Monday 27 February 2017

Labour's Way Forward

There has been much analysis of  Labour's predicament following the Copeland and Stoke elections of February 2017. This is another take on it.


Corbyn's declared policies are a socialist manifesto, aimed at improving the lives of the working people of Britain. So why is he so unpopular? I think that the answer lies in the fact that as a species we have not really evolved much in the last few thousand years, we are still highly tribal and deeply suspicious of outsiders. It's what helped us survive.

Since the day Corbyn came to prominence the media have delighted in generating an image of a man who would not use nuclear weapons to defend our country, does not sing the National Anthem, will not bow to the queen, would like a reduced the armed forces, and who is extremely tolerant of other cultures and faiths and welcomes immigrants. The resultant image is not a defender of a tribe.

Prime Minister May on the other hand presses all the right buttons. She has vigorously pushed for Trident, and as a new and enthusiastic convert to Brexitism has declared her top priority as reducing immigration, at whatever financial cost to the nation. She and other ministers also use nationalistic jargon whenever they can. The government, we can assume, has canny advisors, they know how to tap in to tribalism.

When it comes to putting a cross on the ballot paper it's gut feelings that sway many people, not in depth analysis of the issues. So how does the Labour Party avoid complete decimation?

I think the answer is not to try to deny tribalism but redefine the tribal borders. Imagine a Labour party that places the UK as a proud and strong member of the continent of western Europe. A Europe that we can take pride in having rescued from the evils of Nazism, a Europe where we can travel and work amongst friendly people who look like us and share a common set of Christo-centric values. A Europe that needs strong defences against a resurgent Russia - especially now that an inward looking US can't be relied on. A Europe that is the tribe we belong to. The rest of the world is then 'the foreigner' against which we need to protect ourselves. Labour cannot change the nature of the beast, it must adapt to work with it.

And it is self evident that the highly principled Corbyn has no place at the head of such a party. He just isn't opportunistic enough. But surely amongst the 50 Labour MPs who had the courage to vote against the Article 50 bill there must be someone who can take on the task of reshaping the party, coming up with some plausible excuse for a U turn (not easy - but politicians have always been good at this). The next election should present the public with the Tories as architects of the greatest disaster to hit Britain since WWII, pitted against the combined forces of the Labour party, the Libdems, SNP and the Greens who must jointly project the idea of belonging to the bigger tribe that is Europe. How exactly to bring about that belonging is impossible to define given the complexity of the Brexit issue, but it can still be a clear objective. Also it is worth remembering that only 37% of the polulation actually voted to leave. More Labour supporters voted against Brexit than for. And that was then, before we had a clear idea of the size of the looming Brexit disaster and before the Brexit campaign lies had been exposed for what they were.

And the thorny issue of immigration needs to be clearly defined as two separate issues (European immigration, which of course works both ways, and non-European) each needing to be addressed separately. And there can be no ducking the issue of Islam, for many, the real fear behind what are euphemistically called 'immigration issues'. It needs to be openly addressed by both sides with a view to achieving better integration into UK culture. We should be more demanding of Islam's leaders to deliver on this.

For the colossal sum of £60bn the UK is on course to leave the single market, leave the customs union, be thrown into closer trade ties with a self-serving US, potentially loose Scotland, and risk the hard won peace deal in Ireland. Already we are hemorrhaging foreign students, essential foreign workers and financial businesses. The only tangible gain, and it's highly debatable if it is a gain, is a projected reduction in immigration numbers by some 15%.

The country desperately needs Labour, but it needs to get real. Sadly, policies on social equality aren't enough. It needs to appeal to basic human instincts as well as to reason.

Sunday 31 May 2015

To Green Party members

This is a copy of a post to the Green Party Members' Discussion Forum. It has been very well received and has caused considerable discussion. I hope it helps formulate a way forward.

"Where did we go wrong?
Labour is asking why they did so badly - but not the Greens. Instead we seem quite self satisfied, after all we quadrupled our vote - but after riding around 7% in the polls, we only managed 4% on the day. At the risk of offending some members I would suggest we should be asking the very same question - where did we go wrong? Assuming that the purpose of the GP is to get elected then 4% is of no use at all, especially as our grossly unfair electoral system is heavily biased against small parties. Added to which, leaving aside Caroline Lucas who is just so amazing and special that she doesn't figure in these arguments, in the handful of seats where we had high hopes our candidates failed to get elected. Again, where did we go wrong? Leaving aside for the moment the wasted vote syndrome, my opinion is that two answers that are being suggested for Labour also apply to us. Namely, the economy and leadership. 
First the economy. The costings in our manifesto attracted much criticism in the press, as being far too heavy on commitment and far too optimistic on how money could be raised to fund our policies. In the event, we didn't attract much heat because we are not seen as an electable party anyway. Had we been a more serious contender it would have been a different story. Our projected extra spend in the first year of government was £60bn (rising to almost £200bn in the 5th year!). First year deficit was given as a staggering £114bn, about twice that of the coalition's projected deficit, all to be funded by extra borrowing. It it has to be said that while interest rates remain low, extra borrowing is perhaps not such a bad idea. But I'm no economist and then neither is the average voter, and rightly or wrongly I think the electorate would see these figures (had they taken the trouble to dig them out of our online-only manifesto) as grossly irresponsible. I would suggest that we need to move many proposals (for example fully state funded care of the elderly) out of a future manifesto and on to a long term wish list and get our financial projections onto a far more acceptable footing. Incidentally, I also think a draft manifesto should be issued maybe two years ahead of the next election then firmed up nearer the time. We need time to get our policies across. Members didn't have sight of the manifesto until two weeks before the election!
Secondly the leadership. As with finances it's how the electorate perceive things that matters. And I know from direct feedback that the general perception of our leader is poor. I don't personally think she is poor (just like I don't think Ed was poor) but that's not the point. In the last two elections Labour had leaders that it knew were poorly perceived, yet they ploughed on - and paid the price each time. As further evidence of just how important a leader is, just think Nicola Sturgeon. 
People will always want a party that is 'good with money'. The Tories know this, and we saw how they manipulated recent financial history to their advantage.
And we are tribal, people want a leader to rouse their spirits, someone they can respect and rally round. Someone to lead them to a better future.
If we can resolve these issues we can become an attractive option, but then how do we convince people we are viable and not a wasted vote? I see the answer in a Progressive Alliance, an idea flown by Caroline Lucas, a pact between Green, LibDem, Nationals and just possibly Labour that will ensure we don't in future split the progressive vote. This will be a very tricky one to manage, with decisions on which candidate to field having to be arrived at individually for each contested seat. But given that only about 20% of registered voters actually voted Tory at the last election there is phenomenal potential here. And it really is the only way to remove the Tories from power. Some form of PR would help of course - but fat chance of that happening short of a revolution.
There is a very real prospect that the Conservatives will become the UK's natural party of government for the indefinite future. Three factors are at play here. Firstly the redefining of constituency boundaries, likely to happen this year, is estimated to land them an extra 20 seat advantage. Secondly, if Scotland becomes independent that will give them a further 60 seat advantage, and even if it doesn't I can't see those 60 seats going back to Labour. And thirdly it's quite possible that Labour may fail to find a new raison d'etre and may never be the force it once was. 
If we are serious about becoming a potent force in Parliament somehow we need to address these issues. Otherwise we'll simply remain a well intentioned party of dreamers. I believe this election has thrown up a real opportunity, we need to grasp it. 
I don't have any position within the GP nor am I knowledgeable on how to make these things happen. But I hope that others, better placed, will take on board these ideas and develop them into something positive and exciting. "