The human obligation the haves owe the have nots...
Leader: Yvette Cooper
New Labour was the SDP. The SDP established the policy framework which made a Labour Government electable. New Labour was a liberal Social Democratic Party as, of course, was the SDP. Whilst the Gang of Four did not achieve their personal ambitions for power from 1997 they will have seen their policy positions firmly in Government - and no doubt taken pride from that. Yes the LibDems absorbed a few leading SDPers like Kennedy and Cable. But the key effect was not really on the LibDems but Labour. The 1983 defeat was attributable in part to the SDP (who actually led in the polls pre Falklands), in part to The Thatcher bounce after the Falklands War, in part to the unelectability of Foot's Labour, and in part to the FPTP electoral system.
Post Foot Neil Kinnock realised that if Labour was ever to get power again it had to rid itself of the out-of-date socialist policies that were still entrenched in its psyche and its constitution. Clause 4 was a symbol of this. It had to go, and it went. Public ownership became not an ideological goal but a pragmatic choice. And so on. Blair and Brown of course built on Kinnock’s achievements, created New Labour and gained power. Where they governed from is a matter of dispute – my view is that they were a Social Democrat Government on the SDP and German model. Unfortunately everything is clouded by Blair’s wars. But even in 2005 he won a comfortable majority – the New Labour brand was sufficiently strong to carry him home.
New Labour was economically pragmatic and Brown was a very good Chancellor indeed. From 2005 onwards Labour was moving to invest and build on the economic strengths that Brown’s Chancellorship had created. Then Armageddon which was hardly (much) of the British Government’s making but a world-wide crash from which Britain was far from immune.
Throughout all of this time and on into the Coalition years there were few calls for the establishment of a truly Socialist Britain. The Old Labour people were still around and they cried “Foul” from the side-lines occasionally. But Britain had long since chosen to be a mixed economy and increasingly a liberal society. New Labour can take great credit for both achievements. The Conservatives haven’t (yet) managed to unscramble the new paradigm. Hanging over all of this is the maxim that politics is the “Art of the Possible”. To do anything you must be elected. To be elected you cannot campaign from the extremes. Certainly not with the FPTP system - UKIP gained nearly 4m votes but just one seat.
Finally it’s about personalities. In my view Labour was electable this year and the polls through the year agreed and said they would be. Then at the last minute it switched. Faced with the thought of Miliband and Balls next door to one another in Downing Street sufficient numbers of likely Labour voters didn’t. They either indulged in a bit of gut feel protesting by voting UKIP, decided that Cameron was the lesser of two evils or just stayed away from the polling stations. That scuppered Labour’s chances. Would they all have flooded to vote if Labour had presented a genuinely Hard Left manifesto? Some might have, but more would have rejected that position completely.
Some argue that Jeremy Corbyn is Attlee’s heir and to some extent they are right. But even 1945-51 was not an overtly Socialist , and certainly not pacifist, Government. Really you have to go back to Keir Hardie to find Corbyn’s true political ancestor. Is that truly what Labour in 2015 wants ?
As we saw in the General Election (except in Scotland!) the chances for a third or fourth Party to break through in Westminster are negligible. UKIP and the Green Party gained 3.9m and 1.2m votes but only one of the 650 seats in Parliament each. It was ever thus. The LibDems took 25 years to build up sufficient local constituency strength to get 60 odd seats - then lost most of them in one go as their star fell from grace. First Past the Post favours the two main parties and only an earthquake can change that - as it did north of the border.
This is not a piece about electoral reform certain though I am that it is necessary. It is about the consequences of FPTP in respect of Parties' internal alliances. Harold Wilson called the Labour Party a "Broad church" - but the Conservatives have been no less broad over the years. Each of our two main parties is a coalition of people who believe different things. Sometimes VERY different things. But with one major, and a couple of minor exceptions these differences don't lead to splits. For (say) Dennis Skinner or (say) Peter Bone to stay in the Labour and Conservative parties respectively requires them reluctantly to accept a degree of conformity to party positions even though they don't endorse them.
The internal coalition in Labour or the Conservatives is arguably beneficial in respect of policy formation, but not always. Tony Blair created a unified Party in which, until the Iraq War, there was if not total agreement at least acceptance of policy. On the other hand the unfairly maligned Wilson/Callaghan Governments of the 1970s were close to succeeding in building a broad Social Democratic consensus both in the Party, and in the country. But that was stymied by the Labour Left both within the Government and outside. The winter of discontent of 1978/9 had fatal consequences for Labour and let Margaret Thatcher into Number 10. It also precipitated the Labour split and the formation of the SDP when Michael Foot became Labour leader. John Major fared better when faced with a similar challenge from the Tory Right in 1995 but was fatally wounded and lost office in the 1997 General Election.
