Must a stellar Tory performance lead to Labour oblivion?

Theresa May

Theresa May:Leader of the Tory party. Pic credit:BBC

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If I was a Conservative strategist I would be very pleased with myself. The local election results could not have gone better to plan. In one fell swoop the 650 plus Tory gains have put Labour on the defensive and even threatened their heartlands, halted the Liberal Democrat revival in the West Country, pushed back  the SNP advance in Scotland and destroyed UKIP.  One symbolic Tory gain was winning a seat in Sedgefield, Tony Blair’s old Durham constituency.  The only small flies in the ointment is that the Tory advance was contained in the big South Wales cities and they failed to make any impact in Manchester and Liverpool.  We have no indicator of how London will vote.

On the face of it Theresa May is heading for a coronation in  the June general election with a majority of anything from 140 to 220 with  most of the four million UKIP voters in the bag to add to her diehard Tory supporters. Grim reading indeed particularly if the convention is  that previous local election results underestimate swings to the government party in a general election.

But note that the Conservatives are not crowing too much about this result. The result in one sense ( with 11 council gains) has been too successful and they have to big up ” Corbyn ” or they will have no bogeyman to frighten their more affluent voters to come out and vote for May. Because if they think it is in the bag they may not bother.

They also have an interesting campaigning challenge – do they limit campaigning in Tory seats on the grounds that they are impregnable now – and go and campaign in seats where Labour has a 10,000 majority on the grounds that May is so popular that they can take these. Or do they take a more cautious approach and fight hard in their marginals.

Whatever the situation  the Labour top team have got to up their game and try and convince both working class and middle class voters that are tempted by May and her robust nationalist challenge over Brexit to switch.

Labour should have the high ground on the rest of the agenda, the NHS, police and crime, education, transport, the environment and welfare. In all these areas the government is making a mess of it – and with five years of more austerity and rising prices the message ought to get through that we need a change in direction.

But it will still to be dominated by Brexit and how Britain is going to lead the negotiations – and Labour has failed to counter this.

There may be a way to deal with this. As May is not going to reveal her negotiating stand perhaps Labour who have a talented Brexit secretary in Keir Starmer should do so. What would happen if Labour took the risky chance of holding a press conference to announce their negotiating stance and their team that would go to Brussels. And what if that was combined with the post Brexit future a Labour government would provide for Britain. It would look like a government in waiting.

It would be controversial as the media would concentrate on Labour’s plan but it would put May on the defensive to explain her vision – something she is reluctant to do so given she is after a blank cheque wrapped up in the Union Jack.

And it would widen the gap between Labour and the Liberal Democrats who are seen as the remain party – but they have the problem that their increasing vote share has been eclipsed by UKIP supporters swamping them by voting for May in the West Country and elsewhere. While the Lib Dems will probably gain some seats in Remain constituencies  ( St Albans,Twickenham and Bermondsey) they have no chance of becoming the official Opposition even if Labour do badly.

To my mind for Labour to try and combine their vision for Britain with their vision for Brexit could cause some of the people who have quit Labour for May to think again. It could also avert some of the most dangerous aspects of a complete breakdown with Europe.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Jeremy Corbyn: Can he break out from being caught between a rock and a hard place?

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Jeremy Corbyn ; a difficult but challenging task ahead

If official opinion polls are to be believed Theresa May is heading for a landslide on June 8 with a 24 point poll lead and a majority of between 140 and 160 in the House of Commons. If she wins the argument that we need  ” stable and strong leadership ” to push through Brexit and every leaver in Britain  vote for her – especially in England and Wales – she should in theory increase her share of the vote to 52 per cent and take seats like Sunderland and Stoke, leave Labour on a wafer thin majority in Newcastle and win back seats in London. She could then dream of having a 200 majority and reducing Labour to a rump party.

But will this happen?  Jeremy Corbyn is certainly not starting from a good place.

Ever since he has been elected twice as leader he has been vilified in the mainstream media. When he was first elected some colleagues in the Parliamentary lobby thought he would not last a week and have had a mind set since that he shouldn’t have survived.

