Monday, 12 October 2015

"We've got to move on!" Thoughts on the future.

By 2020, it will have been 23 years since the 1997 Labour landslide.
There are a few things from #Lab15 that struck me as being interesting, particularly in the light of the future direction of the Labour Party. I shall discuss them here as well as my broader thoughts on the future of moderates within the party.

On the penultimate night of Labour conference, which was the Labour List karaoke night, me and a few friends went to the karaoke. We all had some good fun. I then played a cruel prank on a friend which meant that he had to sing "Things can only get better" (The song is strongly associated with Tony Blair and New Labour within the Labour Party, and activists naturally chant "Tony, Tony"). When the chanting started there was a significant amount of booing and jeering, with half the room instead choosing to chant "Jez we can!". On the last night of conference we had the NOLS disco. The same thing happened, except this time even some of the senior blairite MPs who were at the disco refused to chant "Tony!". Steven Twigg MP, someone who I have known for a while and a key figure of the Blair-Brown era, turned around to me and said "We've got to move on!". 

Though Steven did later on turn around and join in with the singing and dancing, this peculiar moment had a profound impact on me.

 It is clear from the result of the leadership election that New Labour is dead. The election of Jeremy Corbyn with 60% of the vote is the most severe rout of moderates in the history of the party. It is also clear that a profound, and probably nearly permanent realignment is happening within the party. The "Left" now includes only people who subscribe to the full hard line left wing doctrines of comrade Corbyn, Mccdonnell, and the campaign group. This group form only a small minority of the PLP but have mass support among ordinary constituency activists. Then you have the "Right", which includes people who would generally have been considered to have been on the left wing of the party 10 years ago, such as the Brownites, lumped together with blairites, some of the less left wing elements of the soft left and the "Old right" of the party. It is also clear, that with this sharp realignment within the party, that no "New Labour continuity" candidate will be able to win a leadership election for the foreseeable future, because the most blairite of the candidates managed only 4.5% of the vote in this leadership election, and the new, young, idealistic and generally left wing members are still going to be there in 5 years time. 

Regardless, a revival of unreconstructed New Labour ideology is undesirable as well as impractical. By 2020, it will have been 23 years since "Things can only get better" played on that famous `97 election night. Calling yourself a blairite by then would be like calling yourself a Gaitskellite in the Foot era, or a Kinnockite in the Blair-Brown era, or a Bennite today. Ideologies evolve and societies evolve. If they do not, then they decay and fail. The same will go for the revisionist tradition of social democracy.

This is what we now have to look to build. Together. We must look forward, not backwards. There is room for a social democracy that is inclusive, supportive of business and the middle classes as well as the traditional Labour vote, and recognizes that to spread the wealth you must also create the wealth. Let us end this feud, between blairites, brownites, social democrats and otherwise, and work together to create a new revisionist tradition fit for the challenges we will face in 2020 and beyond. This is the challenge for the moderates of the Labour Party. And I look forward to playing my full part in this challenge.

Sunday, 11 October 2015

Jeremy Corbyn for prime minister?

Jeremy Corbyn for prime minister?

The far left MP has confounded expectations so far
The far left MP has confounded expectations so far

This post was originally published on the Graduates of Democracy blog. You can read the original post here.

It feels like an exciting time to be involved in the British Labour Party. We are seeing something that none of the old parties of social democracy have experienced in recent times: A left wing revolt from the inside. In Britain, the radical left has taken over the party while other European countries saw the emergence of new radical leftwing parties, like SYRIZA in Greece and PODEMOS in Spain. Jeremy Corbyn, an MP from the hard left of the party who was not expected to win when he stood for the leadership, is now leader of the Labour Party.
I have been to many European countries over the summer on political endeavours. Everywhere where I went I was asked about Jeremy Corbyn. There seems to be a great deal of excitement over his election all across Europe. The leader of the PES, Sergei Stanishev, has already said that he supports the anti-austerity politics of Corbyn, and the PES, led by British Labour MEP’s, has distinctly taken a left turn with its recent proposals to ban zero hours contracts across Europe.
However, many pollsters and media experts in the UK believe that Corbyn is destined to fail. Opinion polls so far have not shown any real improvement in Labour’s fortunes, although this can take time. There are concerns over his ability to win over Tory voters and if he can win back Scotland. It is clear that the party is taking a massive gamble with Corbyn. So, why did he win in the first place if he was the least safe option?
The answer lies in Scotland. The Scottish National Party (SNP) and its anti-austerity rhetoric, as well as its pretences to be a far left party and the subsequent thrashing of Labour in Scotland at the general election where Labour were reduced from 41 to 1 seat, hurt party activists very deeply. It was in Scotland where Labour’s beloved first leader, Keir Hardie, first built the party up. Labour had dominated Scotland for over a century and the pain of losing it cannot be underestimated. Labour activists believed that a more firmly anti austerity message than what was promoted by Ed Miliband, the previous leader, would help to win back left wing voters who defected to Nicola Sturgeon and her nationalists. The other 3 candidates, Andy Burnham, Yvette Cooper, and Liz Kendall, all promised a platform that was to the right of Miliband, talked about the need to cut as well as spend and said the party needed to win over “Aspirational” voters and cut the top rate of tax. After a bruising election defeat, this was not what the party wanted to hear, and many “Soft left” social democrats ended up going for Corbyn because they felt there was nowhere else for them to go.
For now, the Corbynomics experiment will go on. His first major test will be crucial midterm elections next year, on a local level in which I am standing as a candidate, the mayoral election in London and parliamentary elections in London, Wales, and Scotland. These elections will be the first tests as to whether or not Corbyn can win a UK wide general election. For now, I remain very sceptical. Even if Corbyn does somehow manage to win most votes, he will not be able to win the most seats due to how the British electoral system works.   In 2015, the Conservative Party of PM David Cameron would still have won a majority if Labour had all of our Scottish seats. Also winning over Green votes (The only other significant left party in England) is not going to be enough to beat the Tories in most seats.
It is clear, however, that politics in the UK and Europe will not be the same for some time. Anti austerity politics are now going to be mainstream. The only question is if it will win elections.