into a general election four years early. His opponents rejoice because he’s had to stand down, whilst his supporters feel vindicated that he got to contest a general election. The party has a fresh leadership election in which it probably elects a ‘moderate’ who has the mandate to prepare the party for the next general election and position the party on Brexit etc.

Best case scenario; Labour wins a general election. Corbyn’s opponents rejoice that we’re in power and he’s kept them in employment.

Most likely scenario; The Tories don’t call for a general election, but take the hit politically. In a year or two’s time, Corbyn is politely told to stand aside or face a leadership contest which will either remove him, or doom him electorally. Corbyn, if he had any sense, would step aside, take a position such as Party Chairman where he could continue to keep the base energised and influence policy, but have a moderate, ‘electable’ individual take the reins for the run up to a general election.

Unfortunately we are not in that reality. We’re in the one where it’s a choice between different sets of incompetents. And all the while, as pundits and talking heads comment on it all, and progressives muse as to whether to back the Lib Dems, whilst Remain v Leave still dictates the political affairs of the day, it is the country at large and the most vulnerable in it who continue to suffer the most at the hands of austerity and will continue to do so until the left and the Labour Party itself can get its act together.

Cheers

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The Next 9 Months

It’s been a hectic couple of weeks, in which Britain crashed out of the EU, a PM announced his resignation, a coup was attempted then stalled against the leader of the opposition and the most odious man in the world after Donald Trump resigned declaring his mission accomplished.

But what next? Well, some things we already knew would happen have happened. The pound has fallen in value, businesses are worried and the political fallout has been huge, both home and abroad. We also now know that the next Prime Minister will be a woman – either the vaguely dull, incompetent (no seriously, really incompetent) Theresa May or the utter shambolic summing up of the country hitting absolute rock bottom that the election of Andrea Leadsom would demonstrate.

May is well backed by the media though and it may well be she simply takes post-truth politics to a new level. If she can find a message that sticks and repeats it enough it will become the truth in the same way as Labour profligacy, single teenage mother benefit scroungers and bloody immigrants ruining the country have entered into public consciousness despite a dearth of evidence to back the assertions.

Indeed she has already started with talk about healing divisions within the Uk. This is all nice and hard to disagree with, it’s just a little rich coming from the prospective leader of the party which has caused a good deal of said division. Since the Tories took power, they have attacked disabled people, immigrants, public sector workers (police, doctors, teachers, you name it) the unemployed, the young and of course gave us the EU referendum itself which has laid out the greatest division of all for all to see (and resulting in a big jump in hate crimes). If she can genuinely spin herself as a ‘unifying’ figure, a second Thatcher, intent on leading the country ‘back to glory’, then regardless of what’s happening in the actual economy, she may well be able to stay in government.

The other issue of course is what Labour do. Government’s lose elections as opposed to oppositions winning them, but non-existent oppositions make for less appealing choices at the ballot box and the prospect of a split Labour party would almost certainly usher Theresa May to a general election victory in similar fashion to Thatcher in 1983 against Labour split with the SDP.

Equally, there’s no saying May will call a general election – at least not anytime soon. Gordon Brown did not call a general election after he took power and the Tories would be in no hurry to call a general election if the economy is weak. Better to wait a year or two on the argument of requiring stability for the EU negotiations, let the economy recover and fight an election then.

So what will happen over the next 9 months and will it mean? Well, I take it for granted Theresa May will be the next Prime Minister. To think otherwise is just… *cringe*.  I see a year or so of her governing, negotiating with the EU and blaming any negatives in the meantime on uncertainty plus poor people (you can never blame the workshy, scrounging, Jeremy Kyle lay abouts enough as a Tory PM). When and whether she calls an election is also a big question and comes soley down to her. You’d imagine a Tory landslide would be inevitable, but depending on the situation in the country at large it could go either way. Going beyond 9 months I don’t think whoever does end up as PM will be there for 2020.

Corbyn face challenges within his own party, and an SDP esque split is still a possibility, as is his removal. Worst still, a protracted period in which no one challenges him and he just stays in place as a lame duck leader, unable to truly rally the party come election time. Still, if he’s able to face an election he could do better than expected and at least an election (whether it ends in victory or defeat) would resolve Labour’s leadership situation one way or the other.

