Winner of the New Statesman SPERI Prize in Political Economy 2016

Saturday 24 October 2015

What are ABC to do?

This is quite a long piece about politics, that I suspect no one will like. I have said before that I depart from my comfort zone of macroeconomics when I think an important point is being missed from the public debate. In this case the second sentence may follow from the first.

What should the strategy be for the great majority of Labour MPs who did not vote for Jeremy Corbyn (ABC=anyone but Corbyn)? They can continue to expound their misery to receptive political journalists. They can continue to stand aghast at the dislike that some now in power hold for their predecessors. But for a group that has lost two crucial elections within the space of a few months, they really need a more positive focus.

Tony Payne, director of SPERI at Sheffield University, has a suggestion which I think has a great deal of merit. They should “come to terms fully, properly and honestly with Labour’s record in government under Blair and Brown between 1997 and 2010”. This is not in some kind of masochistic, ‘what we got wrong’ kind of exercise, but rather to recognise what that Labour government got right. I was part of a group of academics that looked at economic policy under Labour, and the sense I got was that there were an awful lot of positives to note. But in looking at the negatives, one point that should be recognised is that these (e.g. Iraq, not enough banking regulation, perhaps not enough local support for inward migration) did not come from any tendency to be too populist. Instead rather the opposite.

I’ll come back to that in a second, but actually I decided to write this in response to another post by Tony Payne, which could perhaps be described as a lament for the centre-left. You can get the flavour from this passage:
“what underpins and ultimately characterises centrist politics (whether in its left or right variant) is a rejection of what I see as the easy moral simplicities of populist politics in favour of the complex, awkward and often unsatisfying and unsatisfactory world of governing, of trying to find the best way through the most difficult problems, even if that involves compromise. The latter is of course the dirtiest of words in the lexicon of the populist left (and right).”

I think that speaks to where a lot of the ABCs are right now. They say we tried to be sensible in the face of difficult problems, but we were outflanked on both sides by the moral simplicities of populist politics. I suspect (and to be fair Tony Payne does not make this link) it also passes as some sort of explanation as to why ABC lost two elections. They were the realists who lost out to the idealists and populists. As an explanation I think it is completely inadequate, and to be frank comes close to denial.

Let me take my own subject as an example, partly because austerity is also central to much else. In the end what quite a few of the ABCs wanted to do was to junk the complex and perhaps awkward truths of how to run a sensible fiscal policy in favour of the populist politics of talking about the nation’s credit card. Osborne’s fiscal charter is not supported by a single economist I know, but many of the ABC’s have advocated supporting it. In this case what those ABCs have been doing is adopting - or at least flirting with - populist politics, but the popular politics of the right rather than the left.

That in turns comes from what seems to be the dominant mantra of the ABCs, which is that only they are serious about trying to win elections. That is why, we are told, they have to adopt the populist policies of the other side, because only that way can they win. Notice first how different this is from the noble Weberian concept of the centre that Tony Payne puts forward. Notice second that these populist policies seem to come from the right rather than the left: whenever there is a populist policy from the left (like renationalising rail), then it becomes time to cast aside populism and be ‘sensible’.

I have struggled to understand what is going on here. But the thought that I keep coming back to is regulatory capture. This is the idea that the regulators of an industry become captured by the industry itself: by its objectives, values and methods. In some cases the reason for capture is straightforward (revolving doors), but in some cases it reflects the fact that regulators cannot match their industry in terms of knowledge and analysis. My idea is that in this case instead of an industry you have a Westminster discourse which, under the coalition, was dominated by the thinking of the centre-right. Most Labour MPs simply didn’t have the time or resources to find alternatives to this, and gradually became hostage to this discourse. As Paul Krugman might say, after a time all they hear are the views of Very Serious People.

Part of this Westminster discourse involves the tactic of exclusion for individuals and ideas that are deemed to be outlandish. (Outside the Overton window, if you like.) I have experienced that on a personal level recently: imagine a biologist being told that they would be ‘branded’ if they gave technical advice to a major political party!? Rather more important it leads some politicians on the centre left with strong skills and expertise reluctant to sit at the same table as those in their own party with more radical views, even when those holding more radical views have every incentive to seek compromise. You have to ask who benefits from this.

It is often said in politics that voters vote for and against incumbents, not oppositions. I doubt very much if Labour party members voted for Corbyn because they had suddenly become converted wholesale to a Bennite type platform. Instead they voted against what the parliamentary party had become. I think recognising their responsibility for their own failure is the first step to recovery. I said that the ABCs would do well to follow Tony Payne’s advice and focus on what the Labour government did right. One of those things was the regime of tax credits, which cut poverty and made it easier for people to work. They might then reflect on the reasoning, forces and processes that led so many of them this July to abstain on the bill that cut those credits.

The centre left needs to retrace its steps as a first stage to recovery, and learn from the many things it got right when in government. In the UK and elsewhere in Europe it is important this happens sooner rather than later. Hopefully in doing this it will rediscover positive virtues and ideals that go beyond simply a negation of populism. I strongly suspect a strong political centre (left or right) is vital for good governance, and that both the UK and Europe is suffering from its absence.   


  1. Well said. I'm sure I might disagree on some details of what constitute the positive legacy of the recent Labour governments, but I think you've hit a key point about how some "populisms" seem to get different treatment to others...

