Winner of the New Statesman SPERI Prize in Political Economy 2016

Friday 9 September 2016

Voters making big mistakes

In the last year we will have seen three occasions where large numbers of people voted in ways that seem to fly in the face of expert advice. I’m talking of Brexit of course, where 52% of voters chose a course of action which will make them worse off. The choice of Donald Trump as the Republican’s candidate for President, a con man and egotist who is not fit to hold public office. And finally Labour party members, who are about to elect as leader someone who seems almost certain to badly lose the next election.

The experts were different in each case: economists in the case of Brexit, people with knowledge of government for Trump, and political scientists plus psephologists for Corbyn. Now of course some people who voted for Brexit wanted it even if it cost them, but most did not. Some people think a con man and egotist would work well as President, and some Labour party members are quite happy to lose elections. But I think in every case those people are in a minority.

Why have experts been ignored in these cases? Politicians ignore experts all the time, but that is because of their own self interest or ideology. In the three cases above the experts are advising or have advised that actions will amount to self harm.

I’ve included the Corbyn case because it puts in doubt an explanation for the first two that I have seen elsewhere. It is technically known as the Dunning-Kruger effect, but I like to think of it as Springfield and the Monorail. Basically the idea is that people who know little are unaware of their ignorance, and can be easily conned. The reason this explanation is sometimes invoked is that support for both Brexit and Trump is stronger among those without college degrees. It is an explanation that leads to advocating meritocracy and questioning democracy. But that explanation cannot work for Corbyn supporters, who on average are very politically aware.

One obvious point to make is that in all three cases the expertise gets diluted in three related ways. All three disciplines are ‘inexact’. In all three, you more often see people without expertise talk about these issues in the media. And in all three some experts are subject to political or ideological bias. All that helps, but is not enough to explain self harm.

Another striking commonality is that expertise has become associated with elites who were once trusted and where voters now feel their trust has been betrayed. I talked here about how the Brexit vote was the result of combining two large minorities: those that felt they had been left behind socially, and those that had been left behind in terms of prosperity. I remember on the occasions I have written about the Conservatives continuing drift to the right, I have had comments which in essence say ‘nonsense: gay marriage’. When it came to the referendum the betrayal was the failure to control the social change implied by immigration. More directly concerned with economics were those left behind economically. I’ve been told of one meeting where the response to the argument that EU membership had increased GDP was ‘maybe your GDP but not my GDP’. This association of experts with an elite that has helped leave a whole section of society behind is discussed in this perceptive article by Jean Pisani-Ferry.

With Trump the elite in question are the elder statesman of the Republican party. For fifty years they have pursued a “southern strategy” that made elections about race and culture, and had used this strategy to enact economic policies that were certainly neoliberal but in particular favoured those who were already extremely well off. The cost of this strategy was that Republicans gradually became the party of the white, non-college educated working class which had no interest in lining the pockets of the economic elite. As Lee Drutman so clearly explains, this contradiction could only be disguised by upping the rhetoric that “allowed the party to keep its donor-class activists happy by obscuring these donors' deeply unpopular policy goals under the guise of something else.” The inevitable conclusion of that process was Donald Trump. The warnings against his candidacy by Republican leaders were discounted by an electorate who felt these leaders had given them nothing in economic terms and had failed to stop a black US president.

The Labour party under and after Blair had a model where it tried to occupy the centre ground by being just to the left of the Conservatives (triangulation). From 2010 George Osborne used this to pull Labour this way and that, and then leapfrogged over them with policies like hiking the minimum wage. In contrast the Conservative’s strategy was smarter in terms of winning votes. (A lot of it was imported from the Republicans in the US.) Play on people’s fears after the recession by going on about public debt, and use that as a lever to reduce the size of the state. Reduce welfare payments by demonising claimants as workshy and feckless. This was not triangulation. Corbyn’s election was the understandable reaction to Labour’s fruitless drift to the right. Yet it brought with it a complete distrust of not just of the PLP, but also the language and thinking that had been used by the PLP. The language of needing to be electable, and the means of deciding whether you were achieving that goal, had become tainted by its previous users. It is as if the problem with triangulation was not that it was the wrong model, but just thinking about developing strategies to win votes is wrong.

A key lesson in all cases is that what we saw, or are seeing, is a reaction to failures by an elite. Not entirely: I cannot see that much can be done about people who think gay marriage is a sign that the Conservative party has swung to the left, nor would I want to pander to racism. But the consequences of allowing sections of society to be left behind in terms of prosperity or economic dynamism are clear. Equally it is clear what happens to a political party when the elite lose touch with not just their membership, but also the consequences of profound economic change.

