How Jeremy Corbyn (with a little help from Tim Farron) brought political activism back from the living dead

Jeremy corbyn rally

Jeremy Corbyn rally – a sign of a revitalised party membership. Pic Credit; Twitter

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As the Labour conferences is just about to start   one of the greatest achievements of Jeremy Corbyn has been to revitalise political activism in Britain.

According to a report in the House of Commons library active membership of  political parties fell to its lowest ever recorded proportion of the population –  at 0.8 per cent – in 2013. It was virtually teetering on near extinction. It had also veered to the right – with UKIP going from now nowhere to 74,000 members.Labour in 2013 was also at a low before Corbyn won the leadership of 190,000 members.

So dire was the membership of political parties that political commentator Andrew Rawnsley in a comment is free article in The Guardian  could joke that as many people had declared their religion in the census as a Jedi knight  than belonged to each of the main two political parties.

After Corbyn’s leadership victory in the autumn of 2015 membership of the Labour Party had soared to 388,000. Under his leadership, despite a hostile press, it grew again to 544,000 by the end of last year. Since then it has risen to 552,000 in June. And on the eve of the party conference now stands at 569,500.

To do him credit the other person who revitalised an ailing party was Tim Farron. Fuelled by their Remain stance the  Liberal Democrat party moved from 61,000 members in December 2015  to 78,000 by the end of last year and to 102,000 by May this year. though this is dwarfed by Labour.

Between the two of them they have increased membership of  political parties to 1.7 per cent of the population – still small – but more than double the numbers in 2013.

The biggest losers are UKIP who have seem their active membership collapse in lone with their poor election performances. Membership of UKIP was around 74,000 in December 2015 but had fallen to 39,000 in July last year and fallen again to 34,000 by December. No new figures have been issued since.

Slightly surprising has been the demise of the Greens – though they seem to have started to turn this around.Their membership fell from 63,000 to 46,000 from 2015 to 2016 but the trend appears to have reversed itself – with an increase back to 55,500 in March this year.

Membership of the Scottish Nats has also stopped growing with it flatlining at around 118,000.

The real mystery is the Tories. They say their membership is 149,000. But this figure has never been updated since 2013 as no political party is obliged to publish its membership numbers in its annual report. Their shyness in producing any new membership figures since then – suggests that they may have suffered a decline in membership.

Certainly if they had any big increase in membership they would have immediately published details – to try and take the shine off Jeremy Corbyn’s extraordinary ability to attract new members in droves.

It has recently come out that the average age of Tory members is 72 which suggests that while there have been enormous increases in Left and Centre parties – the Tories could well be in terminal decline and turning  literally into the party of the living dead!

 

Jeremy Corbyn’s biggest victory: Revitalising democracy

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Jeremy Corbyn rally – as big as a Gladstone or Disraeli rally. Pic Credit; Twitter

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Jeremy Corbyn’s good performance  in the polls last night was not just brilliant for Labour. It was also not just because he produced a left of centre detailed manifesto. It was not even because he avoided ” yah boo sucks”  attacks on the Tories or Liberal Democrats.

His biggest victory last night was because he galvanised democracy and got a new generation of young people to take an interest in politics and bother to register to vote. He did this in the extraordinary space of two months.

On  March 24 Tribune published an editorial highly critical of Labour’s performance in general and Jeremy Corbyn in particular. It said simply Labour isn’t working and this was from a left of centre magazine not the Daily Mail.

Lest it be forgotten then the Tories had a 19 per cent lead over Labour and crucially had a 41  to 29 per cent lead among the  18-24 year old group.  Thus at that time Theresa May even had a lead among students and young workers.

Now in the remarkable space of  just 10 weeks Jeremy Corbyn and his election campaigning team has totally transformed the picture of politics for youth.  Not since the barnstorming performances of Gladstone and Disraeli in the nineteenth century and Churchill in the early twentieth century have such huge crowds turned up at rallies to hear a party  leader speak.

And remember these huge meetings predate the invention of radio and TV let alone the internet and the smartphone.