  2. Actually I like the article.

    1. Me too. So SWL makes a glaring error in his very first sentence?

  3. The creation of tax credits was well-intentioned but I am not convinced that this was one of the things that labour 'got right'. It encouraged the creation of low-skilled jobs and contributes to low productivity. Far better to invest in improving skills and invest in infrastructure like housing and transport which can make a big difference to poorer families. A higher minimum wage would have been a better way to go and Switzerland for example has a very high minimum wage which hasn't led to large scale unemployment.

    1. Switzerland is tiny. A country that size can have a couple of very competitive sectors and do very well.

    2. Far better to offer a government job to all at the living wage, eliminating unemployment and underemployment and bullshit jobs via simple competition.
      Firms then have to invest in machinery to replace jobs. It also acts as a strong auto stabiliser.

    3. Tax Credits can work well with well designed income taxation systems for both individuals and corporations. MMT says the next logical step is to extend it to the unemployed; AND, the increasingly underemployed, in the shape of the "Job Guarantee".

      Paul Ormerod (Death of Economics) said economies that avoided high unemployment in the 1970s, did so by maintaining a sector of the economy, which effectively functioned as an "employer of last resort"; absorbing economic shocks. Government maintained a pool of skilled and unskilled labour, that was on "hot standby"; keeping up its skills and moral by doing all those little public infrastructure jobs that nobody ever gets round to doing in the good times.

      Mention of well designed tax systems, reminds me of Prof Randy Wray and "tax bads, not goods" .

  4. Good summary of important issues. Labour Party members (all groupings) did indeed vote "against what the parliamentary party had become." The Labour governments did a lot of positive and good things - tax credits was one of them - but spent the first 5 years in opposition seemingly incapable of pointing out these positives and the false negatives (a banking not a spending crisis). They avoided Keynes like the plague (the Canadian Liberals didn't and won). Establishing a consistent, positive view on past and future policy positions is essential if they want to win the next election. Is it really that difficult?

  5. As well as considering the last two general elections (which were not exactly Tory landslides) you also need to consider why/ how a left Labour Party lost two elections by landslides in the 80's and a centre left Labour Party won three elections '97 to '05 (including two landslides). General elections tend to take place in one of two contexts: either 'normality' or more rarely 'extraordinary'. Since 1974 only 1983, 1997 or 2010 could be defined as extraordinary- either in terms of the actual moment of election or that the election provided voters with a delayed opportunity to stick 2 fingers up. In 'normal' context elections voters tend to support the government unless they have moved away from the centre ground too far. The exception to this is where the opposition itself has moved even further to their own extreme. All an extreme left Labour opposition has done historically is lose elections and open the door to a more extreme Tory governing agenda. There is no evidence at all to suggest this has changed.

    This is not to say that the labour centre right and soft left need to organise to fend off the Foot era Stalinist purges being planned. That goes without saying and has little to do with policies- populist or otherwise- but more so with organisational capacity at the very local level. Put it simply they need to pack meetings just as the Corbynites are trying to do.

    BUT...they also need a platform and to revive and update their Croslandite, Fabian, Weberian heritage. In this regard the Payne article is- respectfully- more useful than your observations.

    Lastly it would be helpful to deploy the acronym 'ABC' without the dog whistle of pejorative that you- and to be fair many others- utilise. Remember that- amongst fully paid up party members 50.4% were "ABC"...

    1. Which Foot era Staliinst purges would that be?

    2. There is no dog whistle from me - I meant what I said in the last paragraph. In short my comments are meant to be helpful. The fact that you assumed otherwise perhaps says a lot about the position that you and others seem to be in right now. I know its hard, but sometimes it is important to take responsibility and admit mistakes.

      I also think starting by going on about 1983 is a mistake. Corbyn and McDonnell are in a far weaker position. As a result, I suspect Labour's policy positions will be closer to Blair/Brown than Benn. That puts the centre left in a very different position. A policy of cooperation coupled with fighting for sensible policies will be a far better way to win back the Labour party electorate.

    3. "amongst fully paid up party members 50.4% were "ABC" - not so. We could measure the ABC votes quite accurateky since the voting system was preferential. The Labour party hasnl;t, howver, published a full breakdown. THe closest we have is a YouGov'Times survey of 6-10th of Aug, the last leadrship survey done before they stopped polling (realising, I guess, that further polls would only promote a bandwagon effect - which I agree would be undesirable, though for the media/pollsters all to pick this bandwagon alone as to be minimised is of course somewhat dodgy).

      The poll in question ( ) didn't give a full breakdown of prefs but came pretty close by modelling the election results likely to arise from various observed distributions of intended preference votes, allowing for some margin odf error so that two alternative final round scenarios arose: Corbyn v Cooper & Corbyn v Burnham.

      Among members the final round projections were:
      Corbyn 57 Cooper 43
      Corbyn 56 Burnham 44

      To find a subset of members moang which ABC had a (narrow) win, you had to go back to current members who had joined before Miliband became leader. In that subset, the final round projection was:

      Corbyn 48 Cooper 52
      Corbyn 47 Burnham 53

      Myself, I joined in 2012 to support Milliband's attempts to achieve a very slight leftward re-alignment. Having the seen the utter intransigence of the NuLab establishment, the open briefing against Miliband, etc., and having also observed the multi-polar elecoral climate in which Labour was losing (& also of course not regainingvoters on the left) I weighed up the all the obvious cons of a Corbyn vote and eventually decided there was no alternative. Continuing to chase the Tory agenda, carrying on with all the baggage of the NuLab years and the total & irreversible cock-up made of the austerity/deficit issue was clearly a route to electoral oblivion. We had to tr to take control of the agenda, re-recruit all those who like me had simply dropped the party when Blair took over (I first voted in 1992, for Kinnock - and then drifted away when it seemed clear enough to me that an alien ideology had hijacked the party.)