One final commonality is that the people who are rejecting experts are being conned. With Brexit it was the idea that leaving the EU and controlling immigration will make lives better rather than worse for those that have been left behind in economic terms over the last few decades. The people who really mattered in playing that con were not a few bumbling politicians but the right wing press. With Trump they are being conned by the notion that one rich man who is full of himself can turn things around to their advantage, a con perpetrated by both the man himself and the media outlets that give him support.

Labour party members are being conned not by a person or group of people, but by a set of ideas. The idea is that this leadership contest is a battle for democracy, and the most important goal is to create a party whose leadership and MPs reflect members views. The idea that all MPs should all agree with the majority of members, which effectively stops Labour being a broad church. The idea that it is more important to build a social movement than an effective parliamentary party (and to imagine that they are building that movement). The idea that no credence should be given to how voters perceive leaders (see here and here), because the decline in neoliberalism will ensure eventual victory. These are ideas that will destroy the party as an effective political force.  


  1. Your transformation into Nick Cohen really is too lamentable, Simon. Very disappointing.

  2. I think Pisani-Ferry's piece deserves a lot more attention that it is getting.

    I'd also add a further category of problem, what I tend to call "the free-market economist two-step."

    FME: Trade policy X will make us richer on aggregate.
    Other: What about winners and losers?
    FME: Policy can be created to compensate the losers.
    O: Sounds good, here's a policy we could use?
    FME: Redistribution is distortionary, this cannot be allowed!

    End result, repeatedly over last 30 years, we have various (not just trade) "liberalisations" without the promising matched redistributions...

  3. I don't know why we bother with elections at all. It would be much better if we just let the experts get on with doing what they do best - make decisions unclouded by bias or irrationality in the best interests of the whole of society. Voters in general are incredibly stupid, while the experts are the wisest and best of us. We should defer to them on all matters of importance. They alone know what's best for us.

    1. I advise you read The Republic. Experts when left in charge have some funny ideas.

  4. Labour under Corbyn will eventually bow to reality and will do a no-contest parliamentary deal with the smaller parties, including, I think, the SNP. This will produce PR and the consequent split of both Tory (free market/state intervention) and Labour (pro-Trident/anti-Trident) parties. This will be excellent.

  5. Alternatively, Labour party members haven't been conned at all, they've adopted a set of ideas. The "conned by ideas" formulation is a good rhetorical flourish but doesn't explain anything - a con trick has to be worked *by* somebody; it amounts to explaining people's behaviour by denying that either they or anyone else have any agency.

    The point about throwing out the baby of 'electability' along with the bathwater of 'triangulation' is a good one. The problem is that the well's been poisoned; the people talking about electability now are talking about triangulation, or else they're simply using 'unelectable' as an insult without any particular content.

    If we're talking about policies, I'm well aware how far left Corbyn is relative to the contemporary political spectrum. If Labour is to win in 2020 a lot of minds will need to be changed; a lot of people are going to have to be persuaded to think differently about politics. That's a massive challenge, but it's not impossible - particularly if, as this clip suggests, the real problem is getting people to make different connections between the things they actually believe in and their self-perceived political identity.

    If we're talking about presentation, all I can say is that if Corbyn was replaced tomorrow by a younger, better-groomed, sound-bite-literate politician who would continue everything that Corbyn has been doing, I'd be delighted; I think Corbyn would be delighted, come to that. But that person isn't on offer, so we defend what we've got.

    1. The clip you link to is Giles Brendreth being mischievous - showing people agreeing with Corbyn policies who are clearly not Labour supporters. He is of course a Tory through and through - used to be a Conservative MP. So why on earth does he want to give the impression that Corbyn's policies are popular. Presumably because he would love Corbyn to be leading the Labour party come the next election.

      So how to give that misleading impression. First choose some Corbyn policies that are relatively popular. Until of course they are put in the wider context of all the things Corbyn believes, they seem relatively inoffensive. So don't ask the public if they agree with his position on Nato. Don't ask them whether they trust him in terms of economic competence.

      Also we have no idea how many people were actually asked before they came up with enough people to make their point. It is superficially a pro-Corbyn video but actually it is anti-Labour.

      I remember another article that was widely shared on social media just before the first leadership election in the Independent where it identified a number of areas where he was in line with public opinion. It of course didn't refer to how popular the death penalty is with the public. Or a whole host of areas where is position is deeply problematic to the general public.

      The left is obsessed with policies. Few people I know go through all the policies of all the parties and then vote according to who gets the largest score. It seems to me they ask two questions: do I trust this party with the economy, do I trust them to deal with a time of crisis. (This is why his hopeless response to the Paris shootings may well feature prominently in the Tory 2020 election campaign.)

      The number here who have convinced themselves that most of the nation is really a bunch of committed socialists who just haven't realised it yet, is deeply depressing.

