Winner of the New Statesman SPERI Prize in Political Economy 2016

Friday, 9 June 2017

Labour and its Left

The 1980s were a battle between what eventually became New Labour, and what is often referred to as the Hard Left. 1983 to 1997 was a long period where the Hard Left gradually lost influence within both the party (then the membership and trade unions) and among the parliamentary party (the PLP). But this didn’t mollify the distaste New Labour had for the Hard Left.

This period meant that those opposing the left adopted two propositions which became almost hard-wired into their decisions.

  1. The left within Labour were more concerned with controlling the party than winning elections. That has often been said about Jeremy Corbyn over the last two years.

  2. That the Left, and their ideas and policies, were toxic to most voters. The right wing press assisted in this by talking about the loony left.

In short, it was best to act as if Labour’s Left were a political pariah. As a result of these ideas the left minority within the PLP was tolerated (Labour needed to be a broad church), as long as it remained small and powerless. Triangulation became the way to win power: to adopt policies that were never from the Left, but adopted a centre ground between the Left and the Conservatives. New Labour was not old Labour.

The strategy was extremely successful. Tony Blair won three elections, and it took the deepest recession since the 1930s to (just) remove Labour from office. The Blair government achieved a lot, particularly for the poor, but it also made serious mistakes, most notably Iraq. That stopped a lot of those on the left actively supporting the party.

In 2015, when Labour under Ed Miliband was defeated, the general mood among the PLP seemed to be that it needed to triangulate once more and move further to the right. Crucially, some leading figures suggested Labour should all but embrace George Osborne’s austerity policy. The three main candidates to take over from Miliband were seen (with justification or not) as representing this thinking. Austerity was a critical issue, in part because - if accepted - it potentially constrained what Labour could do to a large extent. It was also an economically illiterate policy, which I can safely say with authority. Worse than that, it was a policy that - as the deficit fell - began to lose its popularity, so for Labour to adopt it at just the point it was losing its popular appeal seemed a doubly crazy thing to do.

Before Corbyn won that election I wrote
“Whether Corbyn wins or loses, Labour MPs and associated politicos have to recognise that his popularity is not the result of entryism, or some strange flight of fancy by Labour’s quarter of a million plus members, but a consequence of the political strategy and style that lost the 2015 election. …. A large proportion of the membership believe that Labour will not win again by accepting the current political narrative on austerity or immigration or welfare or inequality and offering only marginal changes to current government policy.”

At this point I was receiving impassioned pleas by some to come out against Corbyn. These mainly went along the lines that Corbyn was unreformed from the 70s/80s, and wanted to take over the party for the ‘old left’. Many said he could not win an election because his policies would be too radical. He would be a disaster with the electorate. It was unmodified 1980s thinking. These arguments sounded unconvincing to me, mainly because Corbyn would have to work with the PLP. Unlike the 1980s, the left were now such a small minority within the PLP that they would have no other choice.

As I had anticipated, Corbyn and McDonnell did form a shadow cabinet of all the (willing) talents, and as far as economic policy was concerned they were far from radical. McDonnell set up the Economic Advisory Council (EAC), which I and I suspect others were happy to join because it involved no endorsement of Labour’s policies. Arguments that we should have withheld our advice because Corbyn was somehow ‘beyond the pale’ were again straight from the post-83 playbook, and I am very glad that I ignored them. I helped Labour adopt a fiscal rule which in my view exemplified where mainstream macroeconomics was, and which incidentally some sections of the Left were very critical of. It formed a key part of their 2017 manifesto

What I had not anticipated, back when Corbyn was about to be elected, was how foolish some Labour MPs would be in those months following his election. Critical briefing of the press was constant, and tolerated by many in the PLP. As I wrote at the time, this strategy was stupid even if you hated Corbyn, because it gave the membership the excuse to ignore Corbyn’s failings. I was more right than I could have imagined. This was the first major mistake that the PLP made after the election.

The other thing I had not anticipated was Brexit. This triggered the second major mistake by the PLP, which was the vote of no confidence. It was in many cases an emotional reaction to Brexit, the leadership’s role in the campaign and earlier incompetence. It was understandable, but it was nevertheless terrible politics. Corbyn’s supporters were gifted the perfect narrative in the subsequent leadership election: the PLP had sabotaged Corbyn’s leadership.

The two mistakes made by the PLP ensured that for many members the 2016 vote became the PLP against the membership. One big mistake Owen Smith made was to not side with the membership in terms of changing the 15% leadership rule, so naturally they said if you do not trust us we will not trust you. Nevertheless I supported Smith over Corbyn, because I could not see a future for a party that had become so deeply divided. I thought the next election was winnable for Labour, but not if the party was seen by the electorate as at war with itself. That was one of the key reasons I resigned from the EAC: whether that was the reason three others also left I cannot say.

