Winner of the New Statesman SPERI Prize in Political Economy 2016

Saturday 30 July 2016

Rebuilding a mass social democratic party?

For Labour Party members

I was expecting a pretty negative reaction to my last post from many in the constituency it was aimed at, and the most constructive thing I can do right now is to try and engage as best I can with those arguments. Let me start with this:

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.”

My response is the same as any decent social scientist: show me the evidence that this is what you are doing. It seems to me what Corbyn has done is build an activist base made up in large part of mostly idealistic, mostly young political activists, and I think that is a great and valuable achievement. What terrifies MPs, and me, is if this base gets delusions of idealism and grandeur, and saddles them with a leader who will lead the party into electoral irrelevance. If you think those fears are wrong, show me your evidence. Not your hopes, but a concrete and realisable plan.

What I see so far is largely a government that acts as if it was unopposed, or that provides its own internal opposition. The exceptions are generally not the result of Corbyn. Look at the first item in the list provided by Liam Young here: the abandonment of cuts to child credits. This was not the first major achievement of a new mass social democratic party, but of opposition from members of the House of Lords and the misgivings of some Conservative MPs. Iain Duncan Smith did not resign because of pressure from Labour!

There is a contradiction here that Corbyn supporters fail to acknowledge. In the UK to have any chance of building a mass social democratic party you need a parliamentary party to provide a voice that will be heard. That means MPs on your side, not against you. The adoption of a sensible fiscal rule - another item on Liam Young’s list - was an example of that happening, but any attempt to repeat that now would result in just endless discussion of internal divisions.

As Liam Young also says: “Most importantly all of Labour’s recent success has come at points where the leadership has been strong and the party united. Recent talk of splits, coups and dissent is unhelpful and only weakens the Labour party’s position.” I agreed with that when I wrote this. If the current leadership had succeeded in uniting the majority of Labour MPs behind a consensus policy programme that would have been a powerful force, but it failed. It makes no sense to extol the virtues of unity only when it suits you. 

What makes me really sad is the contempt that some members seem to have for Labour MPs. I can think of some that fit the caricature frequently painted of diehard triangulating Blairites, but they are far from the majority. I agree that collectively Labour MPs became embroiled in a failing electoral strategy before 2015, but you change that by persuasion through evidence and hopefully example, not by casting them as the enemy or as forever ‘lost’. Most of all, they are not some kind of inconvenience that can be ignored or who will collectively come to their senses if the membership continues to vote for Corbyn. They are an essential part of the means of achieving a mass social democratic party: that is why 2016 is not 2015.

In short, if you still think Corbyn can succeed in forming a mass social democratic party without the support of MPs, show me your plan of how it will be done and the evidence that it will work. In 2015 I could, unlike many commentators in the media, imagine that it was possible that Labour MPs could be led from the left with the right leadership. Corbyn earned the right in 2015 to try. But the evidence since then shows that this is not the right leadership. I’ll go with a good plan, but right now I do not see any plan at all.


  1. Feels like a split is inevitable. The new activists simply don't have the same views as the majority of the PLP. Don't think it's possible to reconcile this.

    It may be that (as you suggest) the PLP majority is less hardline than the members perceive, but then the PLP majority should reflect on the way they have portrayed themselves and their principles and their policies.

    Likewise, the members who joined (and incidentally saved the party in cashflow terms from an ugly collision with the reality of new legislation affecting union funding) are idealistic. The PLP could have waited to challenge Corbyn until they had a vision & candidate that could appeal to idealists as well as pragmatists, but they didn't and thus the odds are Corbyn will win I can't see how a split can be avoided.

    1. You may be right on the inevitability of a split, but on economic policy there seems to be a lot in common between Smith's programme and McDonnell's.

      I agree that Labour MPs are not good at strategy (they need a good leadership!), and the 'coup' itself and its timing is not good. (My views are similar to those Liz McInnes that I link to above.)

      But having said that, I lived through the Thatcher/Major years, and I really do not want to repeat that experience.

    2. I hear you on Thatcher/Major but I despair at the moment.

    3. I really don't think so. I'm given to understand (from various media accounts) that the plotters sought legal advice on hijacking the Labour name and didn't like the answer. Without the brand they are nothing and, of course, the spectre of the SDP haunts the Labour Party. Why the most disaffected don't just cross the floor is beyond me, except that it isn't: they privilege their careers over integrity.

    4. Simple plan. The existing system is built on continuous economic growth, everywhere. It is neither sound nor sustainable.
      What is needed is a complete break from the financiers driven economy. This is not offered by the right wing of the Labour Party which just wants to carry on, maybe slightly more slowly,with austerity.
      So where does that leave us? The Labour Party must represent the interests of the vast majority of people who are not rich and do not have access to privileges bestowed by birth or psychopathy.
      The only outcome which would tilt the scales back to some sort of managed economy is a Corbyn victory ' nut only of it is with a greater margin than the last leadreship election.
      With an increased mandate he can push ahead with a campaign built on public investment and state ownership of uilities and railways, amongst other things.
      It may well mean a split but I don't think so. I believe a tiny number of the "moderates" may leave and may even join Paddy Ashdown's More United gang - the movement NOT Party.
      If Labour then pitches at those who have joined the Greens/UKIP as well as traditional members and supporters it could well win a slim majority.
      Commentators and even, dare I say it, learned economists and thinkers, should actually sit in on a Momentum meeting or attend a few Corbyn rallies, if they have not already done so. They may get a different perspective on all of this.
      Politics is changing and the standard approaches may not hold true. Nit that they ever did of course.

    5. Herein lies the problem, Simon; you don't realise that the past 20 years have been far worse for the working class than the Thatcher/Major years ever were. Commentators like you - and MPs who share your view - are part of the problem; a Professor of Politics living a cosy lifestyle and content with incrementalism and a managerialist approach to the economy which the vast majority of people are utterly disgusted with. We don't read about the use of foodbanks; we use them, or have friends who do. We don't hear about the cuts in mental health services; we're holding hands with people who are thinking about killing themselves. We don't deplore the bedroom tax; our relatives are forced to leave family homes because of it. We don't think zero hours contracts are a bad idea; we're watching our kids being treated with absolute contempt by managers with less idea of what a leader's role is than the PLP have.

      Enough. That's all you need to know; enough. We are not taking it anymore, and we're having our democracy because we will no longer be silenced by those who think themselves our betters; those people whose combination of arrogance, ignorance and narcissism have brought us to this pass.

    6. This Little video Sums up what you say and is only 14 minutes long, Clearly we have a problem in this country, it's called democracy:

  2. I think you are right, but I'm finding it hard to contemplate casting my vote for Smith. I had thought JC would grow into the job, but manifestly he hasn't. If someone like Jo Cox, who originally supported him, changed her mind, if Frank Field is against him, and even Dennis Skinner is luke-warm, then I think he just doesn't have the chops for it.

    What about an amicable divorce - the party splits and agrees to not contest seats where each is strong? Impossible I suppose.

    As for me - the prospect of Caroline Lucas is calling me back - it's a sort of unconditional love that I can't resist...

    1. Number one rule in voting: you vote for the least bad outcome. I cannot see how that means voting for Corbyn.

    2. «I had thought JC would grow into the job, but manifestly he hasn't. If someone like Jo Cox, who originally supported him, changed her mind, if Frank Field is against him, and even Dennis Skinner is luke-warm, then I think he just doesn't have the chops for it.»

      He has had a lot of bad press and adversarial BBC coverage. The *only* substantive reason to vote against J Corbyn is that as long as he is leader he will be relentlessly attacked by the BBC and and the press.

      Other than that he has done quite well, especially electorally: he has persuaded, like N Sturgeon did, 2/3 of his party's voters to support Remain, which is amazing in the case of Labour, and by-elections so far have gone pretty well for him; surely no collapse of the Labour vote has happened.

      My impression is that his positive record is probably what terrifies New Labourists: that he is quite popular, his leadership had not collapsed, and that might even result in winning the 2020 elections.

      As to the latter I am quite on different position from SimonWL's assumptions in this and the previous post.

      For me in England elections are not won by the opposition, but lost by the government, and usually they are lost when governments let house prices stall or drop. For me a glorious anti-austerity opposition policy is sort of beside the point of electoral success, most english *voters* don't care about austerity, as it does not affect them negatively, and care a lot about house prices, which affect them directly.

      Maybe low income workers care about austerity, but then so many of them currently cannot vote because they are immigrants, and those who could vote in general vote far less frequently than middle class southern property speculators, or vote in seats that are not marginal.

      Therefore E Milliband's (who also did pretty well as leader) and J Corbyn's best electoral strategy is to keep mostly quiet and wait for the Conservative to tear themselves apart and/or stop being able to push up house prices, and they sort of did that, with some small incidents enormously blown up with glee by the BBC and most of the press.

      The New Labourists seem to have been terrified by the idea that as the Conservatives were massacring each other and backstabbing the referendum voters this would make J Corbyn look good by comparison, so they decided to make the Conservatives look better than Labour.