  6. Are the voters making a mistake if they're being conned? The guilt surely lies elsewhere (as you've documented)?

  7. "It is as if the problem with triangulation was not that it was the wrong model, but just thinking about developing strategies to win votes is wrong."

    I think that's a bit patronising. Corbyn supporters would say:

    1. That chasing the Tory's policies has failed to win votes - look at the loss of 4 million votes and the fate of the Lib Dems.

    2. Addressing the actual issues of the "left behind" and the low paid - housing, jobs, more money to public services, etc. - is a vote winner.

    1. Corbyn is very unlikely to win without the support of PLP. A challenger to Corbyn cannot win out the support of the membership. Sadly I suspect I will take another Labour election loss to sort it out.

  8. Though all the diagnostics here make a lot of sense, I think there's a contextual point missing. The protest vote component in the Brexit majority was, in part, a symptom of the inadequacies of FPTP. Decades of Labour voting in Sunderland, for example, has given those voters no appreciable influence over a Labour party determined (rationally, under a warped electoral system) to triangulate so as to attract middle class voters and succeed further south. With the Euro referendum, for the first time in ages, large groups of people were given the opportunity to make a difference with their vote – something FPTP usually denies them. A lot of Brexit voters switched away from traditional party allegiances to voting UKIP in the 2015 general election and once again found it didn't make any difference – millions of votes, only one seat. Under a sane electoral system, Corbyn's version of the Labour party could be a perfectly healthy part of the overall political diagram. Unlikely to attract more than 15-18% of the national vote, it would nonetheless represent strongly held views, to the correct proportion, in a PR-elected parliament. A new centre-left party could be created to represent all those who think the Corbyn view of the world too left wing. The underlying dynamic shaping British politics at the moment is the degeneration of the two large coalitions (Tory and Labour) that have made sense of FPTP. Labour is collapsing faster and more publicly than the Conservatives, but both parties are doomed. And so is an effective politics for the UK when the only political imperative honoured by anyone at the centre or in the political media is the virtue of being able to present a 'party' that looks good enough for long enough to game the electoral system.

  9. The miss trust in"Experts" is quite simple really,people excepted the earth was flat,they excepted that arsenic bloodletting was advantageous to getting better!until such nonsense proved that the "experts" were just quacks,people may be poorly educated but when the educated peddle falsehoods they can only get away with it whilst it benefits enough people,but that confidence in them a vaporised the truth of is peddled & what people see with there own eyes is so different that experts aren't just not trusted but rightly mocked!even if most aren't educated enough to know why! or how to put it right,they do see that the experts aren't prepared to admit that their wrong!modern economic models failed big time,yet you hold by them! yet to many their seen has arsenic poisoning the patient only fit to show how it shouldn't be done! every empire has failed! ask yourself why,it that factor in economics that is ignored the acts of to acting on the future!(or passed on today)bad capitalism has always breed other (inc socialism,Communism) thoughts, Experts aren't changing they run a closed shop!they also ridicule new ideas new ways,but the truth of the matter is you can sell the "American" dream(could be any dream) but you can't stop the American reality !,this is why every empire fails it becomes unbalanced protective of privilege & in the end is washed away one way or another! the people are voting for change they will & are using the tools that fate provides,so unless the flat earth economic experts(who only get in the club if they believe in flat earth ideology, get out from the narratives they seek to justify administering arsenic to the economy,& see for themselves the damage they're doing then we are heading but one way,& to think they believe they are educated is a blight on humanity,it really shows just how backward a species we are,knowledge should & in the passed freed us,but not to hang on to what is obvious to the laymen of the world quack quack ideology & methodology,for god sake & humanities sake can the academic world grow up!

  10. The ideas are not quite as you suggest; Corbyn supporters are *also* not metropolitan lefties being sold a fictional commodity. What we do support is someone who is an adult with no financial scandals, no history of being bought or sold, no flipped houses, no bullshit expenses histories. He doesn't bray. He has been accountable to his electorate so far and we don't think he will be different as a PM.

    It is clear as daylight in June that if you read widely enough and carefully enough he has a voting record very similar to those of many other PLP members, but has stood out on some critically important votes: for example, most recently, on the Welfare Bill. His PLP colleagues have for the most part been supine for the last 6 years while the Tories have deconstructed civil society. Several have been, quite simply, corrupt and dishonest in ways that had they had ordinary jobs would have got them sacked. Many - too many - have been pusillanimous and naive.

    Lastly, the press and the importance of local issues - such as those in the Stockton election you cite - have a burden to bear.

    A broad church is very much what Corbyn voters want even though there is an overtone from *some* of us that "we" "demand" a unitary approach. The Tories are handing the country over to someone else on a plate: they are morally, ethically, and in every other way an utter shambles, indefensible to anyone who truly cares for the UK. Corbyn is universally *liked* by people who meet him and the longer he leads the more he grows into the role that even the sub-n-dom political class will recognise as being "a leader". He may never smack Putin's bottom in the way a true Tory might like but he has more to offer than a handbag or a brogue in the backside.

