Winner of the New Statesman SPERI Prize in Political Economy 2016

Friday 20 December 2019

Can we think about politics from Blair onwards in one chart? and what it means for Blue Labour

This is an experiment. You can judge how successful it is. I am trying it because with this election there has been a lot of talk about a revival in Blue Labour to recapture the Red Wall. The Conservatives have been playing to socially conservative voters since at least William (‘a foreign land’) Hague. So why has the strategy succeeded so well in 2019 when it has had at best modest success before now?

We can represent all this in a simple diagram that is now widely used

The precise positions of the party leaders could be the topic of endless discussion, but for this post I just need them to be roughly right, and for the directions of travel to be right. Blair was fairly liberal but moderately left wing. The Tories since Thatcher have always been pretty right wing in economic terms, and where we have seen movement has been mainly on how socially conservative they are.

If people are uniformly distributed around this map, then the centre is the place to be in a two party, FPTP system. Parties do not go there because their ideology/principles, maintained mainly by their members, stops them.

Blair won because in economic terms he was closer to the economic centre ground than the Tories. After 18 years of Tory rule voters wanted better public services. Yet after the Thatcher revolution in the Conservative party the Tories were stuck with taking a right wing stance, so they tried to shift the debate on to social issues where either side was some way from the centre. A focus on immigration was a way of doing that, with the added advantage of being perceived to be pro-worker and pro-public services (the lie that immigration significantly reduced wages and put pressure on public services).

This move had some effect, reducing Labour’s vote. Yet under good economic times (and economic times were good under Labour for ten years) the immigration issue was not enough to defeat Blair. Public services were getting better. As Theresa May put it, the Tories were still known as the nasty party. This is why Cameron tried to portray himself as a liberal conservative. In opposition he tried to move closer to the centre in both economic terms (accepting Labour’s levels of government spending) and social terms.

But everything changed after the Global Financial Crisis. Regrettably, social conservatism has more appeal when times are bad, at least in part because the (incorrect) real wage/public service argument gains traction. Yet at first sight that should have been counteracted by Osborne moving sharply right with anti-Keynesian austerity (spending cuts in a recession). So although Cameron had tried to move nearer the centre on social issues, in economic terms by 2010 he moved further away.

Here is where we have to make an important modification to this apparatus. In a country where one party has a media that is very sympathetic to the right, it can change how its policies are perceived. Cameron dressed austerity in socially conservative terms (the government is like a household). For various reasons that I and others have documented at length, a policy that was sharply contrary to basic economic theory was adopted by most of the media as a necessity, and the media therefore turned it into a sign of good government.

So austerity was not perceived by most people as a right wing shrinking of the state at great social cost (higher unemployment and lower real wages), but as a neutral policy signifying economic competence. Once we allow for this it is clear that for many Cameron was now closer to the centre is perceived economic terms, and so became the government in 2010.

Austerity was so successful that Labour eventually concluded they would have to accept it to some extent. Miliband not only moved nearer the centre in economic terms by accomodating austerity, he also did so by trying to appear more hawkish on immigration (remember the mugs). But Labour do not have a means of influencing perceptions, so their perceived position was their actual position. In addition Miliband was tainted with the perceived incompetence of the Labour government and was not closer to the centre compared to Cameron’s perceived position, so he lost.

Ed Miliband’s defeat in 2015 was narrow but hard for Labour to take. Most of the political commentators (as they always do) said Labour should move to the right, and after the 2015 defeat they began to before the leadership elections. Recall that parties find it hard to move to the centre because their members will not allow it. That post 2015 rightward drift and the apparent acceptance of austerity was too much for the membership, and they voted for Corbyn.

There are more than two parties in the UK. So far we have been able to do the analysis without mentioning them but now they become crucial. Cameron by becoming more socially liberal allowed UKIP to gain votes. His response was to offer a referendum on the EU. Brexit, particularly a hard Brexit, should be an easy fail according to this diagram. It is socially conservative and right wing: trade restrictions are created so that labour and environmental regulations can be scrapped and not to preserve workers jobs. Its true position is close to Johnson’s in this diagram, while staying in the EU is a pretty centrist idea.