      This Twitter-meme gives some indication of my thinking on the hard decision to vote Corbyn:

      And this more ill-tempered one, of the NuLab establishment's duplicitous attempt to maintain what (cliché or not) is basically a 'Tory-lite' approach:

  6. " I have experienced that on a personal level recently: imagine a biologist being told that they would be ‘branded’ if they gave technical advice to a major political party!?"
    Disgraceful. Stick it to them Simon!

  7. It's hard to win elections with "sensible" politics. For one, people also (though not exclusively) vote with their hearts. Secondly, the sensible policies aimed at increasing the general welfare might not necessarily increase the welfare of every single person. Economic theory says that one needs lump-sum taxes and transfers to achieve that. And without these transfers, "sensible" policies might achieve worse outcomes for many voters, especially for the core constituencies of Labour, for example, free trade agreements or tax reductions (which also lead to a decline in public investments and of public goods). And indeed, the conflict between the general benefit of sensible policies and the individual benefit of left policies has, in the last 30 years, always resulted in a solution of the centre-right kind. That was all good and well during the optimistic 90s and 00s until 2008.

  8. I don't think that anybody at all is "Anybody But Corbyn" on the basis of a more Keynesian approach to fiscal policy than has hitherto been put forward. To think like that is to show breathtaking blindness to why people have walked away. So yes, someone like me does think Corbyn is pursuing a daft electoral strategy (cheered on it seems by you). Yes I think the crazy positions that he adopted to get elected (on 'People's QE' and tax ) were borderline dishonest.

    But, I very much doubt that shillings and pence disagreements would cause me and others to walk away.

    I have set out for you before the positions, associations and statements on a variety of domestic and international issues that Corbyn and McDonnell have adopted that, for me, put them beyond the pale. This week we have another example with the astonishing appointment of Seumas Milne, at best an apologist for Putin, as head of strategy and communications. I agree with this

    It is really hard for oppositions to win elections in the UK without the aid of a financial crisis that dicredits the incumbent government. 2010, 1997, 1979, 1975, 1970 all followed that pattern. You have to go back to 1964 for that not to be true. That is why electing E Miliband as leader in 2010 was so foolish: if the opposition doesn't play its very top game it will lose. Electing Corbyn is just giving up.

    I know you want arguing for a version of the General Theory to be a good electoral strategy, but I very much doubt it. We won't know for sure until 2020.

    What I am completely certain about is that you are wilfully blind as to why others will not work for Corbyn and McDonnell.

    1. "Willfully blind as why others will not work for Corbyn or McDonnell?"

      This is of course nonsense. that nobody likes to work for Corbyn. The ones who do not want to work for him, would like to believe in a simple world. A simple world with simple truths, as offered in the pub, the Daily Express/Mail/Sun the Torygraph, the brainwashed focus groups, and the Spinning Hugo additions to the debate.

      Putin is bad, so are deficits, and if you defend any achievements of the Soviet Union you are rediculed in the press (as Seumas Milne is) in the same week as the government signs multi-billion contracts with the China.

      In China, we have of course the same autocratic, totalitarian Party in charge which previously was responsible for similar number of deaths, as the alleged "Stalinist" Seumas Milne allegedly "defends".

      So it is all a matter of spin, and brain-washing, really.

      Wren -Lewis calls it regulatory capture. But it is re-framing the debate - on purpose of course, which is really going on.

      There is good reason to demonise the Corbyn camp and his spokesman Milne, as they are of course the real threat to the spin/re-framing which gives us "Putin apologists and deficit deniers".

      Ultimately it is about the power to tax, and to issue money. That is where Corbyn is dangerous to the ones who would lose out from higher taxes and alternative money issuing methods.

      Ultimately they, and their Tory multi-billionaire press, and their apologists such as Spinning Hugo, are really afraid that this power can be taken away from the select wealthy and give it to the democratically elected government.

      That is what this is all about.

    2. You misunderstood. The context was Tony Payne's suggestion that centrists would prefer sensible to populist positions. If ABCs define themselves in this way, fiscal policy is a rather important counterexample, and there are others.

      Not wanting to work with people because their views are 'beyond the pale' is fine, of course. We can all exchange views about what should be beyond the pale.

      But sometimes people have said to me that their absolute priority is to make sure that Corbyn/McDonnell are seen to fail as soon as possible so that they can be replaced and Labour can therefore (in their view) have a chance of winning. It is not clear to me that refusing to work with them is the best way to achieve that. But no one seems willing to discuss this with me, so all I can do is raise the question.

      "What I am completely certain about is that you are wilfully blind as to why others will not work for Corbyn and McDonnell." And despite all your efforts! But I do not get too cross about people telling me what they think I know. What I do get annoyed about is people who think they are more than political hacks yet go on to presume that just because I'm willing to provide macroeconomic advice to the Labour leadership that I must therefore support their position, and that even if I do not I deserve to be branded as collaborating with the enemy forever more. That is the immature politics of the playground.