    Of course he ought to take more advice from Mr. Murphy and his like, but he's getting there. Eyes on what we have *now*, please. This is not a social movement, it's a rescue operation.

  11. The last paragraph of this post attacks a series of straw men. I'm not aware of Corbyn supporters saying that all MPs should hold views that reflects those of the majority of members. The most you will hear said is that the members of a constituency party should have the power to select or deselect their MP and that the party conference should make official party policy. These are not at all the same thing as the proposition in the post. Nor is any evidence provided that the majority of Corbyn supporters think it important to build a social movement and not an effective parliamentary party (the rather silly article to which a link is given (twice) provides none). Nor is there any evidence that Corbyn supporters as a whole think that no credence should be given to how voters perceive leaders. Many of the responses that your posts about Corbyn have elicited tend to undermine the claims you make here and I'm surprised - and rather dismayed - that you should make them.

    1. Indeed, Simon's being very selective with his links (aren't we all?). Here'a couple of alternative and more considered perspectives:

  12. There's a less pessimistic way of interpreting at least some of this. For some of us, thenrise of Corbyn doesn't represent a victory for democracy, I think as a concept it's one of the most hollow in current political parlance, seeing as it's been used for everything from a demand for genuinely emancipatory politics to naked cynical power grabs like Boris Johnson's "referendum" on the extension of the congestion charge shortly on becoming London Mayor.

    For someone like me Corbyn represents two important political strands.

    First off, Corbyn is a fairly straightforward social-democrat who would be utterly unobjectionable across the channel. That a social-democrat leader of a traditional social-democrat party can be seen as somehow representing a radical left-wing fringe demonstrates exactly how broken the current political landscape is. If Corbyn really is unelectable, then the real question is whether social democracy is at all viable politically i.e whether we need a Labour party in the first place. I happen to think social democracy has enough going for it that I'd rather not support this analysis.

    The second issue is related to all the talk about neoliberalism, but it's reflected in the claim that we've been living under a Thatcher premiership/Reagan presidency since the late 70s. One of the key features of this kind of a politics is that it's a) managerial and b) conceives of politics as a problem of engineering, not of principle. The managerialism is reflected in how despite all the rhetoric about small state and hatred of bureaucracy, this is a style of politics that demands bureacracy whether this comes in the form of REFs or tests to figure out who counts as deserving poor or a deserving immigrant.

    Treating politics as engineering is a problem that Michael Sandel has most effectively disgnosed, but it's in effect ceding the ground of politics and political debate and replacing it with impersonal mechanisms that will "fix" politics. At its most tame this is represented in nudge politics, but any move towards market based solutions reflect this move as does the electoralism, the idea that elections are things to be engineered rather than won, that animates the anti-Corbyn movement.

    This last point is the biggest reason I support Corbyn, because enough is enough. We really do need to move to a politics where principles matter. For one because it's the only way to shift the ideological distortions that have led to this whole mess around Corbyn in the first place, but also because there are plenty of problems that we face that simply cannot be engineered out of existence. For example there is arguably no way to fix the UK housing market without the state stepping in and just building the houses. Similarly utilities and public transport increasingly look like areas where the only efficient solution is one which reflects straightforward political demands for access because a purely market based solution is impossible to engineer.

    1. Some good points, perhaps the biggest being that managerialism is only plausible if and when it delivers. There's no fallback position because there are no principles: when it fails, it loses all credibility.

  13. So really, you're saying that these elites eventually failed to maintain their persuasiveness.

    But really, isn't that just the result of these elites spending decades living in their own ideological bubbles? If any of them had continued to maintain 2-way communication with the people they want to persuade, they'd have survived, no?

  14. Economics wasn't at the top of most leavers' agenda. Nor is getting into power the priority of Momentum types. So you're criticising these people for having ends you don't share, not for inexpert choice of means. Admittedly that still leaves The Donald.

  15. The notion of 'The Establishment' is poisonous. It places the focus not on whether a politician is any good, but on whether they are 'anti-Establishment' or not. Thus Trump gets a sniff of the White House because it looks like he can whip Washington into shape.

  16. I heard Ed Balls, while plugging his book yesterday, say that he blocked any move to argue that Labour at the 2015 election 'could spend their way out of a crisis'.

    I want to hear Owen Smith give his views on the fiscal multiplier and bond vigilantes since autumn 2008 and going on into the future.