  3. I think many of us are adopting a tactical defensive position - there will be time for reforming the way the party works, including reforming the way the leadership works with the rest of the PLP, but right now we've got this unnecessary distraction of a leadership challenge to get out of the way. I think it's fairer and more to the point to ask those who created this distraction what their plan is; perhaps the question can also be put to those - like yourself - who are now backing it. Is there any realistic possibility that an Owen Smith victory would lead to both party unity and the maintenance of the gains of the Corbyn period - opposition to austerity, opposition to aggressive wars, a serious attempt at economic rethinking and a large and active membership? What plan does Smith have for steering to the Left while keeping his backers happy, or at least quiet?

    1. Tell me more about Smith's 'backers', and the power they would have if he was elected. I don't agree with Smith on defence, but his economic policies sound much better than the current government. As there is now no chance of a Corbyn government or even an effective Corbyn led opposition, that is easily enough for me.

    2. This from Aaron Bastani is interesting, and shows that some people in the Corbyn camp are thinking about plans - specifically plans for articulating the 'mass movement' element of the party together with the 'professional politician' element. I also share Aaron's concerns about the prospects for mild centre-leftism in Europe at the moment, and his scepticism about how much a Smith leadership would offer.

    3. Phil: Suppose you are an uncommitted voter who has limited interest in politics. You see discussion night after night in the media about how Labour's MPs have no confidence in their leader. But occasionally a young activist calls you and tells you Corbyn would be wonderful.

      Now suppose Smith wins. A few members leave, but many remain because above all else they want rid of this government. You get the young activist plus a united set of MPs. No contest.

    4. Come now SImon, you're being disingenuous. At least half the members will leave. If you don't believe me, take a look at the photos from Hull and Liverpool today.

    5. If Smith wins, I don't quite see how half the members will leave. And even if its less than half, does that mean that they will only be members of a party that has the leader they want? Would you argue, using similar reasoning, that those Democrats that supported Sanders should stop being Democrat supporters?

    6. Research suggests that the new members can be categorised roughly as follows a) returning older members, those who felt the party had left them. Corbyn's personal appeal is a powerful motivating factor and b) enthused and idealistic younger members who see Smith as a stuffed suit. Those re-engaging with politics or engaging for the first time are tired of corporate politicians. Corbyn has a unique appeal as I'm sure you know, his supporters will, in time, get behind the younger generation of left-wing politicians, but I'd be surprised were they to get behind anyone perceived to have betrayed Corbyn.

    7. So 172 MPs don't have no confidence in Corbyn, they 'betrayed' him. MPs are not voting machines who must under all circumstances obey their leader. As I have written before, I have no time for the anti-Corbynistas who were determined to bring Corbyn down asap, but to imagine the PLP is all like this is a gross error.

    8. Now, now Simon, don't misrepresent my post. You've omitted a key word.

      They pretty much were under Blair, but no, I don't imagine they're all like that, hence my argument below. Lots of people do though, and they'll be voting in the leadership election. The PLP has got itself into a pickle, alright. All they had to do was seek nominations.

    9. Who do I mean when I talk about Owen Smith's backers? There is, as you know, a group of Labour MPs (not to mention peers and professional lobbyists) who have good media connections and independent funding, and who are irreconcilable to Corbyn's leadership and have been working against it from day one if not before. I don't believe those people have gone away; I think they're now working for a Smith victory. I also don't believe that those people want a Labour Party programme along the lines of what Smith is currently proposing. (Tristram Hunt and Ben Bradshaw are Smith supporters, to name but two, despite both being on the right of the party and having very little common ground with Smith's current platform.) Blair himself has said he'd rather see Labour lose an election than win under Corbyn, and I'm sure there are people in that camp who think likewise - and I'm pretty sure Smith's (current) programme would also fall under Blair's anathema. This suggests that, if Smith wins, either he'll trim hard to the Right (which will mean abandoning any attempt at a new economic policy and embracing 'austerity') or he'll face a challenge of his own from Yvette Cooper or Chuka Umunna.

      As for the membership, whether the new members choose to stay or leave (in the event of Smith winning) is almost academic - if they (we) do stay, it will be to fight within the party for left-wing policies and candidates, and we can be sure that this won't be welcome to Smith. The first thing I can see happening under a new leader is a demand for Momentum to dissolve - followed inevitably by proscription and a purge of anyone associated with it. Sooner or later the challenge will subside, the membership will be back down to a couple of hundred thousand thick-and-thin loyalists and all will be well - at least until the next time they want some volunteers to go out canvassing.

      As for planning for a Corbyn leadership, and for making good (election-winning) use of all those members, I think Bastani's piece is substantial and deserves everyone's attention.

    10. This is another departure from reality. How can a minority of Labour MPs from the right, or Tony Blair (!?), force the majority to do anything? You seem to imagine only a Black (Blair) and White (Corbyn) world, which means you have to say leaders like Miliband and Kinnock are 'just like Blair'.

    11. I haven't said anyone is 'just like Blair', so I'm not sure why you suggest I 'have to' say it! Nor am I some sort of Corbyn worshipper; I want to see a Labour Party united around a social-democratic programme, with a collegiate system of leadership capable of drawing on all the talent the party has at its disposal. I just don't think deposing Corbyn is the way to get there.

      My reference to Blair related to the substantial - well-connected and independently funded - minority in the parliamentary party who still take their bearings from the New Labour period; we're agreed that those people exist, I take it. As for a minority making the majority dance to its tune, I think we've seen plenty of evidence of how that works over the last year - particularly the last six weeks.

  4. Anyone for PR?

    1. Yes, as long as Portland aren't behind it! :-)

  5. Firstly let me say we agree on so much and want the same outcomes, however, the point i think you are missing is this. Many in our society, young and old, of left or right persuasion have lost faith in the established way of conducting politics. We feel we have been betrayed by the 'credible' politicians who wear the same bland suits and sound very plausible and presentable yet take us to war in a criminal way (Blair, clegg and Cameron) or peddle the same useless solutions to simple problems like inequality. We want to believe in policies not people. We want to vote for principle not personality. If we simply play by the rules as set by a right wing media the best we can ever hope for is another Blair and I can think of no greater dissapointment in politics than the gap between what he promised and what he delivered. So no, I won't vote for another self obsessed personality. In fact I prefer to vote for those vilified by the media and even those who wear beards and sandals!

    1. You may have been disappointed by the Blair years, but they were much better than a continuation of a Conservative government. Politics is about making peoples lives better than they would otherwise be, not in avoiding being disappointed.

    2. Agree with the first part of your statement, but the second? I can't help thinking that people have moved beyond such sentiments. Sure they'll be disappointed, it's the nature of things, but a little vision and authenticity can go a long way.
      I guess we're at different ends of the spectrum: you believe that politics is business as usual, I think it's changing. We can mobilise evidence to support each others arguments, you can look to the 1980s or the interwar years (when Britain remained steadfastly conservative in response to the Wall St Crash), I'd tend to look to twenty-first century Europe. I think the combination of the financial crisis and social media is a game changer; we are entering a period in which politics will be done very differently. There are those within Corbyn's team who get that. I worry that a return to business as usual isn't desirable or important for a number of reasons i) because the traditional media isn't quite as powerful or important as it once was and ii) because, as we've seen in Scotland, if Labour become indistinguishable from the Tories (presentation is just as important as policy here) then they will haemorrhage votes, becoming a British equivalent of PASOK or the SPD (enablers for a larger Conservative party). That didn't serve the Lib Dems too well.

    3. So what you are arguing is that Corbyn can win despite most MPs having no confidence in him because his supporters know how to use social media, and you think Smith cannot win because his policies are indistinguishable from the Tories. I rest my case.

    4. No. I'm pointing to two very pertinent examples of what could go wrong if Smith wins and fails to deliver: you must admit, his conversion to radical left wing politics would would make St Paul blush. And even were he to deliver, would those MP's to the right and centre of the party accept such a dispensation? I have my doubts, particularly as the prince over the water is poised to return in the next six months or so.

      I also refuse to believe that the MPs are a lost cause. There are those who, if managed sensitively (a big if, I'lll grant you) could be brought back into the fold. They are ambitious creatures, after all.

      I'm not quite sure how you've reached such a conclusion: I don't anticipate Corbyn staying on beyond 2018, the issue around irascible MP's then becomes irrelevant (see May, T) and I don't think Smith can win the leadership election so his policies are largely irrelevant: his presentation, seen as a great strength in the traditional media (for obvious reasons), may well be seen as a great weakness to those who matter.

      If Smith wins, and can command the loyalty of Labour MP's (a big if), he may be able to lead a deracinated Labour back to power. But at what price?

    5. Yes politics is about making lives better and yes Blair put more funds into education and health than a tory government would have but you need to answer the question 'which of the 400,000 lives lost in Iraq (minimum) has been 'made better' by Blair.