Anyway, my point here is simple; the next 9 months of British politics will be just as important as the last two weeks, if not more so. Who the Tories pick, whether Labour oust Corbyn and with whom he’s replaced and most critically whether a general election is called in this timeframe are key to determining the future of the country. Ironically, what comes after the next nine months I think is far more easy to predict than what will happen within it.

As the apocryphal statement goes; may you live in interesting times.

Cheers

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Referendum Fallout

So the referendum happened, Britain decided to do a very stupid thing and a lot of people started maneuvering for power and saying some very silly things. Here I’d like to take a look at some of the silliest of the silly.

Silly Statement 1:

“It’s all Corbyn’s fault!”

Not sure anyone said this specifically, but the rush to put blame on Jeremy Corbyn, leader of the Labour Party, for a leave vote in a referendum announced by a Tory PM, campaigned for by prominent Tories – and UKIP lizard, I mean leader, Nigel Farage – voted for by Tories and UKIPers and voted against most prominently by Labour supporters is somewhat bizarre.

The blame came from all quarters – Tories wanting to deflect blame from themselves, Labour MPs who’ve tried at every opportunity to remove him from head of the party – including desperately trying to spin successful council elections into a defeat – Right-Wingers who just don’t like Corbyn and lefties who can politically gain by attacking Corbyn and Labour.

The most prominent of these lefties is Tim Farron, leader of the Lib Dems – that party that used to be in government then imploded. Tim’s main accusations levelled against the Labour leader on the BBC in the immediate aftermath of the referendum results essentially amounted to this; ‘Labour failed to deliver their areas.’ That comment is either a cynical piece of power play politics on behalf of the Lib Dem leader trying to grab pro-EU lefties from Labour or a demonstration of great idiocy. Maybe both.

Whilst it’s true many Labour areas did turn out to vote leave, that is hardly a failing of the Labour Party and its leader and more to do with simple demographics. People in lower income cohorts were more likely to vote leave and shock horror, Labour areas tend to be lower income areas. Additionally one has to remember that many of these Labour areas don’t have the highest of voter turnouts at general election time – Sunderland and Newcastle that were two of the earliest positive signs for the leave camp both registered 57% turnout at the 2015 general election, whilst Labour seats accounted for the 20 lowest in terms of turnout in 2015. Meanwhile, the turnout for the referendum was UP on the general election at 72% compared to 66% (a figure that was bolstered by higher turnout in Scotland to back the SNP). That means a lot of non-voters at the 2015 general election came out for this referendum, and my guess is those were low income and elderly people, many in Labour areas, voting to leave.

So whilst Labour areas will have turned out to vote Leave, it will not be because of Labour voters/supporters. A minority of Labour voters will have voted leave (compared to a majority of Conservative voters/supporters) but when combined with far-right voters and usual non-voters you have enough to give leave a majority from Sunderland to Sheffield to Birmingham. And one last point – the only region of England to vote for Remain was London, who, incidentally, just elected a Labour Mayor. Still, from Blairites, to Right-wingers (if indeed the two aren’t mutually inclusive), to Lib Dems to Tories, the silly statement keeps coming.

Silly Statement 2:

” If only 16-17 year olds could have voted we would have remained in!”

This is a bit unfair as I don’t think people actually think this, but there are a lot of angry young people who were not allowed a vote at this referendum, but whose future will be shaped by it and are wishing/believing that if they had a vote then maybe things would be different.

Well, the sad fact of the matter is that even with 16-17 year olds voting, we would still have voted leave. Some back of an envelope calculations show this:

Leave Vote: 17.41m, Remain Vote: 16.14m, Difference: 1.27m

Approx 1.5m 16-17 year olds in the Uk. Assume that 1m of those register to vote and turnout and that they vote in line with the youngest cohort who did vote at a ratio of 3/4 remain and we get:

New Leave Vote: 17.66m, New Remain Vote: 16.89m, Difference: 0.77m

So leave still wins. By a smaller margin, yes, but still by 770,000 votes – not nothing. It’s a shame we voted leave, it’s a shame 16-17 year olds didn’t get a say and they’re right to be angry, but their vote would not have changed the outcome.