After Corbyn won for a second time, the polls suggested Labour’s future was bleak. This is what led May to call her snap election. However two things happened after Corbyn’s re-election which surprised me and many others, and meant that my predictions of no future under Corbyn proved wrong. First, the internal squabbling within Labour stopped almost completely. Second, the leadership started putting together a manifesto that would prove very popular, with a competence that had earlier been missing. During the general election divisions within Labour were not part of May’s main attack, in part because she chose to make the campaign presidential in style..

Many will say that Labour achieving 40% of the popular vote vindicated the membership’s faith in Corbyn. Others will go further and say ‘if only the PLP had been more cooperative we could have won’. That is going too far..The election result was also a consequence of a truly terrible Conservatives campaign, headed by a Prime Minister who exposed herself as just the wrong person to lead the country through Brexit  The economic environment couldn’t have been better for Labour: unlike 2015 we had falling real wages and the slowest quarterly GDP growth rate in the EU. Labour’s manifesto held out hope, while the Conservative manifesto was a liability. Despite all this, the Conservative vote share was above Labour.

What the election does show beyond doubt is that the attitudes most of the PLP had towards the Left, which they had carried with them from the 1980s, are no longer appropriate. The result was not the disaster they had been so sure would happen. That showed some left wing policies can be very popular, even if they are called anti-capitalist by those on the right. The curse of austerity on the UK electorate has lifted. Unlike the ‘dementia tax’, none of the policies in Labour’s manifesto proved to be a millstone around Corbyn’s neck. The days when Labour politicians needed to worry about headlines in the Mail or Sun are over.

The big lessons of the last two years are for Labour’s centre and centre-left. The rules that applied in the 1980s no longer apply. The centre have to admit that sometimes the Left can get things right (Iraq, financialisation), and they deserve some respect as a result (and vice versa of course). The centre and Left have to live with each other to the extent of allowing someone from the Left to lead the party. Corbyn has shown that the Left are capable of leading with centre-left policies, and the electorate will not shun them. With the new minority government so fragile, it is time for the centre and centre-left within Labour to bury old hatchets and work with Corbyn’s leadership.

71 comments:

  1. What I find so odd about your view is that it is so common and yet somehow misses something.

    The whole narrative is about the left coming from behind and having to overcome the right; in other words the left is always on the back foot. Now this is indeed a reasonable narrative on the surface and we have mostly had Tory governments over the years but if you look at the popular vote a different picture emerges.

    Even in 1983 Mrs Thatcher only gained 46% of the popular vote and the only other right wing party whose popular vote could be consolidated with that of the Tories is the DUP which would not I think get the total above 50% (even if it did it would be very marginal). Most people did not want Thatcher or Toryism, even at the height of her popularity; apart from the Tories and the DUP all the other parties were left wing and that remains the position today.. The fact is that most people do not want a right wing party and the left actually prevails at the level of the popular vote and has done for many years; it is only the quirk of the electoral system which allows the Tories to prevail; if we had some sort of proportional representational system then we would have a string of centre left coalitions as a government and not a Tory party in exclusive control.

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    1. Yes, and how deeply stupid was Labour not to back the Lib-Dems in the STV vote? Talk about "past incompetence"!

      First Past the Post is usually a tactical advantage for the Labour party, but it is a huge strategic disadvantage for the centre-left.

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  2. "Others will go further and say ‘if only the PLP had been more cooperative we could have won’. That is going too far...."

    Simon I'm afraid there is a flaw in reasoning here. Certainly the conditions were quite favourable for Labour but to think that the shocking tantrum of the PLP last summer did no damage is patently false. Is it so obvious to you that a united PLP, standing behind the leader effectively as 232 Jeremy Corbyns would still have lost? Perhaps, but I just do not see where you find the certainty. Just reflect on whether this was the same type of certainty that told you that JC would never ever possibly achieve anything other than obliteration at the polls.

    "With the new minority government so fragile, it is time for the centre and centre-left within Labour to bury old hatchets and work with Corbyn’s leadership"

    I agree and sincerely hope this happens. In fact in a certain perverse way, the results are optimal for progressive politics. Labour should stay well clear out of the implosion of Brexit so that the Torries and hard-right fellow travellers rightfully get all the fallout. This may bury Conservative politics for a generation.

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    1. Having a unified plp behind corbyn would have been more important to the older demographic who place more importance on economic credibility and national security. The harsh reality is the average older voter doesnt have the first clue about macroeconomics (often having relied on tabloid journalism as their main source of information over many decades - sad but true) and therefore are reassured about a leaders economic credibility if it appears they have the backing of the party. The younger generation in contrast have more varied sources of information in this digital age and therefore are more open minded about Corbyns "radical" policies, and therefore place less emphasis on plp unity.

      Similarly, the older voter place greater emphasis on plp unity in terms of the leaders strength on national security. Maybe, because growing up it was drummed into them how inspiring Churchill was as a strong leader. In contrast, the younger generation have experienced leaders trying to appear to be strong by acting in an autocratic style and taking us into misguided wars without mandates. So perversely, the lack of backing from the plp may have actually helped corbyn in this area as they would have seen him as someone trying break from the past and act in a more consensual and democratic way which would necessarily mean him coming into conflict with his backbenchers who saw this as a sign of weakness.