    6. James T: I seem to remember the Conservatives overwhelming voted in favour of that war, which is the relevant comparison.

    7. They're both relevant comparisons, surely?

    8. I don't understand the conflation of Blair's decision to go to war and New Labour's economic policies. You may think the former was a disaster, but that shouldn't taint your view on the latter.

      And Simon is right on what the relevant comparison is. To say otherwise reminds me of the those who say Labour should be punished for not regulating finance enough ahead of 2007/8 financial crash by rewarding the Tories who'd argued for LESS regulation.

    9. You can't not conflate the two. They were the acts of the same government! A better test would be to consider whether we'd have been worse off under a Tory or Labour government. Would Major have invested in education and social housing and been less seduced by Bush? Who knows? But on the balance of evidence, I'd agree that the UK, at least, benefitted from New Labour.

    10. «the same useless solutions to simple problems like inequality. We want to believe in policies not people»

      The problem with that is that a lot of english voters think that inequality is a wonderful thing, and that the only policy their care about is bigger property capital gains.
      And a lot of scottish voters don't trust english politicians.

      The result is that we have a government with a majority of seats gained with the resounding mandate of 28% of the voters.

      So how do you win elections? The only way is with coalitions of interest groups.

      The Conservative answer is thus a coalition between the southern english middle class and the upper class, run for the benefit of the upper class.

      The New Labour blairist answer is a coalition of the southern english middle class and the northern working class, run for the benefit of the upper class and the middle class (the New Labour brownite heresy is that it is run for the benefit of the working class).

      The traditional Labour answer is a coalition of the northern and scottish working class with the southern lower-middle class who will switch their votes when house prices crash.

  6. It seems to me, Simon, that with the best will in the world, this article is riddled with false propositions. I'll post my own arguments setting out a plan, but first I'd like to take issue (respectfully) with the issues you've raised:

    'What terrifies MPs, and me, is if this base gets delusions of idealism and grandeur, and saddles them with a leader who will lead the party into electoral irrelevance. If you think those fears are wrong, show me your evidence. Not your hopes, but a concrete and realisable plan.'

    The polls before the coup. No sensible Corbyn supporter could have expected Labour to be within 10 points of the Tories given a) a hostile PLP, b) a hostile media and c) an inexperienced and unusual leader learning on the job. The fact that Labour were close in most polls, neck and neck in some, and leading in others (outliers, possibly) was remarkable: evidence that Corbyn was cutting through despite the problems.

    'What I see so far is largely a government that acts as if it was unopposed, or that provides its own internal opposition. The exceptions are generally not the result of Corbyn. Look at the first item in the list provided by Liam Young here: the abandonment of cuts to child credits. This was not the first major achievement of a new mass social democratic party, but of opposition from members of the House of Lords and the misgivings of some Conservative MPs. Iain Duncan Smith did not resign because of pressure from Labour!'

    For a social scientist you're showing a wilful disregard for discourse. As someone who spent much of the last 5 years or so challenging the Labour spending myths and the need for austerity, how can you not be impressed by the speed at which Corbyn and McDonnell have transformed not just Labour policy but the terms of trade? By consistently rejecting the myth that the financial crisis was caused by the last Labour government and arguing that austerity was and remains an ideological choice, Corbyn and McDonnell amplified the growing academic and discursive consensus around the need to end austerity. Austerity is now where it belongs: consigned to the dustbin of history. If that's not effective opposition, I'm not sure what is.

    1. 1) Your reading of the polls cannot be refuted ('considering everything he did remarkably well'), but I do not want to argue on that. My position is similar to Liz McInnes - I did not want this coup, which looks too much like an emotional reaction to Brexit. But votes of no confidence cannot be undone. Do you seriously expect people with little knowledge or interest in politics to vote for a Prime Minister who cannot command the confidence of their MPs? All the talk from now on will be of splits, with a significant chance one will happen.

      2) UK austerity of the 2015 variety is gone because of Brexit. The Conservatives still think 2010 austerity was correct, and we shall see what they do if we have another recession. McDonnell has changed Labour's policy, but that means nothing if Labour is ineffective.

    2. 2) I don't think so. You've argued yourself that Osborne abandoned austerity in 2012 (I think, please correct me if I'm mistaken), what he didn't do was abandon the rhetoric of austerity. The important shifts are rhetorical and discursive and have taken place over time (arguably from The Spirit Level via your work and the IMF's recent turn). Once the ground has been ceded rhetorically, it's very easy to re-write history. The Conservative may think that austerity was correct in 2010, I'm not sure the public will do so once they see both the rhetoric and fiscal rules cast aside so casually. Corbyn and McDonnell (assuming they win) can tour the country arguing that a) they were right all along and b) that austerity was demonstrably an ideological choice. How else to explain the u-turn (Brexit won't cut it with voters).

    3. 1) But the coup (or something like it) was always going to happen. The plotters have made no secret of it. Are we always to give in to unscrupulous bullies and opportunists or do we stand and fight for democracy?
      That may seen immature and impractical to you (I'm putting words in your mouth, forgive me) but this is a once in a lifetime deal for those of us on the progressive left, a chance to transform the party and take the country with us. In short, I suspect that I choose optimism of the will over your pessimism of the intellect. Both positions are of course, valid, I too lived through the 80s and 90s so can respect your decision (whilst taking radically different lessons from the period).

      I also believe that Labour can and have achieve more in opposition than you credit, but it's clearly not an ideal state of affairs!

    4. I will choose the intellect over the will any time.

    5. There'd be no Labour Party if we all thought like that.

    6. Because the Labour Party was born of hope against the odds i.e. optimism of the will. I think the keywords are optimism and pessimism rather than intellect or will, btw. No-one wants a triumph of the will!

    7. I think if anyone is being optimistic at the moment it is me in believing Smith can win. But I'm sure you agree that decisions should be based on analysis of what might happen following those decisions, which is what I have also tried to do.

    8. I do. But draw different conclusions. I think you're far too soft on those behind the plot: they won't go away.

    9. I'd like to know more about that as a counter-factual, that is, would Labour win under Owen?

  7. Part 2:

    'There is a contradiction here that Corbyn supporters fail to acknowledge. In the UK to have any chance of building a mass social democratic party you need a parliamentary party to provide a voice that will be heard. That means MPs on your side, not against you.'

    We don't. We want the MP's to work with the democratically elected leader. The party rules are clear. MP's are expected to work with the leader. Let us hope enough see sense should Corbyn win again. If not, there can be no arguments against re-introducing re-selection processes. Labour is democratic or it is nothing.

    'If the current leadership had succeeded in uniting the majority of Labour MPs behind a consensus policy programme that would have been a powerful force, but it failed. It makes no sense to extol the virtues of unity only when it suits you.'

    Agreed. But you can't fault them for trying. The temptation (and pragmatic policy) would have been to appoint a sympathetic Shadow Cabinet, but Jeremy Corbyn reached out to form an inclusive Shadow Cabinet. That they've indulged in behaviour befitting a sulky teenager is no fault of his and the plotters have been plotting since before Oldham. That's not to suggest that Corbyn is without fault; as an inexperienced leader it was always going to be a steep learning curve, but Labour have been an effective opposition. Unless you call the twenty-two u-turns (whether Labour led or not, they still required Labour numbers) and the dumping of austerity ineffective?

    What makes me really sad is the contempt that some members seem to have for Labour MPs.

    What of the contempt of MP's for both the leader and the membership. Has there been a greater display of contempt for Labour Party values than Ian Austin's lamentable abusing of the party leader during the Chilcot debate. This is a two way process, and MP's as experienced professionals who know how the media works, have been playing a very cynical, dangerous and divisive game.

    'I agree that collectively Labour MPs became embroiled in a failing electoral strategy before 2015, but you change that by persuasion through evidence and hopefully example, not by casting them as the enemy or as forever ‘lost’. Most of all, they are not some kind of inconvenience that can be ignored or who will collectively come to their senses if the membership continues to vote for Corbyn. They are an essential part of the means of achieving a mass social democratic party: that is why 2016 is not 2015.'

    Agreed, but you seem to be arguing that MP's were persuadable. Some were, many were not. They're not an inconvenience, they simply need to get back on board if Jeremy Corbyn wins. Labour is a democracy or it is nothing. Are you suggesting Labour suspend democracy and party rules for the sake of a few recalcitrant MP's? I suspect enough MPs will return, but it will required compromise on both sides and hard work. After all, what are MP's without the Labour Party brand? There are, of course, outstanding constituency MP's but the majority of voters vote for the party rather than the MP.

    1. 1) What you suggest will split the left for sure.

      2) Come on. I'd love to say that McDonnell's fiscal rule and opposition to Osborne brought about Osborne's defeat, but I cannot honestly do so. But I supported Corbyn's attempts to forge a unifying policy, yet I also recognise that a vote of no confidence - even if it was a foolish thing to do - changes things profoundly. Punishing Labour MPs for this is pure indulgence.