The image of him alternates between a dangerous Leftie and too weak to run the country. He can’t actually be both or he wouldn’t be  dangerous. The divisions inside the Parliamentary Party culminating in no candidate of substance standing against him in the second leadership election have done a lot of damage with the electorate. And the obvious division between him and the elected deputy leader, Tom Watson, have not helped and don’t seem to have been mended on either side.

He was also put in an impossible position by Theresa May’s snap decision to call a general election. If he had opposed it the national media would have said he is frit to face the voters, if he supported it they would say as the SNP already has that it was like ” turkeys voting for Christmas.”

Nor do I see the solution at the moment in getting a new right wing electable leader as a panacea – whoever leads the Labour Party will get a rotten press from the Daily Mail and the Sun.And it won’t depend on the policies either. Look at the more muted response from the tabloids to the idea of capping energy bills when it is a Tory leader who suggests it – as opposed to Ed Miliband.

He also has a problem from the unpopular policies by some right wing Labour councils – which could paint a worse picture for him on May 4. Two of the Labour run authorities – Durham and Derbyshire – are in areas where Labour  have decided to make huge cuts in the salaries of their natural supporters – teacher assistants- who are already on low salaries. The cuts in the name of equal pay have infuriated voters in Derby and Durham – and I would not be surprised to see Labour lose seats in these strongholds. Indeed some of the teacher assistants in Durham  I talked to at the Labour conference were planning to vote Liberal Democrat in the local elections and support Jeremy Corbyn  in a general election.

And recent Labour council seats lost by Labour to the Tories have included Salford – where the Labour council backed a development by a millionaire ex footballer to build luxury flats leading to a split vote when a residents association fought the seat. It split the vote and let the Tories win. And Labour controlled Southwark , Lambeth and Haringey are unpopular with council tenants for allowing redevelopments which will deprive local people of their homes and boost the income of foreign buyers.

So it my mind given the horrendous state of the NHS, social housing, social care, schools, transport, benefit cuts and the failure of many privatisation projects both in Whitehall and the NHS the only way Jeremy Corbyn can go is a populist anti Establishment campaign – aimed at first at the core vote to highlight the state of the country.

If he can get that message over plus a commitment to do something about it the very least it will do is to prevent such a big Tory landslide. The best would be an astonishing turn around – by convincing some of the disillusioned young voters, floating voters, and people with a conscience about growing inequality – and put the present triumphant Tories on the back foot.

While Brexit will also dominate the campaign – this is likely to be more of a battle between the Tories and the Liberal Democrats – with the Lib Dems threatening Tories to take back seats the Tories took from them in 2015.

So for  Jeremy Corbyn  it won’t be easy  but when you are caught between a rock and a hard place, you have no choice but to take the biggest risks.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Why Labour needs a simple message

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Jeremy Corbyn: Labour leader. Pic credit: Labour List

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Unless you live in Telford yesterday’s election results and latest polls for Labour were dire.

The council result in Telford was the one bright spark where Labour took a seat from the Conservatives with a 20 per cent increase in vote share. It is particularly significant because it is a marginal Tory Parliamentary seat won from Labour in 2015 by a right wing libertarian and pretty offensive Mp, Lucy Allan. A local blogger, Telford resident aka Neil Phillips, has blogged about her offensive tweeting.

The person defeated was her press officer and interestingly the Lib Dems and Greens did not stand. Also according to a local party tweeter,Andy Hicks, the Labour council financed a pretty formidable campaign against local NHS cuts so Labour was seen on the side of local residents..

But apart from a holding a  council seat in a ward dominated by Lancaster University the results were appalling for Labour. They were fourth in the Sleaford by-election behind the Liberal Democrats and UKIP and their poll standing dropped to a new low of 25 per cent. An experiment in another council by election in Tonbridge and Malling – where the Lib Dems and Greens consciously stood down so Labour had a clear run bombed. The Tories romped home and the Labour vote barely moved up. Disaster.

