Winner of the New Statesman SPERI Prize in Political Economy 2016

Wednesday, 7 September 2016

Labour elections: a response to Chris Dillow

Chris Dillow’s post today is so concise, comprehensive and in my view largely correct that I cannot help responding to it.

The case against Corbyn

I only have two comments on this, which go in different directions

C1) A case can be made that Corbyn needs to stay in control for as long as it takes to change the voting procedures for leaders so the PLP can no longer block left candidates. He is, in that sense, a placeholder. That is why I suggested Smith commit to make similar changes, and he has not. The only caveat to that argument is that Corbyn’s popularity may mean he carries on too long: a placeholder who cannot give up his place.

C2) I am much less dismissive than Chris of the polling information we have on Corbyn. I have not found anyone who studies these things who gives Corbyn any chance at all, and they are not all politically biased when they say that. It is hardly a precise science, but there are regularities there that should not be dismissed. There is also for me the killer common sense point: why would anyone who is not a politics geek vote for a leader that 80% of his MPs had no confidence in.

The case against Smith

S1) I’m less worried about the ‘mis-speaking’: you cannot at the same time appear authentic and not do this, and the importance voters place on this is wildly exaggerated. It was trying to avoid this that got us Labour politicians who seem to speak in gaff proof platitudes. 

S2) I am more worried on the policy and judgement side. Alas, I see few politicians you do appreciate the big difference the financial crisis has made. I think the point about Corbyn and clocks is correct: part of the Owen Jones cri de coeur was about this. But equally I have seen little from Smith on any overarching political or economic vision. He has said nothing on the Economic Advisory Committee or fiscal rules: small things but so easy to do I wonder why he hasn’t done them. The one point I would make in Smith’s favour is he has Brexit right. Ironically it is here that Corbyn and his supporters sound like triangulators: we must not be too pro single market/freedom of movement because that will antagonise the traditional heartlands.

S3) The generational divide point is overrated. Also for the reasons I’ve already given Smith is likely to do much better in a general election than Corbyn.

Overall judgement

The way to look at this election is in terms of disaster avoidance. Corbyn risks a split left and a wipe out at the general election. I can see a path where a split is avoided and someone takes over from Corbyn in time and with the qualities required to bring the party back, but that will not happen until after 2020 so we are talking a Tory government for the next decade at least. But there are so many obstacles on this path, like boundary changes, or the absence of a strong successor in the Corbyn group, that I give it a very low probability. In other words a disaster of one kind or another is pretty likely. In short, so much of this is something I have already lived through once before.

One disaster with Smith is a return to triangulation and a drift back to the ways of 2010-2015. But it will not be the same as 2010-2015, mainly because the Conservatives will not put deficit reduction at the heart of their strategy. Brexit has changed that, which is something many Corbyn supporters fail to see. Brexit also stops appeasement on immigration. Partly as a result I think there is a good chance that the centre left have now learnt the right lesson from 2015. Another disaster will be more personal - he is just not up to the job, and Labour will do almost as badly at the polls as they will with Corbyn. Again possible but unlikely: he has passed the Today test. To sum up, I cannot by any stretch of the imagination get these two combined to come close to the likelihood of a disaster under Corbyn.

Which is basically it. If you think that something like the Blair/Brown government was little better than the Tories, and therefore want to shoot for the moon, it is clear what you do. If you do not think that, and want to avoid a disaster for the left, you do the opposite. Doing nothing, to be honest, is a cop out.

41 comments:

  1. "Which is basically it. If you think that something like the Blair/Brown government was little better than the Tories, and therefore want to shoot for the moon, it is clear what you do. If you do not think that, and want to avoid a disaster for the left, you do the opposite. Doing nothing, to be honest, is a cop out."

    I do not think it is as black and white as that. The Corbyn leadership looks like an unprofessional shambles that is certainly unacceptable to the electorate (irrespective of what the PLP thinks, the importance to the electorate of which I think you overstate). On the other hand I think Blair/Brown was a disaster for this country and for the left. In many ways, Brexit, the rise of UKIP, not to mention the rise of Corbyn, is a direct fall out from the policies pursued during this time and the fundamental type of economy and society that has emerged as a result. As I have said many times on here before, you cannot blame Tory austerity policies for everything that is fundamentally wrong with the UK economy.

    Owen does not have the answers, and his vacuity will become very clear to the electorate; he will be seen as a preserver of the status quo and everything that is now unacceptable about New Labour. As Dillow says, capitalism has changed, and with it, the political climate. And this is permanent.