  17. Simon, I agree that Jeremy Corbyn is very unlikely to win a general election, but not that experts have been any help in showing this. I assume you're talking about (1) psephologists quoting opinion polls showing that most people think he would make a bad prime minister (2) commentators pointing out that he's lost the confidence of his MP's and won't have enough people to form a government (3) commentators pointing out that neoliberalism is far from dead and that, even if it were, that wouldn't be enough to get someone like Corbyn into power. I can't see how any of these statements demand any expertise and (1) may even be misleading: Heath and Thatcher both had terrible ratings as opposition leaders but still became PM. So how are the Jeremyites defying experts?

    1. Precisely and the Thatcher/Corbyn parallels are uncanny to those genuinely interested in political history rather than points scoring.

    2. Indeed yes, in the 1975 referendum the government was split on whether to stay in; the opposition party was almost unanimous but led by a clearly very unenthusiastic Remainer.

  18. Not sure I agree that voters are making mistakes. There are no mistakes in voting, people vote for what they want. It's on the ballot paper so how can choosing it be a mistake? Might as well just go back to the days when only very rich white men could vote. And I'm sure that most people who voted for Brexit at the very least knew there were some economic risks, and even if they didn't, all the information was there and they went with it anyway. That's not a mistake, nor does it diminish the validity of their vote. A vote is a vote, it can be the most well informed vote of all time, or purely based on an individuals gut instinct, but they're worth the same.

  19. Brexit wasn't a con. If you think this island is too crowded, which many do, then why accept the status quo? The con is that we are told we need 300,000+ extra people just to not have declining services. Sounds like a terrible ponzi scheme.

  20. "The idea that all MPs should all agree with the majority of members, which effectively stops Labour being a broad church."

    I though Corbyn allowed conscience votes on at least Syria and Trident already. I must have missed where people argued every MP must follow Corbyn on every issue at all times instead of just not trying to destroy him every minute of every day. There's kind of some room between the two. Lots of room really.

    "The idea that no credence should be given to how voters perceive leaders..."
    People are arguing the exact opposite! That's why they want the PLP to stop destroying Corbyn as a leader by publicly belittling and smearing him to every newspaper that will talk to them! Because perception matters! Did you read Dillow's piece on leadership as being performative?

  21. I don't think anyone (or no more than very few people) is saying that all MPs should agree with the majority of members at all. What I and others ARE saying is that they have abandoned their duties in order to deliberately bring public ridicule upon the party, and have been arrogant and inept in doing so.

    What I and others are saying is that when those on the left of the party didn't have a leader they particularly agreed with, they didn't spend every waking hour leaking information to the press, writing articles for papers saying that the leader was terrible, or abandon their duties in attacking the Conservatives, which are all things that the members of the pathetic coup have done. They did their jobs, served their constituents and tried to make their voices heard within the party where possible - something that Corbyn made extremely easy via the appointments within his shadow cabinet.

  22. I'm really not sure the point you are trying to make here. Are you saying that everyone who voted for Brexit should really have listened to expert opinion rather than study form and make their own minds up? Life's a gamble whether we're in or out of Europe. Perhaps people aren't listening to expert opinion because they can actually think for themselves. After all, the power of the Internet and social media gives us many of the answer that we seek. All down to who do we really trust and the choices we make based upon that reliability.

  23. I fear that the experience of the Sheffield by-election bears out your (and my) fears. No doubt the faithful will blame it on everyone else but the anointed one. Neoliberalism may well decline but the damage done by having no effective political opposition in the meantime will be enormous.

    1. I don't normally say my piece on such things!but yet again i see poor analysis(the mark of neoliberalism) Labour -9.2
      Ukip -9.8
      Cons -7.9
      Greens -1.8
      The one conclusion must be is that what ever your protest is the Lib-dems were certainly here the vehicle of that protest!
      So those protesting how does that break down Ukip was a vehicle of protest against the EU,yet neither the Cons or lab gained,in fact both lost heavily,(Sheffield is a University City & the Universities being closed in the main would change the dynamics of the result!) So whilst Corbyn/leadership mess would have had a bearing that doesn't account for the Cons 7.9 fall,is this the protest of there handling of it!The fact a pro EU party (the only one) gained so much,could well be that the remainders are united & have almost on mass fallen behind the one declared remain party?Also i believe the lab candidate was not a Corbyn supporter,i for one will not be voting for my sitting MP after supporting this campaign next chance i have & quite a few others i know feel the same!not because i or them are Corbyn supporters in the sense he's the right man,but because of the obvious we want change,& for me this result is saying we have no faith in any of them!the voting is erratic swinging because this is what the public is say! you can make changes & get our votes or you can go on! & the public will continue to vote in protest!that is were our democracy is working were it is failing is it isn't the message the politician are taking on board or want to hear!I would have thought any party in the crisis that labour are in would be electable,to blame any one side is wrong,they're all collectively to blame,each have played there part,so i don't think this bears out anything.
      ps neoliberalism having no opposition for the last 20 odd years is what people are at present vote protesting against ignoring it isn't the answer!

