Winner of the New Statesman SPERI Prize in Political Economy 2016

Tuesday 26 July 2016

Labour: times change

For Labour party members

When it looked like Jeremy Corbyn might win the 2015 leadership election, I was asked to both endorse and condemn. I did neither. I criticised one of his proposed policies, but I was also highly critical of the way Labour had been run over the previous 5 years. It was a superficial focus group style of policy making that led to decisions like not defending the Labour government's fiscal record, which ultimately was an important part of the general election defeat.

For a Corbyn led Labour party to work, the new leadership had to bring on board the majority of its MPs. There would always be a minority - I called them the anti-Corbynistas - who would oppose Corbyn come what may, but it is a gross error to imagine all the MPs who did not vote for Corbyn were of this type. Some were prepared to work with him, and some were content to remain on the sidelines, pursuing their own particular interests.

I think many in the new leadership understood this, and attempted to involve MPs in key decisions. One successful example which I was involved in was the adoption of a new fiscal rule which would have avoided both 2010 and 2015 austerity. But ultimately this process failed. The rock that sank this ship was the Brexit vote: whether it could have succeeded otherwise is for another day.

There is a degree of unity between the Corbynistas and the anti-Corbynistas about the vote of no confidence: both agree that it was inevitable. But to concede this means that you think the Corbyn project was about remodelling the party over the long term, rather than trying to win the 2020 or 2025 elections. I do not believe most Labour party members would endorse such a project.

If this is true, then what these members need to resolve is whether it would be possible for Corbyn to successfully lead the party in 2020. One posibility after a 2016 Corbyn's victory is that those who expressed no confidence accept the verdict of members and start cooperating with the leadership. This is the possibility discussed here by Steve Richards, but it seems close to wishful thinking. The trust that is required to make that happen has disappeared. Again we can debate at length whose fault that is, but that debate should have no impact on how people vote. What is done is done.

What seems totally clear to me is that given recent events a Corbyn led party cannot win in 2020, or even come close. I was highly critical of the anti-Corbynistas who wanted to argue that their antics were having no impact on public opinion, so it would be absurd for me to pretend that people would elect to power a Labour party that had voted no confidence in its leader.

This has to be the bedrock on which voting decisions in the coming leadership contest should be based. Once you accept it, then various things follow almost automatically if Corbyn were to win again. One is that the likelihood of a split is strong. History tells us that it takes only a few to make this happen, and if a few think they will lose their seats anyway they have nothing to lose. Even if no split occurred, the constituency wanting to vote for a committed pro-European party of the centre-left is likely to remain strong while the Brexit negotiations continue. History also tells us that a divided left in a FPTP system cannot succeed, a fact that is built into the DNA of the Conservatives.

Another consequence of a bad defeat in 2020 is that the left within Labour will again lose its influence for a generation. Defeat and a divided party will not be the springboard on which a successor to Corbyn, such as those mentioned by Justin Lewis here, can win. Ironically their chances if Owen Smith wins in 2016, then reverts to the pre-2015 strategy and fails are much better. Keeping Corbyn until 2020 simply delays the date of his departure, with nothing achieved and much lost in the meantime.

The concern that most party members about Owen Smith is that, once elected, he will slip back into the disastrous form of right wing appeasement that led to Corbyn's election last year. Smith's support for Trident adds credence to that view. But there are important reasons why this may not happen.

The political landscape after the Brexit vote has changed substantially. May's cabinet appointments effectively put the Brexit side in charge of negotiations. That might be clever politics by May as far as her position in the Conservative party is concerned, but it is bad for the UK. Smith can provide a convincing pro-Europe opposition to that, which has to include headlining the benefits of immigration. This position will be supported by most of UK business, which cannot trust the Brixiters with looking after its interests. Labour will no longer feel tempted to temper policies to avoid offending 'business leaders'.

The other main area, besides immigration, where past Labour appeasement was so damaging was austerity. As I argued in the New Statesman, 2015 austerity - cutting public investment when interest rates are very low - has now been disowned by senior Conservatives. 2010 austerity - fiscal contraction rather than expansion in a recession where interest rates are at their lower bound - may still happen in a Brexit based recession. In these circumstances it is difficult to imagine that Smith would endorse this austerity, but he could confirm this by commiting to follow John McDonnell's fiscal credibility rule.