    For now I will stay with Corbyn, but my hope is that in the meantime a new leader will emerge that will have the credibility and the ideas to lead Labour to victory in the next election.

    NK.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. The point about mentioning Blair is that by voting Corbyn you are in effect voting for a continuation of the current government. So the issue is not did Blair make mistakes (of course he did) but would things have been better if he had remained in opposition. So in 'hoping someone wonderful turns up' you are shooting for the moon.

      Delete
  2. David Runciman reminds us that Blair's popularity peaked in 1999 and 2001 at 55%. Teresa May in July of this year stood at 40%, while Corbyn was at 27-28%.

    The four issues below are the conservative mess this country is in, and it is time progressive politics took these four issues and formulated exact policy responses to them because ignoring them won't make them go away.

    1. The Iraq War was a conservative war, made possible by American conservatives and voted for by nearly 90% of UK Conservative MPs and just over 60% of Labour MPs.

    2. The 2008 banking crisis was a conservative crisis, with bankers in the UK, US, and Germany who mostly will have voted for conservative parties all their life concentrating not distributing risk in the economy. Here, the UK had its first bank runs since the 1860s and 1870s.

    3. The worst economy recovery in 300 years (Danny Blanchflower, Independent, Sunday 3 August 2014) was Tory-led coalition policy, supported overwhelmingly as the 2015 election showed by Tory not Lib Dem voters.

    4. The 2016 EU referendum was a conservative result, initiated by a Conservative government and only the Conservative Party voters and UKIP voters opted in a majority to Leave.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Yes the Blair/Brown government was better than the Tories just as in the American context Bill Clinton was better than Bush.

    But the problem is that the policies of Blair/Brown/Clinton and the center-left are not good enough and not sustainable. Yes they are partly a compromise with the center-right and a result of reality and politics, but they also are implicated in an era of globalization, stagnation and rising inequality. They are creating Trump and Brexit voters instead of prosperity and equitable growth.

    Their policies don't work and it doesn't matter how good the leadership is if the policies don't work.

    Also there's the narrative. The center-left narrative of Tory/Republican lite doesn't hold up well against mediamacro and a corrupt corporate media. The solid, straightforward narratives of the Bernie Sanders and Corbyn campaigns have inspired more people to get into politics instead of turning them off and creating apathy. Plus their policies will work.

    Yes you need good leadership and success at the polls but you also need a program that works. I fear the center-left in the US and UK do not get this.

    I'll admit as an American I don't have a good sense of the validity of the criticisms of Corbyn. But the center-left in the US had similar criticism of Sanders and assured us Hillary was the better candidate. She should be beating Trump badly and instead it's a close race. Seems to be the priority for the center-left is for them to get their policies in place no matter the means or the consequences. In Hillary's case, the center-left ignore her negatives and blame it all as a creation of the alt right cult, similar to what Corbyn's supporters are accused of doing: ignoring reality.

    But it appears that thankfully Sanders supporters are sucking it up and supporting Hillary in order to defeat the greater threat of Trump. If only the anti-Corbyn center-left would do something similar and see the Tories and not Corbyn as the main enemy.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. "But it appears that thankfully Sanders supporters are sucking it up and supporting Hillary in order to defeat the greater threat of Trump. If only the anti-Corbyn center-left would do something similar and see the Tories and not Corbyn as the main enemy."

      But then couldn't this equally be reversed? If Sanders (a Corbyn-lite analogy) supporters are "sucking it up and supporting Hillary", why isn't this applied to Corbyn supporters who should "suck it up" and support his opponent as well?

      Delete
  4. For a free market to work both sides need equal power and set their goals slightly too one side of the argument to meet in the middle since humans seem incapable of honesty! yet this piece seems to be saying on side is a cop out,if you actually do that,in the attempt to reach a point of compromise!so giving ground up! this in the climate is both illogical & a stupid thing to do! since it is this very bias that one side should always give up more than the other that is at the core of this economic mess!one side always undermines the other not out of fact but out of biased vested interest,all that will happen is we will keep seeing people at food banks,like hayek who witnessed the same QE in Austria in the twenties (only servived because of others charity)but drew the conclusion nothing should be done the market will rectify itself in time & those poor people dying is a price worth paying! Sorry MR Wren-Lewis i intend to cross the road,not wonder bye!