    3. Matt: It is interesting to speculate what would have happened if it had been Corbyn, rather than this government, that had suggested allowing China to build nuclear power stations on UK soil. Somehow I doubt it would be just a quickly forgotten story about security threats:

      Some people might even have said it was beyond the pale.

    4. On the first point, about whether centrists adopt sensible or populist positions, I have some sympathy. Nuclear weapons, planning and tax reform, and immigration are all examples where the popular, and centrist, position is almost certainly wrong. I suspect that on these examples (and even, broadly, on fiscal policy) we are of one mind

      However, the current leadership of the Labour party obtained power with the most ridiculous and implausible populist platform. On tax, nationalisation, University tuition, and the NHS it was evidence free rubbish from beginning to end. Tickling the belly of the faithful. No brand of politics is free from accusations of populism in a democracy: being popular is after all how you win.

      "But sometimes people have said to me that their absolute priority is to make sure that Corbyn/McDonnell are seen to fail as soon as possible so that they can be replaced and Labour can therefore (in their view) have a chance of winning."

      That, of course, is not something we can prove one way or another. It requires judgement, as so much of politics does.It is not impossible that Corbyn could win in 2020. Indeed, considerably shorter odds than his winning the leadership in the first place. I'd guess it is about 12/1, and so far from impossible. We could have an economic disaster in, say, 2019 that let him in.

      Corbyn's behaviour seems to me to be that of someone more interested in transforming the Labour party in the long term than winning in 2020. McDonnell, Milne and Momentum reflect that.

      If he did win, the long term consequences for Labour and the left in the UK, would be catastrophic. Again, that is a matter requiring judgement and I cannot prove it.

      For those who don't know who Labour's new head of strategy is, there is a good collection of his views here

      You are, I think, an idealist. You think that 'sensible' policies ought to win in a democracy and that is that. I think you have to be a bit more pragmatic than that, and that we must never let the best become an enemy of the good. What you need to say to win, and what you can then do once you have, not being the same thing.

      I also worry about an idealist in the company of John McDonnell.

      We have, of course, already discussed whether your choosing to give advice publicly instead of privately, can legitimately be taken as giving support to Corbyn and McDonnell. As McDonnell invoked you in his conference speech, I appear to share his view on that.

    5. That's an excellent point, Simon. When making judgements on so many things, a good policy is always to think, what if the other person/side said this?

  9. You forgot Krugman's post AUG 4 11:36 AM 'Corbyn and the Cringe Caucus', where:

    'What’s been going on within Labour reminds me of what went on within the Democratic Party under Reagan and again for a while under Bush: many leading figures in the party fell into what Josh Marshall used to call the “cringe”, basically accepting the right’s worldview but trying to win office by being a bit milder. There was a Stamaty cartoon during the Reagan years that, as I remember it, showed Democrats laying out their platform: big military spending, tax cuts for the rich, benefit cuts for the poor. “But how does that make you different from Republicans?” “Compassion — we care about the victims of our policies.”'

    What Labour's self-styled centrists mean is accepting the world-view as put forward by Rupert Murdoch, only that view is, as he had it in his 21 October 2010 speech at the CPS, both Austerian and Austrian:

    "As Margaret Thatcher long ago foresaw: "Adam Smith's 'invisible hand' is not above sudden, disturbing movements. Since its inception, capitalism has known slumps and recessions, bubble and froth; no one has yet dis-invented the business cycle, and probably no one will; and what Schumpeter famously called the 'gales of creative destruction' still roar mightily from time to time...In the short term, a government that is generous with other people's money – and prints more of its own – dangles the promise of a comfortable life, where all the essentials are taken care of. We are again learning, the hard way, that this is a false security. The only real security is the security of opportunity. That is where we must aid the dispossessed...if a government hoards resources, the resourceful will not prosper...For all of us here, however, the word Thatcherite is a source of inspiration."

    1. Yes and it is quite clear that the impetus to support Corbyn - the 'anyone but ABC' candidate - is that he made it clear that he would take on the post-Thatcher elite consensus, without all the hopelessly self-fulfilling (and often purely cosmetic) meta-concerns about 'electability' and the slavish adherence to of whatever the latest push-poll (or worse, focus group) might afford in the way of a (lagging) snapshot analysis of a supremely shallow and malleable 'public opinion'.

      By shedding all the sclerotic self-censorship that goes with chasing the chimera of a narrow election win fought on a Tory-defined and controlled 'centre ground', Corbyn is in a position to actually change the debate. What happens in 2020 is currently unknowable. The Conservatives will be having a leadership change before that (my money is on Johnson - the Tory Corbyn). Maybe Labour will too - but the membership are not going to revert to NuLab, so any successor to Corbyn will need to be able to take advantage of the groundwork he is laying, not try and pretend it was all some kind of childish aberration. It isn't.

      Mandelson's leaked memo was no doubt intended to be self-fulfilling and written to be leaked, i.e. a slightly-deniable public briefing - but his statement that the desirable course of events is for Corbyn to fight and lose an election shows just where his priorities are. Referring to the Kinnock-era Labour supporters now returning to the fold after the demise of NuLab as 'Old Labour retreads' - and stating that this 'colours the legitimacy' of Corbyn's victory shows just how little concern he - and the Progress clique he is addressing - have for rebuilding Labour support if it means deviating from their ideological programme.