      Overall then i think Simon is probably right. The backing of the plp was probably a little overplayed although it would have gained him more votes in the older demographic which would have got him closer to the finishing line.

      Going forward though, the game has changed again. The backing of the plp is now of much greater significance. The narrative now is he took on the blairites, pretty much the entire party plus the establishment media. He climbed the mountain and won. And his defeated backbenchers (who are already coming back to grovel - quite shamelessly on TV!) should now be grateful they still have their seats having been carried back into office on Corbyns populist wave - and this bit isn't a caricature it is in fact entirely true and they know it. So now, their backing is electorally important because it will be a constant reminder to the voter of the insurmountable odds he defied in getting them to toe the line. A case in point, John Prescott(a former blairite cheerleader) saying on TV last night that Corbyns manifesto will not be altered by the blairites, and when challenged by Evan Davis that he was a former blairite, he said he was "old labour" all along!

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    2. Thank you - saved me the task of trying to write something as elegant as your first 2 paras.

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    3. I hope that cynical and intellectual Labour supporters that couldn't quite support Jeremy Corbyn are now prepared to embrace the simplicity (and wisdom) of Corbyn's approach.

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  3. I suppose it is not surprising that you can't remember the name of Corbyn's challenger in 2016 - it was "Owen" not "Andrew".

    I think, by the way, that it is slightly misleading to describe the old right or mainstream of the Labour Party as becoming New Labour. As is often said, New Labour was a kind of entryist sect fundamentally discontinuous with what went before. In many ways, Corbyn is returning the party to its roots.

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  4. I assume you mean Owen Smith not 'Andrew Smith'

    Secondly, "The days when Labour politicians needed to worry about headlines in the Mail or Sun are over" is no longer seen as "a schoolboy error"?

    Third, the regionalisation of the constituency gains Labour made look complex.

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  5. Beautifully said. One should hope that- after the demise of Soviet Union- the hard left has learnt something and maybe could see the light. It is a huge challenge to devise a realistic economic policy for the left in modern times. Rejecting austerity is a good start- and it came from the `hard left' and not the `enlightened' centre. Let's hope that Corbyn's leadership is finally accepted and a real consensus emerges.

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    1. It's also a huge challenge for the Right to devise a realistic economic policy for the modern world.

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    2. How can you call it austerity when in fact thr debt to gdp has gone from 81.6% in 2011 (first full year of Cameron) to 89.3% in 2016. That is an increase on debt not a decrease! Get your facts straight please. The country under Gordon Brown was like a drunk drinking 2 bottles of Scotch whisky a day with debt/gdp truly doubling. Now the drunkard is down to a boytkw and a half of wine per day but still over consuming alcohol.

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    3. You know you can cut spending and still have debt go up? It just goes up slower. Example if the current budget means it was due to go up 20 billion and you make 5 billion in cuts it goes up 15 billion. You could say well just make a big enough cut to cancel out any increase but a lot of expenses are things the country has decided it needs (NHS, military, pensions, education) it's likely impossible to get MPs to sign on to big changes that they then have to justify to their local constituents that there's no budget for bin service, pothole filling, flood prevention, local business stimulus, tax breaks etc.

      Whilst you are spot on debt went up massively under Brown I need to defend him as it's massively unfair that Labour is blamed for "spending all the money". Check out the debt to GDP history, totally stable under Labour 1997-2007. Then there is a global crisis that hits every country really hard, check GDP 2008 and UK got hit almost exactly as hard as Germany (and the rest of europe) so there's no chance if Tories had been in charge they would have dodged the crisis. I'm not an economist but I understand Gov spending absolutely has to step in at that point.

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    4. There have been sustained cuts in real terms across the board - NHS, police, schools - take your pick.... If that's not austerity then i don't know what is!

      The reason the overall debt is increasing is not because we are overspending, but because the tax take is too low - mainly because multinationals are avoiding/evading tax and too many workers are on such low pay that they are hardly paying tax. Corbyn has clearly explained this time and time again.

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  6. I read this post through twice (2 times) and nowhere can I find the words "egg" and "face"....... How odd.....???

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    1. I admire Simon immensely, but I have to agree that his implication that Jeremy could not have possibly won even if he'd been supported shows an uncharacteristic level of denial from a usually impeccably honest man.

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    2. Actually, its just my obsession with evidence. For example if you look at the Ashcroft poll at why voters went for each party (or did not), nowhere will you find disunity of Labour mentioned. The reason, I think, is that the PLPs unity during the election (and since Corbyn was re-elected) has been impressive.
      I also remember, when I argued that disunity would be fatal to Corbyn before he was re-elected, I had plenty on the left telling me it did not matter. To be now told that it matters just enough to deny him victory is a bit rich. But I concede that in theory this could be right.

