Winner of the New Statesman SPERI Prize in Political Economy 2016

Thursday, 4 August 2016

Mutually Assured Destruction

When I called half a year ago the minority of MPs and associated journalists that was trying, and had tried from day 1, to openly undermine Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership Labour’s “new militant tendency”, I was doing the original militants a disservice. My complaint at the time against these “anti-Corbynistas” was that they muddied the waters for any Labour party member who needed to see how well Corbyn was doing, because bad poll results could easily, and with some justification, be blamed on their activities. If the anti-Corbynistas were right about Corbyn’s unelectability (and unless their aim was to form a new party), they were shooting themselves in the foot and prolonging his period in office through their activities.

I hugely understated my case. The damage they were doing turned out to be much worse than that: they were firing the first missile in a war of mutually assured destruction for the party. The reason relates not to Corbyn’s electability but his competence. As Owen Jones suggests, Corbyn - unlike John McDonnell - has failed to adjust to his new role. He seems to be repeatedly “missing in action” at key points. Both he and McDonnell needed quickly to form a good working relationship with the shadow cabinet, as good politicians can often do with others holding very different views, but they failed to do so. As Neal Lawson writes of Corbyn, “no one with any sense or insight believes he has the leadership skills to craft a majoritarian politics”.

Now many people, including the anti-Corbynistas, will happily tell me that this was obvious before Corbyn was elected, and I was naive not to say so more strongly before he was first elected. But this fails to acknowledge the terrible place the majority of the PLP were in at the time, and that the membership needed to do something about it. To quote Lawson again, he voted “for the wave not the surfer”.The model of how to win elections that the PLP had taken from the Blair years was leading them to endorse austerity and abstain on welfare cuts. They needed a shock to force them to rethink, and Corbyn’s 2015 victory was that shock.

Following his election the majority of MPs did try working with Corbyn, or else stay quietly on the sidelines. They did not spend their days trying to undermine him: they were not part of the group I call the anti-Corbynistas. But then what this section of MPs saw was Corbyn’s failure to lead, or indeed promote the party outside of the membership. There were some in Corbyn’s team, like Neale Coleman, who understood what was required, but he resigned in January (and now works for Owen Smith). Although McDonnell was making progress in some areas, like the adoption of a state of the art fiscal rule [1], there seemed to be no sign of improvement from Corbyn. Each MP has their own individual story of lack of competence and communication (e.g. here, here or here), as do others who had contact with the leadership. The majority of MPs from the middle of the party began to realise that in all conscience they could not argue that Corbyn should be a prime minister.

But try to suggest that to many members who support Corbyn, and it does not compute. For them all 172 MPs are now ‘plotters’, determined to overthrow the power of members to choose the leader they want. In my experience it is not quite the paranoia discussed here, but there seems to be no attempt to understand the diversity of motives within the PLP. All examples of Corbyn’s inadequacy are brushed aside as ‘smears’, again based on the antics of some anti-Corbynistas. The anti-Corbynistas said Corbyn’s policies made him unelectable, a proposition which those on the left with some justification reject. This appears to mean that a very different proposition - that a leader rejected by 80% of his MPs whatever his policies is unelectable - is brushed aside. In other words Corbyn’s supporters have adopted the anti-Corbynistas as their model of what has happened to the PLP, which allows them to dismiss any reasonable criticism. That is the devastating contribution the anti-Corbynistas have made to the current situation.

For many members this election has become about their right to elect Labour’s leader, which they believe the PLP are trying to take away from them. Many of the PLP respect that right, but believe they have to inform the membership that Corbyn is not a competent leader or a credible PM. Yet that more nuanced view seems lost on many members, who seem to regard the majority of the PLP as unfit to be in the Labour party they want.

The ‘coup’ was in my view both mistimed and misjudged, and the attempt to keep Corbyn off the ballot paper bizarre. But the coup is not explained by Corbyn’s supporters as the desperate actions of those who had just witnessed the Brexit vote after the Labour leadership followed a flawed campaign, the last and most important act of leadership inadequacy and mismanagement. Instead, following McDonnell, they believe it shows how incompetent the PLP are at staging a coup.

As in a war, the language being used takes on a righteous tone. Rather than think in terms of the politics of what might happen, we get the morality of what should happen. Rather than contemplate adaptation as events change and capabilities are revealed, we get the defiant talk of no compromise.

A Corbyn victory would be the return salvo in this war of mutually assured destruction. Here is the best outcome I can foresee if Corbyn wins. Most MPs will batten down the hatches, waiting for something to turn up. A few will try and work with him, hoping against judgement that things might improve, but most will not. Polls will stay terrible but show some improvement as some voters forget Labour’s internal divisions, the tabloids will keep relatively quiet because they want Corbyn to stay, and Labour gets some protest votes. Perhaps some electoral setback will result in another leadership challenge.

But come any general election who is going to vote for a party where less than 20% of MPs have confidence in their leader? Any media interview with any of the 172 will ask how can you say Corbyn is fit to be PM if you had no confidence in him 4 years ago, and what does this change of heart tell us about your judgement? If the antics of a minority of Corbynistas can be used to explain Corbyn’s poor poll ratings, using the same logic to think about the next general election means it will be disastrous.

The result will be terrible not just for Labour but also its left. The experience of 1983 marked the beginning of the end for the left of the Labour party. There will be some members who really mean it when they say that Corbyn is the start of a long term project, and that it may take a decade or more to rebuild the party, but most members will grow tired of losing elections during that time. Corbyn’s refusal to back down will harm those that might come after him.

I have looked and listened for a more optimistic outcome. I have read about how 21st century politics will be different because of social media, but as Ellie Mae O’Hagan writes, “78% of people rely on television as their main source of news, compared with 19% who use Facebook and 10% who use Twitter. Crucially, less than a third of respondents regarded Twitter as trustworthy.” I have read about grand alliances (which I support), but not why they save Labour and the left from this fate. I cannot see any plausible account of why things might be better: nothing any objective political scientist would even bother to critique.

The outcome I have painted, awful as it is, is not the worst that can happen, and may not even be the most likely outcome for two reasons. First, if Corbyn gets re-elected he is unlikely to receive a re-election bounce in the polls, so it will be very tempting for May to go for an early election. The means by which she can do so are straightforward.

Second, the idea that members are just refighting 2015 misses how much has changed since then, particularly with Brexit. In 2015 business and finance were 100% behind the Conservatives. With the Brexit vote, and the campaign’s leading lights running the coming negotiations, that has fundamentally changed. [2] With the Brexit vote what I would call the pro-European centre desperately wants an effective voice. With Cameron/Osborne gone, Brexit ministers in charge of negotiations and an expected recession the notion of Conservative competence at running the economy has gone. If Corbyn remains there will be a vacuum where an effective opposition should be, and that vacuum could well be filled by a new party. If there is serious talk of deselecting Labour MPs, that new party will include many of them.

If that happens, I see no reason why the 1980s will not repeat itself. Some Corbyn supporters, immersed in their imagined battle with the PLP, see this as just one more threat from the other side that they should discount (and - morality again - denounce). One even called it Project Fear to me. But the whole point about Project Fear was that it was a way for first the SNP and then the Brexit campaign to avoid talking about the consequences of their side winning. A way of avoiding hard truths.

The horrible irony about this fight to the death between the PLP and the membership is that the membership are fighting the last war which took place in a pre-Brexit landscape that was very different from today. As Owen Smith’s economic programme and this interview make clear, both Corbyn’s original victory and Brexit mean that the PLP has completely abandoned austerity. [3] Can it be that something the membership would gladly have voted for in 2015 is now seen as either inadequate or an illusion? Is it that power once obtained corrupts, or that those used to struggle and defeat can only trust someone who will ensure the same?

[1] Here Owen Jones makes a mistake. It is true that the mediamacro spin was that this new fiscal credibility rule was just like the policy under Balls, but it was crucially different: the rule allows the focus to switch from the deficit to output in a liquidity trap recession. In other words it was a rule that would have avoided 2010 austerity. One journalist described this as a ‘loophole’, but I think having a rule that avoided the austerity that did so much harm is pretty important. If it survives and the coming recession is bad, it will be crucial in allowing Labour to argue for more fiscal support than the Conservatives/Treasury will countenance.

[2] If you have access read the tone of the comments (click ‘most recommended’) to this FT article by Brexiter Bernard Jenkins. Or this.