Brexit shows more than anything how we have to think about perceptions. What made Brexit a narrow winner when its true position suggested an easy loss? In short a brilliant if totally dishonest campaign that painted it as something it is not. Project Fear, with the help of the media, completely nullified the right wing economic dimension of Brexit, and turned it into a plus by talking about more money for the NHS. Staying in the EU was successfully painted as ultra liberal (letting the whole of Turkey come to the UK). As with austerity, the perceived position of parties and policies is what matters when it comes to winning elections and a referendum.

Now you could say that by allowing perceptions I can put party’s positions wherever I need to get the result I need. But just as we have good empirical evidence that austerity was perceived as economically neutral by much of the population, we also have good evidence that those who voted for Brexit thought it would have no negative impact on the economy or their personal incomes.

That Corbyn came close to defeating May was not a surprise if you look at his position on this diagram, once we recognise that what Corbyn managed to do in 2017 was neutralise Brexit as an issue. Because he remained as close to the centre as May, he gained votes once his policies became clear as a result of his manifesto. Without his portrayal in the right wing press he might have won.

So what changed by 2019? He was not able to neutralise Brexit, because parliament had agreed a deal. He had to choose, and whatever choice he made would lose votes. For that (not good) reason he delayed choosing, which allowed the resurgence of the Liberal Democrats (and Greens) who portrayed themselves as the true Remain party.

Yet Corbyn is still closer to the centre than Johnson. He lost badly partly because Brexit is perceived as neutral in economic terms by many, so Johnson’s perceived economic position has become synonymous with Brexit. However crucially he also lost because the UK is not a two party system. The Liberal Democrats, the SNP and the Greens are all perceived to be in liberal/left space, and together with Labour they won more votes than Johnson and the Brexit party put together.

The lesson of all this is twofold. First, this two-dimensional diagram can explain a lot, once you replace the parties’ actual position against their perceived position generated with a right wing media. Of course it leaves out a lot (the popularity of leaders, which is related to their charisma, the effectiveness of campaigns etc), but it seems like a good place to start. Second, as long as the Conservative party has the monopoly of the right wing/socially conservative vote, left social liberals cannot afford to split their vote among several parties. If Labour ever made a significant move in a socially conservative position, as Blue Labour wants, it would be defeated by yet more votes going to the other left/liberal parties.

Postscript. For an excellent discussion of some of the points made here, see this post by Marios Richards

Friday 13 December 2019

Who to blame for Johnson winning?

When I wrote this in July I desperately wanted to be wrong. (Of course I was wrong about a lot of the details but alas not the main point.) But it soon became clear that, compared to 2017, the press had had two more years to paint Corbyn as marxist, unpatriotic and racist, and for enough people that would be a reason not to vote Labour. Among others who supported Brexit, they really did believe that Johnson was the man to get Brexit done.

Many will say that Labour lost badly because they had a left wing manifesto. They always do after each election defeat. I doubt that has much to do with this defeat, although the large amount of giveaways to the wrong people was probably a factor. The problem was Corbyn, not Labour’s manifesto. And while many voted against the media image of Corbyn more than anything else, it has to be said that Corbyn’s past and his failures over the last three years made the media’s job very easy.

We should of course blame the media. The right wing press became part of the Tories propaganda war. The Tories lied like never before, just as some of them did in 2016. The BBC was even more careful not to do anything that might upset the government, and it has a real problem when ‘accidents’ keep advantaging one side. But the moment the BBC played a key role in electing Boris Johnson was very specific, and it goes back to the day Johnson got his deal with the EU.

What the media should have asked at that moment is why Johnson had accepted a deal that was essentially the first the EU had proposed, but which he and other ERG members had said at the time was unacceptable. Why had he capitulated? Was it all just a ruse so he could become Prime Minister?

Nobody thought a deal was possible, gushed Laura Kuenssberg, repeating one of CCHQ’s lines to take. No sense from her of what had actually happened. As I noted here, the BBC’s Brussels correspondent got it about right, but the tone of the reporting was set by Kuenssberg. Whether this misrepresentation of Johnson’s deal was deliberate or the result of ignorance I don’t know, but it was critical.

Of course the Tory and Brexit press also took CCHQ’s lines to take. The BBC is the only chance most voters have to get a check on what their newspapers say. It did not provide any such check on this occasion. And it is critical because it allows Johnson to say, as he has, that it was his unique abilities that helped him achieve a deal that everyone said was impossible. No doubt he will say the same when he refuses an extension in July next year because the EU have refused to give him the deal he wants.