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    3. @simon I'm afraid, once again, faulty reasoning here. PLP unity was and is not an end in itself which is why nobody would mention it as a reason not to vote Corbyn. However it was a constant haemorrhage of goodwill in an indirect fashion. For example, the right-wing argument that 'he was a good at protest, poor in leadership' which was mentioned repeatedly by people on the doorstep, was indirectly fuelled by all those serial shadow cabinet resignations, the vote of no confidence and so on. People may not have spelt it out but it was a dog-whistle subliminal connection.

      PLP unity during the election manifested itself as a pause-of-hostilities as opposed to active support. Most of the PLP opposition campaigned locally in their own constituencies (gladly receiving the help of Momentum activists by the way) while never getting their hands dirty with the national campaign. Since you are obsessed with evidence (so am I), just look at the twitter feeds of some of them and search for the word 'Corbyn' before June 8th. In Angela Eagle's feed you have to reach page 4 or 5 before you find some reference (I think it's JC's fumble at the woman's hour interview, seriously!) No sticking their necks out for anything, no throwing their lot in, just waiting in the corner, sharpening knives and according to some reports, polishing their leadership bids.

      I don't recall anybody saying that disunity would not matter. I do remember people commenting in this blog that it would not be fatal, and in the end it wasn't. But to argue that true PLP unity from day 1 would not have shifted 30 of the 38 seats with a majority of less than 2000 to labour is not really based on any evidence.

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    4. I don't know if Labour would have won outright if the party had united behind Corbyn two years ago. But one can say with something approaching certainty that they would have deprived the Tory-DUP alliance of a majority, which could have allowed for a Labour minority government backed by the SNP and the Lib Dems. Labour was less than a combined 3000 votes away from capturing seven more seats off the Tories. The idea that two years of constant sniping and rebellions didn't push the the vote down at least a tiny bit - which was enough to get the Tories and the DUP a working majority - is absurd. So the people that tore the party apart - when it was obvious that the membership was going to keep Corbyn - have a fair bit to answer for.
      Hopefully it won't matter and there'll be another election soon that Labour will win.

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  7. Thank you for this post, as a left winger from Denmark, where the Blair approach was adopted as the new black (a leading member of the danish labour party called the leadership election of JC an unimaginable tragedy) it gives hope that traditional social democratic policy, in some areas, can win a great deal of votes.
    My personal view of Blair is that he won a lot votes from being in good standing with Rupert Murdoch, and the idea of the third way did more bad than good to Labour as it played into the conservative framing of politics (and to a large part, mediamacro), and plp got too wrapped up in being conservatives light.


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  8. Wholeheartedly agree with this. I think had the campaign been of normal length Labour could've ended up in coalition. Unity is critical now and genuine unity and cooperation not just public unity.

    There are some very good Labour MPs across the party, let's use them and the hug membership to make sure the next election is won. My gut feeling is it will be the Tories in disarray, whenever it is called.

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    1. Unity is important but Jeremy must still be careful who he trusts. Let's not forget they launched an attempted coup! Already, Chris Leslie is criticising labours amazing performance. If they can't give him unconditional backing after that election then they will never be behind him.

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  9. I will admit that I was one of the people who though Corbyn couldn't win this election. I was right.

    I think we need to remember to look at the actual results and what really happened; Corbyn didn't get a majority. Labour wasn't even the largest party. Corbyn has outperformed expectations but expectations were so low that this wasn't hard. Talking about this as is it is success is downplaying the gulf between the situation as it is and how the parliamentary landscape needs to be to actually enact progressive policies.

    Whilst Corbyn's campaigning style has drawn in youth, has boosted participation (probably a longish lasting positive result) we also must remember that he was up against a conservative campaign that was complacent and prone to basic errors, up against an SNP result that coule pretty much only regress to the mean, a UKIP vote with no purpose... and Tim Farron.

    There has to be some credit to the man, but lets not get too excited about a guy who lead his party to second place.

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    1. Indeed. Hence my second from last paragraph. But the issue of who will challenge him as leader is now dead, so we are where we are.

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    2. Agree - mainly JC got lucky. Though he did genuinely surprise his opponents (both inside and outside Labour) with his campaigning skills too.

      The biggest piece of luck, though, was the poor showing of the Lib-Dems and the SNP - both of which were none of Corbyn or May's doing. Those two parties' wounds were entirely self-inflicted.

      Each of the mainstream parties in the UK seem to have had a frightful attack of political incompetence in the last few years. If they keep this up I'll expect the Greens or the National Front to form government after the next election - what the hell is going on over there?

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    3. On the SNP -- many Scots who went from SNP to Tories in the belief Labour could not win in England but they still want to keep nationalists out. (Davidson must know this hence her protecting her left flank on gay rights after the DUP showed up). And nobody can say any more that Labour are "Red Tories" and choose the SNP for that reason.

      So next time, the newly-electable, non-Tory Labour will be more attractive in Scotland and get more seats.

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  10. Where were you when we needed you?

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    1. Where I have always been. You have a problem with that?