      Maybe the Labour electorate's decision will take another election cycle to bear fruit - but I don't know how anyone can imagine that a Cooper or Burnham-led party would have had any chance of winning in 2020, so that issue is at worst a wash.

  10. The Liberal Party of Canada just won an election with this in their platform: “Interest rates are at historic lows, our current infrastructure is aging rapidly, and our economy is stuck in neutral. Now is the time to invest.” They promised to run budget deficits.

    That's heartening, no? I don't believe Canadians are subject to the same amount of anti-government propaganda as elsewhere.

    "I have struggled to understand what is going on here. But the thought that I keep coming back to is regulatory capture. ... Most Labour MPs simply didn’t have the time or resources to find alternatives to this, and gradually became hostage to this discourse."

    In the first Democratic party debate, Bernie Sanders said to Hillary Clinton, "It's not that Congress doesn't regulate Wall Street. It's that Wall Street regulates Congress."

    I'm afraid that if (when) Hillary wins she won't do enough to tame the financial sector. She talks too much like the ABC Labour members. The problem is that Republicans are so much worse and so we're stuck with a dilemma of sorts.

    All progressives can do is push for better politicians at all levels, politicians who are not captured by the Bubble and Mediamacro.

    1. "I'm afraid that if (when) Hillary wins she won't do enough to tame the financial sector. She talks too much like the ABC Labour members. The problem is that Republicans are so much worse and so we're stuck with a dilemma of sorts."

      In the US system, the president has very limited power in this area if she lacks support in Congress (as will likely be the case). So we will likely be stuck with rule of our economy by the finance sector for the foreseeable future, regardless of who is elected president. Of course, given Clinton's donor base, it is unlikely she'll even use what little power she'll have. It's really a rather bleak picture here.

  11. Canada 2015. Liberals won by rejecting austerity _when appropriate_.

    Voters are not idiots incapable of understanding basic macroeconomics. Grade school math is enough.

    1. "Voters are not idiots incapable of understanding basic macroeconomics."

      No they aren't, but the centrists apparently are. How do you explain that?

  12. Bravo. Accurate observations. Especially the one about the inhabitants of the Westminster bubble being mainly driven by a desire to rule rather than to solve problems; this lies at the heart of the protest vote that Corbyn represents.

    1. Maybe Labor-centrists, like DC-based Democratic "centrists" in the U.S., are more addicted to the bi-partisan cocktail parties in the capital than dedicated to winning elections for the party. The most infuriating thing to the Democratic base in the heartland about members of the U.S. version is that they refuse to fight to win. They refuse to get sound the alarms about Republican dominance of the legislature and state governments, and always pull their punches when the could be with devastating effectiveness attacking Republicans where they are most vulnerable. They also refuse to learn anything from the surprising strength of Bernie Sanders, just as Labor centrists appear to be learning nothing about the meaning of Corbyn's victory. To her credit, Hillary Clinton does seem to be channeling the Sanders phenomenon in her policy positions, differentiating herself more on tone than substance.

    2. Agreed. The parallels you draw between DC-based Democratic 'centrists' and the parliamentary Labour members are valid. It's like top-flight footballers here (the round ball not the pigskin one); they have become so distanced from their supporters through the scale and manner in which they earn their living that they share far more in common with their supposed opponents and naturally identify with them. Only the ideologically purblind (like die-hard football supporters) fail to see the reality in front of their eyes; they are not like us any more.

  13. RE: "ABC did not get 50.4 as figures not available"

    Not true I'm afraid Comrade.

    Full figures are provided by the Labour Party here

    - and in fact have been for nearly a month!

    To summarise it for you:

    245,520 full actual party members expressed at least a first preference: of which 121,751 were for Corbyn.

    That's **49.59%** of the vote for Corbyn = meaning your pejorative 'ABC' members (the sensible ones) amounted to 50.41% of the vote. A majority of Labour members (albeit slim) did NOT vote for Corbyn.

    Amongst Union and affiliates 71,546 voted with 41,217 placing Corbyn first.

    Amongst the 3 quid open primary voters 105,598 voted with 88,449 placing Corbyn first. These were the Trots,Stalinists,Greens and old labour lefty's who were never members, were expelled or who left the party when it was winning landslide victories. They've returned: quite probably to make it unelectable again it would seem- at least for the next year or two...

    The total Labour Party leadership September 2015 'selectorate' was 422,664 The registered electorate at the May 2015 general election was 46,354,197.

    ** So the "new politics" amounted to an election of some "enthused" 0.9% of eligible voters!!

    I would never claim that motivated young lefties/ 'resistors' / anti capitalists / anarcho-libertarians and life long lefties wanting one last hosanna before parting the mortal coil could not total up to circa 225,000 people.

    But that won't and will never get Labour governing. It actually is not enough to win the combined authority for Manchester Mayoral election should the entire cabal be located in Lancashire!

    Furthermore the soft left who voted with their hearts in this open primary will- as before in the 80s- lose faith as election defeat upon defeat mounts. Leaving only the newly re-entered far and hard left as minority faction true believers.

    Enjoy the next 2.5 years and especially this current 'epoch': the high water mark of Corbynism. The soft right will be helping out as much as they can in the meantime.