Those who voted for Corbyn only a year ago will naturally ask why they should, only a year later, change their minds. One important point is that the 2015 vote itself changed things: any leadership now knows it ignores its membership at its peril. But in addition the hopes of many of those who voted for Corbyn, which is that enough of the parliamentary could unite behind him to form an effective opposition and a potential government, have proved false. If that reality is ignored or wished away, the implications for those who oppose the current disastrous and incompetent Conservative government will be devastating.


  1. "Ironically their chances if Owen Smith wins in 2016, then reverts to the pre-2015 strategy and fails are much better."

    Can you explain why this is? It's not obvious to me.

    1. Probably because he might get more support from the MSM.

    2. Smith can appeal to the middle and upper middle class on the EU.

      He'll lose the non metropolitan working class and lower middle class vote on his pro EU stance including the 57% of his own constituents who voted Brexit.

      He'll lose the middle and upper middle class vote by attempting to appease union and working class support in respect of austerity.

      The biggest risk in British politics, outside of Scotland, is a shift to the populist right.

      Smith is going to make that happen sooner rather than later if he wins.

  2. Problems to consider.

    If there are economic difficulties in the next few months how will that impact on the Conservative Party and the circulation of the Leave newspapers (Sun, Mail, Telegraph, and Express)?

    What happens at the BBC if the Sun and the Mail are on the run?

    Would the Iraq War voting section of the Labour Party ever find common ground with the Liberal Democrats?

    What does the hourly resignations of 63 MPs designed to appeal to 24 hour news say about those involved in such behaviour and their future trustworthiness in any capacity? (see Daily Mirror ‘Who's resigned?

    Here's a list of all the Labour resignations’1 JUL 2016)

    A wing of the Party which put ‘controls on immigration’ on a stone tablet in a simulacrum of Mosaic Law in its 2015 election campaign needs to show quite a change of attitude if it is to demonstrate it knows how to defend Remain.

    Does a wing of the party which constantly talks about 'leadership' being the overriding principle of their dislike of Corbyn but which, if they split, is desperate to take the 'brand name' of Labour with them, a concept which is the total opposite of leadership, really know what it's talking about?

  3. Owen Smith so far seems very keen to emphasise the downsides of immigration, and I have seen no evidence that he will refuse to buy into xenophobic narratives around immigration controls.

    I also don't think the Labour left's position would be better following an Owen Smith defeat (and defeat it surely will be) - I imagine that rather than learning that any leadership ignores its membership at its peril, the lesson Smith & others will take from this is that any leadership empowers its membership at its peril.

  4. While I take your points and appreciate the ideas I don't feel that Smith will enhance 2020 prospects in any way. In addition, that outcome will split the wider party more deeply than is currently the case.

    I will listen to what he has to say over the next few weeks but he has a long way to travel - further than you suggest here - to sway any of the party members I know.

    1. tbh I think a victorious Owen Smith, unless he's really bloody good, will always be seen as an illegitimate or second best leader.

      The PLP have really screwed this one up.

  5. There is more joy in heaven....

    Though Ganesh is right about the degree of prescience that was required to foresee where we now are

    Who Corbyn was and the group he came from was well known. This was not a group of policy wonks arguing for expansive fiscal policy at the zlb.

    The problem now is, you've left it too late. It is no longer enough that "those who voted for Corbyn change their minds". If the selectorate were static, that has already happened. But the party has been transformed. With 100s of thousands of new committed leftists transforming the party to defend the Great Leader.

    I am sorry, but you are one of the guilty parties. See below the line here

    You didn't speak up at the time when you should have done. Now 2020 is lost, and probably 2025 as well. And the right of the Tory party get to govern and laugh. I am not saying you personally could have altered anything, but all those who tolerated this bear some of the blame.

    I can now see no good path forward. It looks like Corbyn will win easily and the project to transform the Labour party will gather pace.

    I suppose what now happens is Corbyn wins and the PLP try again to remove him next year. A split is pointless as FPTP is brutal for centrist parties.

    I am angry and bitter (a 'Bitterite') about what has happened. Sensible people who should have known better have prolonged the very policies they wanted to reverse.

  6. "Smith can provide a convincing pro-Europe opposition to that, which has to include headlining the benefits of immigration." Serious question - why do you see immigration as the single most important thing that the Labour party can achieve? Surely the focus ought to be on improving housing and wages for those already here?

    1. In short because immigration brings economic benefits, e.g. taxes paid, that can be used for things like housing. Immigration brings in more than it costs, so the fiscal argument is not for less immigration, but actually for more - more immigration means more money coming in.