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  11. To be honest as a Labour supporter I find the election outcome depressing. 261 seats is no triumph objectively. Blair's huge landslide of 418 seats did not come from nowhere. He won on the back of all the previous years good work done by Neil Kinnock. I'm really not sure where the extra votes Labour needs will come from when lots of middle class business people I know would never ever vote Corbyn. Add an aging population with fewer young people to vote and more lost elections will be the result.

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    1. I disagree. Small/medium firms should understand that corbyn is going after large corporations who are avoiding tax. If corbyn can get them to pay more then this will decrease (not increase) the tax burden on small/medium firms. Secondly, many business people are concerned about the Tory vision for Brexit which could affect their ability to attract skilled workers.

      Labour can attract these voters.

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    2. They will not attract them by telling them they 'should understand', however. But Brexit does mean that labour is in a position to cultivate business. One question is it willing or able to do so.

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    3. The national investment bank is surely a good start. Something you can advise them on?

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    4. " I'm really not sure where the extra votes Labour needs will come from when lots of middle class business people I know would never ever vote Corbyn. "

      In the post-election poll by Survation (who were amongst the closest to getting the result right), Labour had moved SIX POINTS ahead of the Tories. A "middle class businessperson" amongst my friends who for a year has been enthusiastically backing the Lib Dems and attacking Labour and Corbyn has become an enthusiastic Corbyn fan following the campaign and result. The Tories are falling apart and Labour's success is generating its own momentum. Labour can definitely win a future election if it can stick together and build on this.

      "Add an aging population with fewer young people to vote and more lost elections will be the result."

      This assumes that old people always vote Tory as a rule. It's equally possible that its a generational thing and that as the current Tory-voting 70-plusers, on who the Conservatives were extremely reliant, start to die off, Labour will benefit from a strong demographic shift in its favour as the population becomes dominated by the current under-50s who overwhelmingly vote Labour (and who will probably become more likely to turn out as they get older).

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  12. You are far too quick to dismiss the effects of the attempts by the PLP to sabotage Corbyn and force him out within his first year. Many many voters didn't take a second look at Labour after that. Corbyn must not forget to conduct a serious housecleaning before the next election, including deselection of the most pro-war, US-subservient MPs, and those most in hock to the City.

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  14. I'm with Yorgios here: I see no support for your claim that the Blairites in the PLP who have fought Corbyn tooth and nail over the past two years are not to blame. It strikes me as utterly implausible that Labour would not have done better in this election, if they had supported the leadership, or at the very least refrained from actively opposing it. Given how little would have been necessary for Labour to form a minority government instead of May, it seems obvious that they have essentially lost Labour the election, and in so doing ensured continued austerity and a hard Brexit. That should be enough to guarantee that their names will go down in history swathed in infamy.

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  15. As a Sanders supporter in America I am overcome with joy that Corbyn did so well campagning on a message of anti-austerity.

    Do you believe that this will make a hard Brexit less likely?

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  16. I think this is a fair summary of a complicated history.

    I'd like to add Corbyn's personal qualities as a factor in his relative success: his refusal to play dirty, to make personal attacks, to patronise voters, to push slogans at the expense of policy, or to simplify for the camera. Austerity is a case in point: many Tories brazenly lied about its necessity (they can't all be economically illiterate) and they must have done that for base political motives, the way your leading figures in the PLP after 2015 must have when they contemplated it. It's extraordinarily cynical to say something you know is untrue and that you know causes widespread misery simply because you think it'll win votes - it seems different, for example, from Corbyn's flexibility on Trident, which everyone must admit is a matter of opinion and belief. I don't think Corbyn would ever be cynical, and I think people did see that and it did have a subliminal effect.

    Robert

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  17. I accept all you say on austerity and the failings of the PLP. I cannot accept that Labour, united or otherwise, will be able to take this country forward under Corbyn. It is not all about the economics. It is about the fanaticism, the thugs that try to harass discussion out of the party, and fundamentally, the way it is all built on an old-fashioned, authoritarian principle: the state can look after every aspect of your life. From cradle to grave turn to us, trust us, we will take care of you. If being self-determining means I am right wing, then I'm happy to be right-wing. I believe the future is about more of us taking our strength into our own hands.

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    1. "It is about the fanaticism, the thugs that try to harass discussion out of the party, and fundamentally, the way it is all built on an old-fashioned, authoritarian principle: the state can look after every aspect of your life"

      Where are you getting this nonsense from?

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    2. I dont think you understand this movement at all. Corbyn wants to create an economy that enables more of us to "take our strength into our own hands". Enabling young people educational opportunities, decent jobs and affordable housing should not be seen as handouts. The are the basic pre-requisites for a normal functioning economy. His manifesto really isn't that radical!

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    3. To both these replies I reply that you prove my point. You approach a discussion with a stranger on the internet by saying I'm talking nonsense / that I don't understand. You make it impossible for us to disagree with one another without being rude and - yes - thuggish, in a rather middle-class way. This is the culture around Corbyn that I can't bear.

      Bobbyboyo, I agree that the manifesto was not that radical. It was not radical enough for me.