      3) You take the anti-Corbynistas and assume all MPs are like them. MPs as a whole have not been playing a game - you need unity and some strategic sense to do that. Once again, voting to punish MPs is pure indulgence.

      4) "they simply need to get back on board if Jeremy Corbyn wins". This sounds like the Corbyn school of management. You are asking MPs who want people to vote for them to say, as they are constantly questioned by the media, yes I once had no confidence in Corbyn but in the last two years he is a new man. And if they do say that you expect voters to believe them?

    2. Why are you so eager to dismiss democracy in action as 'indulgence'? It's politics. The left has as much right to defend itself as the right. Those railing against Momentum and the membership remind of Brecht's poem, The Solution:

      After the uprising of the 17th June
      The Secretary of the Writers Union
      Had leaflets distributed in the Stalinallee
      Stating that the people
      Had forfeited the confidence of the government
      And could win it back only
      By redoubled efforts. Would it not be easier
      In that case for the government
      To dissolve the people
      And elect another?

    3. Where am I dismissing democracy? I want Smith to win, which is why I'm writing these posts!

    4. I was assuming you were dismissing re-selection as an indulgence, I may have misunderstood. I think we need more of it, but then I favour a deeper, more participatory and accountable democracy (despite Brexit!).

      My fear, if you'll forgive a little abstraction, is that the public's contempt for Westminster is both dangerous and unhealthy and only one party will benefit from business as usual. We need far more local democracy to revive people's faith in politics as an agent of change. I don't see a technocratic Labour Party delivering that given that they deepened Thatcher's assault on local democracy.

    5. Given FPTP both the Tories and Labour have always been fairly broad coalitions. Labour MPs have always known that there were people left of them in the party, but have tacitly felt that those people should just keep quiet and pull together for the good of the party as a whole. It seems that they are not so keen to do so now that the wind is blowing in another direction.

      Which is fine - that's their right, but if they want to argue competence, they should do so competently, rather than the kind of amateurish mess we see at the minute.

      On another point entirely, Labour's strength in the UK is to have some claim to be a mass movement party. I don't see where a technocratic party of the centre-left would actually get funding and activists from, their likely corporate backers would just fund the Tories instead.

    6. Why do you want Smith to Win? Do you really believe that he can win the next GE?

      By the way, I am fascinated to see that you support Blair - despite Chilcot as just want factor. Do you not think that your moral compass has come a little astray? Hundreds of thousands of innocent lives lost and counting.

  8. And here's my argument which contains a strategy. Let me begin by arguing that the post-2008 political landscape is, in effect, an interregnum. We're living through the morbid symptoms as we speak, so the spirit of Gramsci underpins my argument. Let me also acknowledge that my argument is unashamedly partisan:

    Corbyn supporters understood that transforming the party into a movement and Corbyn into an electable leader was a long-term project: remember, no-one expected him to win in the first place. So it was always going to take time and require patience. Nothing's changed from that perspective.

    Victory was always going to take hard work, organisation and feet on the ground, change would be piecemeal and organisational. In many ways we're ahead of the curve. Who'd have thought that Red Owen Smith would be fighting on a left of Corbyn platform or austerity consigned to the dustbin of history?

    Corbyn and McDonnell have already changed the terms of trade, a quite remarkable achievement in just 9 months.

    We even knew that the PLP would be troublesome, not quite this troublesome, perhaps, but troublesome and recalcitrant nonetheless. We've inherited a lamentably reactionary shower from the Blair era. But I don't think anyone could have foreseen just how inept they are and how badly they've played the cards at their disposal. Nor just quite how badly they'd behave. I really don't think the members have much sympathy for them. Had they waited two years and the party polled as poorly as they'd predicted they'd have been able to make a legitimate leadership challenge. But Corbyn wasn't polling as badly as expected and they panicked; which suggests they'd be woefully unsuited to government.

    So now it's all about the current campaign. Win that and win the NEC elections and Corbyn will be handily placed to resume the project. The May bounce will end, ministers will return and the diehards will sulk on the back benches. There will be no split (according to George Eaton and others) because MP's are nothing without the Labour brand. There may be a case for mandatory re-selection if MP's continue to fail their constituents, the members and the party and, come 2018, Corbyn can hand over to a younger man or woman. In the meantime we should follow Clive Lewis's advice and reach out to fellow progressives, all the while transforming Momentum and the wider movements into campaigning groups across the country. We need to harness that energy and channel it into useful social activity. Labour needs to embrace regional devolution too, and appointing Richard Burgon as a Minister for the regions would be a canny move.

    That's the sunny version, and it is possible, (much depends on the MP's) but it could, of course, go horribly wrong. That was the case in 2015 and will remain so. The project was always fraught with risk because the right of the party consists of intolerant neoliberals who would surely be more at home in the LibDems but don't want to lose the Labour brand.

    1. "Corbyn supporters understood that transforming the party into a movement and Corbyn into an electable leader was a long-term project: remember, no-one expected him to win in the first place. So it was always going to take time and require patience. Nothing's changed from that perspective."

      I wonder how many Labour members, in voting Corbyn in 2015, were really writing off the 2020, and maybe 2025, elections for the sake of this 'long term project'? And if Corbyn is handing over to someone else in 2018, why not now? I advocated this deal after the no confidence vote: did Corbyn make the offer but have it rejected?

    2. Yes, but as I make clear, or thought I had, I expect to win in 2020. I also don't expect Corbyn to remain in situ post-2018. There's a world of difference between strategy (shifting the party leftwards and grooming a future leader) and being bullied into resigning by Tom Watson. The latter position was always untenable a) who could trust the plotters after their behaviour and b) it would render any leader a lame duck and we've seen how that plays out with both Blair and Cameron.

    3. "I advocated this deal after the no confidence vote: did Corbyn make the offer but have it rejected?"

      This wouldn't surprise me; any deal like this would have meant putting forward a leftish candidate and the right of the party wouldn't accept that. This is kind of a death struggle between the left and the right of the party. The left know that, after Corbyn, they'll never get another candidate forward (no one is going to risk the 'broadening the debate' thing again); likewise the right know they can never win among the membership, hence why they have to grab the crown in a coup.

      It's why I don't imagine Smith will be in the leadership all that long if he does pull of a surprise victory - the undermining will start up again in soon after.

    4. From what I understand Tom Watson made the suggestion, but that being so, it wasn't a deal at all, but a palace coup. Besides, how could Corbyn have taken Watson et al at their word, given their behaviour thus far?
      No, any offer has to come from a position of strength, with a successor in mind, otherwise Corbyn's a lame duck (see Cameron D, and Blair, A.L.).

      Agreed. My feeling is that Simon is giving the PLP too much credit: they're a mess. Certain elements won't be happy until David Milliband throws his hat in the ring again. Until then, they'll be on manoeuvres.

    5. Does anyone actually know if such a deal was discussed?

    6. It was reportedly on the table during the McCluskey & Watson talks. The suggestion being that it was Watson's idea and was quickly dismissed. It can't work if its imposed by one side, can it? That's half the problem, the plotters were leaking like sieves.

    7. "Certain elements won't be happy until David Milliband throws his hat in the ring again."

      David Milliband epitomises New Labour. If you propose David Milliband you have learned nothing from the recent staggering political events we have had in this country, and it looks like, being repeated elsewhere. You are not reading the mood. You might as well put Blair into the ring again. David Milliband is not the man for these times.

    8. 1) Anon at 1:30 - who is 'you' here?
      2) On the deal - can anyone give me a link to these reports

    9. Some of the 'negotiations' are included here. The resignation deal was reported in the daily live commentaries, from memory. I don't think it gained any traction.

  9. "It seems to me what Corbyn has done is build an activist base made up in large part of mostly idealistic, mostly young political activists..."

    The thing is, the majority aren't even "activists". They're slacktivists, who think joining a political party is like signing a petition on The vast majority of them haven't done any sort of campaigning for Labour since joining.

    1. Surely the vast majority of Labour members of all vintages don't do any sort of campaigning. My ward party is looking for new premises to hold its meetings, because our current meeting room is regularly packed out since last year's surge in recruitment. The thing is, the room seats 40. The only reason it wasn't too small before was that meetings were only attracting 4-5% of members - just as they are now.

  10. Perhaps you are right -- Corbyn won't carry the party to victory at the next election. But finding the cause in his inability to lead Labour MPs fails to fault them for their total, implacable opposition to Corbyn from the start. Opposition echoed and magnified by the media. The faux coup MPs tried to carry out has backfired badly, on MPs mainly, but also on the Labour Party itself. I have no idea how Labour extricates itself from this mess, but deposing Corbyn, as gratifying as that might be to many MPs, hardly seems like the way forward. If a compromise along the lines of ending the leadership challenge in exchange for an understanding that Corbyn would step down after a decent interval would be possible, during which the party united behind an agreed-upon set of principles, that might work. An election which Corbyn wins would silence his critics for a time, but do nothing to resolve the underlying problem -- MPs refusing to united behind a leader, and at odds with party members.