      The real question is how does the government spend that money, if they spend it at all?

  7. What we need is a united Labour Party, going into the 2020 election under a leader who commands the support of (most of) his or her parliamentary party, while conserving the significant gains of the Corbyn leadership - a large and active membership, a constructive and non-personalised style of political debate, a renewed commitment to public provision of public services, a strong opposition to the politics of 'austerity' - and setting out a constructive case against Brexit.

    If you tot them up that's a wish list of seven items; I see no sign that backing Smith would achieve any of them apart from the first two. Nothing I've heard from Smith gives me any confidence in his stance on free movement, or on public services, or on austerity; he seems more hostile than welcoming to Labour's new membership, and we know for a fact that he doesn't observe Corbyn's self-denying ordinance with regard to personal attacks.

    I'm afraid the coup isn't over; the Progress plotters and their friends haven't folded their tents and left the field. There is a new group of genuinely concerned centre-leftists involved, but it's clear from some of the language Smith is using that they're not running the show. When the dust has settled some serious changes are going to be needed to the way the Labour Party works - possibly even including an agreed change of leadership this side of 2020. But for now we need to defend Corbyn's achievements, which means defending Corbyn. A Smith victory would almost certainly roll back most of what Corbyn's built, dumping Labour right back in the directionless swamp we were in after the 2015 GE.

  8. What I think animates some Corbyn supporters is a fear that if Corbyn goes there will never be another chance. They cannot try again with a new Left candidate if a Smith failure proves the point because only right-Labour candidates will be nominated. My understanding is Corbyn himself was only nominated because MPs who didn't support him nominated him for the sake of representation/sportsmanship in the belief he wouldn't win.

    I don't know enough about Labour's mechanisms or the parliamentary mathematics to know if the idea holds, but it's one that immediately comes to mind.

    1. What animates me is being thoroughly annoyed at having to go through another bloody leadership election.

      If they're to win the trust of the electorate, Labour needs to start being consistent and actually stick at something. Nobody is going to elect a party that might fall apart any time the wind changes.

  9. I broadly agree. However, it eems to me Corbyn's opponents in the PLP have played a very dangerous game: they are basically in the position of hoping that more members/ supporters will take Simon's view (we've got no choice but to back Smith if we want any chance of a labour government in 2020/ effective opposition /avoid a split) and back Smith than take the opposite view of backing Corbyn due to disgust at the behaviour of the plotters and/or sympathy with Corbyn (who seems to have done his best to run an inclusive shadow cabinet etc).

    Presumably, the plotters thought they could force Corbyn's resignation or keep him off the ballot. When you combine all the 'bullying' allegations (its beyond me how Corbyn can be expected to control anonymous trolls on twitter), the suspension of CLPs (including annulling results in Brighton where Corbyn supporters were elected), the other 'dirty' tricks (the 25 charge etc), along with the general distaste (at best) a lot of of members have for the Blairite wing of the party, then it seems to me that then plotters have played into Corbyn's hand - they are maximizing his chances of getting re-elected. I would say the only sensible thing they have done is select Smith - Angela Eagle would have had no chance with her voting record, and strong association (fairly or not) with the Labour right and the chief plotters such as Benn/Hodge etc. She was backed by almost all the Blairite MPs and those most hostile to Corbyn (Jess Phillips/Ian Austin). What Smith needs is the Blairite journalists, loathed by many Labour members (John Rentoul, Dan Hodges, Oliver Kamm) not to support his campaign and lay off Corbyn, but there seems no chance of that happening.

    Personally, I think Smith would have had a better chance without the mass resignations (which I think many members will reject as a form of blackmail) and by running on a competent left-wing ticket with the chance to win. Even better, they could have changed the voting system (with fewer nominations required) which would have enabled Corbyn to stand down and a Clive Lewis or McDonell to run instead.

  10. Interesting blog, thanks for sharing! A few critical responses to some of your comments –

    “those who expressed no confidence accept the verdict of members and start cooperating with the leadership.. seems close to wishful thinking.” I don’t see why it is. I think the trust between dissenting MPs and Corbyn et al. can be regained. MPs should follow Sarah Champion’s lead on this.

    “What seems totally clear to me is that given recent events a Corbyn led party cannot win in 2020, or even come close.” – what’s the evidence to substantiate this? Opinion polls can change massively over time. Isn’t it possible for MPs to regain confidence in Corbyn within the next 3-4 years?

