A Rallying Cry to The Despondent

I got my first campaign-related injury this week: a dog bite on my leaflet-delivering fingers, exacerbated by pulling my hand out of the letterbox so fast that I ripped the skin off another finger. Still, shake it off, carry on.

Nobody who knows me or reads this blog will expect me to change my tune over Corbyn just because there’s an election. But I want to assure everyone that I will be working very hard to win votes for Labour. Shaking it off, carrying on.

OK, so things aren’t looking rosy – and a few days ago Corbyn had the brass balls to say “if leaders go unchallenged, they can make some of the most damaging mistakes”. But with the distant warnings of 81% of Labour MPs and rock bottom polling ringing ironically in our ears, how do Corbyn-knockers like myself shake it off?

Let’s go through the game theory.

  1. Corbyn pulls off a miracle and is victorious. Great things will come of it. Any concerns over his capabilities pale in comparison with the benefits of saving the NHS, moderating Brexit, increasing public investment and seriously addressing international social justice and environmental issues. McDonnell’s economic policy may appear “out there” but I trust him to listen to the right people, u-turn if necessary and actually do the maths – as opposed to the politically driven facade currently operating in the Treasury. In 2015 I said that if Miliband lost, it would be the end of the NHS in its current form. The 2017 election is an extraordinary second chance to stop the now openly destructive Conservative policy depleting the NHS to the point of collapse.
  2. Corbyn keeps seats, or only loses a few. The Tories bite will be tempered.
  3. Corbyn loses seats. Labour moderates and pragmatists will need to be able to prove clearly what went wrong. It must be unequivocal that they and the PLP are not to blame because they didn’t pitch in.

In all cases, the only winning strategy is to support Corbyn – and hard. I would strongly recommend that Corbyn-skeptics rack up seriously high campaigning hours. This will allow us credibility if outcome three comes to pass. By all accounts, win or lose, Corbyn isn’t going anywhere after the election. He will only (be allowed to) fold when the autumn party conference passes a motion to change the leadership candidate selection rules (meaning candidates need less than the current 15% of Labour MPs’ nominations – subsequently making it much easier for another left-wing candidate to get in the running.) I don’t necessarily have a problem with another left wing candidate. I am a Corbyn skeptic not a leftist skeptic. But what we (and those we represent) cannot afford is another leader with no serious plan to get into power – and it is unlikely that a candidate crow-barred into power by the ideologues in Momentum will have such a strategy.

So while I may feel despondent and resentful in my darker moments, there is plenty to spur me on. Even if it is just to ensure there will still be an NHS doctor to attend my wounds if the dogs get more vicious.

A Rebel without a Hope?

Jeremy Corbyn is not going to be the next prime minister. But the 2017 General Election could still be a triumphant campaign for Labour.

The state of the Labour Party under Corbyn’s resented leadership, monochrome policy palette, watery stance on Brexit and weak communication skills is not an attractive prospect for anyone other than committed Labour voters and those to its left. And the killer image that will stay in people’s minds, justified or not, is a bumbling Jeremy Corbyn trying to undertake complex negotiations with Brussels.

The usual suspects (who were happy to attack Gove for being anti-expert) will attempt to wave away the political science that shows that (1) the Labour party is suffering the worst polling in its history and (2) in order to win Labour needs to appeal to people who voted Conservative or Liberal. The idea of a coalition of the Left remains irrelevant as all Green, SNP, and Liberal Party seats still total less than the Conservatives.

Labour will come out fighting though and their best hope will be to lay bare the Conservatives’ capricious, failing policy choices and to keep pointing out that talent like Keir Starmer will be in charge of Brexit negotiations, not Jeremy. Now is also the time for Labour to turn the screw on austerity. Although Labour will not win the election, it can now pave the way for future party policy. The party can start testing the waters with a strong defence of borrowing and investment, trumpeting the moderate success of Obama’s fiscal stimulus, and repeating that the deficit is significantly worse under the Conservatives despite pitiless cuts to essential services and having sold off the country’s silverware. It does look as though we will see Labour on the front foot for the first time in a decade and that is something positive – even it only serves to embolden future leaders.

Even so, none of this is likely to hold much sway with an electorate that votes for leaders not policies.

Mass-movement delusionist and self-confessed not-sold-on-Corbyn Corbynite Paul Mason was on Newsnight last night “thrilled” by the prospect of a revolution. He was his usual mercurial self and his enthusiasm for  revolution and converse declaration that he would vote tactically reveals two important points: (1) The idea of a revolution is still acting as a more powerful stimulant than genuinely wanting to serve the interests of the poor, vulnerable and underfunded. (2) This “revolution” is a negative force not a positive one – it is significantly more anti-Tory than it is pro-Labour.