    ReplyDelete
  5. Smith's a gaffe-prone disaster Simon, his judgement is so poor that his supporters in the media and the party are scrambling to distance themselves from him: you backed the wrong (stalking) horse. Isn't it time you reconsidered?

    C1 is a valid argument. Any notion that Owen Smith would guarantee an improved electoral performance is, I suspect, for the birds: he's a very poor and unsympathetic performer.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I listened to Smith on Radio 4 recently and saw him today on Question Time. He certainly wasn't "a gaffe-prone disaster" or "a very poor and unsympathetic performer". Quite the opposite, in fact.

      Please lay off the ad hominem attacks and focus on the policies.

      Delete
    2. Sitting around a table with IS? His constant sexist banter? His not knowing what Prevent is? His constant attempts to associate Corbyn with anti-semitism and brexit? The campaign against Corbyn is uniquely ad hominem in origin. Smith and the PLP have dragged politics into the gutter and are being challenged accordingly. He is a gaffe prone disaster with very few policies.

      Delete
  6. Two points.

    "There is also for me the killer common sense point: why would anyone who is not a politics geek vote for a leader that 80% of his MPs had no confidence in."

    I don't think Chris Dillow is suggesting otherwise, and neither would I. I think he's just saying that Corbyn is not, himself, unelectable. It's almost certain that he will fail to be elected if the PLP continue to oppose him, though. So who's fault is that?

    "One disaster with Smith is a return to triangulation and a drift back to the ways of 2010-2015. But it will not be the same as 2010-2015, mainly because the Conservatives will not put deficit reduction at the heart of their strategy."

    But it's not just about deficit reduction, although I'm pretty sure that, while they might relax their targets, the Tories will still continue to beat the austerity drum. As you said, Smith has shown little in the way of policy or vision that would counter the argument that he will return to triangulation and Tory-lite policies.

    What I find confusing is that you see Corbyn as a disaster waiting to happen, but a return to New Labour "values" is an equal disaster. We would see the "pasokification" of Labour and an inevitable decline. Corbyn is accused of not appealing to the "lost heartlands", but New Labour offers them nothing, which is why they have abandoned Labour in droves.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Precisely. I've been warning about pasokfication for the last two years.

      Delete
    2. 1) The whole point about a vote of no confidence is that it is impossible to undo without something dramatic (like perhaps, but only just perhaps, elections to SC). And 'whose fault it is' is utterly irrelevant because it is a fact.

      2) You choose to assume the worst of Smith because I suspect you want to. He is not, and does not sound like, ABC.

      Delete
    3. Don't buy the SC elections. See the report on Tom Watson today. You know quite well they are a machiavellian strategy.
      Smith's a poor candidate. You know that too.
      Why am I so confident in my judgements? Because you're far too savvy not to know. At least I'd hope you are.

      Which leads us back to how we move on, i.e practical poltics. That's where the placeholder argument is reasonable, you're on much stronger ground there.

      You may find these two links interesting:
      http://averypublicsociologist.blogspot.fi/2016/09/why-i-voted-for-jeremy-corbyn.html
      https://www.opendemocracy.net/paul-rogers/corbyn-crowd-and-its-signal

      Delete
  7. I'm much less sanguine than you about what we'd have to look forward to from Smith as leader. Your "killer common sense point" is a good one, but so is the one posed by this article: if Smith really did agree with Corbyn over as much as he claims to do, why would he be dismissing him as a 'lunatic'?

    As for the specific areas Smith can be expected to row back on, anyone who had the slightest interest in Labour developing an independent and economically literate economic policy would surely have welcomed the EAC and its work; the fact that Smith hasn't is a very bad sign. I don't see Brexit meaning an end to "appeasement on immigration", either - not when Stronger In (now operating as Open Britain) has announced that "free movement of people cannot continue as it has done" and that we need "an open debate over immigration".

    As for the character side, passing off Smith's many unpleasant remarks as a sign of authenticity is rather beside the point. I'm sure it is the authentic Owen Smith we're seeing - he's genuinely a snide, sexist bully, just as Corbyn's genuinely unassuming, schoolmasterly and tetchy under pressure.

    Perhaps my continuing support for Corbyn does mean I'm shooting for the moon. I think it's motivated just as much by pessimism as optimism - I really fear for what could become of the Labour Party under Smith.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I may be doing him a disservice, but I think Simon bought the 'competence' and 'unity' lines before considering Smith's (lack of) virtues. He was sold a pup, but finds himself unable to retreat, a dilemma faced by many ABCers (though Simon isn't in this category).