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    4. Have you read the bloody manifesto Flora Page? When you've done that, tell us what parts you object to and why instead of giving us sense-impressions.

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  18. Talk about trying to explain your backing of the opposition to Corbyn, your resignation from his advisory body, your trotting out of the current right-wing Labour argument that it was terrible May campaign that got Labour its revival not the Corbyn leadership policies or drive. This is a piece by an emperor without clothes. If we had followed your prescriptions and Owen Smith, Labour would be in the doldrums. You comment not at all on any of the economics of the manifesto but merely seek to wriggle out of your errors. Like Owen Smith, giving your support to Corbyn now, is full of hypocrisy.

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    1. OK, I cannot let that pass. I backed Smith and left the EAC because most of the PLP had no confidence in Corbyn. I thought that would continue, but it did not. Are you seriously suggesting the Tory campaign had no influence? Do you have evidence on how the party would have done under Smith? Have you not read my recent posts on the economics of the manifesto! Where is the hypocrisy exactly?

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    2. Simon, i have massive respect for you and learnt a hell of a lot from your blog and Bob McKee's attack was over the top, but if you are seriously trying to suggest Owen Smith would have been a credible candidate then you have lost it. If Labour had elected another PR friendly moderate robot as a leader they would have been consigned to the dustbin of history. It's obvious now that millions of people are desperate and need hope. Corbyn did make the difference.

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    3. The disastrous Tory campaign no doubt had an influence on the outcome, but when it comes to Smith, come on - you've got to be joking.

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  19. I feel that you are trying to be conciliatory and as a result coming to the wrong conclusions. You state the correct context: May's campaign was disastrous, Labour offered a popular(ish) anti-austerity manifesto. Yet, with all these advantages Corbyn's Labour was still 60 seats short of power - a result comparable with Brown, who was not only a poor communicator, but, as you say, the scapegoat for the biggest crash since the 1930's. I don't know where I am on the Labour spectrum - I was very critical of Miliband and spoke many times in Labour meetings about the foolishness of going along with anti-austerity, quoting yourself and Krugman. The underlying problem in the last three elections has been that Labour's leaders have been terrible communicators. The party has to accept is that the popular vote is completely irrelevant. What New Labour understood is that in order to win enough seats, we have to crack through into the very skeptical middle England seats. No number of young people or progressive allies can make up for that fact. This is down to a credible shadow cabinet - whatever views they hold. Corbyn and his team failed just like we said he would. There seems to be mass denial about this.

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    1. the popular vote isn't irrelevant, but the bias in the electoral system means it translates badly into seats for Labour. If the boundary changes go through before the next election, they will need to be about 13% ahead to get a majority. In the meantime Cons / DUP have a working majority of 15 (counting Sinn Fein as absent). They can't be forced into an election & certainly won't call one voluntarily, after what has just happened. So a fair prediction is (1) the next election will be June 2022 (2) Corbyn (73 by then) will never be PM (3) Blair will retain his title as the only Labour leader to have won an election since 1974.

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    2. I think yes Labour had to prioritise getting the economy moving again with a stimulus and hammer that message home. That has broader appeal than left-v-right policy arguments where if you pick left you have to say how the deficit won't go up.

      But in this election the Tories made inroads into poor areas and Labour into rich ones. That is very sceptical Middle England. I assume the Tories could improve with the poor due to picking up Kippers, because many working class ppl still care about keeping Jezza away from immigration policy, and have read plenty about him and the IRA, a problem he didn't attend to. This can be fixed next time while keeping the new middle class voters.

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  20. PLP have the electorate to thank for guiding them to a macroeconomic approach that has a long term sustainable future. Here's hoping the vocal support for Corbyn from the PLP centrists becomes an energetic visible presence on the shadow cabinet. That would form a formidable team that would resonate with the public. The failure of the media air campaign against Labour is profound. Murdoch et al. have fatally diminished influence over the public. Door to door (and SmartPhone to Smartphone) ground campaign is the way to go. Now Labour just needs to explain to the public where our money really comes from to dismantle the last line of Conservatives defence. Then we can improve upon the constituents of economic growth and kill the annoyingly persistent notions that a household budget is in any way a good analogy for judging the merits of Government spending.

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    1. No, they have another line of defence which may have denied Labour a majority. The "IRA" thing. JC released a statement in reply to the Tories' NI Secretary saying he opposed the IRA campaign and not just killing of civilians. But this was one day after the car crash "all bombings" interview which everyone has seen, and it was only hours before the Manchester bomb. It was in Metro, Irish Times, dunno where else. Hardly any coverage compared to the bomb.

      Meanwhile the Tories made a video (several days later) which got a million views. It was the Friday before the election before the campaign called the vid misleading. But what about telling the public about the statement? "Opposed the IRA campaign". Everyone needed to know. The would-be-Labour-but-for-Corbyn voters.