However, the election need not result in a Conservative government with an increased majority. As I said when Corbyn regained the Labour leadership, this is Tim Farron’s big chance. An open goal in front of the Remain stand with all the other players down at the Brexit end. If Tim Farron can pull his finger out, he could represent the currently voiceless, furious and well-resourced 48%. Possibly, just possibly, he could do a Nick Clegg and squeeze a coalition result from the Brexit / Corbyn fiasco.

Finally, I can’t suppress a feeling that Tony Blair may have a hand ready to play.

The Hannangry Mob

Teresa May’s Brexit plan was laid out for us all today.

With a gleeful confidence, May announced that we are going to pay billions in administration costs, settlement fees, tariffs and trade losses in order to gain… leaving the European Court of Justice.

Will the UK will leave the Single Market? In name only – she is to ask for all trade to continue as it is.

Will the UK stop freedom of movement? In name only – where there is benefit to business or the government (ie in every case except the miniscule number of EU benefit claimants) migration and immigration will continue.

Will the UK be free of the red tape of Brussels? In name only – May admitted that trade with the EU will be subject to the same tariffs (at best) as before. She also pledged to enshrine Europe-established rights in UK law.

Will the UK benefit financially from the exit? No mention.

This all boils down to one thing: the PM is only interested in Hannan-ian Brexit.

Goodbye UKIP’s immigration demands.

Goodbye Boris’ millions.

Hello unfettered social policy.

But what else should we expect from lukewarm remainer May?

This is the pure, old school, bastard Tory holy grail wrapped up in a delusion of immigration reduction and spending promises.

Why? Well, guess who is up in the European Court all the time? The Iain Duncan Smith brigade trying to force through outrageous human rights violating social policy.

Comme j’ai dire plusieurs fois, quelle surprise!

Productivity Fantasies

I was struck by this OBR graph showing the endless frayed string of failed of productivity predictions.

We keep hearing about the productivity problem, but nothing makes the picture clearer than this picto-nightmare of shattered d(atast)reams.

There’s plenty of good commentary from the likes of Wren-Lewis  about the output and innovation gaps.

I imagine than in part that this comes down to some well-trodden macro-economics that Krugman et al have been extolling for years: the economy is in a liquidity trap. With interest rates at rock bottom, in the zero-lower bound, monetary policy is out of fuel. The only way out is with fiscal policy. Yet, not only are we not seeing this, we are looking at the reverse: deepening austerity.

The pinning of all blame on the liquidity trap may be like pinning the blame for a poisoned man’s ability to stand on the gorilla that is sat on him.

Someone else poisoned the man – productivity has been in a slump for years.

But it is pretty clear that when you trash investment into worthwhile things, strip people of their support networks and encourage them to point the finger rather than open their arms, it’s hard for them to get back on their feet.

Quelle surprise.

 

 

Corbyn’s EU Problem (The Labour Representation Zebra Revisited)

Many Labour people must be consulting their etiquette guides. How long it is polite to wait until it can be party policy to re-join the EU?

There is no question that Corbyn is now in an impossible position. It was never Labour policy to leave the EU. Although Corbyn, in his typically anti-everything M.O., was probably, maybe – if it came down to it – weakly in favour of leaving.

But what can he do now in the face of the referendum result? Well, he could do what he usually does: stand firm behind policies regardless of whether they make him electable. So why doesn’t he do that with Brexit? Because he’s weakly in favour of Brexit? Because he’s trying to be more electable? Because he can’t be bothered to have another tiring argument? Because he wants to reflect the will of the people? (If the last answer feels correct to you what does this say about his other policy stances?)

Whatever the reasoning, Corbyn has decided, untypically, to “go along”. In the long term, this tactic is disastrous. Unless he can make a serious attempt to show he is fiercely against Brexit, in a few years he will find himself accused of the same economic folly as Miliband when he weakly opposed austerity.

In August I wrote about the alternating views within the Labour organisational hierarchy:

LEADERSHIP: Pro-Corbyn
PLP: Anti-Corbyn
MEMBERSHIP: Pro-Corbyn
NON-MEMBER LABOUR SUPPORTERS: Anti-Corbyn

But looking through the Brexit window, we can see a different arrangement:

LEADERSHIP: Historically and currently weakly pro-Brexit.
PLP: Strongly Anti-Brexit
MEMBERSHIP: Strongly Anti-Brexit
NON-MEMBER LABOUR SUPPORTERS: Mixed, but largely Anti-Brexit

It’s becoming hard to work out who in Labour actually holds the same views as the leadership.

2017

This year is going to be a cracker!