Let's focus on what has been happening to our two major Parties for the last 50 years. They have (the SDP secession apart) held together - just. In the last Parliament only two Tory MPs jumped ship to UKIP. They were far from the only MPs sympathetic to the UKIP policy positions - but they no doubt judged that their chances of staying in Parliament were better as dissident Tories than as Kippers. They were right as it turned out - ask Mark Reckless ! In Labour no significant figure has left the Party at all – George Galloway excepted perhaps if you regards him as “significant”. The reason is the electoral system. If the number of MPs that a Party got was closer in percentage terms to its number of votes my guess is at least twenty or thirty Tory MPs would have joined Douglas Carswell in UKIP.
As far as the Left is concerned I have argued here that there are two distinct streams – one Socialist and the other Social Democratic. The candidacy of Jeremy Corbyn to be leader of the Party is revealing this starkly. In fact the broad church alliance is under threat for the first time since the early 1980s. There are even talks of a split, though I doubt this will happen. But if we had a more proportional voting system that split would be sure to happen on the Left as it would on the Right.
if the four political streams I identify in my article were to become distinct political Parties – i.e. if the current Party consensus in both Labour and the Conservatives broke down (this could only happen if we had electoral reform) the consequences would be interesting. There would almost certainly be a Left/Left or a Right/Right coalition – depending on the election outcome. The Left or the Right Coalition Government would be formed following policy negotiations – rather like those of 2010. That it was a formal alliance would be explicit – and maybe this would be better than the single Party broad church alliances that can be so fractious?
"We do not have a Presidential system" is one of our more common British aphorisms. Well I'm not sure about that. Remember in an American election it's a binary choice. The winner wins because he is preferred to the loser. It's not rocket science. The worst President in my longish memory was the dreadful George Bush. But the American people preferred him to Al Gore and John Kerry. And you can sort of see why. In Britain we occasionally have a political leader who is head and shoulders above his/her main opponent: Macmillan, Thatcher, Blair in modern times. They would have beaten anybody. Then you have those who don't have anything like these qualities but win because the alternative is even worse. Heath, who caught the clever Harold Wilson napping. Major who had the fortune to face Kinnock. Cameron who had the unelectable Brown and then the (as it turned out) equally unelectable Miliband. Lucky Dave!
I thought that Ed Miliband's intelligence and personal decency would probably win him GE2015. I should have listened more closely to a very good friend, a woman brilliant in her profession, Oxford classics Graduate but not at all political. She said she wouldn't vote Labour because of Miliband. I protested (mildly) and she said (I paraphrase) that he was a bit of a dork. The personal brand of a Thatcher or Blair wins elections. The anti brand of a Brown or a Miliband loses them. When an anti brand (the appalling Michael Howard for example) is up against a strong personal brand like Blair then - no chance.
In GE2020 it looks like the Conservatives will be led by George Osborne. He will never be a Mega brand in the Thatcher or Blair mould, but like Major and Cameron before him he may well not need to be. He will only be beaten by a Labour leader who grabs the public imagination as Blair or Thatcher once did. I doubt that any of the four leadership contenders could conceivably do this. Corbyn an Old Trot. Burnham dull and duplicitous. Cooper clever but tainted. Kendall too lightweight. My preference would be Dan Jarvis who would be out of left field and could almost be the anti politics candidate to beat Osborne. But Dan shrewdly has other priorities for now. Maybe a couple of years of the preposterous Corbyn and then he could ride to the rescue. Labour cannot win in 2020 with another machine politician or policy wonk. Jarvis, or someone like him (who?) would not be the candidate of the Right or the Left. He would capture the imagination as Thatcher and Blair once did. Maybe !
You may not have encountered the idea of "The Anglosphere" unless you are a follower of the writings of the Tory Right - and of "thinking" further to the right even of them. Perhaps the best analysis of it came from Michael Kenny and Nick Pearce in the "New Statesman" here:
“In extreme situations nationalism appears to neutralise that part of the mind which is able to fathom complex equations. Instead, action is motivated by a single Leninist principle: “Those who are not for us are against us”
Mr Glenny was writing about The Balkans where nationalism was the driver of that most bloody of wars as Yugoslavia collapsed into lethal chaos in the early 1990s. But his words will also ring a bell with observers of present-day Scotland where sufficient numbers have given up trying to fathom anything and have descended into crude nationalistic abuse of those who are not “for” them. I use the word “sufficient” advisedly – it is not the majority who are standing screaming abuse on these particular soapboxes but those who spew their bile especially on social media. The so-called “CyberNats”.