Voters who still believe in leaving the EU were left with the impression, thanks to the BBC (and of course the Brexit press), that Johnson was the person who could deal with the EU and get Brexit done. They were not told the truth that he was the person who had helped waste almost a year in squabbling in part so he could get to be Prime Minister. So Leavers are left with an image of competence rather than the reality, which is that Johnson is quite prepared to damage the economy and the workings of democracy just for his own personal gain.

But there is little that Labour or the Liberal Democrats can do about media bias while they are out of power. Undoubtedly a key reason Johnson won was because the Remain/anti-Johnson vote was split. It is depressing and very worrying how many people voted for Johnson, our own Donald Trump, but while the Electoral College gifted Trump his victory despite losing the popular vote, so First Past The Post (FPTP) gave Johnson his victory. A lot of people voted tactically, but not enough.

Both Labour and Liberal Democrats are to blame for not cooperating. While Labour’s failure was not a surprise, I had hoped the Liberal Democrats would take the opportunity to seize the moral high ground and not put up candidates in Labour marginals like Canterbury. It didn’t, and instead it spent too much of its time attacking Labour in the futile belief that this would win over some Tory voters. I suspect they would have been much more successful if they had been honest that the best way to stop Brexit was through a minority Labour government dependent on LibDem votes.

The ultimate responsibility for the split vote must nevertheless rest with Jeremy Corbyn.

The big surge in the Liberal Democrat vote from below 10% to over 20% at its peak began in the Spring of this year, and it coincided with a collapse in Labour’s vote. This quite remarkable change in fortunes cannot be put down to a biased media, but is obviously a Brexit effect.

Throughout 2018 Labour had managed to stay the obvious choice for Remainers, as it had been in the 2017 election. But as soon as May finalised her Withdrawal Agreement it was clear triangulating would no longer work, and Labour would have to take a position. The polls suggested Labour would lose votes by not supporting Remain, but as I noted in December last year too many within Labour were in denial.

Labour entering into talks with May to get Brexit done was I suspect the final straw for many Remainers. They didn’t go to the new and short lived Remain party but the Liberal Democrats and the Greens. The European election was a disaster, but shifting Labour’s policy seemed like trying to get blood out of a stone. I really think if they had moved at the beginning of 2019 to where they ended up things would have been rather different. Instead the Labour leadership single-handedly created the revival of the Liberal Democrats. That, as well as his failure to deal with antisemitism and some of his intolerant supporters, are major factors behind this defeat.

Easy to say in hindsight? Not really. I said these things in 2016 in the second Labour leadership election that Corbyn won. I said it throughout late 2018 and early 2019 was the Remain vote became disenchanted with Corbyn. But the behaviour of Labour MPs made an alternative to Corbyn impossible in 2016 then, as it had been in 2015, and after the 2017 general election result he was never going to be removed.

Could we have stopped Johnson if Labour had not allowed the Remain vote to split. To be honest I don’t know. That is how negative the media’s image of Corbyn has been. Some Lexiters will say it is all Remainers’ fault, but that is a nonsense position. As a result of this defeat we have reached the end of the line for the Remain cause. It has been three years of experts and people who made themselves experts trying to explain why Brexit was such a bad idea, but nothing we could do was able to counteract the propaganda of the Brexit press and the knowledge as opinion attitude of the broadcast media, and particularly the BBC. The really striking finding after three years when the truth about Brexit became crystal clear to anyone wanting or able to see it is that the number of people wanting Brexit changed only a little, and that is what gave Johnson his majority.

Now that we have elected our own Donald Trump, I’m reminded of a talk Paul Krugman gave after Trump won. At the time I wrote a post about it, and I ended it like this:
“We can, and should, continue to rage against the dying of the light. What is difficult, in this time of crazy, is being able to put that rage aside, and engage in a form of quietism, a retreat from the here and now of political discourse. Not a retreat into any kind of acceptance of where we now are, but instead into asking what and why, and from the answers to those questions to planning for the time when facts get back into fashion. But more than that. Using the answers to the what and why to prevent us lapsing back into our current post-truth world.”

I will continue to rage, but not quite as often as I have done since the blog began almost exactly eight years ago. It is time for deeper thought about how we get back to the light and ensure that we never again lapse into a post-truth world.

Tuesday 10 December 2019

Why you should vote tactically, and how to do it.