      Delete
    2. You are willing to define someones character by one or two 'gaffes', but happily excuse Corbyn and McDonnell's words in support of the IRA.

      Delete
    3. That's beneath you, Simon. Don't go there. Tabloid fodder.

      Delete
    4. You're changing the subject - character and politics are two different things. My point is that authenticity and speaking off the cuff is not an unqualified virtue. So Smith speaks in haste and accidentally says he supports austerity - that's not a big deal, and no reasonable person would make it one. (There are plenty of unreasonable people around, unfortunately!) But Smith's extempore remarks also reveal a fondness for the personal attack and a distinct sexist undertow to his thinking, neither of which are endearing on a personal level.

      That said, character and politics are different things, and politics is much the more important of the two. For what it's worth, back in the 1980s - when these things mattered rather more than they do now - I spoke out against pro-IRA tendencies in the Left group I was involved with, argued that the Left must analyse the Irish situation from first principles and make no apologias for terrorism, & made myself quite unpopular as a result. In retrospect I think I was wrong: all the realistic options centred on the Provisional IRA, and the best of those options was to overlook their crimes and indulge their vanity, as a means to the end of finding out what they'd settle for and how we could make it all stop, preferably with a settlement slightly better than what we started with. (Which, incidentally, is precisely how I read Corbyn's infamous remarks about Hamas and Hezbollah.) I don't imagine Mo Mowlam was guided by the views of pro-Republican MPs like Corbyn, but she certainly wasn't guided by the people who denounced them; if she had been we'd probably never have got to Sunningdale.

      Delete
    5. I think that's an unworthy comment, Simon. Their "support" for the IRA is a reflection of a principled anti-imperial/anti-colonial stand that they've had for years, and any support for ends doesn't imply support for the means.

      If you hadn't forgotten, Sinn Fein are now in government - does that make several PMs supporters of the IRA?

      Delete
    6. Smith didn't call Corbyn a 'lunatic' - listen to the interview and you'll realise the media have deliberately misinterpreted him. Ironically, it's the kind of thing they've done to Corbyn several times.

      Delete
  8. "Corbyn risks a split left..." The wife should stop spicing the soup wrong if she doesn't want to get hit argument. The only person who risk a split are splitters. Corbyn isn't forcing anyone to do anything.

    "That is why I suggested Smith commit to make similar changes, and he has not." He can't because Smith clearly is only in the race to take out Corbyn and then be taken out himself by the right. That's why he can basically adopt Corbyn's supposedly unelectable platform wholesale. Because Smith won't be allowed to enact anything or change the direction of the Labour party in any way. That is why the Labour right has been mostly silent. They know their support will be the kiss of death for Smith in the leadership race and they know if they are too supportive it will be politically difficult to take down Smith and disavow his policy proposals if Smith was to win.

    "Ironically it is here that Corbyn and his supporters sound like triangulators: we must not be too pro single market/freedom of movement because that will antagonise the traditional heartlands." Wow. When Corbyn listens to the general electorate he is wrong and when he has a policy the right don't like his problem is he is a protest candidate who doesn't listen to the electorate. Tails you win, heads he loses I guess.

    With the "electability" argument, that is the crux of it but not in the way you say. The problem for the right is in a FPTP electoral system Corbyn IS electable by definition. He could win because he is the leader of one of the two major political parties. It's either Labour or the Conservatives. No one else. Just like how in the US Trump could win because it's him or Clinton.

    There is so much that can happen in 4 years (jesus, all of these prognosticators who are sooooo sure of what will happen in 4 years, a veritable political eternity). Corbyn doesn't have to be good. If the Tories are bad then Corbyn could win just by being a little less bad. That's what really scares the right. They would rather a Labour wipeout than a Corbyn victory. That's why they are willing to destroy the party to take Corbyn down.

    Really, if Corbyn is as horrible as you all say why didn't they wait 2 years or so for Corbyn's inherent, unstoppable terribleness to become obvious to everyone? Then even his most ardent supporters would have to reconsider their support. It would have been a win/win. The right could tell the left "well, we gave him a chance" and tell the electorate "the adults are back in charge". But instead they have made Corbyn a martyr and bumbled incompetently from one challenger to another and they're still going to lose.