I am neither famous enough nor controversial enough to get much abuse on Twitter. Some of my 2600 followers often disagree with me, but politely! But if I make any mildly critical remark of the Scottish National Party or the fanaticism of some of their supporters then the Twitter feed becomes X-rated! All that is of little consequence – I block abusers (including one deeply unpleasant SNP Member of the Scottish Parliament!) and that is that. But what is of consequence is the distorting effect that the “Those who are not for us are against us” mind-set in Scotland has had on British politics. I was told in all seriousness that the Scottish Labour Party should have supported the “Yes” vote in the Independence Referendum and it was because they didn't that Scotland turned against Labour. I would like to address that view here.
On the night of Labour’s General Election defeat Ed Milliband said this:
“...in Scotland we have seen a surge of nationalism overwhelm our party,"
He was right - that is exactly what happened. History tells us that nationalism can force out tyrants and replace dictatorships with democrats – or it can have the reverse effect. (In the Balkans it did both simultaneously depending where you were). In Scotland there were no tyrants to be deposed and no dictators to be sent packing. What there was was firstly a concern about the established British political order and its power and secondly a view that to secede from the Union was the solution. But the truth was that Scotland was not being governed by the people-oppressing English at all and arguably never had been since the Act of Union in 1707! (The Jacobites thought differently, but they were as much opposed by fellow Scots as by the English)
The rebellion of 2015 North of the Border was a mass protest by half of those who voted and the electoral system meant that this 50% got a wholly disproportionate 95% of the seats. This was the “surge of nationalism” Milliband referred to. The momentum towards secession, briefly halted by the referendum defeat, was given a possibly unstoppable push.
The minds that were and are able to “fathom complex equations” want nothing to do with Scottish independence and the break-up of the United Kingdom. To be proud to be British (I am) is in no way incompatible with a pride in being Scottish (which I would be, if I was!). My Britishness incorporates the heartfelt conviction that Scotland is an indissoluble part of it. Having lived in Scotland permanently for three years, owned a house there for twenty and visited the country frequently I relate to it as being part of me. The idea that I would be visiting a foreign country if Scotland became independent is deeply repellent.
So let me say to the CyberNats who occasionally abuse me (including that MSP!) you have fallen into the trap of flaying your arms in a random way and catching innocent people in your trauma. You don't have to be Scottish to love Scotland and you don't have to be a Nationalist to protect your country. The modern world encourages breakaway as the last resort to combat evil or repression – but by no stretch of the imagination can that be said to apply to Scotland. After 300 years of Britishness which has been a great success story - and in which the Scots fully played their part - please don't go into denial because a new paradigm (a Federal Britain for example) is too difficult to fathom. Better Together!
Labour leadership contender Andy Burnham is apparently saying there should be a "Labour YES to Europe" campaign. He is wrong. Here's why.
I have argued here that there are four distinct streams in English politics (the Scots and the Welsh and the Irish are different!) and that the Liberal Democrats are not one of them. Whilst I do not believe that the lack of a coherent political offer was the main reason for the debacle of the LibDems performance in the recent General Election I think that it was a contributory factor and that it is the main reason why there will be no comeback for them – ever.
The LibDems were always a strange construct merging as they did two rather different political philosophies. The Liberal Party became redundant in the post war years hanging on to a few seats for nostalgic reasons, but little more. Labour had replaced the Liberals as the alternative to the Conservatives in the first half of the twentieth century and the Liberals were reduced to a largely irrelevant rump in Parliament. They won only six seats in each of the General Elections in the 1950s. Then a “Liberal revival” of sorts happened and they went to 12 seats in 1966, only to fall back to 6 again in 1970. But under the charismatic Jeremy Thorpe they gained 14 seats and 6m votes in the February 1974 election – the First Past the Post (FPTP) electoral system denied them anything like fair representation. This “revival” was arguably not because they had an attractive alternative political pitch to the Conservatives or Labour but because they (and Thorpe) were the “neither of the above” alternative to Heath and Wilson.
In the early 1980s it was not mainly the Liberals who made progress as a moderate alternative to Thatcher or Foot but the “Social Democratic Party” (SDP) of the Gang of Four led by Roy Jenkins.