    “Ironically their chances if Owen Smith wins in 2016, then reverts to the pre-2015 strategy and fails are much better.” – I really don’t see why Smith would be any more likely to win a GE. Are there any convincing reasons for believing this beyond the PLP being more unified under Smith?

  11. If the Labour Party supports high immigration, it is likely to lose a large part of its working-class base. That seems to me to be the lesson of the Brexit vote. This is of course what has already happened to the Democrats in the US. There must be a good chance that a good part of that base will go to UKIP. I do not believe that the Labour Party has the slghtest chance of winning power, particularly now that it has lost Scotland, without strong support from the working class. So the strategy Simon outlines seems to me to be one that is appealing to middle-class intellectuals, public sector workers, etc, but to have no chance of securing a majority in the House of Commons. I think the sensible policy for Labour is to accept the outcome of the Brexit vote and insist that its immigration policy would focus on immigration of highly-skilled people only. It would also emphasise high levels of public investment - a point in which I have agreed with Simon since 2010.

    1. Suppose we divide this working class base into two parts: the minority who really dislike immigrants, and the majority who are much more concerned about issues like their standard of living or the NHS, but mistakenly think immigration is a threat to both.

      UKIP will always outflank Labour for the first group. The second group can be won over if they can be convinced that Labour can deliver on the issues that really matter to them. Part of that is arguing the case that low wages and a deteriorating NHS are not the result of high immigration.

      My worry with your proposal is that Labour's real base in terms of MPs and party members has been the left leaning middle class for some time. If Labour try to adopt policies that alienate that base, we will have what happened over Labour and austerity all over again, which is what led to the 2015 Corbyn win.

    2. I think your view is slightly patronising - it is not about not liking immigrants. I agree immigration is not the primary cause of problems like low wages and a deteriorating NHS. These problems, however, are not unrelated to globalisation (I think Marxist or historical approaches are better at understanding this than Model: technological change and globalisation are interlinked phenomena: technological change spurs on globalisation; globalisation further technological change.

      Deindustrialisation is also linked to globalisation (freedom of movement of capital and goods) and inequality, and particularly the regional inequality we see in England.

      The problem is NOT that immigration causes the problems, it doesn't. The problem is that neo-classical economists and neo-liberals (epitomised by Blair and New Labour) said that it would bring massive benefits. Migration, and trade deals and liberal approaches to the financial sector and capital flows , they argued, would raise aggregate demand (per capita) and lead to a more efficient allocation of resources. That clearly has not happened. You might argue, as the Lord's Report did that historically large levels of immigration has not had great impacts on GNP per capita, but like saying that immigration has not had large impacts on wages is hardly a resounding endorsement of it. When people are concerned about things like large numbers of non-native English speakers in schools and planners finding it difficult to deal with the numbers, or a dislike of population increase and associated congestion and a need for more roads and motorway and other building they see these adverse consequences as not being offset by the supposed advantages that immigration is supposed to bring.

      And I think this is the key to understanding the rise of Farage, as well as people like Trump. After lots of promises of hope and change etc and positive effects from globalisation and liberalisation, we have not seen the benefits. People feel severely let down.

      In terms of immigration, this country needs to focus more on refugees. Historians and political scientists argue that the world will be entering an era of migration not seen since WWII, perhaps even since the fall of Rome. Either way we are most likely going to have to accept relatively high immigration levels. We don't need these pressures exacerbated by unnecessary large labour flows coming from EU internal free movement. The EU would be wise to put a temporary halt on free movement until it is better able to deal with it.

      The elite need to stop making patronising remarks about immigration. It feeds the resentment. Sure there are xenophobes out there, but these are a minority. The elite also need to reflect and ask themselves, has immigration brought the benefits, particularly to large parts of the country and population with low incomes and poor skills, that they said it would?Has dependence on immigration helped us, or worked against, acting to deal with the low productivity and skill levels of this very large part of the population.


    3. “I think the sensible policy for Labour is to accept the outcome of the Brexit vote and insist that its immigration policy would focus on immigration of highly-skilled people only.” it’s precisely this kind of dishonest way of doing politics - publicly opposing immigration whilst privately believing that immigration is not the cause of working class problems - that Labour members are sick of and makes Corbyn so popular. If Corbyn wins the Labour leadership election, which seems extremely likely, then there appears to be 2 options – convincing the working class that immigration is not causing the things they are worried about (good luck!) or convincing Corbyn and his supporters to flip-flop on immigration (good luck x 2!)