[3] In this interview Smith does three things which I suggested in this post: he praises Corbyn for increasing and enthusing the party membership, he is highly critical of the 2015 election strategy, and he makes it clear that the UK will get a second opportunity to vote on Europe. Perhaps as a result of this, the line of argument I’ve now heard many times is that because Smith breaks so many Blairite taboos he cannot survive. Here I do think paranoia replaces any realistic assessment. If Jeremy Corbyn after a no confidence vote from 80% of the PLP will not step down, why would Owen Smith just because he was too left wing for a minority of the PLP?


95 comments:

  1. Of course, it is not plain sailing to victory if Owen gets elected either, that could also have severe repercussions-is that is why you title the blog Mutually Assured Destruction?

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  2. 1. This was obvious before Corbyn was elected, and you were naive not to say so more strongly before he was first elected.

    2. "The [lesson the] PLP had taken from the Blair years was leading them to endorse austerity and abstain on welfare cuts."

    This is untrue.

    It was *not* Labour policy to endorse austerity before 2015. The fiscal policy at the last GE was one you could approve of and would not in practice have differed from that of McDonnell that you helped design. One stupid quote from Hunt does not make your case. It was not the policy of even the most 'Blairite' of the candidates last year (Kendall) to continue austerity. It certainly wasn't that of either Burnham or Cooper (the latter actually understanding economics).

    You have had it explained why Labour abstained on the second reading of the Welfare Bill and voted unanimously against on the Third. On second reading amendments were put down, and on third the whole party voted against. If you support elements of a Bill (as Labour did and does) that is the usual approach. Nobody was neutral on welfare cuts.

    By suggesting that these issues were the points of difference between Corbyn and the PLP you grossly misrepresent the position. I can only imagine you do so because of your own (small) part in where we now find ourselves.

    3. The membership did *not* vote for the sensible fiscal policy McDonnell has signed up to, and which in practical terms doesn't differ significantly from the 2015GE position.

    No. What they voted for were crackpot free lunch solutions put forward by Corbyn and that you failed to condemn at the relevant time. So we had

    i. People's QE
    -Helicopter money used as a general way of financing nice things, and not as an alternative to fiscal policy at the zlb.

    ii. 'Corporate welfare' and 'clamping down on tax evasion/avoidance' nonsense. Billions lying around waiting for us to pick up and spent.

    Corbyn was elected on a false prospectus.

    Now some economists (Paul Levine, Tony Yates, John van Reenan) rightly spoke up at the relevant time

    http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/23076458-50d2-11e5-8642-453585f2cfcd.html#axzz3kOxa3Ql4

    Others (Blanchflower, Mazzucato) disgracefully wrote in apparent support

    http://www.theguardian.com/politics/2015/aug/23/jeremy-corbyns-opposition-to-austerity-is-actually-mainstream-economics

    While you sat on the fence

    https://mainlymacro.blogspot.co.uk/2015/09/letter-wars-and-how-policy-is-made.html

    Your mistake was obvious. You so passionately wanted *anybody* to oppose Osborne's sleight of hand shrinking of the state that you mistook your enemy's enemy for your friend.

    And so, apparently sensible people ended up backing an IRA apologist, lifelong Bennite, and founder and chair of the Stop the War Coalition for leader of our UK social democratic party.

    How did you *expect* it to turn out?

    4. "Coup"
    It wasn't just the case that the campaign to remain was 'flawed'. It was betrayed. See Alan Johnson and others

    https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2016/jun/26/corbyn-must-resign-inadequate-leader-betrayal

    The proof of Corbyn's actual position was revealed on the morning of 24 June when he called for Art 50 to be invoked immediately.

    It is, as you concede, *vital* that we have an opposition led by a pro-European. that you seem to think it would have been ok for politics to continue as it was with May/Johnson/Davis/Fox's approach to Brexit 'opposed' by Corbyn shows your own lack of perspective. The attempt had to be made.

    There is now no good way this turns out now. Labour is too weak to win, too strong to die.

    Your mistake was to think that the 2015GE could have gone better if only the 'true' economic arguments could have been put from the start.

    Learn the lesson of the EU referendum campaign. There is a chasm of difference between what you need to say to win an election and what constitutes good policy once you have.

    Oppositions can't change people's minds very much in the way that you suppose.

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    1. "By suggesting that these issues were the points of difference between Corbyn and the PLP you grossly misrepresent the position. I can only imagine you do so because of your own (small) part in where we now find ourselves."

      As Helen Lewis has written, she has made the same argument again and again and it gets nowhere. Which is the point. Politics is about perception. I make no apology for what I wrote on that vote, and furthermore I think I have been proved right on the consequences it would have. Many in the PLP now realise it was a terrible mistake, and Owen Smith argued against it at the time.

      "The membership did *not* vote for the sensible fiscal policy McDonnell has signed up to, and which in practical terms doesn't differ significantly from the 2015GE position. No. What they voted for were crackpot free lunch solutions put forward by Corbyn and that you failed to condemn at the relevant time."

      This is all nonsense. I pointed out the problems with People's QE at the time. But people voted against austerity, not the details of a particular scheme, and they were right to do so. And they got what they voted for with the fiscal credibility rule. You can keep saying its no different from Balls but that just shows ignorance on both an economic and political level.

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    2. "Many in the PLP now realise it was a terrible mistake"

      Of course it was a mistake. Because it was misrepresented. See above.

      "I pointed out the problems with People's QE at the time."

      No. You really did not. Here is your comment

      https://mainlymacro.blogspot.co.uk/2015/08/peoples-qe-and-corbyns-qe.html

      THE problem with People's QE (which you did not say) was that Corbyn was proposing it as a general financing tool to fund nice stuff. You didn't criticise that, though you can give chapter and verse as to why it is wrong more competently than I can.

      What you actually wrote was really just "interesting idea, but needs some tweaking."

      Of course there is some difference between McDonnell/You and Balls, but it is subtle, and in practice I am very doubtful would play out differently.

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  3. This is an excellent and perceptive assessment of the current madness in the Labour party and of the likely outcomes. However, it would fill anyone wishing to see a competent centre-left government-in-waiting with despair. And this is at a time when such a government-in-waiting is vitally necessary.

    But despair is not a rational option. And despite, much preferring to see a centre-left opposition exploiting the deep fissure in and the abject incompetence of this government and poised to force an election and take power, it has to be recognised that this is not going to happen at the next election - whenever it might take place.

    As a result, I am, paradoxically, more relaxed and confident about the future trajectory of governance than I have been for some time.

    Under recessionary pressures, and though the measures will be heavily disguised, I suspect the Government will introduce aspects of the fiscal measures advanced by Owen Smith. I, probably in comany with many commentators, was impressed by the Milibandesque commitments made by the new PM (prior to and following her appointment) to remedy abuses of corporate governance, deficiencies of taxation policy and abuses of market power by firms providing essential services, to develop an industrial strategy and to promote and finance much needed public investment. Much of this is more micro than macro and would attract probably little interest on this board, but these commitments open up huge areas of economic and competition policy and regulation that have the potential to generate huge welfare benefits. There is the need for enormous and continuous pressure on the PM to meet these commitments.

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  4. Speaking as a Corbyn supporter, I tend to concur with your reading of the situation. I've never thought that Corbyn, once elected, would be leader of the Labour Party for ever after; the idea of replacing him with somebody more 'clubbable' and media-friendly in time for the next election doesn't seem like a bad one, as long as the changes already made by Corbyn and McDonnell could be retained and built on. If this could be done by agreement I'd positively welcome it.

    The problem for people like me is that the Smith campaign simply looks like a continuation of the coup by other means. We know that Corbyn's diehard enemies were talking about deposing him even before he was elected; we know that there was a plan to pressure Corbyn to resign through co-ordinated resignations long before the EU Referendum; we know that Angela Eagle's campaign was supported by people well over on the Right of the party*. That's the background; that's how we ended up with a leadership contest in the first place. We know that Owen Smith has the backing of many centre-left MPs who simply can't work with Corbyn, and that most of his policies could be embraced by John McDonnell - but we know what's gone before, and we also know that Smith now has the backing of people as far to the Right as Tristram Hunt and Ben Bradshaw.