A pragmatic electoral Alliance between the Liberals and the SDP happened but again, despite gaining 8m votes in the 1983 General Election (only 2% behind Labour) the FPTP system gave them only 23 seats. They slipped back a little in 1987 and then the two parties merged to form the Liberal Democrats.
Over its twenty-seven years as a distinct party the LibDems made steady progress up to and including the 2010 Election when they polled nearly 7m votes – the highest for a third party since 1983. Hard work on the ground at constituency level had given them a high of 62 seats in 2005 which reduced to 57 in 2010. Then Armageddon !
The essential thing about The Liberals, the Alliance and the LibDems was that they were an alternative to the Conservatives. True they were an alternative to Labour as well, but nearly all the seats that were won were where they managed to drive the Tories into second place. This brought with it a tactical voting benefit - left-leaning voters who might have voted Labour instead voted LibDem where they had a better chance of keeping the Tories out. In the West Country and in South West London particularly you were often either a Conservative or you were LibDem.
When the LibDems went into Coalition with the Conservatives in 2010 there was a reasonably credible case for them to do this in the “national interest” – but for millions of LibDem voters it was a betrayal. If we had wanted a Conservative Government we would have voted Conservative! From that moment on the LibDems goose was well and truly cooked. They slipped to almost nowhere in the opinion polls over the course of the Parliament. Many of us felt that despite this they would hold on to 20-30 seats in the General Election but in fact they fell to a derisory eight. In the seats where the Tories were second the Tories mostly won, and in Scotland they, like the other parties, were all but wiped out by the SNP.
So what now? Why do I say that there is no way back. Well take Richmond Park, a seat that the LibDems won with a majority of nearly 5,000 as recently as 2001. This year the Conservatives had a majority of 23,000. And although other losses were not as drastic as this (Richmond had actually already been narrowly lost in 2010) there is no way that that Constituency is going to come back. And nor will any of the others.
Nick Clegg’s disastrous decision to go into Coalition has destroyed his Party. In England the third Party is now UKIP not the LibDems and whilst a few seats have been held – which broadly takes the Party back to the 1950s - the electoral map has been re-written, and they have been written out. Rural England is almost completely Conservative. Urban England is mostly Labour. Scotland is almost completely SNP. In terms of seats we have a two-party system again in England for the first time for decades – and a one party system in Scotland.
Finally to return to the substantive point. The LibDems are not the “neither of the above” Party any more. UKIP, the Greens are now that (whether this will give them any more seats under FPTP is entirely dependent on whether they select a few seats to work on as the Liberals once did and as the Greens succeeded in doing in Brighton). UKIP and the Greens do have a distinctive offer and most people could describe what it is. The LibDems do not and they will fade away fast.
I did Market Research as a special subject in my degree Finals and practised it from time to time in my long Shell career - I was the "client" briefing the research agencies. One huge project I managed involved quantitative and qualitative research in twelve countries around the world. I mention this, I suppose, to give a bit of "been there, done that" credibility to what I want to say about Opinion Polls.
With a faint tinge of symbolism, perhaps, the vote for the SNP in the General Election in Scotland was exactly 50%. That means then that the country is equally divided between those (the SNP) who want independence and those that don’t. The latter half must, however, be content to have their position represented by just three MPs in Westminster (One each for Labour, the Conservatives and the LibDems) to the SNP’s 56! That's the “First Past the Post” (FPTP) voting system for you in stark relief.
So what do the 55% (The Independence Referendum) or 50% (General Election) of Scots opposed to Scottish Independence do? Their voice in Westminster will be almost silent. Here’s a radical suggestion. In Northern Ireland the UK-wide political parties have no representatives at either Stormont or Westminster. The 18 MPs are all from local parties. Scotland has rejected all the UK-wide parties almost completely and chosen also to have 56 0f the 59 MPs from a local party – the SNP. Having failed abysmally is it not now time for the Labour, LibDems and Conservatives to withdraw completely from Scotland? And, if so, what should replace them…?
The issue of Independence is by far the most important and divisive issue in Scotland and, as we have seen, the country is almost evenly split on the issue. Is it time for a new “Scottish Unionist Party” (SUP) to be formed. It’s pro Union stance would be at its core and politically if it was Centrist then it would be a counter to the very Left Wing SNP. A moderate pro-Union party could command significant support across the country and even under FPTP it should win a good number of seats both at Westminster and at Holyrood. There is already a small Party with the SUP name (that’s their emblem above) so some finessing might be necessary!
I always thought that the oft-quoted remark of Aneurin Bevan's :