To get youth as enthusiastic to think they can change events in an age of so many other distractions is a mega achievement which leaders of every other political party should be profoundly grateful to Jeremy. For if the idea of change through the ballot box is not passed from one generation to another democracy dies and dictatorship looms. And given it was against a background of two random terrorist attacks aimed at the young is even more remarkable.

Sadly I must say his dream of encouraging young people to participate in democracy did not seem to be shared by the Conservatives. They did not appear to be encouraging the young to  register to vote – presumably because Lynton Crosby thought it would not get many new votes for the Tories.

And worse on polling day some people – including one person with a blue rosette in Enfield and a UKIP and Tory run council in Plymouth – lied to young first time voters that they needed an ID card to vote at polling stations- presumably in a desperate move to keep  Labour from winning marginal seats. Theresa May does want to introduce ID cards for voting – but I am afraid it is not the law at the moment so it is illegal to mislead voters.

The contrast between Labour and the Tories over democratic rights is still continuing after the election. Theresa May is behaving like a headmistress of a rather badly run prep school  – by pretending that she is still running a successful operation when people are stopping paying the fees. She has lost authority and seems to be developing a  “bunker type”  mentality ignoring the reality that the game is already half up.

There appear so far to be no concessions to the democratic process from the Tories – and the main aim seems to be to ally May with the Democratic Unionist Party in Northern Ireland – probably adding to division there between them and Sinn Fein. Would she ban abortion in the rest of UK if the DUP demanded it? Would she concede to some of their antiquated views about gays? How will this play out over the present crisis in Stormont?

But I profoundly believe that what Jeremy has started cannot be stopped. There may have to be yet another general election after a few months to complete the transformation – though this will be highly risky in the middle of Brexit negotiations. Theresa May called the election believing her own propaganda that Jeremy was a no hoper. Now she has found out the hard way  that he isn’t and no matter how many pages of propaganda Paul Dacre and Rupert Murdoch use to smear him it no longer works.

 

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Has Theresa May got it wrong over the Brexit negotiation plan?

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Theresa May

Theresa May, Prime Minister Pic Credit: conservatives.com

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Theresa May is about to trigger Article 50 and go into negotiations with the other 27 European Union countries to sort out arrangements covering British trade with this huge market. It is a complete mystery how Britain is going to play its cards and Theresa May doesn’t want to give anything away.

However  a fascinating  post  from Stewart Wood, a former adviser to  Labour PM, Gordon Brown and  later to  Ed Miliband, suggests that she does have a strategy but it may be the wrong one.

Drawing from his experience in Whitehall  he suggests that Theresa May plans to draw from her experience as home secretary where she successfully negotiated an opt out on police and criminal justice matters – choosing to opt back in to measures she accepted.

She plans to use this to apply to the whole British negotiation.

He writes : “Her plan is for the UK to leave the single market en bloc, but renegotiate continued access to it on preferential terms for some key UK industrial sectors as part of a wider free trade agreement. According to this vision, these lucky sectors would continue to enjoy de facto membership of the single market, but without the requirement to be bound by decisions of the European Court of Justice. Problem solved, our Prime Minister thinks.”

So will this work? Not according to Stewart Wood because  the mechanism she is using does not apply here.

” So it can work again, right? Wrong. The strategy of “exit then cherry-picking” worked with the JHA decision in 2014 for a simple reason: it was set up as an “exit plus cherry-picking” deal in the Lisbon Treaty itself. It is a colossal error to think that the same approach can work in the case of Brexit – a negotiation of phenomenally greater complexity, played on multiple chessboards simultaneously, where interests between the EU and the UK are nowhere near as simply aligned, and where opt-outs have not been negotiated by existing treaty provisions.”

I gather Stewart Wood’s views are reflected in Whitehall thinking. But whether Theresa May is taking any notice is another matter.

What it does mean is that if he is right  the Labour Party, Liberal Democrats and the Scots Nats are going to have a field day if they decide to hold the government to account. Also all the sectors – from the car industry, the financial sector and technology to name but a few – might vote with their feet to maintain unrestricted access to the EU. Interesting times.