    Against this background I don't think it's at all paranoid or irrational to suppose that Smith might end up being deposed in his turn. To borrow a comment from an earlier post, suppose it's 2018, the election's looming up, Labour's poll ratings are looking worse than ever; say we've lost a by-election we should have won (partly owing to lack of enthusiasm for the new leader among party members). A group of women Labour MPs sign a statement attacking Smith's sexism; Yvette Cooper resigns from Smith's Shadow Cabinet and gives a speech denouncing Smith's return to the 'old, failed, tax-and-spend model'; polls suggest that more Tory and UKIP voters would vote for Cooper than for Smith... I think it could happen, only too easily. If Cooper won, even by a whisker, it would be taken as a final rejection of the Corbyn period - and we'd be back in the post-Brown swamp, deficit fetishism, very real concerns about immigration and all.

    *As well as being launched with signage that had New Labour written all over it - a stylised signature and a pink Union Jack!

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  5. 'But try to suggest that to many members who support Corbyn, and it does not compute. For them all 172 MPs are now ‘plotters’, determined to overthrow the power of members to choose the leader they want.'

    This is a ludicrous over-simplification and does you a disservice. What is the point of your blogging and interfacing with others if you're just going to ignore your respondents and amplify the media's line?

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    1. The whole point of this piece is that is exactly the basic model Corbyn supporters have. I must have half a dozen comments of the form "you make some good points but" and then they revert to this model.

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    2. Not all 'Corbyn supporters'. As you'll see a couple of comments above, I've actually resorted to copying and pasting a comment from a previous post in the hope that you'd take it on board the second time.

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  6. 'A Corbyn victory would be the return salvo in this war of mutually assured destruction. Here is the best outcome I can foresee if Corbyn wins. Most MPs will button down the hatches, waiting for something to turn up. A few will try and work with him, hoping against judgement that things might improve, but most will not. Polls will stay terrible but show some improvement as some voters forget Labour’s internal divisions, the tabloids will keep relatively quiet because they want Corbyn to stay, and Labour gets some protest votes. Perhaps some electoral setback will result in another leadership challenge.'

    Or Corbyn takes over the machinery of the party (NEC elections), completes the task of moving the party towards something like an electable position and stands aside in 2018.It's a hegemonic project Simon, (as was New Labour) the individual isn't important in the long term.

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    1. This is exactly what many on the right argued was Corbyn's real goal in 2015. I argued that this interpretation was wrong, for reasons I give in the post. Members just want an end to ABC triangulation I argued: they recognise that Labour has to be a broad church, not a party controlled by a group at either of its two extremes. This election will see whether I was right or they were right.

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    2. But one can have two ideas in one's head at the same time. It is necessary to transform the party to win the election. To transform the party it may be necessary to retake the levers of power from the Blarites (obviously). Some members wanted an end to triangulation, some wanted a transformed party, then the wave.....which changed things again: politics is fluid. Those on the right argued the above because they have become so embedded in discourses of power (Machiavelli without the Marx) that they're unable to tolerate dissent. Hence the current mess. You were right, Corbyn's first Shadow Cabinet is proof of his good inetentions, but as you so rightly note, times change.

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    3. Simon: "ABC triangulation" is precisely what Owen Smith represents to many members. He describes himself as a "radical socialist" but I don't think either his supporters or his detractors really believe this - nor would the PLP tolerate genuinely radical socialist policies if he tried to promote them.

      A vote for Corbyn this time will have much the same motivation as last time.

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  7. Ok, there's a dissonance at the heart of your argument. You talk constantly about conjunctural politics (without using the term) at the same time as constantly referring back to the 1980s. Times change, Simon and 2008 changed everything. The outlines may not be clear yet, particularly in the UK, but they will become so. The notion that the project must, by definition, take 10 years or more is implausible. The task is to move the party leftwards, it will be complete by 2018 if everything goes to plan. If not then and Labour are still polling badly then it's time to say goodbye to Jeremy (FWIW I think he'll reach that conclusion himself, as will members and supporters - those you underestimate).

    May won't call an election (I'm making myself a hostage to fortune, I know) for the same reason Gordon Brown didn't go to the country: why should she? It's a high risk, low reward strategy that is totally out of keeping with everything we know about her. Besides, if the Tory leadership campaign tells us anything it's that the party's backers demanded instant stability: the markets were spooked by a leadership vaccuum, the last thing they want is another election, indeed, I suspect the whole nation is sufffering from election fatigue right now.

    Your last paragraph is perfectly reasonable but I'm afraid there's nothing in Owen Smith's background to justify your (and others)faith in him. If only there were.

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    1. There is nothing in Jeremy Corbyn's background to give me any faith that he wants a close connection with Europe. If I wanted to I could even argue that he wanted Brexit all along. I see no difference between this and what you say about Smith.

      As to the rest, well I've heard "this time is different" too many times before. We know it has inspired movements on the left and right, which is understandable. But I have seen nothing which could justify a belief that a party completely controlled from the left with no compromise with the centre or centre-left could win a general election victory. That is why history will repeat itself if we let it.

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    2. There's nothing in Owen Smith's background to give me any faith the wants a close connection with left wing politics. D'you see how this works? You're applying double standards.

      But it is different, whether it's different enough is another matter. Of course there will have to be compromise: on both sides.

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    3. "But I have seen nothing which could justify a belief that a party completely controlled from the left with no compromise with the centre or centre-left could win a general election victory."

      Who sets the terms by which compromise is to be judged? Because it seems to me that one of the reasons this leadership contest has become so divisive so quickly is the evidence that the primary motive is a return to a debate defined wholly by one side. Putting Owen Smith forward as a 'unity' candidate and then having him say and propose things that would be vehemently resisted by those who actually set this train of events in motion demonstrates the fact that this has been deliberately turned into a binary choice about which principles govern the party.

      I understand and appreciate the political calculation you have made about Jeremy's ability to govern the PLP - although I think you underestimate how much their mood may chance after the leadership contest and compared with the febrile mood immediately after the referendum. But the point here is whether the party's left can institute changes and open territories of discussion from their current position of relative strength or whether they will be subject to a purge that relegates them and their worldview back to fringe concern of members and a minority of MPs.

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    4. "Putting Owen Smith forward as a 'unity' candidate and then having him say and propose things that would be vehemently resisted by those who actually set this train of events in motion demonstrates the fact that this has been deliberately turned into a binary choice about which principles govern the party."

      It might just reflect the fact that you have already achieved your main objectives. Sometimes I wonder if you were involved in a real battle and the other side put up a white flag, you would say it is all a trick and we must continue the struggle. And the "having him say" bit is pure paranoia.

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  8. I applaud you on a very good piece!balanced!and without turning it into a war and peace size piece!but because of that i am impelled to add not to detract from a single word you have written , People have seen those who disagree with neoliberalism worldwide from Iraq Venezula Russia by sanctions,tariffs etc and Left leaning people in every nation undermined.
    So when you say that after Brexit the PLP have given up on Austerity,surely they would have been better to work with Corbyn even take over many of duties and reversed their voting records with actions,which would have made them more believable as alternatives!
    They walked into a stereotyping of coup's and undermining change rather than enacting change,maybe they're out of touch so much that they have joined up the dots on Greece,Spain,Brazil even Iceland that noeliberal free market economics can stand competition!
    Worldwide for decades politicians have promised much and delivered little and the PLP thought that they deserved backing on what bases!!!!!
    A coup!!!
    rather than enact and gain trust and make people who are not Corbynistas but want change,they have made themselves unbackable!i can't trust them certainly not after their actions there voting records to enact the changes i want to see,take the democracy tax!the £500 to stand for parliament is a tax on the poor getting into parliament and effecting change,it most certainly hasn't given parliament a better standard of MP,far from it! and should be scrapped,but what have they gone and done by imposing there own democracy tax,disenfranchised the poor!
    Has i said this was ill timed and done in a appalling manner than loses the trust of the people in the Plp not installing it! and if this action is anything to go by,then they certainly don't belong anywhere near power!

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  9. "Can it be that something the membership would gladly have voted for in 2015 is now seen as either inadequate or an illusion? Is it that power once obtained corrupts, or that those used to struggle and defeat can only trust someone who will ensure the same?"

    I think members suspect a) that Owen Smith is exaggerating his leftiness to appeal to them and win the leadership, and after that might lapse, and b) that in any case the PLP as a whole is certainly not as left-wing as Owen's leadership campaign, and his victory will galvanise them to reassert their influence and shut out the left. I don't think either of these are unfounded concerns. For a lot of people, the coup has shown that a significant proportion of the PLP is unscrupulous yes but also incompetent (they can't achieve even narrow political aims) and dull (they have shown no willingness or ability to adapt to a new and chaotic political reality). With no better horse to back, they will stick with Corbyn because his project is more hopeful, forward-looking, and flexible, despite his personal shortcomings as leader.