  24. In Aristotelian terms, you're saying that experts no longer are convincing because they lost their consultancy ethos by association with corrupted leaders.

    Curiously, though, while Trump and the likes might be motivated and embody the image of success, they certainly make no sense. How can they be convincing? Is it out of cynicism that people follow them, as a sort of farce played at the expense of our representative democracies?

    Maybe some people are so tired to be s*****d that they concluded they might as well pick an aggressor who smiles and laughs while doing it.

  25. "The idea that all MPs should all agree with the majority of members, which effectively stops Labour being a broad church."

    Come on, this is bollocks. The problem is Labour MPs in safe, left wing seats with right wing views, as commentator "blissex" puts well (and he may repeat here):

    "The seats currently occupied by Labour MPs are in essence "bedrock" Labour seats, where people vote Labour regardless.

    Some famous politician once said that in "bedrock" Labour seats hostility to Conservatives is so deep that if you put a red rosette on a farm pig it would be elected.

    Indeed this has sort of happened from 1997 to 2010: during Blair/Mandelson's reign of spin a large number of thinly disguised thatcherite entryists were rammed down the throat of constituency parties. Even Blair himself represented an ex-mining area seat.

    The result has been that currently the vast majority of constituency parties have declared for Corbyn as leader, while the majority of MPs they have so far selected has voted no confidence, and because of boundary changes most will *have* to be reselected.

    The long term problem with Labour is that Blair had no power base in the party; he was chosen by the MPs as their "conservatory-building classes" friendly PR frontman.

    He then tried to build after-the-fact his own power base in the party, but he only managed to do that among MPs, by giving safe seats to reliable photogenic apparatchiks without much of a root in the party, just like himself."

    How is that a broad church?

    There is no easy solution to this, except for er doing nothing or very little except criticise the Tories and win the election.

    "The idea that no credence should be given to how voters perceive leaders (see here and here), because the decline in neoliberalism will ensure eventual victory."

    No, the idea is the Conservatives might cause a recession, that could lead to a chance of victory. It will get worse before it gets better. labour just needs to look OK then. That is literally all they need to do.

    "With Trump they are being conned by the notion that one rich man who is full of himself can turn things around to their advantage"

    Agreed, but in more than one way. Electing a President does little. Look at Congress and the "deep state."

    1. «The problem is Labour MPs in safe, left wing seats with right wing views,»

      It is much funnier than that: O Smith's constituency, a very safe Labour seat, voted for "Leave" around 60%, and he is campaigning on undoing the referendum, instead of merely for "single market" as J Corbyn.

      Several of J Corbyn's attackers who blame him for getting "only" 63% of Labour voters to choose "Remain" also "represent" constituencies that voted "Leave" by significant margins.

      (thanks to some commenters on "The Guardian" for pointing out this "irony").

    2. And it is even much funnier than just O Smith's constituents being so impressed by his "leadership" that they voted near 60% for "Leave"!

      Look at the numbers for the constituency here:

      Since O Smith has been given as a gift this very safe seat (Labour since 1922) Labour votes have fallen rather a lot and those of Liberals first and UKIP later have risen quite a lot.

      His predecessor in the post had a "varied history", and started as a local NUM official, but then became a semi-reliable mandelsonian.

    3. Put another way, the overwhelming majority of MPs of any party don't really represent their voters to their parties or to Parliament, but rather represent their parties to the voters, who as a rule vote for a party, not a candidate. Sometimes they might vote *against* a candidate, but rarely for one.

      Looking again at the data for O Smith's constituency (and many others are similar) there are obvious pretty significant voting changes across time that mostly correlate well with the national fortunes of the party, given the stability of the Labour MPs in this very safe seat.

  26. Still waiting for one of those don't vote for Brexit experts to explain why non-EU Iceland, IoM, Switzerland and Norway are schitholes on average.

    1. «why non-EU Iceland, IoM, Switzerland and Norway»

      Bad examples...

      If you hold them up as examples for the UK, fantastic way to do Brexit: they have essentially the same rights and duties as EU members, minus the veto. I am quite sure that if the UK chose an EEA/EFTA-style deal, that is same as before minus the veto, most of the governments of the EU27 countries would be dancing in the streets.

  27. BTW have you seen staunchly anti-Corbyn Labour candidate Julie Grocutt lose in Sheffield. She refused to include the party leader on her campaign leaflets, repeatedly spread anti-Corbyn propaganda on Twitter (that she has subsequently hidden by deleting her account) and openly admitted that she went around the ward having chit chats with people about how terrible the Labour Party leader is (before she deleted her Twitter account.)

    The Labour candidate was parachuted in and didn't even live in the ward and the Lib-Dem candidate did.