So what is going wrong. First the huge row over Corbyn’s leadership which split the Parliamentary Party has been no good for the party or the voters. Divided parties are doomed. The good news is that Corbyn’s decision to bring back  old hand Nick Brown as chief whip has brought some real strategy and discipline to the Parliamentary party. This was shown by the way Labour pushed the government into having to say something about their Brexit strategy last week. But so far this has not yet resonated with the electorate that the row is over..

Second the party has a lot to say – and this is shown in increased support in council by elections in their heartlands – for the poor. But the problem for Labour is not everyone is poor although one wonders under present government policy  how many more people will end up being poor by 2020.

Third Labour’s Brexit position is a mess. The Lib Dems have a simple message – vote Lib, stay remain – and UKIP have – vote for us and we get out now, no if’s or but’s. Labour, rather like the government, is somewhere in the middle – we have to leave but we’re not sure how we are going to do it.

Fourth, Labour has a good strong message on the NHS but has no other strong message on  jobs or Britain’s future. It has a very good point in defending employment rights – but it needs to ram this home in much simpler terms so its core vote sees what it means..

No one in Labour has spelt out in simple terms what sort of society it wants – and what it means for people.

But all is not lost. Paul Nuttall has still to convince me that he is going to replace Labour. His party’s vote is at best flat lining or in worse case scenario losing council seats to the Tories and the Lib Dems. Labour is not being challenged in its heartlands by UKIP – it is the Lib Dems that are  starting to sneak back in the metropolitan cities. And I am afraid I thought their progress in the Sleaford by-election in Lincolnshire – where UKIP had previously  found fertile ground- was pathetic. Their share went down when it should have gone up or they should have able to repeat the Lib Dems shock victory in Richmond Park. They didn’t. This leaves Labour a lot to play for -if only it can get its act together.

Robert Halfon v Jeremy Corbyn: The battle for the working class vote

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Jeremy Corbyn’s success in attracting tens of thousands of new Labour supporters was given a rare  accolade this week at the Conservative Party Conference.

Robert Halfon, Tory MP for Harlow and the skills minister, told a Conservative  Party fringe meeting  organised by Respublica how the Labour leader had attracted these people because they saw him representing  their ” moral and ethical ” values and being fair minded rather than representing ” the privileged few”.

No doubt this would lead to a furious denial  from the Labour right wingers like Ben Bradshaw and Tristram Hunt – who see the whole exercise as a  1980s rerun of ” Reds under the Beds”  and  some predictable squealing from the Tory right who probably believe it should be a criminal offence to join a trade union.

But it was an intelligent assessment if you are a Tory at a time when capitalism is associated with unbelievable greed, inequality, globalisation and you are about to start an experiment  with Brexit that could lead to  uncertainty and an economic downturn.

For if there is another economic crisis the public- and particularly the young  -could easily turn against capitalism if it continues to crush and impoverish the working class at the expense of global multi billionaires. And Jeremy Corbyn will be ready and waiting.

Halfon’s pitch – which was reflected  in Theresa May’s speech – was basically to say unions were a good thing and should be given more power and influence in the board room. The arguments for collective bargaining  were made at this meeting – and the argument that where unions and management collaborated in other countries there was more prosperity and growth for more people.

Halfon is a member of the Prospect union and the union’s moderate general secretary Mike Clancy  was speaking at the same meeting and telling a few home truths to Tories.

Ha, ha , you might say from the party that has just passed the most vicious anti trade union laws in Western  Europe, penalised the poor and disabled ( Halfon is disabled too) and vilified people as scroungers. And it has also seen post Brexit a ferocious attack on immigration and immigrants that has led to the death of a Polish worker in Halfon’s constituency.

But what we are seeing under May and Halfon is a new battle of ideas to woo ordinary workers and families. The Tory Party is once again transforming itself – away from the uber Metro Notting Hill Set of Cameron, Gove and Osborne – to   Essex and Berkshire – combining an appeal to working class  Essex man and  middle class Berkshire woman. It always does this to maintain what it wants – to stay as the party of government.