In this election we have a choice. We can choose a party led by an inveterate liar, which is happy to appeal to the racist or xenophobic vote, happy to take us out of the EU with no deal with all the consequences for public services that entails, happy to see ever longer waiting times for GPs and A&E, happy to see more homeless people on the streets and more food banks.*** Instead we can choose a hung parliament with a Labour minority government that may not even be led by Corbyn, with their power curtailed by the smaller parties, including the Liberal Democrats, that can actually do something about the problems we face. But we can only make that choice by voting tactically.

But I have an ethical problem with voting tactically

There is one serious argument against tactical voting. It is the idea that if you have a choice between voting for a good party, a not so good party and a terrible party you should always vote for the good party. (The ranking is what matters here, not my description.) The argument is that if you vote for the not so good party, you are in some senses endorsing the bad things that party or its leaders have done in the past.

That argument applies to those who prefer to vote Liberal Democrat because of Labour’s antisemitism problem, or those who think they cannot vote Liberal Democrat because they were part of the austerity Coalition. Both arguments are wrong, because they simply do not apply in a FPTP system when the only two possible winners in the constituency you live in are the not so good party and the terrible party.

In a FPTP system your vote for the good party will simply have token value. However you could have done something towards preventing the terrible party coming to power, but you chose not to. In that way you become responsible, in a small way, for what happens when the terrible party comes to power. By your inaction, you will have contributed to the terrible party coming to power.

If you vote for the not so good party, will you be responsible for the not so good things happening if that party wins? No, because all you could have done differently is let the terrible party win. There is no way your voting for the good party will influence anything. It is a wasted vote because you will have wasted an opportunity to make the world a better place. The Kantian ‘do no evil’ idea does not apply because doing no evil actually means allowing more bad things to happen.

You may say this is a consequentialist argument, and your philosophy is different. You might think about the fact that your philosophy would allow tyranny to come to power, just because you had some problems with the opposition to tyranny. If you think that is far fetched, you need to note that part of their manifesto gives the Conservatives a mandate to change our constitution so that the executive has complete control over parliament.

There is a weaker argument for voting for the good party, and that is thinking about your vote as part of a repeated game. The argument suggests that by voting for the not so good party, you are encouraging it to remain not so good. But this fails for the obvious reason that if you do not do everything you can to stop the terrible party coming to power, you are encouraging the terrible party.

And if all that doesn't convince you, use where you can actually help the party you prefer win something. 

But who should I vote for. It’s so confusing.

For most people its not. Have a look at this website, for example: or will see in most cases there is total agreement about who to vote for tactically. Of course some constituencies are such safe Tory or Labour seats that your vote is highly unlikely to achieve anything. But my rough list of constituencies were tactical voting matters (England and Wales only I’m afraid) is as follows (with the party to vote for in brackets). It is a long list because I have been deliberately pessimistic about what the two parties could lose and optimistic about what they could gain, because there are always surprises in any General Election.

Why did I bother doing this you might ask. It is just a by-product of some work I did out of my own curiosity looking at marginals, and I thought I might as well share it. I have waited until now to make these suggestions because I think a lot of confusion has been caused by sites that have made calls earlier on in the campaign and then had to revise them. Many a LibDem bar chart has been based on that misleading information. Fine if the polls don’t move, but they were always going to move to the two main parties in this election.

