Tag Archives: Jeremy Corbyn

The best result for May would be two Labour victories

There are two parliamentary by elections in the UK tomorrow both caused by the resignation of the sitting Labour MP. One is the marginal Copeland (2015 majority 2,564) and one the safer Stoke on Trent Central (2015 majority 5,179). But the pressure is all on Labour. With their ghastly poll ratings there is at least a chance of a Conservative gain in Copeland which would be the first time a governing party has gained a seat in a by election since Mitcham and Morden in 1982* and the first time from the main opposition party since Brighouse and Spenbourgh in 1960. Stoke on Trent Central might appear safer but it was a heavily pro Brexit voting area last year and Labour in their infinite (lack of) wisdom have picked a pro remain candidate and UKIP are throwing the kitchen sink (and new leader Paul Nuttal) at this seat. One defeat for Labour would be bad. Two would be catastrophic. 

In theory the Conservatives should be laughing at this. But in my opinion the best result for Prime Minister Theresa May would be two Labour holds. The reason for this is that Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn is not popular with voters and is not regarded as a potential Prime Minister by either the public or most of his own party. He is the Conservatives main electoral asset. If Labour win both by elections – especially if they win by increased majorities – Corbyn’s leadership is strengthened. Conversely if they lose one or both by elections the pressure on Corbyn will mount and he might resign or be forced out. Labour might then be led by a competent leader and the Conservatives will face a real fight in the next election. 

Plus if UKIP win the Stoke by election that party – which has been a shambles since the last election and had three leaders last year! – might mount a comeback. The Conservatives won’t want that as UKIP could attract pro Brexit Conservatives who are unhappy with the Government- in the same way as the Lib Dems are a protest for pro remain Conservatives. Theresa May does not want a UKIP revival. 

There are two by elections in history that a Conservative Government lost but the party benefited from the loss. One was Darlington in March 1983. This like Copeland was a marginal Labour seat. Labour like now had an unpopular leader in Michael Foot. The month before Labour had suffered a humiliating defeat to the SDP-Liberal Alliance in Bermondsey suffering a swing of 44.2 per cent – still a record by election swing and the pressure was on Foot. The Australian Labor Party had changed its leader just before a General Election in February 1983 and unexpectedly won that country’s General Election. People in the UK Labour Party thought a change of leadership might enable them to do the same thing. So the Darlington by election was vital. “In effect the contest became a referendum Michael Root’s leadership” (David Butler and Dennis Kavanagh “The British General Election of 1983” page 60). As it turned out Labour won with an increased majority preserving Michael Foot’s leadership. But it was a hollow victory. Ossie O’Brien the victor was an MP for less than three months. He lost his seat back to the Conservatives in the June 1983 election which the Conservatives win with a huge 144 seat majority. But had Labour lost the Darlington by election who knows? Foot might have been replaced, and Labour might have emulated their Australian counterparts and won the election. As the book on the 1983 election put it (page 43) “Darlington stayed Labour but the Conservatives were not sorry since Michael Foot was secured in office”.

Another by election that was a good defeat for the Conservatives was the Eastleigh by election of 2013. The Conservatives hoped to win the seat from their struggling Lib Dem coalition partners but Mike Thornton held the seat for the Lib Dems. But this benefited the Conservatives as like Darlington in 1983 it kept an unpopular leader – in this case Nick Clegg – in office. It also kept the Conservative-Lib Dem coalition in power. Had the Conservatives win the by election Clegg could have been toppled a more left leaning leader like Vince Cable could have been elected and the Conservative-Lib Dem coalition could have collapsed. That would have produced either a two year lame duck minority Conservative Government at best or at worst an early General Election which judging by the polls Labour would have won. Also if UKIP had won Eastleigh the UKIP surge of 2013 could have been even greater and had there been a General Election in 2013 UKIP could have gained votes and seats from the Conservatives. As it turned out Clegg survived the Coalition lasted two more years the Lib Dems got decimated in 2015 when the Conservatives win an unexpected majority. 

The precedents of 1983 and2013 suggest that if there is an unpopular leader the other party can benefit if that leader remains in office until the next General Election. It might very well be in Theresa May’s best interest for Labour to win in Copeland and Stoke tomorrow and let Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership limp on to its probable diasterous end in 2020 – If he lasts that long. 