    I think you err in putting the memberships' motives down to a kind of blind hatred of all 172 no-confidence MPs as Blairite traitors or whatever. Obviously some do think this way, but their voices are massively amplified because they are the angriest, rudest people online and because it serves a lot of journalists' anti-Corbyn narratives to portray all supporters as irrational bullies. It's a minority. That Martin Robbins article in the New Statesman is utter trash.

    The majority of Corbyn supporters are not cult members or fanatics. They continue to support him because he continues to represent a politics they like. The stories of Lilian Greenwood and Thangam Debbonaire are sad to read but Corbyn's office management skills are not a top priority for supporters -- precisely because it IS about the "wave, not the surfer". Despite Owen Smith's best efforts, I seriously doubt he will be able to convince people he doesn't represent a pre-2015 way of doing politics in Labour -- a limp triangulation doomed to failure.

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    1. The "wave" has achieved all it can possibly achieve that is progressive - if it goes on only bad things happen, as my post spells out. What you call "office management skills" are about convincing people other than the faithful that you are right. That is how our democracy works.

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    2. Forgive me Simon, but I think you're being terribly naive about Labour Party politics.

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  10. You seem to accuse Corbyn’s supporters of wilful blindness yet you happily cite Owen Smith’s and Neal Lawson’s articles that agree with your thesis while blithely ignoring others’ like Paul Mason’s that demolish it regarding a post-Corbyn victory.

    In case you haven’t seen it, here goes
    https://medium.com/mosquito-ridge/labour-the-way-ahead-78d49d513a9f#.bpg75f7l6

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    1. I've read it and you will find a link to it in the piece. Tell me how it demolishes anything.

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    2. Ok. So you hid it somewhere without quoting any part of it the way you quoted Owen Jones et al. The essence of your argument is that Corbyn has to go because the PLP (as presently constituted) are indispensable and must have things their own way. That is fundamentally flawed and Paul Mason shows that.

      By the way, you haven't mentioned the fact that Sarah Champion has gone back to the Shadow Cabinet, which indicates that many more will return when Corbyn wins again. So, again, your fatalistic position is not borne out by available empirical evidence.

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    3. I "hid it" because there didn't seem anything there which threw any doubt on my argument. Mason presents no reasonable arguments as to why the PLP are dispensable. Your second paragraph shows you have not read my post.

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  11. In footnote (3) you claim that Owen Smith makes it clear that “the UK will get a second opportunity to vote on Europe”. In fact, it’s very far from clear what this means. Nobody has yet been able to explain it to me (including my local MP, a Smith supporter). Perhaps you can.

    He doesn’t appear to be demanding an immediate second referendum. That would be hard to justify on democratic grounds, at least without an intervening general election. So he’s promising one “when the terms are clear”. At a casual glance that will seem sensible to many, particularly among Remain voters, but what exactly does it mean? Here we have to look into the mechanism for leaving, i.e. article 50.

    It is extremely unlikely that terms will be clear before the UK triggers article 50. May is not rushing into this and no doubt there are offline talks but Junker, Schultz, Merkel, Hollande, etc. have all stated that detailed negotiations cannot take place until the article is triggered. Nor can May postpone indefinitely and probably has to make some commitment on a date by the Tory Conference in September. So a second referendum “when the terms are clear” does not seem possible before article 50 is invoked, other than simply cancelling the 1972 Act and walking away, which Jon Redwood might favour but Smith does not. In any case, even if Smith is elected Labour leader, triggering article 50 is in May’s gift not his. If there were a Parliamentary vote, then Smith could commit Labour to vote against but has no democratic mandate for that (unlike the SNP, although Labour could legitimately abstain). If there were a risk of defeat, May could just use the prerogative, resting on the mandate given by the referendum.

    So the terms will not be clear before article 50 is triggered. How about a second referendum before exit actually occurs? Again this is far easier to say than to do. Article 50 is about managing withdrawal, not about the arrangements between the UK and the EU27 that might replace membership. A trade deal could well take more than two years to negotiate (the article 50 deadline without unanimous consent to extend it) so Brexit could happen before we know what comes next. An EEA deal might be possible within two years but Smith, who thinks there are too many immigrants, wants a deal that gives access to markets without free movement of labour. As EU leaders have made explicit this will not happen, this is a Boris-like “pro-cake and pro-eating” position and tortuous compromises will have to be negotiated, taking time.

    Even if the post-Brexit arrangements were fully clear, what would a second referendum achieve? Article 50 does not contain a clause allowing a country triggering it to change its mind, so rejection of any terms would mean not staying in the EU but simply leaving without any deal. Of course, there could be negotiations around this, or around an application to rejoin, but there would be a price to pay even if those occurred. The option of simply reverting to EU membership on today’s terms vanishes once article 50 has been triggered. To cap it all, May will doubtless want to get Brexit done and dusted before the 2020 general election, presenting the next government with a done deal. So what exactly is Smith promising?

    My impression from all of this is of someone who makes policy statements he thinks his audience would like to hear, rather than out of conviction. Or just doesn’t think it through.

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    1. A government that triggered article 50 before the terms were clear would be foolish indeed (which is why Corbyn was so foolish/conflicted) in initially calling for it immediately after the vote). I agree things are far from clear, but this is good: http://www.politics.co.uk/blogs/2016/07/14/everything-you-need-to-know-about-theresa-may-s-brexit

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    2. Thanks for the reference. It gives a vivid description of the problems. The prospect of article 50 is intended to be painful to deter exit. But the article does not endorse the idea of a second referendum. Indeed, it offers the additional objection that others would be less likely to commit effort to negotiating a deal that could be overturned by a referendum, which could worsen that deal.

      The only suggestion the article makes is to play for time by negotiating an interim agreement and then hope, Micawber-like, that “something will turn up” so that article 50 never has to be invoked. There are various objections to this. The first is that an agreement needs two sides but where is the evidence that the EU27 wants such an agreement? The second is the internal politics of the Tory party. The article assumes that although the Brexiteers will hate it they will tolerate continuing delay. I think that’s very doubtful. The Leave leadership may have imploded but this remains a visceral issue for many MPs and most activists. May doesn’t strike me as the kind of masochist who would enjoy the pain from reopening her party’s wounds. Third, the prolonged uncertainty would be damaging. Fourth, an interim agreement is just that: it does not define what the terms would be after Brexit.

      But the main objection to a strategy of “infinite delay” is the damage it would do to the credibility of democratic politics. Triggering article 50 before the terms are clear will be foolish but that’s the road Cameron embarked on when he promised to accept the result of a single-shot referendum as a gimmick to resolve his internal party difficulties. Parliament endorsed that, which is why the only credible way to avoid Brexit is for the House of Commons to acknowledge its incompetence and for MPs to put their jobs on the line in a general election. Following that a second referendum might be possible but it needs to happen soon if at all, and I see no sign that it will. Delay is precisely the kind of elite tactic that has brought the EU into disrepute. The referendum revealed deep rifts in British society which will not be healed without openness and honesty.

      I’m still waiting for someone to explain how Smith’s promise of a second referendum when the terms are known would actually work.

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  12. I think there are a few other angles to consider as well:

    1. What's the goal/aim of Corbyn compared against Smith/rest of PLP?
    From my listening to both Corbyn central focus/vision is about bringing about change the UK, whereas Smith key messages seems to be about keeping Labour from splitting, being an effective opposition and winning the election.

    This might but very subtle and nuanced, however I think it's similar the cultish support for Sanders in the US, i.e. the same personality traits seen as valuable by some supporters from a "career" politician (such as a Blair, Cameron, Obama, etc.) are less attractive for others where "professional" deficiencies are sometimes less of an issue.

    2. Management structure/approach differences
    I agree with you on the management challenges/deficiencies with Corbyn however have to question whether the problem just lies with him, or also the "way" in which the PLP is setup & used to working. JC to me seems is a proponent of flatter organisational structures, but there seems to be issues about communication and setting this up.

    If he is to win the election again then this has to be one of the major areas which needs addressing or that party to succeed. I would however say that if he does win I'd expect greater influence coming from the CLPs as well, so you could see MPs being deselected, etc.