Silly Statement 3

“It’s Labour/New Labour/Corbyn’s fault for not doing enough on immigration / people’s legitimate concerns on immigration have not been listened to by elites/the Labour party”

This is another statement that’s come out from various groups, many on the right of the centre-left in a bid to put the blame on Corbyn (again) or to make a Tory referendum, campaigned for by Tories, voted for by Tories about Labour in some self-mutilation narcissism that only the political left is capable of.

The problem with this statement is that, whilst mostly bullshit, it has some element of truth. Certainly the Labour party and political left have failed to address immigration as a policy over the last few years. Back in the Blair/Brown years it wasn’t too much of a concern; the economy was doing fine, any immigration concerns could just be waved off by talking about the economic benefits and dismissing any deeper concerns as xenophobic and racist. On the whole though, the issue was simply left off the table with a feeling that it wasn’t something we really wanted to talk about.

The problem of course came to a head with the financial crisis. The resulting recession and austerity policies resulted in the poorest in society feeling the pinch the most and of course the tabloid press were happy to present immigrants, the unemployed, the disabled, public sector workers and Europe as scapegoats – and not the wealthy and tax cuts for the wealthy that such tabloid press owners were and wanted. As a result a strong emotional feeling against immigration, elites and the change of the last decade or so emerged.

Now you might say I’m concurring with the statement; Labour failed to deal with the problem. Well yes, that’s true. But I don’t believe the solution lies with bowing to those concerns in the way that’s implied by the people who reel out this statement. To them – and I use Mr James Bloodworth as an example here – the solution to these concerns was to implement immigration controls, limit immigration numbers etc… Essentially, bow to what the right-wing wanted and, in the process, essentially admit they are correct in their fears and solutions. On this I disagree.

We could have, as Mr Bloodworth suggests, implemented controls on EU immigration in ’04. We could have ‘got serious’ on immigration, but ‘getting serious’ is usually code for promising cuts to immigration levels. And let’s be clear where that would have led: to a race to the bottom on immigration. Which party could promise the biggest cuts. Labour says 50,000, Tories 100,000, Labour 150,000, Tories 200,000… and all the while that kind of policy making and rhetoric plays right into the hands of the far-right who sit their smiling saying we promise no immigration full stop.

And immigration numbers are not the cause of people’s concerns – at least not directly. Most people who are anti-immigration live in areas where there are very few immigrants. Rather people’s attitudes – how authoritarian they are – economic/social/public services fears – built usually off the back of misinformation in the tabloid press – and emotional response to cultural change are what determine people’s view on immigration. Therefore I would argue bowing to the misinformation and fears would simply be seen as an endorsement for those beliefs and make them more concrete.

Rather, I would like to see an impassioned, emotional argument FOR immigration. Not more immigration per se, but for the principle. If immigration is put on the back-burner and ignored, I agree, resentments and concerns can build – as they have – but a left-wing party putting immigration front and centre as a policy – talking about it, positively, at every turn puts an opposing view into the public discourse that counters the lies and misinformation and gives those who aren’t predisposed to an authoritarian outlook an argument that they can get behind.

You could argue people will react negatively to this argument, and some will. But an MP was gunned down in the street, an EU referendum has been lost, how much more negatively are people going to be? I would argue ignoring the issue or going Tory-lite in a race to the bottom on the issue will be just as bad if not worse on the down sides. At least a positive approach to immigration, one where emotion, hope and direct benefits to working class communities are talked up over vague economic numbers will show people they are being listened to and that there is an alternative to the far-right on this issue.

Silly Statement 4

“The Polls predictions were wrong.”

This is a personal gripe more than anything. Polls aren’t predictions. Polls are a (vaguely) scientific attempt at gauging people’s opinions at that point in time. The number of ways the data the polling companies have gathered could be wrong and the fact people can a) lie and b) change their minds mean no poll is ever going to be a perfect reflection of people’s views. Equally predicting the future is a totally different game from polling. It is one in which polls can be used as an input when making your prediction, and pollsters themselves may well make predictions off the back of them, but polls and predictions are not interchangeable.