*The 1982 Mitcham and Morden by election was a complicated affair. It was a Labour seat in 1979 but its MP Bruce Douglas-Mann defected to the SDP in 1982 and resigned to fight a by election under his new party banner (like Douglas Carswell and Mark Reckless did in 2014). But unlike those two he was unsuccessful and the seat was gained by the Conservatives. Whether it should as a Conservative gain from Labour or the SDP is debatable but it is the last occasion a UK governing party gained a seat at a by election. 

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Sturgeon must accept the will of the people

At 10 PM on Saturday it will be the first anniversary of that exit poll. The one that revealed that far from being the deadlocked Parliament that everyone was predicting, the 2015 UK General Election would see the Conservative Party easily defeat Labour by 316 seats to 239. As we now know the exit poll everybody mocked underestimated the Conservative performance rather than overestimated it as they got 331 seats and were able to form a (small) majority government. Labour went into turmoil, Ed Miliband resigned and to everyone’s astonishment Labour elected an obscure left wing backbencher Jeremy Corbyn as their leader.

This Thursday sees the first big electoral test for the UK parties since last year’s General Election. The main elections are for the Scottish Parliament, Welsh Assembly and the London Mayoral election. And although Labour are the main opposition party the elections will probably not go well for Labour. In Wales a YouGov poll suggested that their vote has gone down from 42% to 33% in five years. They would still be the largest party in the Assembly but would lose their majority if that poll is right (a big if after last year). In the English council elections it’s reckoned they will lose 150 councillors. This is because in 2012 – when these elections were last contested – the Conservative-Lib Dem coalition was at peak unpopularity and Labour’s performance was the high water mark in the Ed Miliband era. Even if Labour improved from last year they probably won’t reach their 2012 vote share hence the probable losses. Their best hope is London. In 2012 Conservative Mayor of London Boris Johnson won the election more on personal than party appeal. He is standing down having became an MP again last year. Labour candidate Sadiq Khan is favourite to beat Conservative Zac Goldsmith and if he does not Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership could be in deep trouble (as I wrote in previous post “Can Corbyn Become Prime Minister?”). If Khan does win the UK press is so London centric Corbyn could use the win there to bury bad results elsewhere (as Prime Minister David Cameron did with Johnson’s win in 2012).

One thing is certain. Labour won’t be getting good news from Scotland. Last year Labour went from 41 Scottish MPs to 1. They won’t suffer as much this time if only because the Scottish National Party (SNP) had already wiped out most of Labour’s Holyrood seats back in 2011. Opinion polls have the SNP at 49% to Labour’s 23% (compared to 45% SNP to 32% Labour in 2011). While the SNP vote seems to have plateaued at 49% – they got 49% of the vote in last year’s UK election – there is no sign of it falling. So the result is widely seen as a formality.

And as a result this election has been dull. Really dull. A 24 hour Bellathon would be more exciting. So would be watching the 20 most boring 0-0 draws in Premier League history. So would watching paint dry. And grass grow..

At least until last night. At the last Scottish Leaders debate the election came at least partly to life. First Minister Nicola Sturgeon had claimed in the press and on TV that if she is reelected on Thursday she expected another Scottish independence referendum in the next five years. For those who don’t know or remember the Scottish independence referendum was held as recently as September 18th 2014 and Independence was rejected by 55% to 45%. Yet with incredible arrogance she wants a second referendum!

Scottish Lib Dem leader Willie Rennie summed it up perfectly ” As soon as they don’t get the result they want, they want to do it all over again. Did they not get the message? We want to stay in the UK. I would even claim that you are anti-democratic”.

Spot on. And here is the hypocrisy. Next month the UK has a referendum on whether or not we should stay in the European Union (EU) – I’ll get to that subject in another post. The last time we voted on our European membership was in 1975 – 41 years ago. Why on earth is Sturgeon talking about an another independence referendum so soon after the last one while we had to wait over 40 years for a second vote on Europe?

There cannot be a second independence referendum without the approval of the UK government. Prime Minister David Cameron should make it quite clear that a second independence referendum is not on. He should also make it clear that if the SNP try to pull a stunt like Catalonia in Spain did and hold an illegal referendum that Sturgeon will be arrested and the Scottish Parliament will be shut down.

In 2014 the SNP called the independence referendum “once in a generation”. The WWE called the Rock v John Cena match at Wrestlamania 28 “once in a lifetime”. The Rock and Cena fought again at Wrestlamania 29! But the WWE is entertainment and you don’t expect promoters to tell the truth. But we still (perhaps naively) expect politicians to be honest. The SNP said that the referendum would be “once in a generation”. A generation is NOT two years. The people of Scotland rejected independence less than two years ago. Sturgeon must say there will be no referendum in the next five years. She must accept the will of the people of Scotland.