Aberconwy (Lab)
Alyn and Deeside (Lab)
Ashfield (Labour)
Barrow and Furness (Labour)
Bassetlaw (Lab)
Bath (LibDem)
Battersea (Labour)
Beaconsfield (Independent - Dominic Grieve)
Bedford (Lab)
Bermondsey and Old Southwark (Lab)
Birmingham Edgbaston (Lab)
Birmingham Northfields (Lab)
Bishops Auckland (Lab)
Blackpool North (Lab)
Blackpool South (Lab)
Blyth Valley (Lab)
Bolsover (Lab)
Bolton North East (Lab)
Bolton West (Lab)
Bradford South (Lab)
Brecon and Radnorshire (LibDem)
Brentford and Isleworth (Lab)
Bristol North West (Lab)
Burnley (Lab)
Bury North (Lab)
Bury South (Lab)
Calder Valley (Lab)
Camborne and Redruth (Lab)
Canterbury (Lab)
Cardiff North (Lab)
Carlisle (Lab)
Carmarthen West and South (Lab)
Carshalton and Wallington (LibDem)
Cheadle (LibDem)
Chelsea and Fulham (LibDem)
Cheltenham (LibDem)
Chingford and Wood Green (Lab)
Chipping Barnet (Lab)
City of Chester (Lab)
Clwyd West (Lab)
Colne Valley (Lab)
Copeland (Lab)
Corby (Lab)
Crawley (Lab)
Crewe and Nantwich (Lab)
Croydon Central (Lab)
Dagenham and Rainham (Lab)
Darlington (Lab)
Delyn (Lab)
Derby North (Lab)
Dewsbury (Lab)
Don Valley (Lab)
Dudley North (Lab)
East Devon (Independent)
East Worthing and Shoreham (Lab)
Eastbourne (LibDem)
Eastleigh (LibDem)
Enfield Southgate (Lab)
Esher and Walton (LibDem)
Filton and Bradley Stoke (Lab)
Gedling (Lab)
Gower (Lab)
Great Grimsby (Lab)
Guildford (LibDem)
Halifax (Lab)
Harrow East (Lab)
Hastings and Rye (Lab)
Hazel Grove (LibDem)
Hendon (Lab)
High Peak (Lab)
Hyndburn (Lab)
Ipswich (Lab)
Keighley (Lab)
Kingston and Surbiton (LibDem)
Lewes (LibDem)
Lincoln (Lab)
Loughborough (Lab)
Mansfield (Lab)
Middlesbrough South (Lab)
Milton Keynes North (Lab)
Milton Keynes South (Lab)
Montgomeryshire (LibDem)
Morecambe and Lunesdale (Lab)
Moreley and Outwood (Lab)
Newcastle under Lyne (Lab)
North Cornwall (LibDem)
North Devon (LibDem)
North East Derbyshire (Lab)
North Norfolk (LibDem)
Northampton North (Lab)
Northampton South (Lab)
Norwich North (Lab)
Oxford and West Abingdon (LibDem)
Pendle (Lab)
Penistone and Stocksbridge (Lab)
Peterborough (Lab)
Plymouth Moor View (Lab)
Portsmouth South (Lab)
Preseli Pembrokeshire (Lab)
Pudsey (Lab)
Putney (Lab)
Reading East (Lab)
Reading West (Lab)
Richmond Park (LibDem)
Rossendale and Darwen (Lab)
Rother Valley (Lab)
Rushcliffe (Lab)
Scarborough and Whitby (Lab)
Scunthorpe (Lab)
Shipley (Lab)
Shrewsbury and Atcham (Lab)
South Swindon (Lab)
Southampton Itchen (Lab)
Southport (Lab)
St Albans (LibDem)
St Ives (LibDem)
Stevenage (Lab)
Stockton South (Lab)
Stoke-on-Trent North (Lab)
Stoke-on-Trent South (Lab)
Stroud (Lab)
Sutton and Cheam (LibDem)
Telford (Lab)
Thurrock (Lab)
Totnes (LibDem)
Truro and Falmouth (Lab)
Uxbridge and South Ruislip (Lab)
Vale of Clwyd (Lab)
Vale of Glamorgan (Lab)
Wakefield (Lab)
Walsall North (Lab)
Warrington South (Lab)
Warwick and Leamington (Lab)
Watford (Lab)
Weaver Vale (Lab)
Wells (LibDem)
Welwyn Hatfield (Lab)
Westmorland and Lonsdale (LibDem)
Winchester (LibDem)
Wirral West (Lab)
Wolverhampton North East (Lab)
Wolverhampton South West (Lab)
Worcester (Lab)
Workington (Lab)
Wrexham (Lab)
Wycombe (Lab)
York Outer (Lab)

If I have made any mistakes or bad judgements in this list, do let me know.

There are a few marginal seats which are so safe that you get a choice. In Arfon, or Carmarthen East and Dinefwr, you can vote Plaid or Labour without any fear of letting the Tories win. In Ceredigion the same applies between Plaid and the LibDems. In Bermondsey and Old Southwark, or Cambridge, or Leeds North West, or Sheffield Hallam you could vote for Labour or the LibDems.

Then we have eleven difficult seats, all in England, where both Labour and the LibDems have a claim to be the party to vote tactically. It is important to remember here that over the last months the national polls have been moving from LibDems to Labour, so polls or recommendations made in early or even mid November should be treated with caution. However the latest poll of polls suggest Labour are still below their 2017 total, and the LibDems are significantly above, with little movement over the last few days.