    The reason they had to try and take him down so hard, to burn the village to save it as it were, is because they are even more afraid that Corbyn isn't that awful. That he isn't that incompetent. That he could be elected PM. There is really no other explanation.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Indeed. Didn't Simon cite MacMillan about 'events' just last week?

      Delete
    2. By paragraph

      1. So if there was a split you would be quite happy because Corbyn was not splitting, even if it meant Corbyn could never win power. Wonderful.

      2. As one of Corbyn's team said, most of the PLP is winnable, which means you are talking nonsense.

      3. Triangulation involves compromising your principles to gain votes. Do you believe in FoM or not? Part of Miliband's problem is that he was Tory-lite on the key issue of immigration, when he should have been making the case for FoM.

      4. ???

      5. The Coalition government were terrible in 2015, but the Conservatives won. With the media we have, to win the Conservative government has to be pretty bad and the opposition pretty good.

      6. I agree, but the PLP are not this homogeneous group of plotters you imagine. Brexit was the key, but not because 'the plotters' thought it was a good pretext, but because Corbyn during the campaign had been worse than inept.

      7. This, I'm afraid, is a fantasy that might apply to only a handful of MPs.

      Delete
    3. 1.
      Not happy. Very angry actually. Angry at the people precipitating the split. Which would be the splitters. Not Corbyn. Do they have no agency? Are they being controlled by the CorboBorg?

      2.
      Yes. People always say exactly what they believe instead of saying diplomatic niceties to help encourage a certain outcome. Right.

      3.
      No. I don't believe in unrestricted FoM. I don't necessarily think Brexit is good but unlimited low skill immigration is definitely not good. And yes. I understand that FoM is good...on average. It is good...In the long run. But For the below average who live in the here and now (Labour's used-to-be core vote) that's not really very comforting.

      Re: 4
      First Past The Post. It is an electoral system where one side wins everything by gathering a plurality of votes no matter how many votes the other side gets. (the opposite being proportional representation). With only two effectively possible parties there is only the need to gain the votes of a plurality of voters in each seat. This could mean either (or a combination of) Party A's voters coming out in force and/or Party B's voters not voting at all. Corbyn could win because he is the leader of one of the only two parties that can win in this system. Labour has a core vote. The Tories have a core vote. The marginal voters don't have to vote for Labour. They just have to not vote tory. It is kind of like the mid-terms problem for the Democrats. Their base doesn't turn out, marginal voters don't turn out, so Republicans win because their smaller (but more committed base) does turn out rain, hail, or shine.
      In 4 years there are a million things that could happen which cause this non-vote. But you are probably right that it won't while the PLP refuses to get behind the elected party leader.

      5.
      Did you see the Nuneaton voter response I posted from the 2015 Labour post-mortem? One of the main reasons Ed was seen as "bad" was the perception the party wasn't really behind him and if the party can't trust him how can the voters. It's all performative (as Chris Dillow says). The media can't report what isn't happening and when the PLP does everything they can to make it clear they don't trust Corbyn they are (purposefully) making the same mistake.

      The only reason I would consider replacing Corbyn (not with Smith though) is he is probably terminally tainted at this point by the PLP's antics. But how can the PLP plotters be rewarded for their disgusting behavior?

      6.
      The Brexit result was such a breath taking repudiation of what some of the PLP held as part of their core identity I believe the plotters were able to get some on the fence members to emotionally lash out at the only person who they could actually effect. Corbyn. Because, jesus, Corbyn got the second highest percentage of Remain voters for his party and these crying members had their constituencies vote leave by MASSIVE MARGINS! Why isn't Margaret Hodge falling on her sword?

      7.
      So if you agree the strategy has been shockingly incompetent and the PLP aren't actually stupid. So what is your explanation for their actions?

      Delete
    4. «5. The Coalition government were terrible in 2015, but the Conservatives won. With the media we have, to win the Conservative government has to be pretty bad and the opposition pretty good.»

      That is a bit overdone, but there is some bias. That bias is the only plausible argument against J Corbyn that I have seen: that as long as he is blacklisted by the press he is in part an electoral liability, through no fault of his own. But stating this is not the same as accepting it: it does not automatically follow that we must *accept* that Murdoch and company effectively nominate party leaders, which is what the mandelsonians of course claim.

      Besides that the newspapers win elections is somewhat unproven, this is an island with many contrarians. IIRC the largest estimates of the electoral power of newspapers is a few percent, which of course is significant, but overcomeable.