    1. Rob - you are still fighting an election you lost, and deluding yourself about why you lost it. That is a problem because it shows no clear strategy for winning again. You can talk about 'lefties' all you like but you are just ignoring the possibility that ABC lost because perfectly ordinary party members had lost faith in the majority of the party. In part they lost faith in its ability to win elections.

      Your model is that once Corbyn fails the membership will come to its senses and flock back to those who are now greeting every Corbyn/McDonnell mistake with a loud I told you so. Maybe they will, but I suspect what is more likely is that they will go for someone who has been prepared to work with Corbyn, and who appears to move on from rather than revisit the recent election.

      The contrast between the two elections is indicative. Many in Labour were quick to blame their defeat at the national elections on their own policies and their own performance. They did not say the electorate have lost their minds and they will come flocking back when Cameron fails. The reaction of some to the Labour party election defeat is very different - no hint of trying to analyse why that electorate might have rationally voted against them.

    2. 1/2
      "Leftie" etc is merely convenient nomenclature- which I can assure you is still used by many of the individuals and groupings concerned among themselves!

      Cruddas has done a great job in dissecting the May 2015 general election, but his messages (on things like policy attitudes to migration, spending/ taxation and welfare) are ones that the Corbynites don't want to hear let alone use as a basis for moving forward! Instead they peddle the old tired stuff about "betrayal" by Labours 'machine'/ 'establishment'/ 'the right' in government (as Benn did at the ALPC 1980) etc etc ad nauseam. Some of them even believe that if we had offered a 'truly socialist' manifesto we would have won a landslide in May 2015! Whereas- conversely- Cruddas explanation for the defeat simply does *not* then lead to Corbynism as the answer. But- and I agree with the critique of them as plastic empty suited ex Spads- neither did it lead to the three 'ABC' candidates either.

    3. 2/2
      If you also want to analyse the open primary then let's do it. In essence the rules-and their own complacency (even people like me could not be bothered to vote)- did for the 'hard right': in combination with Ed Millibands leadership which had led to large scale 'exitism' from the party. Nobody should underestimate how far CLP membership changed complexion from 2007-2015 primarily due to people leaving rather than joining. But the overriding key element- the catalyst if you like- was an old fashioned far left 'packing of a meeting': in this instance signing up 3 quid supporters and encouraging TU take up. 200k leftists/ greens/ anarchists (notwithstanding Malicuous Tories and Kippers!) means nothing in the context of a UK general election. But in an open primary of 400k it was decisive. In addition to this there was a lot of shock/despair within the soft left after May and this is why Corbyn only lost by 1% in the membership section. Many (this time) voted with heart not head.

      However since Corbyns leadership I've rejoined and know many others who have. LF is stronger than ever and the 100 or so students who came into my ward (it includes a uni HoR) were overwhelmingly soft left not Corbynite: I was so pleasantly surprised! I don't think the party has changed anywhere near as much as some Corbynites (in their echo chamber) think: but it would be foolish to deny there has been a pivot left for the moment. Deselection is overblown- and will look decidedly 'iffy' should a Corbynite be parachuted into a new CLP that is the result of a merger between 2 existing Labour seats and the two MPs have been excluded. The notion that people who disagree with Corbyn should be deselected is chutzpah of the highest order: on that logic JC and JM et al should have been deselected years ago. IMHO 'deselection' is mainly a fantasy of some of the really old old labour brigade who actually do want to recreate their youth in the early 1980s.

      I also think it would be wrong to say- at least for the moment- that this is 1979-1983 repeated. Most of the current economic policy stance is classic social democracy (not Bennite AES siege nor Blairite neoliberal accommodation)- the wilder stuff from the Corbyn leadership campaign has been dropped: at least for now. The foreign and defence policy stuff (esp CND pro Islamism and open borders) are IMHO sure fire vote losers. But not (yet) party policy. I suspect some will never be. But if/ as Labour loses elections it should win, and/or performs poorly then the 'mandate' from the open primary shrinks. It wasn't the coronation that undermined Brown, nor the fratricidal victory that undermined Ed: it was electoral losses and/ or the poor polling.

    4. I was underwhelmed by the Cruddas analysis. I commented on the bit about austerity here:

      The current leadership are at least going in the right direction on austerity (although only just!)

    5. I think Rob Stevens must be addressing me with his snide comment. As he might have realised had he not assumed I must be some kind of moron, I am aware of the first preference breakdown issued by the Labour party, and assumed everyone else interested in the topic would be too.

      If this is the level of reading comprehension to be expected, I'm glad I didn't take more trouble to check typos.

    6. Considering that Cruddas' latest pronouncement is that Osborne is more in tune with the North of England than Labour, I wonder for his sanity.

    7. I think it's worth remembering that in the last forty years the Labour Party has only won with Tony Blair as leader, IMHO their most right wing leader ever.

      They failed to win with Messers Callaghan, Foot, Kinnock, Smith (who never got a chance), Brown and Milliband at the helm.

      The British people have had repeated opportunities to vote for leftist led Labour Parties of one sort or another and have comprehensively failed to do so. Putting Mr Corbyn at the helm makes Labour highly likely to lose the next election, history tells us that.

    8. Whatever the case, the membership has changed significantly since, including myself and several I know who were not part of that election process and have not previously been members of any party.

      Nice article, articulates my feelings better than I could (sorry for the anonymous post).

    9. Without wishing to flog a dead stalking horse, perhaps it's necessary to spell out the point of my earlier reference to the Times/Yougov poll of 6-10 Aug ( ).