This could be a crunch week for Corbyn

Jeremy Corbyn has been leader of the Labour Party for less than three months but already the Party is in total chaos and this week could be the most critical so far. There is already talk of Labour MPs wanting rid of him and that could grow this week.

Today he finally succumbed to demands from his own Shadow Cabinet for Labour MPs to be given a free vote – that is to be allowed to make up their own minds rather than have to vote the way the leader tells them to – on the question of whether or not the UK should bomb the Islamic State (IS) in Syria. Prime Minister David Cameron has called a vote in the UK parliament for Wednesday. It was clear that Corbyn would not be able to make his MPs toe the line and that a big number would vote against their leader. To stop the party from falling apart he had to allow the free vote.

To my mind Corbyn is right to oppose air strikes – which will not defeat IS will only kill/injure innocent people and make the UK even more of a terror target – but he was wrong not to allow a free vote. This is an issue of individual conscience. MPs should be able to make up their minds on this serious issue without having to toe a party line (this should also apply to Conservative MPs). But at least David Cameron has taken a position and stuck to it. Not only has Corbyn taken the wrong position he did not even stick to it – making him both wrong and weak – a fatal combination.

But it sums up the whole problem of Corbyn’s leadership – the vast majority of Labour MPs NEVER wanted him as their leader. And their fears have been confirmed. The problem with Corbyn is not his domestic policy – there is a chance that his anti austerity policies could be accepted by the time of the 2020 UK General Election – but two other factors. His defence and foreign policies will not be accepted by the UK public who already perceive him as being utterly incapable of defending the country or responding to a crisis. It does not help that he put a nuclear disarmer Ken Livingstone in co charge of the review of Labour’s defence policy – over the head of defence spokesperson Maria Eagle – which looks to critics like Corbyn is prejudging the review and has alarmed the majority of his MPs.

But the main problem with Corbyn is not his left wing policies but the fact that the man is totally out of his depth and has been promoted way beyond his ability. In 32 years as an MP he was never more than an obscure backbencher. No one cared what he did. Whether he sung the National Anthem or bowed to the UK Queen didn’t matter but when you become leader of one of the UK’s two big parties – and thus a candidate for Prime Minister – everything you do is scrutinised and you get attacked to trivial things. Former Opposition leaders Michael Foot and William Hague got ridiculed for wearing a donkey jacket and a baseball cap respectively. Unfair? Yes. But that is the UK Press for you. Plus the fact that Corbyn rebelled against Labour leaders over 500 times and therefore can hardly force his authority on his rebellious MPs.

And he is not popular with the public. The latest polls give him a satisfaction rating of minus 12. Usually new leaders get a honeymoon period with the UK public but this has not happened here. And Corbyn’s first electoral test is on Thursday with a by-election in Oldham West and Royton which should be a walk in the park for Labour. Firstly it has a majority of 14,738 or 34.17 per cent. Secondly the late MP Michael Meacher was a Corbyn supporter which suggests that this constituency should accept Corbyn’s views. Yet Labour insiders reckon at best they will win this seat narrowly and at worst suffer a humiliating loss to UKIP. In a seat like this defeat would be a disaster and shivers would go down the spines of Labour MPs.

Perhaps a humiliating loss to UKIP might be the best thing that could happen to Labour as it would make them realise that Corbyn is toxic and has no chance in 2020. But not only would they need to overthrow Corbyn but they would have to bypass their own members. For unbelievably Labour members who elected Corbyn still think he is doing a good job. So they would need to nominate one candidate who could then be elected unopposed – as Conservative MPs did in 2003 after they overthrew Iain Duncan Smith. Dan Jarvis – who has only been an MP since 2011 and is thus untainted by the Blair/Brown Governments – would be a good candidate.

This matters because the UK needs an electable Opposition which we don’t have. It is important because if there is not a good Opposition the Government gets complacent. The Conservative Government has its problems just now. A threatened strike by junior doctors(now suspended), Chancellor George Osborne’s humiliating defeat and subsequent U-turn on tax credit cuts and a bullying story involving former Party Chairman Grant Shapps.

Plenty for a competent Opposition to get their teeth into. But we don’t have a competent Opposition. For the sake of the country – and even the Conservative Party – we need one. And soon.

Can Corbyn become Prime Minister?