View story at Medium.com

By-election horrors:Labour’s dilemma and the faux fear of UKIP

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Labour’s: What future? Pic Credit :BBC

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Yesterday morning’s results for Labour were  very bad news. For the governing party which has presided over years of austerity and facing a real crisis over the NHS  to win Copeland from Labour is a disaster for the Opposition. Ed Miliband, after all ,managed to win a mid term by-election  in Corby from the Tories, even if he went on to lose the seat at the next general election.

Ignore any specific excuses -. the locality, nuclear industry,a bigger  rural seat – if Labour want to be in government they have to appeal to a broader sector of people and win marginal Tory seats back -not lose marginal Labour seats to the Tories. Theresa May cannot believe her luck – her message that the Tories will govern for all the people and not the privileged few has resonance whatever the facts.

It is not that Labour don’t have good policies for the NHS, community care, social housing, the railways – to name but a few – but they  have no overall vision of what type of society they want Britain to be in the twenty first century and can’t seem capable of explaining it. Also some local councils in Labour areas have the problem of being seen as the Establishment because they been in power for decades. And :Labour’s stand on just defending the NHS is not enough – that has been made very clear in Copeland.

Labour’s win in Stoke on Trent looks good news – given UKIP threw everything at it including their new leader – as part of their strategy for a new dawn replacing Labour as the working class party. But note that the Tory vote held up well and that the turn out was  36.7 per cent which was even below the 46.5 per cent turn out on the same day at a council by-election in Devon which saw a shock Lib Dem win from the Tories. That means the majority of people in Stoke on Trent were disengaged despite  austerity, Brexit and the NHS.

But we should not be so surprised over UKIP’s defeat – anyone watching council election results – outside their Essex and North Kent heartlands – would have realised they are a busted flush post the referendum. In council election after election their vote has been falling and they have even failed to get candidates to stand in seats where an existing UKIP councillor had quit – for example in Norfolk and Newquay in Cornwall. Their latest humiliation was in the Forest of Dean where a Green candidate who came last in a previous election won a seat  from UKIP. Note in Copeland UKIP came fourth behind the Liberal Democrats.

To my mind Labour has to refocus its attack on the mainstream parties. It has to challenge the Tory mantra that they are governing for everybody and  take into account the revived Liberal Democrat campaign in opposing Brexit. Otherwise they will continue to lose seats to both parties – particularly at local level with the May council elections looming.

This means that Labour’s current position on Brexit – to support it  but then pledge to hold the government to account over the  EU negotiations – has to be real. This means that if the deal for future trade,jobs and freedom of movement for Brits is going to be bad, they should combine with the Lib Dems, Greens and Scot Nats and even the Northern Irish parties if they oppose it, and demand a referendum on the terms. This will be a referendum on the facts of what real life will be like after Brexit not one on a vague hope of ” let’s take control”.

There is one other thing Labour needs to do. What was completely unreported this week was an extraordinary council by-election in Winklebury in  Tory run Basingstoke and Deane. Here a Labour candidate overturned a safe Tory majority,increasing the party’s vote share by 31 per cent and getting almost double the Tory vote on a 29 per cent poll.

Labour’s Angie Freeman told the local paper: “I really wanted to win this seat so I could do something for my community.It’s very humbling to know they believe in me and trust me and I’m determined to do my best for this community.

“I live here and know the issues that affect people well, so I will look to actively tackle the problems we’ve got.

“I’ve seen Winklebury go from a thriving community to become such a rundown area.

“We’re losing everything.First the GP went and now with the school too, enough is enough, so I will fight it as hard as I can.”

From what I can gather people in Winklebury couldn’t care a damn whether the Labour Party was led by Jeremy Corbyn or Tony Blair. But they did care that a local person wanted to fight for them under the Labour banner to protect their community. They obviously didn’t believe that Theresa May or Basingstoke Tories that they were governing for everybody.

Now Labour has a lot of new members who joined and the May council elections are going to be the next big political event. Doesn’t it make sense for Labour to galvanise these Young Turks and get them to stand for local council seats and vigorously campaign on local issues? After that we can tackle the issue of the leadership.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.