    4. I agree with Martin; Labour will lose without a credible long-term immigration policy that sets out the pros and cons.

      This is not about xenophobia, it's about the long term future of the country - as Michael Sandel put it recently: “A large constituency of working-class voters feel that not only has the economy left them behind, but so has the culture”

      With climate change (54C in Kuwait last week) a great swathe from Morocco to India and beyond will become increasing unbearable.

      Southern Europe will increasingly resemble N Africa - there will be a virtually unstoppable move northwards. I see no party that is tackling this reality head-on.

    5. I think there is a possibility - a really good one - that the Labour constituencies can no longer be kept together in one party. But, unlike in the US, a party of ethnic minorities and the left-leaning middle classes has no chance of securing a majority in the UK. If the bulk of the working class cannot be persuaded to vote for this party, then it is doomed as a party of government (which would be a very bad thing indeed). For this reason, the strategy you outline will not, in my view, work. Furthermore,

      I do not think the white working classes are wrong to believe that more-or-less unrestricted immigration of low and medium-skilled people is bad for them. First, I am unpersuaded by the notion that a huge increase in the supply of a factor of production has no effect on its price. Second, it increases congestion, notably in the housing market and in use of the transport system. Yes, the government could offset this by massively increasing supply, but, as a matter of fact, it won't. Third, it is culturally upsetting. For all these reasons, I do not think that Labour has any chance of winning without a policy of restricting immigration of unskilled and semi-skilled people.

    6. Some evidence in favour of Wolf:

    7. Simon I think this is a very good thing for an economist, and the general public to read. It is written by a distinguished cognitive scientist and linguist. It talks about systemic vs direct causation and how conservatives such as Trump tend to adopt the latter form of thought process. I think we can understand immigration fears and the Brexit mindset with this.

      This is the sort of neo-classical model free analysis we need a lot more of in economics if it is to become become a discipline that is more engaged with real knowledge, not to mention the sort of understanding we need to face a world where people vote for Brexit and Trump.


    8. I suspect you're right about Scotland and wrong about England. The UKIP type Labour voters can be won over with concerted effort in the regions. It will take feet on the ground and a Minister for the North: someone who speaks the lingo (I say that as someone from the North). Richard Burgon would be my call. The South-East is UKIP's natural heartland, not the North. As for Scotland and Wales, well, a progressive alliance with interested parties is the way to go. This will not happen under a right-wing Labour Party as the Labour right are hopelessly tribal as Ian Austin demonstrated once again yesterday. Jeremy Corbyn can stop the bleeding after years of taking the core vote for granted, but it will require hard work.

    9. As for immigration, it is really very simple: there is no place for anti-immigration rhetoric on the left. It is an argument we have to win. Corbyn and McDonnell are on the right track: get feet on the ground, invest and win hearts and minds. This is an existential issue for those of us on the left: we are not national socialists, we are internationalists.

  12. "Ironically their chances if Owen Smith wins in 2016, then reverts to the pre-2015 strategy and fails are much better."

    I don't agree. Those policies and strategies are seen as cannot fail, they can only be failed. If losing in 2010 and being crushed in 2015 doesn't cause the bulk of the PLP to change their minds why would losing again in 2020? The dolchsto├člegende is already being written and Corbyn, momentum, "trots", etc. are going to be blamed even if Corbyn drops out tomorrow.

    1. Yeah ISTM it is definitely worth risking it as there may be a recession before 2020, house price falls and we can boot the Tories out.

      And as Simon said, the membership can still elect a left winger.

  13. This is off topic but what is your view on this idea Simon?

    The state can fund whatever drug research is required, and then issue the results on an open patent.

    I see no need for large pharma companies and private intellectual property. In fact as drug development gets more and more risky inevitably it will *have to* be socialised.

    That then leaves manufacturing and distribution of the drugs as the way the private sector can deliver drugs to the medical system. But
    sharing the results of research with everybody is by far the best way of ensuring that drugs are available to all that want them.

    The only cost would be to bankers, financiers and other rentiers in the system who are currently charging a risk premium and a monopoly premium on the results. Get rid of them and there is a win-win all round. More drugs developed and produced more cheaply.