    1. "for their total, implacable opposition to Corbyn from the start". Evidence please.

    2. Those who announced they wouldn't serve before they were offered posts?

    3. Corbyn struggled to get 36 required signatures from 230 Labour MPs to stand for election as leader, which he did only t the last minute. Apparently only about half (18) voted for him. [I cite one art. from dozens that make the same points:] There is no question that the great majority of MPs opposed Corbyn from the beginning. Their opposition never wavered, from numerous press reports. Must I cite them? Reports of plans to depose Corbyn were rife throughout his early tenure as leader. Six months or so into it Benn launched his effort to remove Corbyn as leader. You know the details of this coup attempt. The plan was obviously to force Corbyn to resign. That failed. Then he was to be denied the right to stand for election. That has now failed. Accompanying this turmoil were statements by several MPs that the Party would split if Corbyn is re-elected. Must I cite press reports? I can. I'd say that this is pretty implacable opposition -- announcing in advance a refusal to accept an election's results. Corbyn was unacceptable to the great majority of Labour MPs from the beginning. That has not changed. It is not entirely on Corbyn's shoulders to resolve this impasse. That is my point.

    4. Voting against is not equivalent to implacable opposition. I suspect most MPs voted against Ed Miliband, but they could work with him. You are trying to paint 172 MPs as all like the anti-Corbynistas that I have written about - they are not. What Labour needs is a leader who can unite most Labour MPs and party members. Corbyn tried and failed. It is possible that no one can do this, but I'd like a bit more evidence before I come to that drastic conclusion. And I'd like Owen Smith to be given the chance.

    5. A reasonable position, but you're far too soft on the PLP. Have you not being paying any attention to the media since Corbyn was elected? Daily briefings and smears, constant talk of plots; first Oldham, then the local elections, then the referendum. You may be correct in arguing that 172 MP's weren't involved, but a significant and very powerful cohort that included some of Ed Milliband's frontbenchers were involved.

  11. Re: Child tax credits; whilst it would be giving Corbyn far too much credit to say he reversed that policy, I think it's disingenuous to say that he played no role in it. Would those Conservatives have got quite such cold feet about it if they had been facing, say, Liz Kendall and her 'tough on welfare, tough on the people on welfare' line? I suspect not.

    Much of the rest of it rings true, but none of this need be happening if the rest of the Labour MPs, or at least more of them, had been willing to engage with the membership and use arguments - rather than just raining down insults. They are, to that extent, the authors of their own doom much more than Corbyn, or his supporters, have been.

    Even if Smith wins the leadership election (and think he has a decent chance) I struggle to imagine he'll still be leader in 2020. Which, more than anything, summarizes Labour's problems at the moment.

    1. "Even if Smith wins the leadership election (and think he has a decent chance) I struggle to imagine he'll still be leader in 2020." I've heard this many times, but I do not understand why.

    2. Because they thought Ed Milliband was too left wing and many vowed to ensure that would never happen again. Smith policies, I'm sure you'd agree, are way to the left of Ed Milliband's!

    3. "If your heart's with Jeremy, get a transplant." That wasn't a comment on competence or failure of leadership - it was about Blair's fear that Corbyn would take the Labour Party too far to the Left. Smith's current platform is scarcely any less left-wing than Corbyn's, defence policy excepted; why should we suppose that Blair, Mandelson, McTernan, David Sainsbury and the rest would be any happier with Smith than they were with Corbyn?

    4. Of course they will not be happy - they were not happy with Ed. But so what. What can they do about it? You are trying to suggest that TINA to Corbyn for those on the left, and I do not think you have any evidence for that.

    5. The members, Simon, the members. And the unions. That's your evidence.

    6. @Simon

      "I've heard this many times, but I do not understand why."

      It's my own musing, but my points would be:

      1) He's not one of the big beasts
      2) This leadership contest is probably more of a 'test the water' to see if Corbyn can be beat.
      3) If Corbyn is beaten by surprise I suspect that there are many Labour MPs who don't think Smith can win, or who think they'd do better (it's notable that none of the big beasts even so much as contemplated throwing their hat into the ring, not even Benn who initiated the whole thing)
      4) If Smith wins they'll now know these tactics can work.

      I might, however be wrong (I claim no special insight) and I'm not a Labour party member. These are merely my observations from the outside.

    7. There are no big beasts, Gary. This is a myth that needs to be exploded. The era of Cook, Blair, Brown et al co-existing is over. If there had been a big beast, Corbyn wouldn't have won last year.

  12. Thanks for creating a civilised online space for debate btw, Simon. Long may it remain so.
    The Guardian and Observer have become sadly unbearable.

  13. Perhaps I should tell McDonnell his advisors are supporting Smith? How would you like that Simon?

    What is hilarious is Richard Murphy is considering supporting Smith because:

    "He has committed to a balance budget as Ed Balls did with the same inevitable consequence of austerity

    I don’t agree with that"

    I hope if Smith is elected there is a clearout of you chaps.

  14. Objectively, Mr Corbyn has already failed as a party leader, more comprehensively so than any past Labour leader.

    Any support by party members is bordering irrelevant if this is not matched by electoral, parliamentary and media impact.

    Much/most of the media may be unsympathetic to Corbyn, but that's no excuse; its his job to deal with it.

    The most disturbing element in the Corbyn phenomenon is his evident non-recognition of his obligation to engage consistently and constructively with the news media.
    John MacDonell has done his level best, media-wise, but it is hard to fathom how/if Corbyn believes that his evident reluctance to engage whole-heartedly can possibly win votes.

    I don't rate Smith much better: will abstain?

    1. Here's my suggestion:

      If you think a Corbyn win would prompt the PLP to shut up and follow him (grudgingly) then vote Corbyn, else vote Smith.

      You might not rate Smith, but it's better to give him a chance than this onoing impasse.

      Abstaining is useless.

  15. "In the UK to have any chance of building a mass social democratic party you need a parliamentary party to provide a voice that will be heard. That means MPs on your side, not against you."

    What kind of BS argument is that? Deselect the MPs then. They are the ones who started all this nonsense and tried to force Cornyn to resign. They are arrogant, entitled individuals who actively work against change and the party membership.

    Do you want this to work or not Simon? If so you will have to abandon the NK religion and propose sensible policy.

  16. For example as I have said before about the fiscal rule (I'm tired of repeating the same stuff):

    "The Keynes idea appears to come from a time before the Beveridge style welfare state was implemented and certainly before that evolved into a spending side auto-stabiliser system, but that 'fact change' doesn't appear to have dulled enthusiasm for the concept.

    So I thought I'd dig into the numbers to show what it is all about and point out the issues.

    The numbers come from the Public Sector Finance report from the UK's Office of National Statistics:

    For the financial year 2014/15 the current budget deficit stood at £48,876mn. So that is the amount you have to generate from somewhere to get it to zero.

    However before we do that it is useful to understand how you get that figure. What actually is the current budget deficit?

    It is defined as:
    Net Current Expenditure + Interest Paid + Depreciation - Current Receipts
    so using the figures from 2014/15 (In £ mns) you get:
    634,317 + 47,222 + 37,306 - 669,969
    To get the current budget deficit to zero you have to conduct extra investment spending - which then gets taxed away at the tax take percentage (which is 1 - the saving percentage) creating the extra tax receipts to cover the current budget deficit. Effectively you move the deficit from the current budget to the capital budget.

    There are a couple of things to note from this calculation.

    The first is that the depreciation figure is a transfer from the capital budget and adds to the current deficit. The more investment you do, the bigger the depreciation figure gets which then means you have to do ever more investment spending every year to cover the growing current deficit.

    The second is the interest paid figure which similarly adds to the current deficit. The more investment spending you do at interest the bigger this figure gets. The higher interest rate you pay the bigger this figure gets. And the bigger the figure gets, the more investment spending you have to do in subsequent years to clear the current deficit.

    You can already see that there are two unfortunate positive feedback loops inherent within the calculations.

    Net investment spending (Gross spending less depreciation) for 2014/15 was £30,328mn. If you express receipts as a percentage of total expenditure you find the tax take is 89.4%. So for every £100 spent, £89.40 came back as tax and £10.60 was held as financial savings.

    The tax take percentage varies as the tax side auto stabilisers allow people to save. In the post crash era where people are generally saving it has been as low as 82%.

    So to clear the current budget deficit at a conservative tax take of 80% you'd need to make £61,095mn of extra investment spending (i.e. the capital net spend needs to be three times what it currently is). That will vary up and down depending upon the actions of the automatic stabilisers. In 2009/2010 you would have needed £107,684mn of investment spending.

    There is of course lots of talk within Corbynomics of closing tax gaps, changing rates and the like. All of that is largely distributional. If you take tax off one person, they can't then spend it with somebody else and you potentially deprive somebody of an income. Only where you defer or offset saving behaviour, somehow, is there an impact on the total tax take percentage. Really you're relying on the old balanced budget multiplier to work its magic - which likely isn't that effective in an open net importing economy like the UK.