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  13. You betray your bias when you hide behind the notion of “mutual assured destruction”. Unless you consider the overwhelming mandate members gave Corbyn last year as an act of destruction (in which you will need to explain why you chose to advise and still support Mcdonnell who would never have smelled the Shadow Chancellorship otherwise and would be out in his ear the moment Corbyn is deposed) then must accept that there is no mutuality in the destructive coup the PLP started which, like all coups, must be resisted.

    You may seek to share or mutualise the blame but some of us will lay it squarely on the doors of the dissenters in the PLP. If Corbyn wins they either work with him or resign the whip and seek a mandate from their constituents as independents or under whatever other platform they like. That is the DEMOCRATIC way out of this quagmire. Getting rid of Corbyn because the majority of the PLP want that may suit an elitist mind-set that believes in command and control but those of us that voted for him last year and will vote for him again this year insist on our right to have a say.

    The MPs put themselves up to the wider electorate as our representatives. If they cannot accept our choice of leader why can’t they leave? Because most, if not all of them, cannot win an election outside the Labour party ticket. It’s time they respected the members that provide that platform. And it is time you stopped ignoring the relationship between the PLP and the membership in your contributions.


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    1. I thought it was VERY clear from the post that I think voting for Corbyn was not an act of destruction but a necessary action to shock the PLP out of their triangulating mindset. Unfortunately Corbyn has proved hopeless at doing his job. You now have the choice of someone who puts forward a policy position much nearer Corbyn than ABC, or to continue with someone who will lead to the disaster I outline. Going on about democracy, which is much more complicated than you suggest, is a complete distraction.

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    2. I don't think democracy's all that complicated, Simon. And please, don't use the constituency argument; as Craig Murray so wisely observes, the vast majority of voters choose the party first, the MP second, if at all. There are, of course, honourable exceptions to the rule, but they are few and far between: never more so than today thanks to the deracination of the party under Blair.

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    3. We're only going to get a 'Corbyn who is better at his job' if we allow Corbyn-esque-leftists (CELs) to get experience in Shadow Cabinet positions and other roles within the party, and if Corbyn himself is allowed to gain experience. The current difficulties of the Corbyn leadership are in a large part because the Blair administration shut leftists out of positions that would've allowed them to develop as leaders.

      I genuinely believe rebuilding the Labour party won't be the ten-year exercise you imagine - a Corbyn-led Labour party can win a general election in 2020 - but even accepting the ten-year project you posit, that's a win in the election after the next, in 2025**.

      **ignoring the possibility of an early election for simplicity.

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  14. A voice of reason, as ever. Good article.

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  15. I agree the members are fighting the last war.

    However, I can only see this as inevitable as the PLP has a history of talking down to the membership. Look at the rhetoric from Liz Kendall in the last leadership election - consciously talking down to members and telling them to get in line. Look at Jamie Reed's intervention in Parliament. Who from the PLP was prepared to carpet him?

    Is Owen Smith prepared to name and shame him (Reed) right now? I don't propose this as a litmus test, but just an illustration. Frank Field has been trashing the party from the right for years - not much sign that PLP give a damn...

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    1. Part of what I'm trying to suggest is that the PLP are not all the same. And Smith is not going to start to name and shame his colleagues - he's trying to unify not divide.

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    2. Clumsily I was trying to point to why so many members feel the PLP are all the same. There's a lot more loyalty to the PLP from MPs than to CLPs or to members. That might even be the way it should be, but it shouldn't surprise that members then view the PLP with some cynicism.

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    3. Actually I do find it slightly shocking nevertheless, much in the same way as I found the attitude of some MPs/commentators on the right about members shocking. And of course it brings back memories for me of the 1980s, a period I do not want to live through again.

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    4. This is worse than the 80s in so many ways....

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  16. BBC website, 2 May 2014, 'Niccolo Machiavelli 'has jumped cultures' says McTernan':

    'The name of Niccolo Machiavelli has made it to everyday speech and his work is lauded by a former adviser to Tony Blair...And in the film for the My Favourite Political Thinker series, reporter Giles Dilnot hears what Tony Blair allegedly said about "roughing up" and breaking the legs of his backbenchers."'

    BBC website Wednesday, 24 January 2007:

    "John McTernan, seconded to the Scottish Labour Party to run its campaign for May's Holyrood elections, was re-interviewed under caution last week. The interview took place before Ruth Turner, the prime minister's director of government relations, was arrested. Police have so far spoken to about 90 people including Tony Blair. All deny wrongdoing and no-one has been charged."

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    1. McTiernan is a walking, talking diaster and has no business in the Labour Party.

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  17. You make some strong arguments, and I sympathise with your position, but I think that amongst other things it is probably a mistake to take everything Owen Smith and his supporters say at face value.

    Smith is currently running in an election against a hugely popular left-leaning candidate (who is not particularly willing to compromise on his views). It’s natural that he and his camp should track left during the election. Clinton did the same thing against Sanders – now that she’s the candidate, she’s constantly appearing alongside right-wing billionaires and courting Republican party figures.

    Even if Smith is genuinely to the left, which I have to say I doubt (he’s a career corporate lobbyist who spoke favourably about PFI – which I imagine you’d agree was a disaster - and whose employer gave large amounts of money to Progress), Smith is the candidate of the coup, and if he wins the right-leaning PLP will have made clear that they control the party. The PLP, once they are back in th driving seat, will have the same instincts as Clinton – to try to appeal to right-wing voters and vested interests. It’s in their DNA.

    Furthermore you mention some of your suggestions that Smith has taken on board, but look at the ones he hasn’t – he isn’t talking about lowering the threshold for leadership candidates to allow the left another shot in the future, or about bringing key members of Corbyn’s team into the cabinet. If he wins, that will be the end of the left in the party for some time.

    You are right of course that a leader opposed by 80% of the PLP can’t win. But I think you’re taking too short-term a view of things in that respect.

    Firstly, it seems as if Labour candidates will have to be reselected as a result of the boundary changes (that is not deselection; all MPs will have to run for the new seats rather than some being targeted for being booted out). Even if most current MPs stay on, which I imagine they will, that will force the PLP to move closer to current mood of the membership.
    Secondly, Corbyn generally wants to give the membership more influence, which I suspect will result in regular SNP/US-style primaries for all party candidacies. These will end the current huge gap between the PLP and the membership that has brought about this disastrous situation. Corbyn is also likely to soon gain control of the NEC, which will help end the conflict with the party machinery.

    I realise you’re also not keen on Corbyn’s personal leadership, but once those things are achieved, and the likelihood of the left and indeed the membership itself being permanently locked out of the leadership has been removeed, there is also every possibility that the membership would eventually be willing to replace Corbyn, and/or Corbyn himself willing to stand down. As you’ve said yourself, one of the main things motivating support for Corbyn is fear that the PLP and party machinery will pull up the ladder if Corbyn is defeated.

    On the other hand, if Smith wins, the PLP will be emboldened and one or both of two things will happen. The leadership and PLP will tilt right again and there’ll be more major clashes with the membership further down the line, and/or the party will lose back most of its new membership.

    I know it’s fashionable to think that the new members don’t matter, and it’s true that rallies don’t win elections. However money and campaigning resources do. It’s worth remembering that not long ago Labour was looking at bankruptcy. Now it has a huge member/supporter base, many of whom have been willing to cough up £25 at no notice to participate in the election, and is the best financed party in the country. There have been a lot of claims that most new members aren’t getting involved in party meetings etc, but even if a small fraction of them do, that’s also a huge influx of campaigners for the party. The Conservatives by contrast have a tiny member base and had to cheat in 2015 by busing in activists to marginal constituencies, something they’re unlikely to get away with again.

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    1. Everything you say about Smith I could say about Corbyn and his view about Brexit. I could say that given his past views he never wanted Remain to win, but only said he did to avoid a split. He ran a weak campaign as a result, deliberately rubbishing the core Remain argument, and wanted to sign article 50 immediately until he was made to change his mind. Is that anymore unfair or suspicious of Corbyn than you are being about Smith?

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    2. Regular Gonzales4 August 2016 at 18:23

      You could say that, and tere would probably even be some truth to parts of it, but I think it would be a different argument from the one I'm making. A more analogous situation would be Corbyn promising to back Remain during a leadership election, and then dropping that entirely afterwards and backing Leave, rather than attending 150 or so pro-Remain events etc etc as he did.