    You could attack the Tories with the line that they think "Trident shouldn't be in private hands, but the ability to cure cancer should be, according to Theresa May!"

    Could become a policy if you suggest it to McDonnell?

    1. 'The State' bureaucracy is very poor at making such decisions.
      Big Pharma has become less good at making such decisions (too bureaucratic?) and is being replaced by small pharma discovery companies.
      BTW, the results can just be published - that prevents anyone else from patenting the invention.

  14. The assumption here is that if Smith wins, he will be the leader in 2020. But I would think that it's highly likely that he would be replaced by Umunna, Cooper or whoever before then. That has been the liekly strategy of the Labour Right all along. So anything that Smith says right now is valueless.

  15. Your argument seems to be that because the PLP has rebelled, the membership should just accept it. That won’t happen. Instead there is renewed determination to defend our choice of leader. Last night I was at a local meeting of over a hundred people, many of them very new to politics but all determined to fight for policy and leader putting the interests of ordinary people first. The PLP might be demoralised but we are not.

    I don’t know where this goes after Jeremy Corbyn has been re-elected. But we are re-building a mass social democratic party after a generation or more of atrophy. That is a huge gain for the Labour Party but it terrifies most MPs. Sorry, the days of doffing our caps are over.

    1. "I don’t know where this goes after Jeremy Corbyn has been re-elected."

      Nowhere - because they have terrible economic advisors actively working against them and they refuse to control immigration. Luckily, election in the UK are usually lost, not won. So I see a Cornyn government with no substantial changes in policy from the Balls era and Simon and his ilk with more power.

      They refuse to solve poverty.

      "Sorry, the days of doffing our caps are over."

      Very optimistic.

  16. How can you support Owen Smith after his comment on Newsnight that there are “too many immigrants”?

    1. Indeed.
      The current received wisdom seems to be that xenophobia is a vote winner.
      Expect more.

  17. Thanks Simon - excellent measured contribution as always.

    I have heard disturbing stuff from fellow members:
    "Is it that important that we win?"
    "Isn't it more important that we have a truly socialist leader than win?".

    Also much delusion (including in emails from Corbyn's office):
    "We increased our vote in the local elections." (Labour actually lost seats.)

    And then there is the endless belief that all working class voters are closet communists - if only they could be brought to their senses. In the words of A.J.P. Taylor, writing in the 1960s, about the 1930s:

    ‘As always, the members of the Labour party were more anxious to decide what they should do when they came to office than to determine how they should get there. The old faith was still strong. Labour was the party of the people, and a majority would appear automatically when the people came to their senses.”

    1. "And then there is the endless belief that all working class voters are closet communists"

      I think this goes to the root of the problem. The PLP and their supporters think that they are re-running the battles of the 80s. But the Corbynites don't actually believe that working class voters are closet communists. What they believe is that there are votes in policies that are anti-austerity, do not involve further cuts to social security, do not support racist memes, do not involve bombing other nations and are against further privatisation of the public sector. Apparently the PLP disagree.

  18. Not one of your stronger efforts, Professor, although politics is basically impossible to predict.

    In the end, if you care about moving the UK to the left of conservatism and neoliberalism, the only thing that matters is having a left-wing voice pushing the mainstream to the left, promoting left-wing ideas. Having Corbyn as leader for the next few years, even if he loses the next election, is far better than having a leader who is just Conservative-lite and does not confront their ideology. The battle of ideas is what matters most.

  19. Simon, you seem to be in denial about recent events. 17 million voted for Brexit and although if I am being generous only say 15% of those voters were primarily concerned about immigration - immigration will now need to be addressed whether labour voters like it or not. Not even UKIP are advocating closing the borders but something will at least be seen to have been done. A sensible approach now is for labour to argue strongly to bring back Browns immigration impact fund as well as curbing or pausing the influx of unskilled labour.

    As for Corbyn - he's going to win. Most of his supporters are young and feel justifiably alienated by the generational warfare that has been relentlessly waged against them. There is simply no chance they can be turned. These new members are motivated and organised. The best thing Labour supporters can do is accept that fact and move on.