But there is a very big elephant in the room called Brexit and in my view the conference was in total denial about it. We are going to curb immigration, tell the European Union what we want, build world wide markets for goods and services, and nobody will challenge us. Our newly trained doctors will be barred from emigrating until they have served time in the NHS, while foreign doctors will disappear from hospitals.. Our young people will spend their summers picking strawberries and hops in the UK rather than travelling  – like they used to a century ago – to bar EU workers from doing the same jobs.

And any opposition from people with different.viewpoints will be silenced. No doubt we will send a gunboat to any foreign power that dares challenge us like Palmerston in the nineteenth century.

Really? As the Daily Mail didn’t say this week, the Tories will be living in la la land if they believe this.

 

 

 

 

Corbyn’s Progress: How council by elections are now panning out

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LLoyd Russell-Moyle. Victorious Labour candidate in Brighton council by-election last week. Pic credit: Twitter

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The mainstream press has been universally hostile  in reporting Labour’s performance in council by elections. The results either go unreported or they report only Labour defeats. Or they ridicule Corbyn when he chose to mention a Labour gain from UKIP on Ramsgate Town Council ( admittedly he could have cited better examples including  gains in Staffordshire and Essex on bigger councils).

So how exactly are Labour doing. Remember one has to take local council by elections with a degree of scepticism. The polls are lower and local factors play a part  which can distort the result. Nevertheless these are not opinion polls – they are results from people actually bothering to go out and vote. They also tell you something about the state of party organisation whatever is happening at  national level.

I am drawing my conclusions from two websites – http://election-data.co.uk/  – written by Andrew Teale which provides pen portraits of forthcoming by-elections and Vote UK Forum – which produces  detailed results and analysis along with the Twitterfeed @britainelects.

Since the referendum.there have been a rash of by elections across the country. Contrary to what little appears in the press Labour have not done badly. They have recently in rural areas been outclassed by the Liberal Democrats who are winning seats from the Tories, Independents and UKIP with double digit increases in the share of their vote. But most of these seats are not natural Labour territory.And where the Liberal Democrats challenge Labour they make little progress.

So what is really happening? Critics of Corbyn say all Labour is doing is building massive majorities in areas they already hold.

There is evidence for this in a spate of by election results in places like the London boroughs of Haringey, Hackney, Newham, Manchester where Labour have easily held  seats-sometimes with an increased majority.

An example last Thursday in Sussex  was the East Brighton ward  which covers Kemptown and a working class estate called Whitehawk – a traditional safe Labour seat. Labour’s share of the vote went up by over 11 per cent to 57.5 per cent. They had a strong candidate in  Lloyd Russell-Moyle who fought Lewes at the last general election and is a consultant for the United Nations on children and young people. But this is a ward they would not be expected to lose.

But what in other areas where they need to win. In Staffordshire they have taken two seats recently-including one last Thursday with a 19.5 per cent increase in the share of the vote- from UKIP. The seats they are taking back were originally won way back in 2003 before UKIP achieved such prominence.and guess what- UKIP in Staffordshire is a mess. They are split with some resigning the UKIP whip and becoming Independents. A warning to Labour not to do the same.

The other interesting result was in South East Holderness in the East Riding of Yorkshire. This is solid Tory territory since 2000 yet a 18 year old Labour candidate  Patrick Wilkinson,  managed  an increase of 7.9 per cent share of the vote  to run the Tory close – cutting the majority. He has been a member of the party for two years and is an avid supporter of  Corbyn. If the Tory share had not increased by.3.6 per cent it would have been a very close run result. Interestingly UKIP who were second last time saw a big drop in their share.

Yet an error by a young enthusiastic candidate in Totnes, Devon, who hadn’t been a member of the Labour Party long enough to stand for the council, cost the party its only seat on South Hams council in Devon when she had to stand as an independent and gifted the seat to the Liberal Democrats.

Labour is still losing ground to UKIP in Kent, with a working class area of Ashford, Beaver, resulting in a UKIP gain. But UKIP in general are doing badly in almost every seat they stand – and this result seems different to most.other parts of the country.

