Saturday, 3 December 2016

Politics After Richmond

Late to the comment party, but whatevs. Zac Goldsmith thoroughly deserved to have his arse handed to him, even if it depended on the Liberal Democrats to get it done. His "independent challenge" to the Conservatives was successfully undermined by his own stupidity. Having the local association back him, making sure the Tory party proper didn't field a candidate, getting all his mates from the Commons to come down and campaign for him and then, the piece de resistance, not ruling out rejoining the Tories, the fool didn't so much as get found out as paraded his cynicism.

The by-election raises lots of questions for labour movement, not least so-called "tribalism" and the feasibility (as well as desirability) of a progressive alliance between centre left opponents of the Tories - which would encompass Labour, the LibDems, Greens, SNP, and Plaid Cymru. But we'll leave that for another time seeing as it won't be going away. There are three take homes from yesterday's results, and they are:

1. No early general election, and by early I mean one next year. What happened on Thursday can only reinforce Theresa May's snail-slow cautiousness. Going early while tempers are fraying over Brexit and with the initiative lying with her opponents appears foolish. Yes, there were special circumstances in Richmond thanks to being one of the country's most pro-Remain constituencies and having a history of substantial LibDem support before Goldsmith took it in 2010, but there was also the huge swing in Witney towards the yellows. And there's LibDem momentum in local by-elections, which also saw them take another council seat off the Tories on Thursday night. If I was looking for excuses to tarry, the idea of the LibDems taking back a good chunk of the seats they lost to the Tories last year cannot be ruled out. And with them goes the majority. May would not stake her future on scooping up more seats from Labour by way of compensation.

2. Sarah Olney's victory definitely breaks UKIP's hold on the protest-party-of-choice franchise. After the last "normal" by-election in Corby, UKIP have consistently come second (or first in the cases of Douglas Carswell and Mark Reckless). Witney broke the pattern, and Richmond rubs it in. Not unreasonably, one might assume these are not natural UKIP territory, but neither was Eastleigh where Diane James put the frighteners on the LibDems. What's more, UKIP here stood aside and endorsed Goldsmith. This move that had no discernible impact on the outcome whatsoever, and exactly what you would expect to happen if their vote share was in decline, which it is. Kippers can shrug it off with their claims to be targeting Labour seats but having tried it for years, it remains a case of so far, so patchy.

3. More serious are the issues for Labour. It would be ridiculous to blame Jeremy Corbyn for Labour's lost deposit and vote that came in under the local constituency party membership. Even Tony Blair could only muster 12.6% of the vote in 1997. But it points to a danger as well. Labour have to perform a tricky balancing act. Two thirds of Labour voters may voted Remain back in June, but also two thirds of constituencies held by Labour MPs voted Leave. We cannot be seen to be going around appearing to thwart the public's verdict in the same way the LibDems can, but nor should we try and steal the Prime Minister's rhetoric about making everything a success. Labour must stake out its own Brexit scepticism that explicitly states to our core support that the party wants a deal that protects working class interests, and will scrutinise, criticise, and publicise its own positions to this end. A deal that seeks to foist the costs of Brexit onto our people is not acceptable, and we should clearly say so instead of shilly shallying about. Keir Stamer's 170 questions was a useful stunt and a good start, but we need to convert that from the discourse of the wonks into the language of the people. If we don't, the LibDems will move to monopolise this territory and reap the benefits, with potentially disastrous consequences for us.


Anonymous said...

The 'four take homes' seem to stop at 3...

Phil said...

Written in invisible ink ...

Now rectified.

asquith said...

People, especially the more highly educated sections of the populace, are tired of Dismay's tendresse for the 14% and scorn for the 16,141,241.

They seek a forward-thinking, reality-based, open, liberal direction for our country, which actually would benefit people of all classes and races, unlike the catastrophe that "loyalists" and "patriots" are leading us into.

Given the abject failure of Comrade Corbyn to offer anything to such people, or to reconnect with erstwhile Leave voters who are waking up to their betrayal, you can expect many more results of this kind.

If you don't like nationalism or the facile Panglossianism of Brexshitters, but want to truly take this country forward, in short if you're a genuine patriot, you've only got one place to go.

asquith said...

In the case of Zac, he has made a series of mistakes but there are plenty of redeeming features too.

Not just on the third runway, an issue on which he was right (and I'm glad that the real opposition will be opposing this in the form of Sarah Olney), but across the board he has been promoting environmental causes.

And we will need right-leaning people to join in the environmental effort, which I support more than a lot of Labourites I'm sure.

Shorn of the need to toe the Mayhem line, he will hopefully focus on what he entered politics for in the first place. It wouldn't have been right for him to win and of course I'm glad to see a liberal moment but I do encourage Zac to play to his strengths and focus on his environmental work from now on.

jim mclean said...

The European Parliament needs a strong UK Labour presence. Fascism is on the march and we can do more in than out. Brexit can be halted, should be halted.

Speedy said...

Post-Brexit politics: back to the 19th Century.
1. Tories being Tories.
2. Lib Dems being Whigs, representing the progressive bourgeoisie and being the sole party that stands for Europe.
3. Labour... ? Risks going the same way the Liberals did. McDonnell coming clean about being pro-Brexit was a catastrophe: cementing the (correct) impression that the lukewarm Labour support for Remain was due to Corbyn's scepticism, and essentially stamped the grave down on the ballot (an enthusiastic campaign for Remain could have easily swung that 2 per cent the other way). So what do we have? A Labour Party trying to win back the non-industrial working class Brexiters who despise it for its stance on immigration, and rejecting the trendy lefty pro-Europe bourgeoisie that put Corbyn into power in the first place. It's a genius lose-lose position and couldn't be better designed to consign the party into irrelevance.