      «6. I agree, but the PLP are not this homogeneous group of plotters you imagine.»

      A very public vote of no-confidence in the party leader while the other party is in shambles is a pretty "homogeneous" position, as was the stage-managed, calculated, "homogeneous" resignation of dozens of shadow cabinet members who had been given preferment by Corbyn.

      «Brexit was the key, but not because 'the plotters' thought it was a good pretext, but because Corbyn during the campaign had been worse than inept»

      There is damning evidence that the attack on Corbyn was planned for post-referendum regardless of outcome, and his performance during the referendum was as we all know as good as that of N Sturgeon; probably lots of "Leave"-leaning Labour low-income or working-class voters may have voted "Remain" only because they trusted Corbyn's "better together" advice. Maybe "better together" would have been a more credible approach than the conservative's "project fear", and indeed "better together" won among Labour and SNP voters 2 to 1, and "project fear" lost among tory voters 3 to 2.

      The endless repetition of bizarre claims about "incompetence", "unelectability", "Remain ineptitude" does not make them credible, even if they may be partially "performative" .

      If the PLP majority and their fellow travellers had spent as much effort instead attacking the tories for their continuous megashambles probably Labour would have surged ahead of the tories in polls. But realistically that may well be the big reason why those attackers did not.

      Delete
    5. «He can't because Smith clearly is only in the race to take out Corbyn and then be taken out himself by the right. That's why he can basically adopt Corbyn's supposedly unelectable platform wholesale.»

      My suspicion is quite different: that O Smith was pushed forward, as as a sacrificial pawn, in the expectation that he would lose the membership election even if he adopted J Corbyn's platform, to prove a point about membership elections. As to the platform you may remember that even A Eagle famously could not find (when asked) anything to disagree with about J Corbyn's proposed policies. So the most likely case is that J Corbyn is "blacklisted", and that O Smith's sacrificial run is there to prove that the membership will continue electing someone who is "blacklisted", so leadership elections must be taken away from the membership.
      Which curiously is what has just been proposed, even if T Blair had strongly endorsed membership election of the leader.

      Delete
    6. «The Coalition government were terrible in 2015, but the Conservatives won»

      More precisely the Coalition may have been terrible for low-income workers, for the sick or unemployed, for renters in the south, for owners in the north, but the Conservatives made a lot of money for affluent pensioners and property and business rentiers in the south, and they were duly rewarded.

      J Corbyn's strategy is becoming clearer: Labour cannot out-tory the tories in courting the "conservatory-building classes" while house prices are going up in most of the south, but he can court all the voters that the tories forgot to make money for, like the people in the south in "unfashionable" areas, and press the tories on housing policy. Looks a very plausible strategy to me, far more realistic than trying to split the 42% of tory "Remainers" off the Conservatives while telling the 37% of labour "bigoted" "Leavers" to go vote UKIP.

      Delete
  9. I’m surprised that you accuse Corbyn and his supporters of triangulation on single market / freedom of movement when it is Smith, not Corbyn, who has asserted that there are “too many immigrants”. My own reservation about the EEA option is that it doesn’t seem a good deal to commit to following rules set by others without any opportunity to influence those rules.

    ReplyDelete
  10. As a local Labour activist, I admit to being tired of MPs’ stories about Corbyn’s leadership failures, usually centring around their own position. I would take these narratives more seriously if they were balanced by an acknowledgment of how Corbyn has successfully led the party, such as a tripling of membership to become the largest party in Europe, a decisive shift in the dialogue on economic policy away from ‘austerity light’, or the apology on the Iraq war that allows us to move on from that disaster. All that seems to count for nothing to these MPs.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I have always acknowledged such things. Smith has praised Corbyn for increasing the membership. But I do not exaggerate. McDonnell's adoption of a state of the art fiscal rule was excellent, which is why I say above that Smith's failure to endorse it is problematic. But he did not shift the dialogue on economic policy, unless you mean just within the PLP. (And if you do, you must also agree that Smith cannot go back on that, otherwise there will have been no shift.) But politics is not a game where you can win on points. That is why I always use the evidence I have to look forward.

      Delete
    2. Disappointing. How many policies must Smith row back on before you come to terms with his slipperiness? How much poor behaviour are you willing to indulge from MP's? Why no comment on the purge yet?

      Your fears around competence, support and Tory hegemony are perfectly reasonable, but if Smith and Watson are the answer, then you really need to ask yourself what's the question?