      Since the published Labour party figures for the leadership election only showed first preferences, they couldn't indicate the size of the 'anyone but Corbyn' vote - i.e. those who didn't express a preference for Corbyn over any other candidate.

      The best publicly available data for this purpose is the poll data. Here are the figures relating to members that can be compared as between poll and the actual election result:
      First preference votes of Labour Party members (%):

      Poll Outturn
      JC 49 49.6
      AB 22 22.7
      YC 20 22.2
      LK 9 5.5

      (The poll figures are rounded to the nearest whole number - my figures are rounded to one dec place.)

      We can see that the poll overstates the eventual support for LK by 3.5 percentage points, and that most of that residue (2.2pp) goes to YC in the outturn, with JC taking 0.6pp & AB 0.7pp. As percentages (JC,AB,YC) this is (17,20,63). Since the poll data shows 2nd prefs among LK 1st pref voters as (11,22,67), this doesn't seem to represent any major change in the rankings of the 3 main candidates.

      The relevant data for assessing the level of ABC support as indicated by the poll are the results of the notional calculation of the instant runoff process. As mentioned in a previous comment, YouGov's model has the ABC candidate getting 43 or 44 % among all members, with Corbyn obviously taking the complementary 57 or 56: a clear majority. Among current members who joined before GE2015, the ABC candidate gets 48% to Corbyn's 52, while it is only among current members who pre-date Miliband's election as leader that the ABC candidate gets a majority, with a share of 52:48. Since no procedural outcome is at issue, both of the latter two outcomes are to all intents & purposes evenly balanced as between those who did and those who didn't 'vote for Corbyn'.

      (Of course the same applies to the learned Rob's citation of the fact that Corbyn was 0.41+e percentage points short of a majority of members' first preferences. This figure is of no interest except as input to a decision procedure in which a tie is not an option; it didn't & doesn't function as such an input in this discussion or anywhere else.

      A couple of other figures can be derived to further illustrate the fact that a 1st-pref vote for a non-Corbyn candidate is not the same as a preference for ABC.

      Among all members who gave AB either 1st pref or 2nd behind LK, 29% gave JC rather than YC as their next preference. This figure was the same for pre-Miliband joiners.

      Among all members who gave YC either 1st pref or 2nd behind LK, 23% gave JC rather than AB as their next preference. Among pre-Miliband joiners, the figure was 22%.

      Of course these figures don't tell us the reasons why members voted as they did. If my own deliberations are any guide to this, I suspect that many people who voted ABC did so because they doubted Corbyn's appeal to the wider electorate on either 'ad hominem' or 'ad personam' grounds - where the former refers to inessential features of his overall stance - philosophical or political baggage - and the latter to various personal characteristics (as seen through the imagined eyes of target voters).

      To the extent that these were decisive considerations, the degree of dissent from NuLab's approach, even factoring in tactical and strategic electoral considerations, will have been understated.

  14. I think you will find, Simon W-L, that time has moved on for the PLP, including the so-called ABCs. There is a growing body of 'moderate pragmatic'(for want of a better label)MPs, who may not have great faith in Corbyn's leadership, who nevertheless realise that Labour could not move forward with a radical project with any of those closely involved with the last 5 years of missed opportunities (see John Cruddas; critique)or the disastrous G election campaign at their head. So it's no longer ABC, I can assure you. Totally agree that neither the majority of the Labour membership, nor the majority of the potential Labour voting general public has turned Bennite left, but also would like to point out that however ineffectual the PLP were in opposition, however incoherent their electoral strategy, they were never guilty of espousing the Tories ideologically led cuts to public services and the state. Also, the July abstention on the bill that included tax credits was a matter of technical parliamentary procedure, in the face of a Tory trap similar to that of the Fiscal Charter. Many moderates/modernisers - inc people like Keir Starmer - are on record with an explanation of this.

    1. I hope you are right, although from some of the comments above it is also clear that some are not being self-critical at all. If you had read my posts around the May election you will know that I do not need reminding of the crucial differences between Labour and the Conservatives then. I might even say that I wanted to shout about them more than the Labour leadership! On the July vote, the 'trap' Osborne set was entirely in the minds of the PLP and the Osborne-supporting media, which is part of the problem of 'capture' that I talked about in my post.

  15. I do remember your posts from before the GE, and yes, they should have shouted louder - and for the previous 5 years. But until Labour have a leader who the majority of the electorate will trust and listen to, and who they can envisage being PM, few are actually going to listen, however many respected people advise them, however solid their policies may become . Corbyn may be seen as trustworthy on a personal level, but I think the majority will never trust him with the economy. Sadly, it may be as superficial as that.

  16. «But in looking at the negatives, one point that should be recognised is that these (e.g. Iraq, not enough banking regulation, perhaps not enough local support for inward migration) did not come from any tendency to be too populist. Instead rather the opposite.»

    The main government policy of the past 30 years, of both the Thatcher and the Blair/Brown and Osborne/Cameron governments, has been to pump up leverage on collateralized debt to deliver large tax-free work-free capital gains every year to southern middle-class property speculators. This policy has been populist and loudly advertised by both Conservative and New Labour as a populist policy aimed at those "aspirational" voters.

    This populist policy has been directly responsible for a considerable number of issues, and largely also for the 2008 crisis, and continuing large financial stability threats. Even the BoE, who has been happy to help push up asset prices for decades, eventually feebly voiced some regrets.