    There is, of course, no need to balance any budget, and doing so violates 'Lerner's Law'. The wisdom in Lerner's statement is already apparent given the brouhaha over People's QE. All that is down to the complexity of trying to present a simple overdraft or guarantee in flowery language. The mainstream have misinterpreted it and are now engaged in a campaign of misinformation. The lack of simplicity makes that difficult to counter.

  17. (cont from previous comment):

    Besides the complexity issues, balancing the current budget has clear issues.

    you are limited to fixed capital formation and capital transfers. So you can build universities and hospitals, but you can't staff them.
    eventually you run out of stuff to build. This leads to the old Labour problem of building roads to nowhere just to keep 'investment' going.
    you neglect items because of the current budget restriction. The only effective investment a government can make is in its people. But that is all current spend and is therefore difficult to do.
    you have to raise taxes to make the books balance. Nobody likes tax rises. Raising taxes is far more unpopular than explaining that budget balances are not really significant. It seems strange to take a political hit on taxation when you don't need to.
    Fixed capital investment targets a small section of the country's supply chain. Only a small section of the population is engaged in building things. The UK is 80% service based and people are trained for services. So you are quickly going to run into supply side capacity constraints, and potentially start to limit other capital development in the private economy.
    the action of the auto-stabilisers pulls the current budget out of balance as a matter of design. If the economy contracts social security payments go up and tax take declines. You then have to do more investment spending to counter that. Yes there is more slack at that point, but is it the right sort of slack. Is the supply fungible enough?
    the more investment, the more depreciation and interest paid. That leads to a positive feedback spiral between the current budget deficit and the level of required investment (and is another reason why Gilt Issues are harmful)"

    Can't work. Listen.

    1. McDonnell’s fiscal rule has to be understood politically, not as accountancy. It amounts to saying “we won’t overspend, but we will borrow to invest and we will act in recession”. I’ve had those doorstep conversations and we can win them.

      Once you see this as politics, then many of the issues you raise go away. Politically, investment is “spending that will bring a future return”, not what the ONS classifies as GFCF. That building schools or universities with no teachers is pointless is obvious, not just to economists but – more importantly – to the electorate. Hence, a case can be made for treating some additional expenditure on education or training as “investment”, even if the ONS classifies it as “current”. I don’t believe in fudging numbers so this should be done transparently through a specific “investment training” fund. I would be quite happy to explain to voters why we have excluded that from our promise to balance “current spending” over a Parliament.

      This is just an example but remember that any “rule” is a pledge, not to statisticians, but to electors, who will judge whether or not it has been kept. Remember too that McDonnell has reserved a right to suspend his rule if that’s what restoring growth requires.

  18. Let my point be absolutely clear. If at some point in the future these MPs are not removed then they will rebel against the left and the predominantly left membership. So why not let Corbyn be a martyr and replace them now. They will have to be replaced at some point otherwise we will *never* have left wing government in the UK.

    1. «we will *never* have left wing government in the UK»

      That's the plan, and it is pretty much unavoidable: because in effect the principle is "elect whomever you want as long we nominate the candidates" :-).

      What's left to fight for is not «left wing» politics, but the possibility of the centrist or mild center social-democratic politics of J Corbyn and J Mitchell, who are in effect to the right (except for some residual "gesture politics") of those of N Kinnock or J Smith, and mostly aligned with those of G Brown. My usual quote is as always entirely apposite:

      «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.»

      What the people who nominate want is to give voters a choice only between two flavours of "TINA" neoliberal/neocon politics: right-wing plus "identity values" New Labour policies, or far-right hang-and-flog/whig Conservative policies, of the ID Smith or M Howard or "Britannia Unchained" flavour, but fronted by a plummy PR person like D Cameron.

      Much the same as in the USA or Australia.

      Moderate "left wing" things like supporting trade unions, better wages, better job security, better pensions, for the bottomost 50% of "predatory parasite" workers are completely off the table.

  19. Furthermore Simon, please get in touch with the MMT economists to propose sensible economic policy. Bill Mitchell's contact is at:

    N. Wilson can be contacted via Twitter:

    We can propose policies that will end poverty.

  20. Corbyn should either resign or move to deselect enough irreconcilable MPs pour encourager les autres. The problem at present is that the fissures are too deep; something has to give. As for Corbyn consigning the party to electoral irrelevance, there is no evident alternative likely to do better. With or without Corbyn, the party seems all but certain to remain in the hole it dug for itself before 2015. It's only hope is to restore unity between membership and MPs one way or the other.

  21. It pains many of us to believe a split is coming but like all separations it brings new chances. The fighting is intense when even poor Kinnock is accused of being a neoliberal anti socialist. We cannot coexist any longer. So we need a new centre left force reaching the 16 million remainders, proEuropean and progressive force , recognising the new demands of globalisation and business along side the supply side of quality education and digital technology. Corbynism is a dogmatic non starter because it denies too much be it globalisation, Brexit horror and the importance of consumer choice. Given the nature of the
    U.K. FPTP the centre-left would have to an alliance. Our democracy needs this more than a reconsolidation behind a genera l election losing Corbyn far leftist leader. Hope springs eternal and it's time that the centre left revived its muscular principles as we split, divide and polarise. Corbynism Is dead as it is a placard waving sect; a new centre left progressive force free from the horror of McCluskey and his types will inspire UK politics post Brexit

  22. I may have spoken to soon.....

  23. When Atlee came to power it was unexpected. I saw a documentary that recounted how Churchill fully expected to win on the night of the election and in the event lost by a landslide.

    A large social movement has to start somewhere. In times of hardship it is more likely this dream can happen. We have seen a sustained real wages fall equal to Greece who are in the midst of a full blown depression! It is impossible to prove at this stage that this movement has a chance of succeeding but in desperate times incredible things can happen - as shown by Atlee. . Brexit, sanders, trump, podemos, Syria, French National Front are further evidence that the plates are moving. The youth have been dumped on by the political class and the Baby boomers. UKIP was the fake revolution - Corbyn is the real one.... Only a matter of time now before something seismic happens!

    1. Indeed, and Labour were nowhere near power before the war. In echoes of today's media onslaught, Churchill argued that Labour would need a Gestapo to enforce their socialist programme. The difference between then an now is Attlee: a formidable parliamentary operator despite his apparent diffidence.

    2. But the UK is constrained by a very right wing media which governs the agenda eg see Brexit. Unlike most of our progressive EU friends we have an old system of FPTP . These aspects make us more right than left. New Labour like Wilson and others understood this winning from the Centre. Corbynism fails on this count.

    3. Churchill didn't have any properly-conducted opinion polls to look at to call his characteristic overconfidence into question. If he did, he probably would have been disappointed with what he saw. But not as disappointed as Jeremy Corbyn would be with how his approval ratings lag even the Labour Party in the polls...

      Attlee came to power after demonstrating for a few years that he could not only work with his party, but even with the Conservatives when it was in the national interest to do so, and a detailed vision for a welfare state the country had barely dreamed of. Indeed, he actively dismissed the idea trying to "impress the nation with futile left-wingism"...

      You're correct in suggesting the forces driving support for Corbyn are more akin to the demagogic protest politics of Trump et al, but these forces almost invariably fail even when blessed with a unity Labour obviously lacks. The only real triumph on your list was the Brexiteers, and they had the media and considerably more of the Establishment than they cared to admit on their side for decades, and a single aim they didn't need to demonstrate the competence to actually execute. There's a ceiling on the votes of the disaffected, and judging by how badly the anti-austerity vote did at the last election - particularly relative to expectations - it's a lot lower than you think in the UK.

      And few things will prove more damaging in the long run for left-wing political thought in the UK than a movement to embody the concept of socialism in the personhood of an embattled sixty-seven year old individual with limited communication skills who's frankly more interested in foreign policy. The success of the Corbyn movement could have been simply to shift the Labour Party's policy agenda to the left, ultimately under someone with the leadership and communication skill to actually bring the wider electorate with them. It's failure will be not to accept that as enough.

    4. «a sustained real wages fall equal to Greece who are in the midst of a full blown depression!»

      Greece is not in a depression today any more that it was in a depression in 2001, when it had much the same population and much the same GDP, a rather better situation than Italy. In 2001 Greece was considered in a pretty good condition. The only major difference in the past 15 years is that the same GDP is now produced by 15% less workers, so there is a lot more unemployment. In those 15 years GDP surged by 20% as the government deficit and imports reached 15-20% of base GDP (that 15% of workers probably moved into jobs selling imported goods), and then fell again as the borrowing that enabled that ended.

      The UK is following a partially similar line, but on a much smaller scale: currently imports are 7% of GDP, the government deficit is around 5% of GDP, and real wages have fallen by at least 10% (quite a bit more for lower wages and considering worsening contractual benefit).