A party who had suffered two bad General Election defeats elects a new leader. Everybody reckons the party has made a terrible mistake. The MPs and party members are at loggerheads. The Government thinks it is on easy street. Some of its members say – in private – “That’s it we’re home and dry. No need to worry about the next election.”* Despite the fact that the Government has a small majority and a lot of its policies are unpopular. While members of the new leader’s own party are unhappy describing their leader as “a dud, an aberration, an error crying out for correction” and reassuring themselves that their leader will be “out by Christmas”.**

Am I writing about Labour’s shock new leader Jeremy Corbyn? No. I’m writing about Margaret Thatcher’s election to the Conservative Party leadership in 1975. Ridiculous as it seems now Thatcher was seen as an unelectable extremist who would drive the Conservatives too far to the right – and her gender didn’t help – the Economist magazine said that she was unelectable because she was a woman. Conservative voters and activists wanted Edward Heath re elected but the MPs – who were the electorate – wanted change.

Today of course Corbyn is regarded as too extreme and the party members (who elected him) are at odds with the MPs (the vast majority of whom are against him). And Thatcher’s election could be seen as a backlash against unpopular former Prime Minister Edward Heath just as Corbyn’s election is a backlash against unpopular former Prime Minister Tony Blair. So can Corbyn emulate Thatcher and win the next UK General Election? (to be held in May 2020).

The omens are not good. Thatcher was never popular as leader of the Opposition. But for two events she would be but a footnote in history.

The first event was Prime Minister James Callaghan’s failure to call a General Election in October 1978 when everyone thought he would. He didn’t because some polls had the Conservatives ahead by 2% – although others had Labour narrowly ahead. But opinion polls can be wrong – as happened in 1970, February 1974, 1992 and of course 2015. And I suspect had he held an election in 1978 fear of Thatcher’s gender – the 1970s were a very sexist decade in the UK – plus fear of Thatcher’s perceived right wing polices – would have produced a similar result to 1992 or 2015 – a small Government majority of between 11 and 21.

The next – and decisive – event was the “winter of discontent”. That was the name given to a wave of public sector strikes in January/February 1979 that led to among other things rubbish lying uncollected and the dead going unburied. This turned the people against the trade unions and by extension the Labour party since Labour depended on the unions for their funding (as they still do). The Conservatives took advantage of this and when the Government lost a vote of no confidence on March 28th 1979 and was forced to call a General Election on May 3rd the Conservatives won. But even then most pundits thought they won the election despite Thatcher rather than because of her.

The precedent of the 1970s suggests that Corbyn will only win the next election if there is some crisis that discredits the Conservative Government or say a banking or an economic crisis. If the next election is fought in normal circumstances the conservatism (as in fear of change/the unknown) of the UK people will take over. Add to that boundary changes which could increase the Conservative majority from 12 to 50 and Corbyn’s task gets even harder.

In fact he will do well to survive to lead Labour into the 2020 election. While Thatcher at least had the support of the majority of her party’s MPs only a tiny majority of the Labour MPs he has to lead voted for him today and at least nine Labour MPs have refused to serve in his Shadow Cabinet.

I suspect most Labour MPs – aware that he won today with 59.5% of the vote – will hold their fire until the party’s first post election test which will be in May next year with Scottish Parliament, Welsh Assembly and London Mayoral elections. Of those the London Mayor election is by far the most important. First of all Corbyn’s Islington North constituency is in London.  Secondly London was just about the only part of the UK where Labour did well last May. Add to that the fact that current London Mayor Boris Johnson – who is more popular in London than his party – is standing down and it is clear Labour candidate Sadiq Khan should win. If Labour do not win the mayoral election it will be a disaster for the party – and Corbyn’s leadership.

Back in 1975 Thatcher won her first electoral test – a by election in marginal Woolwich West turning a Labour majority of 2,382 into a Conservative majority of 3,541 – which bought Thatcher time. Labour winning the London Mayoral election would do the same for Corbyn. But if they did not win in Corbyn’s own backyard Labour MPs could panic and do to him what the Conservatives did to Iain Duncan Smith back in 2003 and overthrow him.

Labour members by electing Corbyn have gambled that public opinion could swing in his favour. But the history of the UK suggests that that will not happen unless events go his way. And relying on events going in your favour is a very risky tactic…

*Dominic Sandbrook “Seasons in the Sun The Battle for Britain 1974 – 1979” page 252.

**ibid. page 259.

The Labour leadership race is now a shambles

You wouldn’t think it is possible but the UK Labour Party is now in an even bigger mess than it was on May 8th – the day after their shock election defeat and the resignation of Ed Miliband. The leadership election is now a total shambles with one MP saying it should be postponed – even though the result is not due to be known until September 12th and ballot papers have not even been sent out yet. How did Labour get into this state?