One issue I found it hard to assess was the finding in some local polls that Labour voters are more open to tactical voting than Liberal Democrats. I would hope this does not apply to any Liberal Democrat voters who might take any notice of what I say, because if it does they have not been reading my other posts. An argument that should have equal weight is that, if Johnson is not to romp home, the polls need to be a little biased against Labour because they underestimate the youth vote.   

Berwick-upon-Tweed A poll at the end of November had LibDems slightly ahead of Labour (which makes sense given 2017 result and subsequent national movement) but the Tories winning easily. More recent B4B MRP poll puts Labour ahead. TV sites split. So Recommendation Labour

Broxtowe (Lab) Anna Soubry was the Tory candidate, now running as an Independent with the Liberals not standing. But this is a Tory/Lab marginal, so Recommendation Labour

Cities of London and Westminster TV sites are split. A poll on 23 November had Chuka Umunna ahead of Labour. However although B4B are suggesting voting for the LibDems, their polling shows Labour ahead. Jon Worth suggests LibDems. So close to call. Recommendation Labour but watch out for any new information. Postscript - new poll has LibDems slightly ahead, so my Recommendation is now LibDem.

Colchester All the TV sites are recommending Labour, So Recommendation Labour.

Finchley and Golders Green I think the large Jewish vote here makes this impossible for Labour, and the TV sites and local polls agree. So Recommendation LibDem

Kensington Narrowly won by Labour last time. A poll in mid November had LibDems a bit ahead of Labour, but the national polls have moved since then. TV sites split, and B4B are on the fence. Too close to call, so I would go for sitting MP. Recommendation Labour but watch out for any new information. Postscript - new local poll has Labour in the lead. 

St Austell and Newquay Both Labour and LibDems have a strong presence here. B4B’s MRP poll puts Labour ahead here in a Leave voting constituency. Recommendation Labour

These two Cambridgeshire seats are similar.

South Cambridgeshire
South East Cambridgeshire

They are Tory seats where Labour were second, but LibDems had a significant vote as well. B4B’s MRP puts LibDems in front, and the only positive recommendations from TV sites are LibDem. Recommendation LibDem


Polls for Wimbledon show LibDems ahead, but there has been a movement away from LibDems towards Labour nationally since then. TV sites split. B4B MRP poll has LibDems ahead. Recommendation LibDem


Polls for Wokingham show LibDems ahead, but there has been a movement away from LibDems towards Labour nationally since then. TV sites that make a positive call all say LibDem. B4B MRP poll has LibDems ahead. Recommendation LibDems.

Again happy to be corrected on any factual errors. If you want to swap your vote use

Other useful sites

***Postscript: Not a complete list. I should have added "that is happy to see climate change increase unchecked".

Saturday 7 December 2019

The othering of Jeremy Corbyn

By othering I mean treating Corbyn (or more generally the Labour left) as beyond the pale in terms of conventional politics. Othering implies that because of his past or current beliefs, associations and actions Corbyn should not be even considered as fit to be an MP, let alone a Prime Minister. Other politicians can be evaluated in conventional ways, but this does not apply to those who are othered. Othering has a number of distinctive, and potentially useful, features. Let me list two.

First, those who associate in any way with those othered are themselves regarded as questionable. I discovered this myself when I joined Labour’s short-lived Economic Advisory Committee, as I discuss here. This can be a potent threat. Second, those who are othered can be discussed in terms that would not normally be used to discuss politicians. After Johnson compared Corbyn to Stalin, Andrew Neill asked a Tory MP if he thought Corbyn would have the wealthy shot. “I do not know”, the MP replied.

Sometimes othering may be a valid position to take. I still remember the days when the far right was othered by the mainstream media, rather than being invited on Newsnight to discuss the latest bit of far right terrorism. I think that othering was helpful in ostracising racism, and its absence today is reflected in the rise of hate crime. But no such justification applies to the leader of the opposition, elected by hundreds of thousands of people, who is the only alternative to our current Prime Minister.

For othering to be justified those being othered have to have some attribute, or have done some things that are uniquely bad compared to their fellow citizens. The BNP were racist, and it is quite right that racism is ostracised. If we are talking about politicians, the same has to be applied to individuals. Is there something these politicians have done that is uniquely bad compared to other politicians.