    5. Wilson didn't 'win from the centre'. He went to the country with a variant of Tony Benn's AES in 1976 (only to discard it in office) and clearly distinguished himself from the Tories in 1964 and '66. Indeed, there's little to distinguish Wilson's policies from those of Corbyn on the domestic front: presentationally they are miles apart, I'll grant you.

    6. @blissex

      Greece not in a depression??

    7. @pewartstoat

      Corbyns presentational and debating skills may not be up there with Wilson or Atlee but I think the public are so disillusioned with the over-professionalisation and spin of modern day politics that honesty and integrity have become a valuable commodity. Corbyn has this in abundance.

      Also people forget that despite his age he is a complete novice in high office, so surely it's only logical to assume that due to the steep learning curve he will improve at PMQs and handling of the Media etc...

  24. "In the UK to have any chance of building a mass social democratic party you need a parliamentary party to provide a voice that will be heard. That means MPs on your side, not against you."

    So why aren't those MP's rallying to the side of a mass social democratic party?

  25. Interesting post and responses. A few things.

    1. I think you give too much credence to Smith. If you were an LP member with a desire to see anti-austerity policies, etc., who would you vote for? A former PR for Pfizer who's made a couple of nice sounding speeches, or somebody who's made a career out of opposing austerity.

    2. Like, I think Gary Othic and Phil, I'd be shocked if Smith was still leader in 2020 if he was elected. It seems obvious that those opposed to any kind of left agenda would immediately start to undermine him and mount another challenge - seeking to elect somebody like Umunna or Cooper.

    3. Some people are trying to sell Smith's announced policies as more or less the same as Corbyn's. If that was true, then why do the PLP somehow think that Smith is credible, whereas Corbyn is not?

    4. The breaking point, as far as the membership goes, was really Harman's mistaken policy of abstaining on the welfare vote shortly after the election - in the mistaken idea that was an appropriate response to the election defeat. How many of those who abstained (Smith was conveniently "absent") have publicly repudiated that action? If not, then what has changed?

    1. «Some people are trying to sell Smith's announced policies as more or less the same as Corbyn's. If that was true, then why do the PLP somehow think that Smith is credible, whereas Corbyn is not?»

      There is a major obvious difference between them: J Corbyn's position on foreign policy is different from that of Likud, and this matters a very great deal.

      The less obvious difference is that D Smith is "one of ours", and J Corbyn is "not one of ours", and one can rely on Smith to be "realistic" later, whatever he says while campaigning for leadership.

  26. A successor to Corbyn will need to be endorsed by Corbyn (and hence his support base).

    1. And would have been had the plotters not shot their bolt.

  27. As this post responds to a comment of mine, let me reply. I’m a little late due to the demands of local Labour Party and Jeremy for Labour work but pewartstoat has said much that I agree with, although I wouldn’t assume that Corbyn will retire in 2018. Let me add a few points.

    As leader, Corbyn has made mistakes but has been quite effective. Despite media hostility, electoral results have been respectable, even if the losses under New Labour and the disaster in Scotland have yet to be reversed. Several measures have been blocked or blunted, for which Corbyn can take some credit. You forget how difficult it is to hold back a government with a Commons majority. Ed Miliband did stop the bombing of Syria but made no headway on austerity. Kinnock failed to stop Thatcherite economics. Outside the Westminster bubble, party membership has soared. The problem is the relationship with the PLP, who are now presenting the membership with an offer they hope we cannot refuse: either remove the leader you chose or we will disrupt the party and wreck the chance of electoral victory.

    I agree Smith’s backers among MPs are not all the same. The three Labour MPs in my city back Smith but for varying reasons: one is a hardened Blairite; one drifts with the wind; but the third is a decent MP who I hope will return after the election. The Blairites are keeping quiet in the hope that their support for Smith will pass unnoticed. His nightmare must be that the great Tony will let ego get the better of prudence and speak in his favour. After Corbyn is re-elected, some MPs will have to go. An MP’s job is not for life and those who have been most hostile cannot expect re-selection. We have tried hard to make this work but if we need to go into 2020 with new candidates, then that’s what we’ll do. The alternative is to give in to blackmail. There will also have to be a clear-out of those party officials who are trying to rig the election.

    Those who take Smith’s policies seriously should look beyond economics, study some history and try to think politically. Outbidding your opponent to undermine his support is an old trick. The Roman oligarchy did it to Gaius Gracchus, disposed of him, then forgot its pledges. Smith may delude a few members but most of us can see what’s going on. If Smith were to win, his promises would be worthless, members would be purged and policies adjusted. Whether Smith himself would survive this is an open question.

    Is there a plan to rebuild a mass social democratic party? Here are some elements of one:
    1) Re-elect Jeremy Corbyn to sustain and grow the membership;
    2) Support the interests of ordinary people against those of elites;
    3) Sharpen policy, particularly in areas such as industrial policy, work and social insurance or foreign policy, which have been in the hands of Corbyn’s opponents and seen little development;
    4) Convert those policies into communicable and repeatable messages;
    5) Inspire more Corbyn supporters to become activists (the election campaign is helping here);
    6) Strengthen links with trades unions and progressive campaigns;
    7) Re-engage with our communities and workplaces through listening, learning, supporting and acting, building both self-belief and confidence in Labour;
    8) Change the party’s rules to make it more democratic and less prone to internal tension;
    9) Deselect or replace representatives or officials, where necessary;
    10) Improve professional competence at all levels.

    Will this suffice to bring electoral victory in 2020? I don’t know. The performance of the May government will play a large part. If she succeeds in holding her party together, delivers Brexit and avoids recession, then Labour will struggle to win under any leader. In UK history, governments lose elections more often than oppositions win them. But with the approach outlined above, Labour will at least be in fit shape when the opportunity arises.

    1. Lyn - your response is reasoned as always, but I think you avoid the central point I was making. You are either stuck with MPs who have no confidence in Corbyn, or you deselect them. The latter will split the party for sure with predictable results. The former means you will do very badly in elections even if you do all of the above.

      You also implicitly discount one possibility which you have to consider. It could be that some of the 172, the better non-Blairites if you like, have seen Corbyn up close and think he just does not have what it takes to be a good leader, let alone a PM. It must worry you the number of people (e.g. Neale Coleman, Owen Jones) who have worked closely with him and are no longer doing so. If you were a Labour MP and you had to work with such a leader, would you work hard to get them elected just because it was the democratic decision of your less knowledgeable members?

    2. Spot on Lyn. I'd add one or two more to your list, one a little more abstract, but one that served Thatcher well (those of us with long enough memories recognize the parallels with the Thatcher insurgency):

      11) Related to your no.4: Create your own narrative and situate yourself historically. There's a golden opportunity to rewrite our recent history, just as Thatcher's historians rewrote the 1930s. Let us argue again and again that Thatcherism led ineluctably to 2008 and Brexit. We need a constant supply of memes and communications to destroy the myth that the economy is safe with the Tories. The Tories have borrowed more and overseen more slumps than Labour, indeed Ken Clarke stands alone among post-war Chancellors in not tanking the economy.

      12)Get devolution on the table, develop a regional strategy with at least one Minister for the Regions. Combine this with feet on the ground. Richard Burgon, for example, would make an excellent Minister for the North, we could also make use of Andy Burnham's commitment to regional politics.

    3. Simon, thanks.

      The problem is that the party is now condemned to a prolonged and intense period of infighting, whoever wins. If Corbyn wins, then some MPs will accept that but many will not, so PLP discontent will continue. The prospect of deselection will incline some MPs to pull back but harden the stance of others. If Owen wins, the membership will not disappear and the struggle at a local level will intensify. Worse, Owen is very unlikely to gain more than a small majority, and given all the shenanigans there have been from the party apparatus to disenfranchise members and otherwise tip the scales, such an outcome will be seen as illegitimate by many. Some of course will leave but others will dig in for an even more embittered fight. It’s hard to see how that would help the party’s prospects either. In either case, pressure for some kind of split will grow just to end the pain. Don’t believe that an Owen victory offers any kind of closure.

      Is Corbyn a good leader? There have undeniably been issues in managing the PLP, although it must be acknowledged that was always going to be a difficult challenge. There are difficulties in the relationship with the media and the policy milieu. Communication with the broader public is a mixed bag: he can be effective in face to face meetings but less so via mass media. PMQ performances have varied in quality.

      But it depends what you’re looking for. He has proved an inspiring leader to many even though he lacks the oratorical skills of Sanders. Membership has soared and Labour is again the party of choice for campaign and local activists who had all but given up on it. The relationship with the unions has been rebuilt, the FBU has re-affiliated and the RMT could do so. His courage is refusing to buckle under pressure is admired. So from the perspective of the wider labour and popular movement he has done well. Far better than any of his PLP critics would. Just compare the Corbyn and Smith rallies. Nor have his opponents shown great competence. Tom Watson’s handling of Len McCluskey prior to Eagle’s leadership declaration was a masterclass in how not to manage a leading stakeholder.