    Turnout was an appallingly low 28%. It's absolutely clear that the Labour vote in the ward stayed at home. Could this poor Labour turnout possibly have anything to do with the Labour candidate being a supporter of the Anyone But Corbyn coup who also happens to lives 16 miles away in Stocksbridge on the other side of the city? I would say yes.

    What a disaster.

  28. I'd just like to make the observation that the Labour leadership contest is not between Corbyn and Atlee, but between Corbyn and Smith. Indeed Corbyn will have a mountain to climb to not badly lose the next election. But look at the alternative! Smith is the weakest candidate I could possibly imagine. I think in this case the selectorate are behaving entirely rationally.

  29. So the Labour vote stayed at home in Sheffield (and presumably in 3 other seats where their vote went down on the night) because the candidate wasn't pro Corbyn? Wouldn't it have made more sense to vote in support of Corbyn, irrespective of whether the candidate was a keen supporter, as surely losses reflect badly on the leader? If Labour voters aren't going to get out and vote for representatives that aren't completely onside with Corbyn, Labour will lose seats by the truckload.

    Perhaps its another example of people making a bad choice, or maybe, just maybe, the electorate are telling us that Corbyn is an electoral liability as all the polling indicate. Just a thought.

  30. Psephologists may tell us that Labour can not win if it adheres to certain policies ( retaining trident, demonising benefit claimants, reducing the deficit) but if Labour does attempt to modify policies to suit public opinion it is unlikely to succeed in government ( as you yourself have pointed out many times) . Worse, it may still lose, while abandoning the moral high ground.

    I can understand why so many want to campaign to change pubic opinion, and then one day in the future maybe a real reforming Labour government might make real changes comparable to those Attlee's government.
    The achievements of the Blair, Brown years have Ben overturned. Any lasting achievements will take time.

  31. I'm not sure you can frame the election of Corbyn as people ignoring experts.

    Or at least I think it is wrong to conflate electorates making ill informed or bad decisions with ignoring expererts.

    The argument behind this:

    There are a group of people who believe that it would be better for the labour party to be more left wing.
    It's hard to see what expert advice they are ignoring, other than the advice that this is unlikely to appeal to the electorate.
    But this isn't really expert opinion, just common sense.
    So the election of Corbyn isn't really about ignoring expert opinion, just ignoring common sense.

  32. With the proviso that I am a Democrat, and I am not want to challenge your general thesis, the thing about Trump is a stretch only in that it "blames" voters for a general hard right turn in the Republican Party that in terms of the people running for president, reached its Peter Principle high.

    Objectively, it's hard to blame voters for Trump when all the alternatives were equally odious, e.g., Carson, Fiorina, Cruz!!!, Rubio!!, Walker!!, etc. Yes, I am a progressive so even Kasich doesn't meet my taste. But then, as an urban planner, pre-election campaign I would have considered Romney because of his strong Smart Growth and health care credentials as governor of Massachusetts. It was not til the campaign when all that was repudiated that I had to reject him out of hand.

    Not that it was likely I would have voted for him over Obama, but at least pre-campaign, I respected him. I don't have any respect for Carson, Cruz, Fiorina, Rubio, Walker, Ryan, and just a wee bit for people like Perry and Kasich.

    As written by Carrie Fisher and said by Meryl Streep in the film "Postcards from the Edge", "these are my choices?"

  33. Finer details aside, the question seems to (once again) come down to pragmatism vs. principles, i.e. Corbyn supporters should favour electability over principles and vote Smith.

    For this to be a good argument, it should be the case that (1) Labour is not going to win the election with Corbyn as their leader and (2) Labour is going to win the election with Smith as their leader. If either of (1) or (2) is false, favouring pragmatism over principles is futile, i.e. the only thing accomplished is by acting on according to this reasoning is to give up your principles in order to lose the election anyhow.

    The above is a very black and white version of an argument you could soften up a bit by replacing (1) and (2) with (1.1) that Labour is (more or less) likely to lose the election with Corbyn as their leader and (2.1) that labour is (more or less) likely to win the election with Smith as their leader. Clearly, while you can vary the strength of (1.1) and (2.2), a requirement is that their strength should be symmetrical for it to make any sense.

    Now for the actual data: let's assume for arguments sake that Labour is likely to lose the election with Corbyn as leader. Judging by the polls I've seen that seems fair to say. But - by the argument above - this means that there should be a strong indication in the averaged polls that Labour is as likely to win with Smith as leader as labour is lose with Corbyn as leader. I have yet to see such polls, but I would very much appreciate any references. Failing such polls, it is hard to see how Corbyn supporters are making any fundamental mistakes.

    1. I like your argument, also because there seems to be evidence that leaders and even the press only make a small difference to election results.