Corbyn fails this test. There is nothing Corbyn has done that is uniquely bad compared to the obvious person to compare him with, his opponent Boris Johnson. Corbyn is not racist, which is not surprising as he has a lifelong history of fighting racism. Yet the media, almost without exception, has done its best to suggest otherwise.

The most obvious example of othering is the way the media have handled antisemitism within Labour. Labour has a real problem with antisemitism, but the media have acted as if Labour are the only party with a racism problem. In contrast Johnson is not constantly asked why he called Muslim women letterboxes and bankrobbers, and whether he will apologise for the increase in hate crime that followed that article.

As a result of this media othering of Corbyn, there are plenty of voters who say they cannot vote tactically because of Labour’s antisemitism, seemingly without any thought that they are therefore keeping in power someone who has actually made racist statements, and was part of a government that instituted some of the most discriminatory pieces of legislation of recent times that goes by the collective term hostile environment. Any outside observer would conclude that for UK society as a whole, including its media, Islamophobia is considered acceptable.

When I make these points some people accuse me of whataboutery, or in trying to minimise the problem of antisemitism in Labour. Both claims are false. The whole point about othering someone is that their alleged behaviour must be unusually bad compared to their comparators, so othering is all about whataboutery. And of course none of this is minimising Labour’s very real problem of antisemitism. Yes antisemitism exists in all parties, but there are reasons (like support for the Palestinians) why antisemitism may be worse in the Labour party, although the evidence is still that this is a problem among a very small proportion of Labour members. But equally there are also good reasons why Islamophobia and racist views will be relatively worse in the Tory party.

Then we come to terrorism. Corbyn is said to be too friendly towards terrorists, and therefore a unique threat to the UK as Prime Minister. I’m not going to defend Corbyn’s foreign policy views, some of which are dubious in my opinion, but are they uniquely bad? To say so is a hard position to defend when the UK participated with its closest ally in a pointless war in Iraq which led to hundreds of thousands of deaths, a war which Corbyn opposed.

In terms of current threats, we recently had an act of terrorism in Salisbury committed by Russian agents. You would think, in response, that the Conservative party would be particularly keen to publish a select committee report on Russian interference in UK politics. Why Johnson has decided to delay the report we can only speculate on, but what we do know about is the links, sometimes financial, between the Tory party and Russians with close links to the Kremlin. Or maybe it is because Johnson does not want people to know about the extent of Russian interference in our elections.

Corbyn shares a left view of foreign policy which rarely gets much space in the media, but given the failures of past UK foreign policy and the very dubious situation of the Conservative party on Russia (again, just like their Republican counterparts in the US), there is no case for othering that view or a party leader who proposes it. The idea that a Corbyn minority government would somehow make the UK a less safe place is ludicrous when a former Tory Prime Minister is advocating people vote for just such an outcome.

Of course there is every reason for the Tory press to try and other Corbyn. Once you regard him as a perfectly normal and respectable politician, the arguments against voting for him are slim indeed. The Tory record on the economy is terrible. All they have to trumpet is employment growth, but that just reflects an appallingly (and unprecedentedly) bad record on productivity, and therefore living standards for workers. Labour’s policies for the next five years are mostly popular with the public, and even though it will cost a lot of money the cost is much less than the Brexit that will happen if Johnson sticks to his commitments.

On an individual level Corbyn seems far more preferable to Johnson as a Prime Minister, for the simple reason that Corbyn clearly cares about other people whereas Johnson cares only for himself. Corbyn shows real empathy for others, which we saw clearly after the Grenfell fire, whereas Johnson has the attitudes typical of the worst of his class. The way of hiding all that from people is to other Corbyn and his party, which virtually the entire mainstream media has done.

I understand why our current government and their supporters in the press would do that, and I have respect for those MPs (past and present) who have got out of that boat. I find it much more difficult to respect some of those in the centre, who normally pride themselves in taking a balanced and reasoned view, that are prepared to see the most right wing UK government in living memory continue to destroy the economy through Brexit, continue to cause misery for many decent people and threaten our constitution by proposing to give the executive complete control over parliament.

The othering of Corbyn will probably win the election for Johnson. But we should never give up hope, so please vote tactically on Thursday to keep Johnson out and allow a second referendum on Brexit.