      I don't think that believing that many politicians tend to sway in the wind depending on the elections they're currently facing is massively unfair or suspicious. I gave the example of Clinton ; it's not exactly an unheard of phenomenon. Smith has not given us a huge amount of reason to believe he is genuinely to the left until now. And as I say, even if he really is and I have misjudged him, the PLP when back in the driving seat would pull him and the party back to the right.

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    3. "the PLP when back in the driving seat" You are still seeing this as a war. No good will come from that.

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    4. But you couldn't could you, Simon. Because you can't have it both ways. He may have been personally ambivalent about the EU but he put party unity first. Compare and contrast his campaign with those of Alan Johnson, Angela Eagle and Hilary Benn. Half the PLP failed to convince their own constituents for goodness sake. You're a social scientist: you know very well that the Brexit vote, like the calamitous loss of Scotland is a manifestation of far wider divisions within the country. Don't buy the spin, look at the data as you would were this an economic argument.

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    5. He isn't seeing has a war! he's seeing it as a loss of confidence in a plp that abstained or voted for many of the Tory policies on the economy! Please at least admit that win or lose, breakaway or not the PLP have to act as a functioning party & start regaining the confidence they themselves have lost,with the membership and those close on 35% of the population who are disenfranchised,because that is where Corbyn or whoever takes over is going! with boundary changes and it may not win a elections,but it will be a voice that if not heeded will only grow and grow!

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    6. PaulE5 August 2016 at 00:20. My point about Corbyn and Brexit is that if Corbyn supporters say Owen Smith cannot be trusted because of his background (as so many do), the same applies to Corbyn and Europe.

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    7. A point I made earlier in reverse. You need to stop blaming Corbyn for Brexit, it's an unsustainable position for a social scientist to take.

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    8. Regular Gonzales makes some excellent points here which I don't think SWL's "what about Corbyn and the EU" really address.

      Having said that, Simon in general has been far, far better on these issues than most of the wise heads writing comment pieces. The general mockery, contempt, and dismissiveness of supposedly scientifically minded people like Martin Robbins towards the Corbyn phenomenon has been a thing to behold.

      I don't fully agree with Simon's take obviously but it's a relief that he's managed to keep something of a level head

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    9. Regular Gonzales5 August 2016 at 04:47

      "You are still seeing this as a war. No good will come from that."

      I'm not sure how the term "back in the driving seat" implies a war, but anyway: there is a clear struggle going on in the party over whether the membership or the PLP and party machine should be the most influential institution (in particular when it comes to choosing the leader). If Smith wins, the PLP will have won that struggle. I would prefer a more democratic bottom-up approach to top-down control by the PLP.

      " My point about Corbyn and Brexit is that if Corbyn supporters say Owen Smith cannot be trusted because of his background (as so many do), the same applies to Corbyn and Europe."

      But the difference is that we already know what happened with Europe - Corbyn backed Remain. He may not have done so as well or as enthusiastically as you would have liked, but his position and the party policy was clearly pro-Remain. My fear is not that Owen Smith and his allies will campaign somewhat less than 100% enthusiastically against austerity etc (it's not comparable anyway given that there's no forthcoming referendum on austerity), but that they will actually drop a lot of their current positions once they no longer have a leadership election to win. Surely there's a clear difference?

      Anyway, thanks for your responses, it's great to be able to engage with someone of your stature etc. (I am being sincere, not sarcastic, here, in case that's not clear).

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    10. Sam: Thank you. Can I say two things in return. First, I do not think any of those who have criticised my posts in comments have used the lurid "traitor, Blairite" type of language that you hear so much about in the press. I think this reflects the fact that the great majority of Corbyn supporters really do want to improve our society, rather than just shout a lot.

      Second, although I doubt if these dialogs have changed any minds, I do hope that they show that it is possible to share these motives, and be deeply critical of the position and actions of many of Labour's right, and yet quite sincerely (and passionately) see both the present and future in a different way.

      If anyone wants yet more on all this, I strongly recommend this long read from Tom Crewe
      http://www.lrb.co.uk/v38/n16/tom-crewe/we-are-many

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    11. Not so keen on the Tom Crewe piece. Too many unexamined prejudices, too much taken for granted, too little critical thinking (for my taste, obviously). I respect your position more because you're not taken in by common sense discourse.

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    12. Regular Gonzales6 August 2016 at 04:45

      "Having said that, Simon in general has been far, far better on these issues than most of the wise heads writing comment pieces"

      Yes, definitely. And as I've said, I totally sympathise with one of Simon's main stated reasons for backing Smith, which is that the party can't win if the PLP aren't behind the leader. That is almost certainly true; the current situation can't continue. I've tried to make some arguments above about how that can be resolved without replacing Corbyn, and why a Smith victory would create problems of its own, but as Simon says, these exchanges probably haven't changed any minds.

      But I'll restate my argument, in a slightly different form, again. The party is split in large part because the membership was given most of the say in the leadership election, but has had fairly little say in the selection of many of Labour MPs (who are also all now candidates for life until they eventually lose or concede their seats). This problem will only be fundamentally resolved by giving either the membership or the PLP the lion's share of influence over the party and over leadership elections in particular. I think a Smith victory would likely lead to a return to top-down politics in the party (even if that's not Smith's intention, once Corbyn is gone I don't think the PLP will ever risk gifting a leftist candidate a slot on the leadership ballot again after this), and while in some key ways that would be actually be an improvement on the current situation, I also think it would be better for the health of British politics in general and for the long-term fortunes of the party itself for Labour to become a much more grassroots-driven, popular movement.

      I don't think this means, as Simon has suggested, that the left will take over the party forever and will impose an entirely uncompromising leftist programme on the party. The membership is tilting broadly left now, but that won't always be the case, and it is predominantly pro-Europe for example.

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    13. Regular Gonzales6 August 2016 at 05:12

      Thanks for the recommend of the Tom Crewe piece - I enjoyed it even if I don't agree with all of his conclusions.

      A comment on one piece of it:

      "Margaret Hodge, who tabled the motion of no confidence, is another MP attacked as an unregenerate Blairite, but she spent the last Parliament as chair of the Public Accounts Committee pouring scorn on the PFI deals and outsourcing to the private sector that were Blair’s lasting domestic legacy"

      That's nice, but Margaret Hodge spent years in Tony Blair's government without as far as I know doing anything to seriously challenge these PFI deals. This is an example why people are a bit sceptical about the PLP's sudden enthusiasm for rail nationalisation, anti-austerity and so on. Many of these people only appear to have discovered such views now that Corbyn is popular with the membership. I don't think it's the height of paranoia to doubt their sincerity somewhat.

      That's not to say that there'd be anything wrong with them supporting such views as a compromise position with the party membership - but my concern is that once the leadership election is over, their instinct will be to tilt back to their default centrist positions.

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    14. She also has a personal grudge going back a long way.

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  18. I'd say you're being a bit ridiculous here. A large majority of the PLP was strongly against Corbyn becoming party leader from the beginning. Now the fact that those same people are trying to depose Corbyn is taken as proof of his incompetence, and the proposed solution is to vote for the preferred candidate of the PLP? How can we take that as anything other than an argument that Labour's membership does not have the right to choose the party's leadership and should just leave that decision up to the PLP?

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    1. I think a large majority of the PLP did not vote for Ed Miliband, but they did not pass a vote of no confidence in him. The evidence of incompetence is undeniable, as some of his supporters admit. Owen Smith is much closer to Corbyn than ABC on policy. As a result, my story seems much more plausible than the one based purely on policy differences that Corbyn's team want to spin.

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    2. Corbyn can't command even a minority of PLP support. Like them or not, they are needed to govern.

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    3. Professor Wren-Lewis,
      I think you make a lot of cogent points. And I think the majority of Corbyn would have been willing to re-examine Corbyn's leadership. But it comes down to that ineffable quality the ABCs like to harp on. Credibility. The PLP has lost credibility with the members. I think the most important conversation you could have would be with the ABCs. From reading certain peoples' tweets they are still adamant their constant attempts to undermine Corbyn were the correct thing to do and have nothing to do with how the general public see the Labour Party right now. And it's gone on so long and gone so far that I don't see how they can walk it back or back down. As long as there is even a hint of ABC behind Smith's bid for leadership he'll never be able to win.