Article 50 triggered? More Boris Johnson gaffes? Momentum imploding? A general election? Another Labour leadership election? Mayoral elections? Ambassador Farage? Paul Nuttall punching Ambassador Farage? Trump punching Ambassador Farage? Will it be a wall or a fence? The invention of new phrases and words with “Br” and “exit” in?

So much fun to be had – if only it was on Netflix not in the real world. Less the OA and more the Oh Sh..

For me, as always(!), I hope this year will be a turning point away from ideology and polemicism towards inclusionism and pragmatism.

The political awakening in the UK has been incredible. With so much talent coming into politics, it gives us all great hope as those enthused, passionate, intelligent, well-connected, highly skilled young men and women gain experience.

So in 2017, let’s tool up. Let’s read less commentary and more (verified!) statistics.

Let’s talk to people (not politicians) who don’t agree with us, who live in a different culture to us and let’s believe that they may have a point – or that their opposing view is born of something other than stupidity or malice.

Let’s find out what people who disagree with us talk about. It’s increasingly apparent that they are discussing parallel topics, not opposing views.

Let’s be productive, not defensive.

Let’s be altruistic – let’s be realistic about whether we are more excited about the thrill of a revolution, than we are concerned about the effect of a 2020 Conservative win.

Let’s be realistic about what the mass movement and protesting can achieve compared with the much simpler strategy of just making Labour electable. Even the most fervent Corbyn supporter must now be very concerned about Labour’s record-breaking low polling. Let’s think about what really needs to happen to reverse that.

 

Have a happy pragmatic new year!

Trump

trumpton_mayor

Some first thoughts on Trump.

What Will He Do?

I suspect that the Donald is really only interested in using the levers of power to maximise his personal wealth.

Lots of commentators have pointed to inevitable tax cuts, but that’s not thinking like the king of the jungle. If it were the UK, I would predict that he would quickly enable The Trump Organisation to run all public services, and indulge in a grab of all publicly owned land, resources and intellectual property. I’m not sure if this is as a rich a vein of wealth in America, but the idea still holds.

He is also likely to use his new job as a bargaining tool to make personally beneficial deals with global power players. We can only guess what enslavement of the US population he will promise.

In terms of any other area of government policy, the man’s too uninterested in politics to actually do anything that will cause him aggravation. He’ll leave all that to the motley crew of right wing crazies that he’s assembled on his coat tails to fight it out with the rest of the Republican Party – a more dishonestly (or at least self-deludedly) Trump-enabling bunch of anti-intellectuals (who will no doubt spend the next four years martyrising themselves.)

My chief concern is the way he will deal with dissent – domestically and from abroad. I fear what the greediest man in the world will achieve now that he is in charge of the most armed police force in the world and the biggest military artillery in the world.

 

How Did He Do It?

In terms of what to learn from the election result, there are so many strands that the reasons are likely to become tangled in retrospective analysis.

Having said that, the three most interesting stats I have seen are:

  1. Clinton won more votes.
  2. Trump support was more about immigration than inequality*.3-768x496.png
  3. Trump lost significantly with voters earning less than £50,000 and won in income brackets above this. More here.

 

I would only add two thoughts:

The Trump victory adds grist to the mill about the idea that politics is becoming more about cultural identities than it is about how to run a country. To win, US Democrats (and all left-leaning politicians) must stop focussing on left-pleasing issues and really engage with the issues relevant to opposition supporters. This takes real diplomacy and good judgment without being judgmental. But as long as politicians on the left fail to do this, they will remain in a holding pattern hoping for the young generation to become a critical mass of leftist voters.

My other thought regards Trump’s complete lack of concern about offending anyone and how it plays out (bizarrely) as a strength. Trump’s endless abusiveness (especially to “fellow” Republicans) was the behaviour of an alpha human so self-assured that he could freely abuse politicians and civilians on all sides without concern for his own safety or poll ratings. To publicly and unashamedly abuse a Gold Star family showed such conceit and disregard for morality or diplomacy, that many would have instinctively seen it (deep down in their primal pack psychology) as strength and leadership.

 

And finally… I can’t leave the subject without comparing Trump and Corbyn. There are many similarities (as there are with Bernie Sanders). Trump and Corbyn have committed to a “mass movement” campaign, eschewing the political establishment and standing tall as their own man in a defunct political system. Howevever, my suspicion is that Corbyn has no more chickens left to hatch. Indeed, Trump, Brexit and the 2015 UK general election all showed that hidden, unpolled votes support socially unacceptable right wing views.

 

*  http://blogs.lse.ac.uk/politicsandpolicy/trump-and-brexit-why-its-again-not-the-economy-stupid/