First lesson is never nominate a “joke” candidate. When veteran left winger Jeremy Corbyn  announced his intention to run he was treated as a joke. After all apart from anything else he surely wouldn’t get the 35 MP nominations (out of 232) needed to be able to stand. But some Labour MPs (in order to “have a debate”) nominated him with no intention of voting for him – since after all he was a “joke” candidate with no chance of winning against “serious” candidates Andy Burnham, Yvette Cooper and Liz Kendall. But – for all the fact that Corbyn like Michael Foot in the 1980s would be totally unelectable – at least you know what you’re getting with him. No one seems to know what the other three stand for. And so like the episode of “The Simpsons” where a radio station offers an elephant as a joke prize thinking no one will want it – and then Bart Simpson comes along and wants the elephant (which the station doesn’t have) Corbyn mania is seeping the Labour Party with one poll putting him ahead. The Labour establishment – including some MPs who nominated him! – are now in full “stop Corbyn” mode and are even claiming the party is being infiltrated by militants and communists who are joining the party in order to vote for Corbyn.

This may or may not be true. But if it is Labour has only itself to blame. So desperate are they for new members anybody can join Labour for just £3 – and if they do they get a vote in the leadership election (it is Labour members who vote for the leader). The Conservative supporting Daily Telegraph has encouraged its readers to join Labour  so they can vote for Corbyn who they think is unelectable. It has become such a farce that at the weekend Labour MP John Mann actually called for the contest to be delayed in order to vet new members. What Labour should have done of course is insist that only people who were members on May 8th – the day Miliband resigned and the election was triggered – were eligible to vote.

And that is Labour’s other problem. The election has gone on for far too long. It started on May 8th. It is not until August 12th that the deadline for new members comes, not until August 14th that ballot papers are sent out and not until September 12th that the result will be announced. Four months! This has left Labour totally rudderless in the Commons under a caretaker leader Harriet Harman who both she and the MPs know will be out in September. This means she has no authority. While the decision to abstain on welfare reform was wrong – you are either for something or against it – she didn’t have the authority to control her MPs – 48  of whom rebelled against her line. One suspects a leader who wasn’t a caretaker would be more able to control their backbenchers. Also as this means Labour are more concerned  with their leadership election it means the Conservative Government is getting a far easier ride in Parliament than its small majority of 11 suggests it should.

In contrast the Liberal Democrats – also in shell shock after the election and whose leader Nick Clegg resigned on the same day as Miliband – have already held their leadership election and have a new leader in post. Namely Tim Farron who was elected on July 16th. Nearly two months before Labour will have theirs elected! In fact for a party who had their MP tally reduced from 57 to 8 in May the Lib Dems are in quite good health. Party membership has gone up and their ghastly poll ratings have improved from 8% to 10%. Not much it is true but baby steps…. The Lib Dems amazingly are in a healthier state than Labour.

I don’t think Corbyn will be Labour’s next leader. The election is held on the “alternative vote” method which means if the top candidate gets less than 50% the second preferences of the bottom candidate are taken into account. So even if Corbyn is top on first preferences I can’t see many of the other three candidates supporters giving their second preference to him. And Labour surely can’t make the mistake that they did with Michael Foot in 1980 or the Conservatives did with William Hague in 1997.In the UK elections are won from the centre ground. A party that deserts the centre gets hammered. A lesson that both Foot’s Labour Party (1983) and Hague’s Conservative Party (2001) learned the hard way.

The problem is a party’s members are generally more extreme – or certainly have stronger beliefs – than the rest of the country’s more apathetic electorate (that is why they join a party in the first place) So what they want is not necessarily what a party needs to get elected. The Conservative membership after 2001 swung even further to the right with Iain Duncan Smith. That choice was a disaster but very luckily the party’s MPs overthrew him in 2003. If he had led the party in a general election I reckon they would have suffered such a devastating defeat they would not have recovered even now.

And that is what Labour members must realise. If they elect Corbyn the country will not vote for it and I suspect Labour MPs – the majority of whom will not have voted for him – will either defect to another party or – like what happened to Duncan Smith –  bring him down. Before the May election the talk was of a defeated Conservative Party splitting with the right wing defecting to the United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP). It would be ironic indeed if the party to split would be Labour. But Labour members must decide. Do we want to be in power or just be an impotent protest group? Should be an easy answer…