      Delete
    3. My comment on the economic policy dialogue was indeed about the Labour Party, as evidenced by Owen’s positioning as anti-austerity, in contrast to that taken last summer by those contesting the leadership with Corbyn. But there has also been movement in the wider debate, as shown by the retreat from Osborne’s fiscal targets. That might be driven mainly by Brexit and economic reality, but it does vindicate the stance taken by Corbyn and McDonnell.

      I agree we have to look forward. From polling evidence, Corbyn will win unless the purge and ‘lost’ ballot papers fix the election. It will then rest with MPs to decide whether to accept that and work with it or to continue a conflict that can only benefit Theresa May to the detriment of both the Labour Party and those who look to us for opposition. No doubt individual MPs will take different views on that. Some will dig trenches, others will put party and people first, and many will vacillate.

      I don’t know whether Smith really “agrees with Jeremy” on much of economic policy, and I’m sure that some of his backers do not, but most party members and many MPs want a credible programme for an “economy that works for all”, offering an alternative to austerity and emphasising public investment and decent jobs. Here the EAC could play a constructive role. The differences between McDonnell’s ‘Post-Brexit Plan’ and Smith’s ‘British New Deal’ should not be insurmountable. The destructive “scorched earth” nature of the leadership challenge will make post-election negotiations difficult, so it would help if you and other members of the EAC could facilitate sensible discussion based on evidence and analysis.

      Delete
    4. "McDonnell's adoption of a state of the art fiscal rule was excellent,"

      Was that your fiscal rule?

      Delete
  11. The divide in the party is not just generational. For the first time in decades Labour has again become the party of choice for union, community and campaign activists, some with long experience. Instead of welcoming this, most MPs and the party apparatus seem to be doing everything they can to disillusion us.

    ReplyDelete
  12. Michael Crick:

    A big reason for today's PLP ballot on electing Shadow Cabinet is for MPs to regain control of which 3 front-benchers are sent to Labour NEC

    You're aligning yourself with some pretty toxic characters, Simon.

    ReplyDelete
  13. C1 is the crucial argument because Corbyn's key role is to shift the party to the left and abandon neoliberalism. I share your doubts about his electability and competence but wonder why you think that "Corbyn’s popularity may mean he carries on too long: a placeholder who cannot give up his place." I imagine his experience of leading the party is deeply unpleasant. He is subject to unrelenting abuse by the media and his own party - Stephen Bush recently reported that the strategy of some in the the PLP was that "we have to call him a c**t every day until he f****s off".

    Who would want to put up with that and isn't the immediate move to lower the threshold for getting leadership candidates on the ballot evidence that a succession is planned way before 2020?

    ReplyDelete
  14. You may be right that all we can do at the moment is work to minimise the scale of the Tory victory in 2020. The problem we face is the electorates most recent memory of Labour in power is the disasterous wars and recession, plus the unseemly internal fighting in the PLP. It was the sleaze and economic incompetence of the Major years that opened the door to victory in 1997. We are going to need similar ineptitude from Mrs May.
    Fortunately, or unfortunately, we seem to be on the way to the level of ineptitude needed. Her meaningless zen like pronouncement that 'Brexit means Brexit' is the start of the process, as is her inability to state what she wants in negotiations. We will soon see the Tory party in-fighting increase in intensity.
    Corbyn's approach may not appeal to wide enough sectional interests to win in 2020 but it could stabilise the core electorate and stop the disintegration of the base.

    ReplyDelete
  15. Simon,

    Thanks for sharing this post. It’s good to see that you’ve written something about Owen Smith too. So far everything I’ve come across from you about the Labour leadership has been exclusively complaints about Corbyn!

    I’m afraid that I’m still not convinced by your arguments. You have said previously that voting for JC is “pointless” because Corbyn cannot possibly win a GE. Even if we know with absolute certainty that he cannot win (which we can’t), I don’t agree with your reasoning. For example: a scenario where [(i) Corbyn loses a GE AND the Labour Party is democratized/ members have an active say in decision making/ democratic socialist principles and policies continue to take centre stage] is a better outcome than [(ii) Smith loses a GE AND principles and policies shift back to the right of the party/ it’s top-down ‘business as usual’ Labour politics again]. If you support the changes to the party in scenario (i) then choosing Smith is not necessarily the “lesser of two evils” unless all that matters is making the current PLP more unified (which, ALL ELSE BEING EQUAL, makes Smith more electable than Corbyn).