      But your argument can be extended further: suppose that low-income voters had a choice between two parties, that are the only ones that are likely to win a majority of votes, whose positions are: "shrink low-income living standards and pro-EU" and "shink low-income living standards and anti-EU".

      What's the point for them in voting for either? They may well vote instead vote for a third party that does not promise them shrinking living standards, even if it is likely that it is not going to be elected; maybe it will.

      Why should the low-income turkeys vote for Christmas?

  34. I am not sure why you are surprised that people vote against their best interests. After all a third of the working class has always votes for the Conservatives.
    In the case of support for Corbyn' s policies it would be an instance of working class people voting for policies that are aimed at benefiting them in theory. The problem is they are not attractive to 'middle england' or 'moderates' at the moment.
    As you have pointed out in previous articles the Conservatives ability to create an identity around strivers against shirkers, moral people who work for what they have got and welfare junkies has been highly effective. By standing up for the welfare state, supporting strikers, showing solidarity with refugees and opposing aggressive wars Corbyn is alienating those who see themselves as moderates guided by common sense.

  35. I think you do not understand the basis for Corbyn's support or indeed what he is trying to achieve. Yes there is a rejection of triangulation, but no there is absolutely no rejection of devising strategy to win elections. Yes there is a new emphasis on democracy, both within the Party and within the functioning of Parliamentary Sovereignty, but no this is not an end in itself, as such, it is seen as a means to counterbalance the perceived capture of the elite by rent-supporting economic policy, with the ultimate objective of moving the Overton Window, to bury the consensus for Austerity, 'TINA', which is based on inappropriately 'household' finances, in favour of a 'functional' fiscal policy. I don't see any push from Corbyn or his supporters for all MPs to support the views of the majority of members. On the contrary, Corbyn has acknowledged if not gratefully accepted, albeit by necessity I concede, a broad range of views within his shadow cabinet, let alone the PLP. His leadership is a departure if anything from the tradition, in both parties, of strict discipline enforced by the Whip (a tradition which lives on happily in the anti-Corbyn Progress controlled Lambeth Council, which has expelled one of its Councillors from the Party for speaking against Lambeth Labour cabinet approved party-line - despite a majority of 59 to 4). This is not a turn away from a broad church, on the contrary it looks to a party informed by conversation even with its membership, where all can afford to put forth challenging policy objectives they care about, even the leader, so that for instance, the leader may unwaveringly support unilateral nuclear disarmament, but if this is not accepted as Party policy so be it, it does not follow the leader's position is untenable and nor is there any question of hypocrisy. That is the benefit of establishing a party on democratic principles. But more to the point, this call for 'democracy' is in fact a strategy for getting elected, hidden from you in plain sight, because it is about engaging the membership, which can be mobilised into an effective campaigning and vote winning machine and multiplied and transformed thereby into an electorate. The poor response to the debt crisis has convinced many people (like me) that there will not be satisfactory reform without the introduction of a democratic counterweight to disrupt institutions which have been captured and skewed if not dominated by a neo-liberal bias, even at the risk of a flirtation with populism.

  36. «Yet it brought with it a complete distrust of not just of the PLP, but also the language and thinking that had been used by the PLP. The language of needing to be electable, and the means of deciding whether you were achieving that goal, had become tainted by its previous users.»

    It is not merely the «language of electability» that was just «tainted», but the very policies implied by that «language»:
    «Tristram Hunt, the shadow education secretary, said Labour would only win if the party championed aspirational voters who shop at John Lewis and Waitrose. Umunna, the shadow business secretary, who appeared alongside Mandelson on the sofa on the Marr show, said that Labour had been wrong to run a fiscal deficit as Britain entered the downturn in 2008.»
    «Hunt said the Labour party needed to appeal to the “John Lewis community”, including those who aspired to shop there and at Waitrose, rather than sticking to appealing to its core vote.»
    «“The issue in England is this double bind of losing traditional Labour communities often under pressure from Ukip, and not speaking to an aspirational John Lewis couple who we are on their side.”»
    «Labour will not win the next election by relying on disaffected leftwing Liberal Democrat voters, but will also have to frame policies that are attractive to former Conservative voters in the south, the shadow cabinet member Caroline Flint has said.»
    «Labour is winning votes from disillusioned Lib Dems and its own former supporters who are returning to the fold, but it still has a mountain to climb in the South East, among the aspirational “conservatory-building classes” who were key to its previous election victories.»

    If New Labour's «language of electability» means to appeal only to the affluent whig shoppers at Waitrose, and give for granted the Labour core vote, or let it slip to UKIP, what is then the difference between New Labour and the Liberals?

    What kind of electability is implied by treating as best as irrelevant the Labour core socialdemocratic vote, which is estimated at around 25-30% of voters?


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