It’s also important to remember that polls can change people’s minds. There have been a few leave voters who have come out and said they didn’t actually think leave would win and are now a bit worried about the ramifications of the result. Would they have voted the same way if polls had been ‘predicting’ a dead heat? Equally, I dare say plenty of voters like to be on the winning side, or will stay at home if they think their side will lose anyway. Thus, if polls can influence how people vote, they cannot be great predictors in their own right.

Finally it’s worth pointing out that some polls did polls the correct outcome (or near as) whilst the polls ended up being much closer to the outcome than the betting markets believed. For myself, I will probably never let it drop that I predicted this outcome four years ago, but hey, when the stopped clock shows the right time it’s a big deal.

Cheers

 Lord Ashcroft’s Polling

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The EU Referendum: So I was Right… yay?

The EU referendum results have just been confirmed and the big question has been answered – the UK has voted to chop of its arm because it doesn’t like holding the EU’s hand. AKA Leave won…

So, if you’re reading this blog – as opposed to psychically scanning its contents into your brain somehow, a talent you must teach me – you might have noticed I haven’t posted in a while. Life happened, jobs, family etc that prevented writing frequently. But as the events of the last few hours have happened I felt it might be worth noting amongst all the ‘who would have predicted this with the polls so tight’ stuff that is beginning to come up everywhere from the TV news through to social media that, well, I did. In 2012.

Background: When I made the prediction it’s important to remember a couple of things. Firstly, David Cameron was yet to announce a referendum – obviously – he was also yet to make his pledge of holding a referendum should the Tories win the 2015 general election. So my prediction was made without knowing a referendum was coming, that the Tories would be in power in 2015 etc…

Despite not knowing those things, I predicted the Uk would not be in the EU 10 years hence – a wide margin for error, I grant you, but one which seems fair given the lack of knowledge surrounding a forthcoming referendum. Had I known what Mr Cameron (I think it’s worth disgarding his PM title sooner rather than later) was planning, clearly my predition would have been narrowed in its timeframe. Either way, I felt a referendum was coming, and that the result of such a referendum was not in doubt:

However, the second possibility is that of exit from the EU altogether. This could take place even with a pro-EU government at the helm. Perhaps the EU will demand nothing but total acceptance when the next bout of changes arrive. Maybe the calls for a referendum become too hard to ignore in the face of an all or nothing membership.

And the reality of a referendum must mean an exit.

My thoughts at the time were that Brexit was coming, but was slightly further off. That EU reforms in the face of the Eurozone crisis (remember that?) would force the Uk into a 2nd tier membership, or a referendum vote.

That said, I did not underestimate David Cameron’s capacity for putting his own political self-interest ahead of the country’s interest:

Plus there’s the Tories. Hard up in the polls, with annoying right wingers in need of placating on the backbenches… what better than an EU referendum to solve such woes?

In that event, we wouldn’t be cut and done with the EU of course. Some kind of deal would be reached regarding travel, trade and whatnot. But it would mean an exit nonetheless.

Now as with any prediction it was not perfect and you could well sit there and pick holes in my prediction: 10 years? It happened in 4. You were talking about 2nd Tier membership and being forced out by EU reforms etc. And people make predictions all the time, so you happened to write something on a blog that turned out to be true, so what?

That’s fair. But my points would be this: I make grand predictions rarely. Look back at my old posts, it’s not like I’m predicting stuff every five minutes in the hope something hits the mark. I still said the Uk would not be in the EU 10 years after 2012. Barring us re-joining in the next 6 years, that prediction was correct. I outlined two distinct, but a the time very possible ways the Uk could leave the EU – one of those two possibilities came to fruition. Thirdly, I correctly predicted a referendum would mean Brexit (regardless of when it was held). And finally, well, read this;

The only possible hope is a victory for the EU in a referendum. A sound, solid affirmation of the Uk’s continued support [for the EU]. But then, how likely is that? With the majority of the media against any further integration and most likely backing an ‘out’ campaign, I just don’t see us remaining part of the EU too far into the future.

Then this:

sunfront

Then it happened.

Alas, I’m rather reminded of a line from the Hitchhiker’s guide to the galaxy:

“I’d much rather be happy than right any day.”