    Some specific responses:

    “A case can be made that Corbyn needs to stay in control for as long as it takes to change the voting procedures for leaders so the PLP can no longer block left candidates.”

    It’s far more than that – it’s about changing the internal structures of the party to make it more democratic and ensuring that a democratic socialist agenda is not marginalized by the PLP in the future.

    “Corbyn risks a split left and a wipe out at the general election.”

    It would not be in anyone’s interests for this to happen (in the Labour party), but why do you think this risk is so much higher if Labour continued with Corbyn rather than Smith? In many ways, I think the Corbyn faction, who have the majority support of the membership and the trade unions, are in a better position to split, especially when they (supposedly) have a ‘party within a party’ (Momentum).

    “But there are so many obstacles on this path, like boundary changes, or the absence of a strong successor in the Corbyn group, that I give it a very low probability.”

    Indeed the task is a formidable one, but obstacles like boundary changes are going to be there irrespective of who the leader is.

    “Another disaster will be more personal - he is just not up to the job, and Labour will do almost as badly at the polls as they will with Corbyn. Again possible but unlikely: he has passed the Today test.”

    You think that “passing the Today test” determines whether someone is electable or not?! I can’t at all see how Smith’s ideas will make him electable. For example he has called for a 2nd EU referendum. That is surely going to significantly reduce his electability. I would recommend reading this Buzzfeed article if you haven’t already: https://www.buzzfeed.com/chrisapplegate/why-a-pro-eu-party-could-be-screwed-in-the-next-election?utm_term=.gtaDLbkVr#.bhAgEdo53

    “Which is basically it. If you think that something like the Blair/Brown government was little better than the Tories, and therefore want to shoot for the moon, it is clear what you do. If you do not think that, and want to avoid a disaster for the left, you do the opposite.”

    I don’t believe that reverting back to New Labour’s policies and electoral strategies is as good as it can get. Many of Corbyn’s policies are popular among the public. However if the party is to succeed with these policies the PLP does need to unify. We’ll see if they are willing to do that when (presumably) Corbyn wins the leadership election, or whether they instead would prefer to create more infighting and risk damaging the party further. If they are unwilling to do this then I think it’s reasonable that MPs should be considered for deselection. They need to be democratically accountable to their party as well as to their constituents. I wouldn’t say this is ‘purifying’ the party. Rather, it’s more about making MPs’ views and ideas more compatible with and representative of the membership.

    ......

    ReplyDelete
  16. ....“I’m less worried about the ‘mis-speaking’: you cannot at the same time appear authentic and not do this, and the importance voters place on this is wildly exaggerated.”

    Lastly, I’m disappointed that you have euphemistically described Smith’s ‘gaffe’ comments as ‘mis-speaking’. The gaffes display extremely poor judgement and in some instances they were sexist/ offensive, and should be condemned as such. If this is Smith showing his ‘authentic’ side then that’s deeply worrying!

    ReplyDelete
  17. «McDonnell's adoption of a state of the art fiscal rule was excellent, which is why I say above that Smith's failure to endorse it is problematic»

    O Smith smells to me like an opportunistic stalking horse, as it was likely that he had little chances of winning a membership election when someone like A Burnham failed, so for me he is probably doing a suicide run to prove a point.

    But even as I don't like his politics I cannot blame him for failing to endorse many things: even if his failure to endorse bacon sarnies and milky tea may seem terrible especially for a working-class Labour politician :-). Just as it may seem terrible that J Corbyn has failed to endorse an investigation of the Momentum plot to liquidate dozens of Labour MPs and has failed to endorse fighting against the russian invasion of Scotland. :-)

    That is arguments about "failure to endorse" can sound quite specious (and are often used randomly by tedious "politically correct" delusional-leftie types, so they should not be encouraged).

    ReplyDelete
  18. "Corbyn and his supporters sound like triangulators: we must not be too pro single market/freedom of movement because that will antagonise the traditional heartlands. "

    I don't think that Corbyn is trying to appease his traditional support, but that he actually opposes free-movement of labour on the basis that it amounts to a free market in people.

    I thought this was the general hard-left view and why the Labour party originally opposed the EU.

    ReplyDelete

Unfortunately because of spam with embedded links (which then flag up warnings about the whole site on some browsers), I have to personally moderate all comments. As a result, your comment may not appear for some time.