      I am worried by some of the criticisms but those who are abandoning Corbyn are showing impatience, even panic. They fail to grasp the magnitude of the task and the stakes. Owen Jones makes a lot of interesting points, which in a less feverish atmosphere it would be good to discuss, but the leadership challenge makes that impossible. My reaction to the Brexit vote was that Labour needed a summer of deep reflection and re-engagement with lost communities but that will now have to wait.

      Turning around the juggernaut of neoliberalism is not a matter of how a leader speaks in Parliament or how his office handles people, or even the details of specific policies. It is – first and foremost – about building a mass movement to challenge that, offer an alternative and give sufficient support to its representatives to withstand opposition from elites. Corbyn seems to understand that. As he said about the mass rally in Leeds on the weekend “People are not here for me - they are here because they want to be part of our movement and part of the change we're offering the country.” Owen Smith does not want that popular engagement but paper policies will be meaningless without it.

    4. It is first and foremost about changing the narrative, Lyn. And Corbyn and McDonnell have succeeded in doing so.

    5. @PaulE. I agree Corbyn and McDonnell have changed the narrative, which is why Smith now has to set out a left looking economic policy, although he gave the game away by telling Andrew Marr that "austerity is right".

    6. @pewartstoat. Agreed on both points. The regional element had been understated until McDonnell's Sunderland speech.

  28. In order to form a government Labour needs to win at the very least 326 seats in the House of Commons. It presently has 230, and, notwithstanding the enthusiasm of Corbyn and his cheerleaders, neither he nor they have identified the seats they think they are going to win to achieve that goal. It is hardly surprising that a large majority of those Labour MPs who have managed to get elected, in real elections, with real rivals, from real political parties, feel that Corbyn and the cheerleaders need to get in touch with reality.

    Deselecting those MPs may seem like a cunning plan; in reality local parties would be left with trying to get decent candidates for those seats willing to stand against the present incumbents, with all that entails, in the hope the new one will win, whilst trying simultaneously to get decent candidates for those seats Labour needs to win from other parties when the party hasn't even yet identified those seats, much less done the backbreaking work to make those seats winnable.

    Corbyn's claim that Labour would win a snap election is delusional. There is no evidence of any kind that the party has done the work it has to do to win at least 326 seats. The idea that you do actually have to work to make things happen seems to have eluded him; instead he seems to believe that ideological purity tests within the Labour Party will miraculously bring about the Promised Land, hence his rejection of trifling details like facts.

    This can't be hand waved away by airy claims about Atlee winning against Churchill; he won because vast numbers of people who had served in the war here and around the world had learned from the history of the First World War and its aftermath, they refused to return to the status quo. It wasn't a social movement so much as a soldiers movement, and they were very, very clear on reality.

    1. «win at the very least 326 seats in the House of Commons. It presently has 230, and, notwithstanding the enthusiasm of Corbyn and his cheerleaders, neither he nor they have identified the seats they think they are going to win to achieve that goal.»

      Well, that is indeed the core detail, and the single biggest issue is Scotland. The question is whether scottish voters are more likely to vote for a New Labour significantly to the right of the SNP or for a mild-centrist social democratic mass party. The impression I have is that they switched to SNP because they thought that New Labour was both anti-independence (see G Brown) and too right-wing; they also switched away from the Conservatives.

      «It is hardly surprising that a large majority of those Labour MPs who have managed to get elected, in real elections, with real rivals, from real political parties,»

      That's a twisted, even comical argument: the MPs that remain in the PLP are mostly in very safe seats, which were stuffed very cleverly with New Labourists when they controlled the party machine, in a fashion that may remind people of Militant Tendency.

      Those who really had competition lost their seats in large numbers in 2010 campaigning on New Labour lines; and they did not regain them in 2015. The experience of 2010 and 2015 is that once New Labour lost the confidence of southern voters on its core "aspiration" appeal, that it would push up house prices forever, it kept losing elections.

      It is even worse than that though: the continuing New Labour declamation of neoliberal attitudes designed to favour southern property rentiers has caused a large surge in switching to UKIP votes in northern traditionally labour areas, and a large switch to SNP voting in Scotland.

      «There is no evidence of any kind that the party has done the work it has to do to win at least 326 seats.»

      But that's the main problem with the New Labour plan: there is no such plan. New Labour lost a large number of seats in 2010 and failed to regain them in 2015, and their "plan" is to repeat exactly the same message of "aspiration" (meaning "bigger house prices") to the southern property owners as it has since 1997, and doing this they have lost the past 2 elections.

      The plan of the social-democratic centrists around J Corbyn is instead pretty clear:

      #1 We have no chance of credibility in promising bigger house prices to southern property owners given that we are associated with the big property price drop in 2008. They are not going to switch from tory to tory-lite "just because".

      #2 The class-war policies of the conservatives are alienating the lower and middle middle-class, that in large parts of the country have not seen bigger property prices, and we can reconnect to them with grassroot work, looking like the "nice party" run by "gentle vicar" Jeremy, and hanging on to the ex-Liberal vote, and hoping to regain the Scotland vote by being a more progressive version of the SNP.

      #3 Since UK voters don't vote for oppositions, but vote to "throw out the bums", like in 1979, 1997 and 2010, and the opposition then gets their chance, we just need to look ok and wait for the Conservatives to lose the plot and/or become unable to push up house prices further. So far this strategy has delivered slightly rising polls.

      I think that both New Labourists and the centrists understand #3 very well, and the current fight is entirely about the right-wing or the centrists lead the party and thus the get "automatically" into government when the Conservatives screw up, it is not about "electability".

      And the urgency with which the New labour right-wing is attacking the centrists is due to the the many chances, as seen post-referendum, that the Conservatives will screen up massively between now and 2020, on Brexit, or on house prices, or on internal fights between their tory and whig wings, etc.

  29. (part 2/2)

    3. Does Labour have the best/appropriate management team and structure?

    This is more a reflection on whether the PLP are the best people to support both the core product (and target market) and the execution of the vision. This is trickier to answer, however as much as it is fair to criticize JC & team’s failure this should surely ask the same questions from the PLP as well, i.e. is the entire PLP fit-for-purpose?

    Put differently, from what I’ve seen in the commercial sector, bad past decisions/management practices tend to have more severe implications for top management than in political parties.

    Additionally, and based from what I’ve seen, large commercial companies are not typically very democratic about change, i.e. if there’s a new CEO with a new vision then disruptive execs are usually not tolerated because it undermines success.

    In summary my greatest concern is there is a common theme across experts that replacing JC will somehow solve the major obstacles Labour face. For me Labour is facing more fundamental issues a better functioning PLP seems an overly simplified solution reminiscent of cautionary examples I see used in my industry, such as Nokia and Kodak, businesses following outdated strategies and who were well managed, with the best intentions, into obsolescence.

  30. As new party member and not historical activist I can only speak for myself - limited political knowledge.

    I'm just a voter and placed my vote every few years based on who I thought would address the social issues and and manage the economy well. One thing that Corbyn has done and I don't know how, he has managed to mobilise a person who had little interest getting involved to join the party.

    My demographic is not in line with what you are saying - young student. I have two young adults, who I believe would be best served in the future by Jeremy Corbyn staying as leader of the Labour Party for now.

    I'm confused about the PLP and their motives - from my perspective they seemed to correlate the vote leave in the working class areas that I live - with the potential of them losing their seats to UKIP and shot from the hip in trying oust Corbyn - which was far too premature in its act. The vote to leave was a seperate argument.

    In reality the votes in the North from my little experience will be secured by Labour with a clear strategy for addressing the needs of those voters - all of which that I speak to are patriotic and value money less than their future identity.

    They perceive the Blair, Brown and Milliband leaders as serving their neo-liberal ideals first, either through economic bias towards a capitalist system or too liberal to protect their constituent identity needs.

    The threat of competition for jobs from a foreign labour supply or reduction in social welfare or changing face of their neighbourhoods led by economic and liberal ideals at their cost is seen as the issue.

    I support Corbyn who I see as not too patriotic and too liberal on the one hand - but at least representing the fight against neo-liberal system which I feel is frustrating and counter productive in the end to my families long term needs.

    If Corbyn wins the election for Leader and their is a split I will be supporting him against the PLP in any event. Im not dreamy eyed, just think an alternative option should be explored further.

    If he then loses the General Election it will be due to them again placing a greater value on their identity, which the authoritarian right is percieved at better protecting, than the liberal left. The fact this might make them poorer or dwindle their social welfare system is seen as secondary or completely ignored in their mindset.

  31. I humbly submit this evening's Newsnight as an example of the continuing machinations of the Bitterites - searching for even more ways of bypassing Corbyn and the membership even before the latest election. They are irreconcilable.

  32. «in England elections are not won by the opposition, but lost by the government, and usually they are lost when governments let house prices stall or drop.»
    «the lower and middle middle-class, that in large parts of the country have not seen bigger property prices,»

    This is the electoral map of the UK:

    from this article:

    which has the detailed numbers.


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