      And the DUP left the door open for a deal with Miliband in 2015 when a hung parliament was expected. Jez might have got them if he came out against the IRA earlier and clearly, with no ambiguity and time for the DUP to let their constituents adjust to the idea without fearing a sellout to Sinn Fein.

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  21. Thanks for this - very little to quarrel with (A Corbynite Writes). Both Owen Smith and Angela Eagle have come out in support of Corbyn. Let's hope they're followed by everyone who backed them sincerely and with good intentions, and that the various malcontents and wreckers who prefer to carry on sniping get all the publicity they deserve (i.e. none).

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  22. What the right of the PLP after Corbin's election could not own up to was that adopting quasi Tory policies around the "Deficit" had lead the Party into the political wilderness. Perhaps this election has taught them that employment and productivity should be the drivers of economic policy not some accounting ratio. They also need to constantly keep in mind that no political party will get elected if it is perceived to be divided against itself.

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    1. Miliband decided to let the budget balance itself midway through the parliament. He obviously concluded the press would kill him if he said borrowing should increase. He was polling well for years and could have won. But the Tory press never laid off, the Scot indy ref was used as a prelude to the SNP general election campaign, and they made noises about nit-being-Blairite and being anti-austerity (but they only wanted a 0.2% spending increase iirc). That and Scottish credulity towards the SNP and their own egoes blocked Miliband in Scotland and denied him a win.

      Political wilderness yes, trying to be conventional on the deficit had unintended consequences. (And for the Tories too -- Brexit)

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  23. I realize that many view Corbyn (unfairly in my view) as part of that antiquated Trotskyite Left of the 1970s, but the party manifesto itself was a confident reassertion of many traditional social democratic positions. It was not like the Manifesto of 1983 (which Gerald Kaufman memorably described as the ‘longest suicide note in history’). The other point to remember is that we’ve now had 3 decades of increasingly extremely market fundamentalism, leading to too much financialisation and a steady conversion of public goods into private rents.

    So when parties like Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party begins to agitate for re-nationalisation of the railways, it might seem like we’re stepping back into a world of Clause 4 and “seizing the commanding heights of the economy”, rather than seeing these policies as a necessary corrective to the steady rightward drift that we’ve had over the past 30 years or so (which Blair, to his great shame, accelerated).

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    1. I think you make an important point. The Labour manifesto was essentially centre-left, which is partly why the PLP could unite behind it. And, according to the Ashcroft poll at least, it was these policies that won it.

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  24. «The left within Labour were more concerned with controlling the party than winning elections. That has often been said about Jeremy Corbyn over the last two years.»

    This is so incredibly laughable: it is just a repeat of the malicious fantasy that several hundred thousand extremist trots have infiltrated the Labour membership and are plotting to take over the Labour Party, and I guess that now the argument is that some millions of those extremist trots have infiltrated the Labour voters too.

    It is rather like that the ruthless operators of the liberal-tory entrysts led by P Mandelson have parachuted a large number of liberal-tory entrysts into safe Labour seats, aiming to take over the party, which they have done. MP selections even in the past six months have seen a lot of parachuting of reliably liberal-tory candidates in Labour seats.

    While it is true that only a "small minority" of 60-70% of members support J Corbyn and his (far-left, extremist?) "hattersleyte" political approach, perhaps to demand that the party organization should continue to be controlled solely by the 30-40% "large majority" of centre-right and liberal-tory party members is a bit too much...

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  25. «Triangulation became the way to win power: to adopt policies that were never from the Left, but adopted a centre ground between the Left and the Conservatives. New Labour was not old Labour. The strategy was extremely successful. Tony Blair won three elections,»

    That is just an enduring myth, also called propaganda: T Blair contributed only a long collapse of votes to Labour. When he succeeded J Smith polls were higher than in 1997, the number of people voting Labour collapsed much further after that:

    1974: Labour 11.45m, Conservatives 10.46m, Liberals 5.34m
    --
    1979: Labour 11.53m, Conservatives 13.70m, Liberals 4.31m
    1983: Labour 08.46m, Conservatives 13.01m, SDP-Liberals 7.78m
    1987: Labour 10.03m, Conservatives 13.74m, SDP-Liberals 7.34m
    1992: Labour 11.56m, Conservatives 14.09, Liberals 6.00m
    --
    1997: Labour 13.52m, Conservatives 09.60m, Liberals 5.24m
    2001: Labour 10.72m, Conservatives 08.34m, Liberals 4.81m
    2005: Labour 09.55m, Conservatives 08.78m, Liberals 5.99m
    --
    2010: Labour 08.61m, Conservatives 10.70m, Liberals 6.84m
    2015: Labour 09.35m, Conservatives 11.30m, Other 6.00m
    2017: Labour 12.63m, Conservatives 13.30m, Liberals 2.22m

    In 2001 and 2005 unelectable T Blair got Labour less votes than J Callaghan, and millions less than J Corbyn, and his legacy in 2010 was roughly the same votes as in 1983, when the SDP siphoned off quite a bit of Labour votes, despite the popularity of M Foot.