      You've made some decent suggestions about how Smith could gain some credibility with the members and he seems to be doing some of it. But the problem is he is being dragged down by association with ABCs. Smith needs to somehow disassociate himself with the people who were out for Corbyn since the beginning. Though that might not be possible. If support from the PLP is so important for a Labour leader then Smith can't really attack (some) of the PLP. And he can't attack the members. So all he can do really is say he is a Corbynista who is a better leader. That doesn't please anyone. The members don't believe him and the ABCs don't want to believe him.

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    4. But this is so silly. The PLP is not a person, but lots of people. You need to ask yourself why do you want to see the PLP as a single entity, so that whenever one of them says that taints everyone else.

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    5. Another commenter upthread raised the possibility of Smith calling disruptive MPs like Jamie Reed to account. You replied: "Smith is not going to start to name and shame his colleagues - he's trying to unify not divide." In other words - as bbk says - " If support from the PLP is so important for a Labour leader then Smith can't really attack (some) of the PLP." If disruptive elements within the PLP can't be singled out, then it is in effect operating as a single entity - in which those disruptive MPs play a disproportionately influential part.

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  19. «In 2015 business and finance were 100% behind the Conservatives. With the Brexit vote, and the campaign’s leading lights running the coming negotiations, that has fundamentally changed. [ ... ] With the Brexit vote what I would call the pro-European centre desperately wants an effective voice.»

    Here our blogger seems to be arguing that the New Labour parliamentary party should rebrand itself as "Conservatives for Europe", and that J Corbyn is not the right leader for a "Conservatives for Europe" party. As to the latter I agree, and I am sure J Corbyn would agree too :-).

    As to the rebranding as "Conservatives for Europe", that seems 100% the mandelsonian position in my usual quote from 1999:

    «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.»

    However I am not that sure that "Conservatives for Europe" is a winning electoral formula. Quite recently the leaders of "Conservatives for Europe", D Cameron and G Osborne, were not particularly successful with that formula.

    Yet maybe the New Labour parliamentary party could change name and acclaim D Cameron as their new leader. :-)

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  20. «the New Labour parliamentary party should rebrand itself as "Conservatives for Europe", and that J Corbyn is not the right leader for a "Conservatives for Europe" party.»
    «the New Labour parliamentary party could change name and acclaim D Cameron as their new leader.»

    On second thoughts, it is easy to forget that there is already a "Conservatives for Europe" party and it is the "Liberals". The New Labour parliamentary party could walk the aisle and join them, and then call back Nick Clegg to lead them instead of far-left T Farron's. That would be so cool :-).

    It would be even better if they also asked Ian Duncan Smith to join them as shadow chancellor: after all he resigned over the benefit cuts, while they supported them by abstaining. He could give the "Conservatives for Europe" some socialist credibility :-).

    The ironies of the present situation...

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  21. You briefly mention the prospect of May calling an early election - why would she do that?

    I can see her administration consulting widely (at least appearing to do so), building a strategy for Brexit, then trying to execute that plan.

    I don't see that chain of events being broken by May calling a General Election, as an election would risk losing a lot while offering relatively little potential gain. Yes there's the potential for a bigger majority given Labour's in disarray, but there's also the risk of the Lib Dems scooping up the disillusioned pro-European centre vote you mention. (I voted for the LibDems in 2010 but not 2015 as punishment for the broken student fees pledge; as far as I'm concerned, they've 'done their time').

    I also can't see her offering a second referendum: she'll simply say we consulted widely and have taken everyone's views on board.

    know the media talk of Brown being dogged by hi

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    1. «the prospect of May calling an early election - why would she do that?»

      If SimonWL impression is right that significant business/establishment interests want «a second opportunity to vote on Europe» and are willing to sponsor New Labour as the "New Conservatives for Europe (and against austerity)" campaign, then it is likely that T May can be somehow persuaded to accommodate them.

      It might also explain why all three eurosceptic candidates for PM, including the most favourite, were "disposed of": they could not credibly be persuaded to call an election on the EU issue before invoking Article 50.

      So the chances may be that B Johnson, D Davis and L Fox are being setup as the frontmen of a new "Leave" campaign, but this time for real at general election time, and they are being expected to lose to New Labour/"New Conservatives for Europe", nullifying the result of the advisory referendum.
      That would be nice, and would close the issue, but I feel sorry for J Corbyn and Labour, because the plan is obviously to split the party.

      We live in interesting times...

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    2. «as an election would risk losing a lot while offering relatively little potential gain»

      Look at «potential gain» from the point of view of the business/establishment interests that want a rematch; they would be happy with either:

      * A straight win of "New Conservatives for Europe" (the rebranded PLP), meaning that the referendum result is overriden and for good.

      * A 2010 style "not quite win" for the Conservatives, with a strong showing for pro-EU liberals/"New Conservatives for Europe", which would justify Brexit in name only as a compromise, by joining the EFTA instead, the norwegian way.

      Both are by far the most likely outcome of new elections. The referendum was won by "Leave" only because it was done under proportional voting rules; under FPTP at general election time a lot of the "Leave" vote would be neutered on second/third place candidates.

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  22. «The model of how to win elections that the PLP had taken from the Blair years was leading them to endorse austerity and abstain on welfare cuts.»

    That model was to give for granted the votes of the north and of the poor and use them to support policies to benefit the southern middle class. And the votes of the north and of the poor went to New Labour only by force of habit, only because habit told them that Labour was after all still really on their side.

    But «endorse austerity and abstain on welfare cuts» broke that, they were a step too far. Now the voters of the north and voters who are poor know that New Labour is not on their side, whatever PR they are now deploying. Now they have seen New Labour attacking ferociously once of the few Labour people who voted against austerity and benefit cuts, and calling him a far-left loon because of that, they know even better. As T Blair said in a famous speech:

    «You see, people judge us on their instincts about what they believe our instincts to be.»

    The only hope fro Labour to keep its traditional electoral base, the bedrock of its support, is to keep J Corbyn as leader, and then try to extend that base by gaining support from the lower/middle middle class.

    Sure, the New Labourists may well leave behind the traditional Labour base in the north and among the lower paid, and just got for a "Conservatives for Europe" mandelsonian strategy of representing the cosmopolitan upper middle class votes from the tory and liberal bases, but that to me seems far more riskier.

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  23. «If you have access read the tone of the comments (click ‘most recommended’) to this FT article by Brexiter Bernard Jenkins. Or this.»

    So I had a look and discovered that a lot of the readers of the Financial Times are "Conservatives for Europe" and want EEA membership and after a while to go back to the EU. The Pope also claims to be catholic. Who could have guessed! :-)

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  24. Suppose Mr Smith were elected, and some time over (say) the next year he decides to abandon Mr McDonnell's fiscal rule. As far as I know, he hasn't said he'll keep it, and he won't lose votes or members for ditching it, although many readers of this blog would regard it as a step backwards. Shouldn't we withhold judgment on Mr Smith until he too commits himself to the rule?

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  25. Ahhhh, I went to sleep but had to come back because while half asleep I think I figured it all out from some clues our blogger has given! Silly me for thinking that this was just demented infighting.

    The key clues are:

    * «Smith [ ... ] makes it clear that the UK will get a second opportunity to vote on Europe» (biggest clue).

    * «With the Brexit vote what I would call the pro-European centre desperately wants an effective voice.» (second biggest clue).

    * «In 2015 business and finance were 100% behind the Conservatives. With the Brexit vote, and the campaign’s leading lights running the coming negotiations, that has fundamentally changed.» (third biggest clue)

    So the story I now imagine is:

    * The business/establishment interests that wanted "Remain" still want "Remain" and want a second referendum or something equivalent.

    * There cannot be a second referendum, and the something equivalent must be a party that campaigns for an wins an election with a manifesto saying "Remain", and that then is a binding commitment, while the referendum was merely advisory.

    * Therefore the business/establishment interests that want switch to "Remain" need to sponsor a party that will put "Remain" in its manifesto.

    * The liberals are irrelevant, the Conservatives are now compromised by the eurosceptic wing and will not put "Remain" in their manifesto, and anyhow the business/establishment interests are angry with them.

    * So the "Remain" business/establishment interests need to sponsor Labour, because that's the only option, and after all Labour did get the vast majority of their voters to go for "Remain".

    * While J Corbyn did achieve the miracle of getting the vast majority of Labour voters to choose "Remain", the problem is that J Corbyn the day after the referendum called for an immediate invocation of Article 50, and will never put "Remain" in Labour's next election manifesto, because it would be a complete betrayal's of Labour's historical base; and he is "not for turning".