  20. Labour under Miliband was heading for irrelevance.I agree with Martin Woolf's comment the priority for the Party must be to re-energise its working class base and halt the inroads Ukip is making in Northern England. That it means that Labour has to focus on the causes of economic insecurity that have come to blight much of the country and the immigration of low skilled is a critical symptom of the issue.
    Under Corbyn Labour is at last heading in the right direction. Clearly he has a lot to learn about leadership; specifically you cannot be a leader if you do not have followers. But I am yet to be persuaded he is a completely lost cause.The poor opinion polls seem to me to be a consequence of the infighting in the Party. I think he is going to win the leadership election and when he does those MPs who currently feel he is not up to the job will be faced with a very hard choice. Neither they nor Corbyn should think that the electorate will do anything other than punish a Party that is disunited. Nor do they have much time to get their act together.
    The stresses and strains that the Brexit negotiations will set up in the Tory Party mean the betting has to be that our new PM will call an election next year.

  21. There are other options Simon. A Corbyn victory with a 2018 handover, for example and a progressive alliance with those parties to the left of New Labour. The Corbyn project was never going to be easy with a hostile press and party taken for granted. In short, very little has changed since 2015; should Corbyn win again, his position will be strengthened and his allies may gain control of the NEC. Remember, this is a long-term project and patience is key. The party is unlikely to split as without the Labour brand, most MP's are lost. Stay supportive Simon, the leadership needs expertise, not fickleness.

  22. 'Those who voted for Corbyn only a year ago will naturally ask why they should, only a year later, change their minds. One important point is that the 2015 vote itself changed things: any leadership now knows it ignores its membership at its peril.'

    If only it were so, Simon. I fear you're being terribly naive. The PLP don't need the members. They did perfectly well without them under Blair and Brown as do the Tories.

  23. Times, maybe, Not me.*

    *Slightly tongue in cheek.

  24. I'm not sure I can agree that Smith leading Labour is better for the party's left long-term. If Corbyn goes, a substantial proportion of the left will simply resign their Labour memberships. So when Labour lose in 2020, the new leader is voted for, probably under a changed electoral system, by a less left-wing membership. Plus, left-wing Labour MPs will almost certainly have a much, much lower profile in the shadow cabinet and media, as anti-Corbyn MPs try to muscle their way back in, as so have a worse chance in any 2020 contest, if they can even get onto the ballot.

    However, if Corbyn stays, the membership stay with him. Corbyn could force the PLP to nominate a left candidate in 2020, which the membership would still be more likely to vote for than the alternatives. Plus, in the meantime, potential candidates can remain in the shadow cabinet, gaining both the loyalty of Labour members and some public recognition.

  25. "Suppose we divide this working class base into two parts: the minority who really dislike immigrants, and the majority who are much more concerned about issues like their standard of living or the NHS, but mistakenly think immigration is a threat to both."

    The problem is upper income left-leaners continue to frame this problem in ways that are utterly out of touch. The reality is there is a substantial middle group who don't dislike migrants but dislike the cultural change caused by high levels of migration. All of the extra NHS funding, minimum wage hikes and housebuilding programs will not be enough to assuage them that current levels of migration are ok (and that's before you ignore the costs and side effects of such things).

    This group is maybe 60% or so of the white working class. They have not switched from Labour to UKIP yet, because while they dislike current levels of migrants in UK society, it has not yet overwhelmed their Labour tribalism. Yet as the foreign share of the population continues to grow, and as more and more of them get out of the habit of voting Labour, they will do without a change in policy.

  26. With respect to the relationship between immigration and 'working class' wages, it would be instructive to have some access (links, if possible) to hard evidence, rather than assertion or assumption. Boston in Lincolnshire voted solidly Brexit, mainly I understand (admittedly through the media) because of a rapid influx of eastern European migrants to work in local agri-businesses. But is the fear and concern, cultural rather than actually economic? Do the migrants actually 'push down' wages (that's what the Irish were accused of in the nineteenth century, and Commonwealth immigrants in the 20th more generally) in that sector, or rather provide labour that otherwise would not necessarily be available, thus allowing industry output and aggregate local incomes to expand, with resulting positive spin off benefits for other commercial local services and employment? Intuition suggests a complex mixture of both.

    On a different but related note, the ending of casualisation in the construction industry combined with a concerted drive to recruit and retain sustainable apprentices would do far more to upskill and improve the lifetime incomes of non-migrant labour.

    The definition and understanding of 'working class'also needs more objective definition and understanding within a 21st century context.


Unfortunately because of spam with embedded links (which then flag up warnings about the whole site on some browsers), I have to personally moderate all comments. As a result, your comment may not appear for some time. In addition, I cannot publish comments with links to websites because it takes too much time to check whether these sites are legitimate.