The jury is still out on whether a Labour party led by Corbyn can succeed or just pile up votes in Labour strongholds.For those voting in the leadership re-election  it will have to be a gut reaction – either stick with Corbyn and see whether his  approach eventually succeeds against a right wing Tory government. Or go for Smith and  return to a more consensual  politics but risk losing these new  energetic members who can  galvanise people to vote.

But what is clear is that a divided Labour Party will eventually fail – luckily at the moment the rows in Westminster are not showing up in local town halls.

 

 

 

 

 

My views on Exaro,the Middle East and Jeremy Corbyn before MPs resigned en masse from his Shadow Cabinet

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This interview with the Lebanon based Arab News Network was about to be put up on the Exaro News  website just before it abruptly  closed. Arranged through Tim Pendry. then a director of Exaro, it puts the case for Exaro’s investigative journalism. It also discusses events in the Middle East and why Jeremy Corbyn became popular with the rank and file membership of the Labour Party. It took some time from the date of the original interview which took place at the end of March before it was put up on YouTube in June. It is rather long so I don’t expect you to listen to the lot.

Expect a sequel to this as  I am planning to do an interview with Fabrice Bardsley on The Bunker Show for Dark City Radio on what happened since for both Exaro and Jeremy Corbyn and my hopes for the future. The broadcast is scheduled to go out on August 10.

 

 

 

Liberal Democrats: On the rise again in the shires?

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Lib Dem poster Pic credit: http://www.geraldvernonjackson.org.uk/

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Almost without any comment  there appears to  be quite a  Liberal Democrat transformation in voting patterns outside the big cities in the latest rounds of council by-elections

The meltdown in the 2015 general election  left the Liberal Democrats with just eight seats in Parliament.The party seemed incapable of recovering from the damage it suffered from the electorate by going into a coalition with the Tories.

Indeed last year’s council by-elections saw the Lib Dems losing more ground to the Tories in places like Woking and Brentwood. The party made a little progress in the May local elections gaining 45 seats and control of one council, Watford.

Yet since the Brexit vote the Liberal Democrats – unscathed by any party infighting – have made  no fewer than six gains – two in Cornwall and one each in Wiltshire, Surrey, Norfolk and Northampton. I have written about this in Tribune  this week.

The interesting thing is not just the gains but the huge leap in vote share by the Liberal Democrats.

The latest result in Northampton – which came in after Tribune went to press- saw in Westone the Lib Dem share up 36.4 per cent and the Tory share down 28.8 per cent. A very useful website Vote UK Forum  records that in this ward the Lib Dems – despite a low poll – garnered 268 more votes  than in the general election.

The only other factor appears to be that the Liberal Democrat had stood for a nearby area some time ago and there was some resentment that the Tory lived in a village and not in the town.

The party – like Labour – is being helped by the decline in support for the now leaderless UKIP since the referendum. UKIP appears to be both declining and having difficulty in putting up council candidates.
The Lib Dem gain from UKIP in Cornwall was caused by UKIP not putting up a candidate in a seat they already held. As a result the Lib Dem candidate won the Newquay seat with a 57 per cent share of the vote. Conservative and Labour shares were down.
Lib Dems did well defeating another independent in Cornwall and one in Trowbridge, Wiltshire where the party got 45 per cent share of the vote. In North Norfolk they roundly defeated the Tory candidate in a seat which the Lib Dems had not contested at the last council election.

The interesting point is this is not being repeated where the Liberal Democrats are fighting Labour in metropolitan areas.Apart from a modest rise in one Islington seat won convincingly by Labour and a near miss in Southwark the party is performing dismally.

Indeed the challenge to Labour -if any- has come from the Greens who nearly won a seat in the London borough of Lambeth and ate into the Labour vote in both Luton and the London borough of Newham.

This would suggest that the “Corbyn” factor has not damaged Labour in its strongholds – indeed often the opposite with the Labour share increasing. And the Voter UK website also points that the revitalised local Labour Party are by far the best in getting their local vote out – up 10 per cent on average this year. But the Tories are holding off challenges from Labour in Tory marginals.