    * Therefore J Corbyn has to go, and be replaced with a PR agent of the business/establishment interests that want a "Remain" result. This PR agent must then talk the talk that made J Corbyn popular with the Labour base to maximize the chances that they will still vote Labour even if it has "Remain" in its manifesto, but the real goal is to pivot the Labour base and get the 40% of tories who voted "Remain" to vote New Labour in the next election.

    * As soon as such a PR agent is in place as Labour leader, the press and the BBC will do a complete change of tone, becoming enthusiastic supporters of New Labour, and vast funding will become available for the future "Remain" campaign and New Labour candidates, and many PLP member "understand" that not only they will get a chance to get government jobs but after that corporate/establishment sinecures will become available to them as they have always been available to tory MPs.

    So the plan is indeed really to reposition Labour as "Conservatives for Europe", and get them to win the next election with "Remain" in their manifesto as per «Smith [ ... ] makes it clear that the UK will get a second opportunity to vote on Europe».

    Now the amusing thing is that I am very much a "Remain" supporter, so I like this fix, but I also regret the getting rid of J Corbyn and the transformation of Labour into "Conservatives for Europe" as P Mandelson wants, so I have mixed feelings.

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    1. Blissex: "As soon as such a PR agent is in place as Labour leader, the press and the BBC will do a complete change of tone"

      The BBC probably, but not the press -- almost all the national newspapers that weren't already anti-Conservative (ie the Mirror, Guardian and Independent) were pro-Brexit, with the Times and the Mail on Sunday (!) being the only exceptions.

      Delete
    2. «not the press -- almost all the national newspapers [ ... ] were pro-Brexit»

      It would be a change of tone, not necessarily of position. J Corbyn has not been treated as a sensible leader of the opposition but as a "murderer of puppies", especially after the "Leave" vote made it clear that business/establishment would want a rematch.

      But I expect also several changes of position, because this time it would be for real. The referendum was supposed to be a bit of a show, with a narrow "Remain" win regardless, remember N Farage's ready-made concession speech, and so to be "panem and circenses" to appease the leavers with a good showing but not a win.

      If the next election were, as SimonWL seems to me to think, on "Remain"/"Leave" lines, with business/establishment (with some large exception) strongly backing New Labour/"New Conservatives for Europe" campaigning for "Remain", I suspect that some percentage of the press would "just know" :-) which side they should be on this time.

      There is a possible twist: one problem with the plan is that the "Labour" name belongs to the members and not to the PLP (reportedly they checked). So they would have to call themselves something else, and "New Labour" is a bit tarnished.

      Whatever they get to call themselves the press would continue to attack Labour and "murderer of puppies" J Corbyn and his 50-80 MPs (not all of the 171 MPs would be prepared to split, some are sentimental), and O Smith and the others would be the official opposition, and be praised as the "good and true New Labour (or whatever)" even by the the papers still campaigning for "Leave".

      Delete
    3. So all us Leave voters can go screw ourselves then, blissex?

      Delete
  26. I wonder if you haven't changed your mind since last night, Simon. Smith doesn't resonate, his style, all smug, rhetorical flourishes and fake intimacy is hopelessly out of sync with both the current members and the wider public. I could sympathize with your argument if there was a Nicola Sturgeon in waiting: there isn't. So in the meantime, better that the left continues its project, the party (by which I mean the membership) continues the healing process and a successor is groomed from the new intake. If the polls don't improve, Smith would be wise to conceded and channel his energy and enthusiasm into serving the Labour Party effectively: in a beefed up Shadow Cabinet role, as one of a rotating number of young(ish) new politicians taking a lead on policy and PMQ's: there's more than one way to destabilize the old order.

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    Replies
    1. If my argument could be moved by such things, it wouldn't be much of an argument. To continue 'the project' until you ensure only someone from a left group can ever win is to destroy the broad church that is the essence of Labour.

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    2. 'To continue 'the project' until you ensure only someone from a left group can ever win is to destroy the broad church that is the essence of Labour.'

      Misrepresentation.

      Delete
  27. We can live with a bit of incompetence when the leader is learning on the job as long as the polls and by-elections aren't too disastrous and the membership increases. That was the case before the coup, we will have to await the outcome of this poorly timed leadership campaign (which could equally go down as the longest suicide note in history btw, Simon, and whose fault would that be?)to see where we go from here.

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  28. I think the elephant in the room is trust.
    The PLP do not trust members who voted for Corbyn to have electability in mind, and think that giving any ground to them may lose MPs their seats.
    Corbyn supporters do not Trust the PLP, who just a year ago were refusing to oppose austerity - indeed, supporting mild austerity - to have so suddenly changed their minds, and suspect that if Corbyn is no longer leader the party will return to that position.
    The main reason that the conflict is so bitter is that the sides cannot be reconciled if they don't trust anything the other says: trust in the other side's good faith (even if grudging good faith) is the basis of all negotiations.

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    Replies
    1. I think there's some truth to this, my frustration is based on the lack of goodwill from those on the right of the party. Corbyn's first Shadow Cabinet was, when one thinks about it, a remarkable display of goodwill; much good it did him.

      Delete
    2. «The PLP do not trust members who voted for Corbyn to have electability in mind, [ ... ]
      Corbyn supporters do not Trust the PLP, [ ... ]»

      But it is a different kind of trust: in the first case it is not about "trust" in its primary sense. It about trusting the *judgement* of members. The PLP cannot imagine that the members will say "we want electability with centrist socialdemocratic policies" and not mean it, because they deviously want Labour to lose the election. The members may be *mistaken* about electability with centrist social democractic platform, but that's a different thing.

      In the second case, ahem.

      Delete
  29. Regarding the possibility of May calling an election - she's also unlikely to because she'll want the boundary review to go through first, which will favour the Tories.

    The PLP, on the other hand, are a bit desperate for an early election for the same reason and, more importantly, reselection.

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  30. It's a small thing, but can we get a fact check on this "Corbyn called for Article 50 to be invoked immediately" claim? In the clip I've seen he's saying "Article 50 will have to be invoked now", without any emphasis on the 'now' - which in ordinary speech would mean "now that the result is clear, we'll have to invoke Article 50". Perhaps he also made a statement to the effect that it should be invoked immediately, but if so I haven't seen it.

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  31. Reading this piece makes me think that from the membership standpoint, voting for Mr. Corbyn was a precursor of the kind of anti-establishment sentiment that led to the Brexit vote and the zany Republican primary and eventual nomination of Donald Trump as the presidential candidate.

    The challenge is wanting to "shake things up" and you describe how the shaking was absolutely necessary re acquiescence to austerity economic policies and welfare cuts, while maintaining the ability to mount a successful and viable alternative to the party/people in power.

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  32. Recommended reading (though I think he's wrong re the record membership) - an alternative take. I'd be interested in Simon's response:

    https://www.opendemocracy.net/uk/aaron-bastani/labour-can-only-win-with-jeremy-corbyn

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  33. Couple of pieces setting out good pro-Corbyn arguments in the NS:
    http://www.newstatesman.com/politics/staggers/2016/08/what-labour-mps-still-need-learn-jeremy-corbyn
    http://www.newstatesman.com/politics/staggers/2016/08/jeremy-corbyns-media-strategy-smarter-his-critics-realise

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  34. It's pretty clear to me that he was merely holding Cameron's feet to the fire: remember he promised to stay in office and invoke Article 50 immediately. But he did leave his comments open to interpretation, and given the hostile media and PLP, he only has himself to blame for that. He has to be a lot more precise with his words in such an environment.

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  35. Some good points here and I am certainly a Corbyn skeptic these days, but my main fear is that Smith is basically just posturing to attract the left vote and that many of his more Corbyn-esque policies will be abandoned if he wins. I'd believe in his position more if it weren't for his voting record (e.g. abstaining on Tory welfare cuts).

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  36. Scary stuff - only thing to point out in terms of your best case scenario: if May calls an early election and Labour loses then Corbyn might well resign in which case I guess the best case scenario could be that an centre left leader is elected and Labour become an effective opposition again (albeit with a much reduced number of MPs).

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  37. > Most MPs will button down the hatches

    You'll never keep a hatch down with buttons. Now battens might do the job...:-)

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    Replies
    1. Oh dear - thanks for saving me further embarrassment.

      Delete

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