    Since those votes did not move to the Conservatives, as the memory of the 1990s crash had not faded, the Conservatives continued to lose the elections, despite the toxic effect on voters of T Blair well before Iraq.

    Indeed the crash in votes in 2001 was because, as R Hattersley wrote very clearly in "The Guardian", "triangulation" and things like PFI disgusted core Labour voters without attracting a significant number of liberal-tory voters.

    «and it took the deepest recession since the 1930s to (just) remove Labour from office.»

    That is what it usually takes to win UK elections regardless: the government party has to screw up massively to lose elections. In 1997-2007 the New Labour party chose the #1 core "triangulating" strategy of pushing up southern house prices at all costs, creating a colossal "tringulatory" debt bubble that burst in 2008, and Labour paid the price for that in 2015 too.

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    1. I think Hattersley is right but there's more to it. Did New Lab do PFI and other sucking up to big business in order to get right-wing and middle-class voters directly? Naw. They did it to get the support of big business, in the hope of getting the press to lay off Labour so they could get establishment "permission" to get re-elected.

      Same with Brown I think, a too-small stimulus followed by budget-balancing moves to try and get the powers that be to allow him to win. But, the Tory press ultimately has it in for Labour and would prefer a Tory govt when they can get it. National debt! zOMG Greece!

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  26. Agree mostly, good perspective of where we are, but its Owen not andrew (who i also voted for for similar reasons as given). The biggest thing that this is showed in my opinion is the policies of the left no longer sacre and are popular. Also the anticipated rejection of austerity took longer to be seen politically, although it could be argued and was said by many it was reason for the ref result. However that was hidden by the short term popularity of may, which i never understood. I hope you will go back to advising labour, that could only be a good thing.

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    1. I second that. I was delighted when I saw the names of SW-L and other internet favourites of mine on the EAC

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  27. I for one have eaten my slice of humble pie, and my word it tasted good. Yes, I'm saying that I was a cynical socialist who believed he was trying to do the right thing but that the electorate just wouldn't be up for it and our best hope was to sneak a bit of social justice into a smartly dressed centrist manifesto. I misread the appetite for redistributive justice.

    I guess I had it coming: I've been complaining for 7 years that the Labour Party have been failing to make the electorate understand macroeconomics and why austerity was so bonkers. In the end, nobody needed to- they got it for themselves.

    Austerity begat a rebirth of an electable, (softly) socialist party.

    The tories definitely lost. May looks moribund. Labour definitely didn't lose. Corbyn looks ascendant.

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  28. Well, so far and no further; you use a broad brush to paint 'left' and 'right'in a way that isn't particularly useful. You also leave out one of the strongest motivating forces for the PLP, which is that under the Blair/Brown governments conflict-of-interest simply became a commodity to make MPs rich. This was typified by the 'Dauphin' syndrome, where young members of the Labour aristocracy with no understanding and very little sympathy with their constituents have parachuted into safe seats because of mummy and daddy's influence, like Stephen Kinnock. Under 'New' Labour the PLP was just the first step into a well-paid lobbying/SPAD job without having to work too hard...

    I would also suggest (politely) that your decision to support Owen Smith kind of shows through in this simplistic analysis - did you *really* think the membership were going to fall for some establishment patsy being imposed on them by a PLP so openly contemptuous of membership views? A PLP that not only failed to learn from Iraq but then went and voted *again* to bomb Syria indiscriminately, just to sell weapons for BAE Systems Inc., for whom at least some of them lobby?

    You write as if the PLP had the best interests of the Labour Party in mind, rather than their own wallets. Que se vayan todos los corruptos...

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    1. I never thought Smith would win. But if the election had been a disaster for Labour, the polls suggest they would have replaced him. I think what you say might apply to some in the PLP, but not the majority.

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  29. I know the popular vote counts for little in the limited democracy that we are allowed in the UK but....

    The Conservative / DUP civil partnership is supported by a total of 13.99 million votes.

    A Progressive Alliance of Labour / SNP / Lib Dem / Plaid Cymru / Green is supported by 16.94 million votes.

    For every 100 voters who support Con / DUP, 121 support a Progressive Alliance.

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    1. Which is exactly why the Labour Party had rocks in its head when it opposed the STV plebiscite for apparent short-term tactical advantage. Under proportional representation it, not the Tories, would be forming a minority government today. Under STV it would probably be forming a majority government.

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  30. "Others will go further and say ‘if only the PLP had been more cooperative we could have won’. That is going too far..The election result was also a consequence of a truly terrible Conservatives campaign, headed by a Prime Minister who exposed herself as just the wrong person to lead the country through Brexit The economic environment couldn’t have been better for Labour: unlike 2015 we had falling real wages and the slowest quarterly GDP growth rate in the EU. Labour’s manifesto held out hope, while the Conservative manifesto was a liability."

    The fact that the Tories ran a terrible campaign etc doesn't have any bearing on whether or not a Labour party that hadn't been tearing itself apart for two years couldn't have won. The argument here doesn't make any sense.

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