    That seems to me a pretty huge populist negative.

  17. «It is often said in politics that voters vote for and against incumbents, not oppositions»

    Most election in the UK since the 1930s (and practically all since 1979) have been won or lost on whether property prices were going up in the South. That G Radice has called the "Southern discomfort" issue from a political viewpoint and C Crouch "fiscal keynesianism" from an economic one.

    Both New Labour and the Conservatives have accordingly "triangulated": the core Labour base (low income workers and tenants, mostly in the North) are a minority, as are the core Conservative base (speculators on leverage and property owners, mostly in the South); thus both have been pandering to the southern middle classes to build an alliance between their core base and them for a parliamentary majority.

    But the alliance between southern middle-classes and Conservatives has been run mainly for the benefit of the Conservative core base, while the alliance between them and New Labour has been run mainly for the benefit of the southern middle classes. It appears that the New Labour elites think that their core base is not that of Labour, but those southern middle-classes.

    The Corbyn story seems to me that at the core Labour voters have therefore tired to elect as leaders New Labour figures that then run the country in the interest of those southern middle-classes, with the tiniest help for their core voters, and then only because of G Brown's determination. If the Conservatives get into government, the City and also the southern middle-classes get taken care of; if New Labour wins, the southern middle-classes get taken care of, and also the City but only in small part the Labour core base.

    Why should they vote for various flavours of triangulators given that when they get elected their main policies are so similar to those of the Conservatives? In particular as to making it really expensive for Northern workers to move South to find jobs, because the core populist policy of New Labour and Conservatives are the same, bigger work-free tax-free capital gains for the southern middle-classes...

    My usual quotes:

    Lance Price's diary, 1999-10-19:
    «Philip Gould analysed our problem very clearly. We don’t know what we are. Gordon wants us to be a radical progressive, movement, but wants us to keep our heads down on Europe.
    Peter [Mandelson] thinks that we are a quasi-Conservative Party but that we should stick our necks out on Europe.
    Philip didn’t say this, but I think TB either can’t make up his mind or wants »
    «Another of Thatcher’s magic potions was ‘home equity withdrawal’ or remortgaging – drawing down the equity in the borrowers home for (mainly) consumption purposes – new cars, holidays, and so forth. Under the two Prime Ministers that preceded her, James Callaghan and Ted Heath, home equity withdrawal as a percentage of GDP growth was around 36% for both.
    Under Thatcher, this exploded to over £250bn across her premiership – a staggering 104% of GDP growth.
    [ ... ] But Blair did his homework and let loose – as did Thatcher – a wave of cheap credit, financial deregulation, house price inflation and an equity withdrawal-led consumption boom.
    Withdrawals under Blair’s leadership totalled around £365bn, that’s a full 103% of GDP growth over the same period,»

  18. Yes indeed " austerity is also central to much else". But why is austerity "populist" ? I think you are using the word to mean "not based on rational analysis of evidence" or "emotional and not to put to fine a point on it stupid".

    I think the relevant definition of populist is "trusting the judgment of and advancing the interests of the majority of ordinary people"*. The ideology includes the belief that ordinary people know which policies serve their interests. Based on this definition it almost has to be true that populism is the way to win elections (the original conflict here in Rome of populists v optimates was a struggle of democracy vs oligarchy).

    I think it is very odd that the ABCs think they know how to win elections. In fact the centre left austerity with a human face programme has been rejected in election after election all over Europe.

    I admit that most people are influenced by references to the national credit card and such. But they also (often in the same polls) support increased spending on health, education, infrastructure, pensions and well all the major spending programs (with the possible exceptions of military spending and cash benefits for the non-working poor ). In the end, I think the best data are election returns, and they show a continent wide rejection of the centre left.

    I'd say austerianism is not populist -- it is not technocratic either. I think it is an ideology with great power over an unthinking power elite.

    Oh I see that aside from semantic quibbles I agree with you.

  19. The reason why the Labour Party lost two elections is the same reason why the US Republican Party lost two: they were in power when the bubble burst.

    1. If you look at the votes graph, there is no sharp discontinuity there. Blair jumped on the bandwagon at the right time, then having hollowed out the Labour party and rehabilitated the Conservatives as part of a new consensus, jumped off before those two trends crossed over.

  20. I can't get away from the fact that the tax credit system which the Tories are now dismantling - and on whose dismantlement all the Very Serious People advocated a Labour abstention - was itself a New Labour achievement. New Labour was a set of policies and priorities, with some genuine achievements to its name, but it was also always a direction of travel - and that now seems to be all that's left of it. Small wonder that the Labour Left is now digging its heels in - and that the position where their flag is planted is somewhere around what was the soggy centre-ground, back in the fabled early 80s. (Renationalise the railways? The SDP would never have privatised them in the first place - or energy, or coal and steel for that matter.) It's also, perhaps, not surprising that Corbyn plus mild social democracy is proving genuinely popular.

  21. We need to get away from the notion that centrism and pragmatism are the same thing. One can be on the right or left rather than in the center and be quite willing to compromise to get things done and be willing to govern with those that think differently. For example, Franklin Roosevelt was not a centrist (though he wasn't as far left as some believe) and yet was deeply pragmatic. So was Reagan to a less degree. One need not shift their beliefs and preferences to be able to compromise.


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