Sadly I’m not.

Cheers and thanks to all those who voted Remain.

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Media Check – What Matthew Sinclair Doesn’t Tell You About Eurostat Figures

Whenever a left wing blogger doesn’t know what to write about, a sure fire way to find something to challenge that won’t take more than fifteen minutes of your time is to check out the Telegraph comments section.

Today, Matthew Sinclair has a piece which seems not really to have much in the way of direction but rather takes up plenty of words spouting your typical Telegraph soundbites.
(I count: ‘pass it [money] onto your children’, ‘punitive tax’, ‘The old Marxist lie’ and even a jibe against the ‘anti-capitalist French’…)

Aside from the splurge of your typical right-wing statements, what was the article actually trying to say? Well, the tagline went with: ‘Britain’s tax system is a complicated and unfair mess – a simpler, fairer system would benefit all’. My guess is the sub-editor installed that in a bid to make Mr Sinclair’s piece sound classier than it actually is, given there is little in the way of argument for a simpler tax system.

There’s an initial declaration that our savings are taxed multiple times (which somehow justifies tax avoidance, because if you get taxed more than once that means you don’t have to pay anymore tax ever again right?) (And also, defending tax avoiders on the basis that the tax system is complicated is like defending dangerous drivers because of all these stupid laws about staying in the correct lane and indicating etc…)

But after that the only substance in the piece is regarding some Eurostat figures which show Britain up for having an ‘uncompetitive tax system’ given that only the ‘anti-capitalist French’ have a higher rate of implicit tax on capital than we do.

Now, this is all good and true, check the figures out yourself. But what Mr Sinclair doesn’t add is why our implicit taxes on capital are that high… Sure, he makes some jibe at the end about it being because “Too many politicians and academics like to describe the return on savings as “unearned income”. That old Marxist lie is used to disguise the truth that people working hard and doing the right thing by putting some money aside are being taken apart by the tax system.” But he doesn’t actually address the real reason…

That reason is that we have some of the lowest rates of tax on ‘labour’ (the sum of all direct and indirect taxes and employees’ and employers’ social contributions levied on employed labour income divided by the total compensation of employees working in the economic territory) in Europe and a below average rate of implicit tax on consumption. Despite these ‘uncompetitive’ high tax rates (pardon me whilst I laugh) the Eurostat figures still show us having a lower tax revenue as % of GDP than Germany, France, the Netherlands, Belgium, Denmark, Finland, Sweden and Norway. Granted, we bring in more tax revenue than Greece and Ireland, proving once again that high tax rates equal disastrous economic consequences… or not

Anyhoo, the point; tax money has to come from somewhere. Yes, we tax capital highly, but only because we tax labour and consumption to a lesser (sometimes much lesser) extent. That is the obvious point to make given our overall tax revenues are comparable or lower than similar EU economies. So why isn’t Mr Sinclair’s article a tirade about why we should be paying much higher income taxes to offset these high capital taxes…? Obviously if you were serious about reducing tax on capital that’s exactly what you would do… alas, this is the Telegraph and to simply mention a tax rise that doesn’t disproportionally hit the poorest is heresy.

And it’s a shame the article doesn’t look at these different philosophies to tax between nations, because the UK’s kind of makes sense: Saying that we’ll tax those who already have wealth more highly than those trying to accumulate it, or those businesses which are trying to make wealth by employing more people, seems to foster a more competitive economy where attaining wealth is encouraged and paid for by keeping those with wealth amassed on their toes. It also means we don’t end up taxing consumption too highly so that people are free to buy things and make the wheels of the econonmy whir without feeling the ‘sticky fingers’ of the state rumaging through your pockets when you’re at the checkout.

Now, is it the best system? Should we have higher taxes on labour or consumption to pay for lower taxes on capital? That’s an interesting opinion piece I’d love to read, especially if it was written by an unbiased, well informed contributor.

A standard mud slinging, core conservative pleasing exercise from a right-wing hack, acting as an apologist for major companies who aggressively avoid paying their dues to society… that I’m much less inclined to do anything to but rip on. I hope it was worthwhile…

Cheers

Useful Links:

NEF – Mythbusters: “A competitive tax system is a better tax system”

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