Next election? Vast swings to Lib Dems and UKIP, massive Tory majority. The future, possibly an elective alliance between Lib Dems, Greens, and breakaway Labourites.

Anonymous said...

Ah yes, the old "Corbyn to blame for Brexit" canard.

Speedy, we all know by now that you have a seething insane obsessive hatred for anything remotely left wing - preferring a dystopia where a tiny minority of media/ financial plutocrats stamp on our faces forever.

Why?? Was a leftie rude to you once, you poor little snowflake?

Speedy said...

Hello anonymous, well it depends if you're interested in the facts or not. I think there is a very strong case to be made for Labour's responsibility for Brexit - the "will of the people" only amounted to two percent, after all - a two percent that might have swung the other way if Labour had pulled its finger out.

As for an obsessive loathing... etc... it depends how you define left wing. Really. I am interested in improving the lot of the ordinary majority in the UK. What does that mean in practice? Well, it would mean doing away with private education and private health care, for example, is that "left wing" enough for you? It would mean nationalising many of the utilities and transport systems. It would mean scrapping tuition fees and reinstating proper grants. But it would also mean recognising that mass immigration, for example, wasn't necessarily in the interests of the working class, particularly as it was practiced post-1997. It would mean recognising that the Labour Party had been hijacked by a middle class that sought to pull the ladder up beneath itself with Blair, and Corbyn et al are beholden to different bourgeois (in this case totalitarian) delusions, sneer at working people, and are, on the whole, interested only in using them to further their ridiculous fantasies and propel them into power. So no, I'm not "your" kind of "left wing", I'm not "cool", but at least my beliefs stand up to some kind of scrutiny rather than being simply postures that make it good to belong.

MikeB said...

For me, it's an indication that people are frightened. Scared that Brexit is indeed a bit more problematic than they had been led to believe (May's mask of "not giving away our negotiating position" is beginning to look increasingly threadbare). Scared that the US (and other parts of Europe) have taken our "reasonable" show of independent thinking and blown it up to unreasonable and uncontrollable proportions. Scared that Labour is as "unfit for government" as the media keep telling them.

They want some comfort, and those friendly, don't-scare-the-horses, LibDems are the only people reassuring them that after the alarming uncertainty of today, tomorrow everything will be put back like it was. Nostalgia for an age yet to come, as someone once sang.

Igor Belanov said...

The 'progressive alliance' is a complete non-starter.

The Labour Left (and the overwhelming majority of members) are not going to accept an arrangement with the party that willingly facilitated five years of austerity.

The Labour Right, on the other hand, will oppose such an alliance for two main reasons. Firstly, they know full well that their core constituency contains many people who are hostile or indifferent to the EU, so they cannot put all their eggs in the anti-Brexit basket. Secondly, their core argument depends on trying to portray an image as responsible administrators of government, so they would reject allying with rank opportunists such as the Lib Dems.

What we have learnt from the Richmond Park by-election stays in Richmond Park. It is not typical of the country, and therein lies like current difficulty for any political strategist. There is no line that offers any kind of predictable response on a UK-wide scale.

SimonB said...

I don't think you should so easily absolve Corbyn of any blame. In fact your attitude to Labour is beginning to look a bit ostrich like.

While recognising the man has strengths and weaknesses it seems to me that the biggest problem is Labour's media presence (or rather lack of). Corbyn must bear some blame for keeping the idiot Milne on board.

I know that there has been relentless negativity in much of the media. A leader should not surrender in the face of such hostility. Corbyn's apparent capitulation means that nobody outside the echo chambers of the Internet gets a chance to see him and hear what Labour stands for.

It seems to me that persevering in the face of hostility from the press would have eventually paid off. Total reliance on social media is a dead end.

Anonymous said...

The LibDems at least have a consistent, easily understandable position, which they have maintained since the referendum.
We don't.
Our failure to at least fight for what the party position was has been both shameful and stupid.
We have managed to be inconsistent and muddle headed, while displaying little integrity. Starmer is doing his best but he and the party have been nobbled from above.
We'll pay for this.


John Rogan said...

How is Labour to hold the Govt to account over Brexit?

1. They could refuse to support the invocation of Article 50 until there is a legal ruling over whether or not the UK could unilaterally revoke it. Hopefully the Supreme Court will ask the European Court of Justice to rule on that. If the UK can't revoke it, then we'd be stuck with whatever Brexit deal the EU27 decide is in their best interests.

2. If the UK can revoke a bad Brexit, then Labour can start demanding a "People's Brexit" by putting forward ideas in opposition to the Tories.

My view, for what it's worth, is that a "People's Brexit" is a complete non-starter. Brexit will be an economic disaster for the UK with rising inflation, interest rates and tanking growth. Politically, Brexit favours the right and far right.

Then, we have Labour appearing to be both pro-Brexit and pro-immigration at the same time. A recipe for losing votes to the Lib Dems and UKIP as others have pointed out.

We might well end up in a Scottish situation where the Nationalist inclined have gone to the SNP and the Unionist vote heading to the Tories. This has lead, in the most recent poll, to the SNP having 48%, the Tories on 25% and Labour on 15%.

In a nutshell, Labour should let the Tories carry the can for this and refuse to back both Article 50 and Brexit until we are sure that Parliament can vote down a bad Brexit deal and we can remain in the EU.

davidjc said...

Devil's advocate really, but might May not be happy with the Liberals gaining ground, as ballast against ukip and the Tory right?
Farron says he'd be up for another go at a LibTory government.

Ed said...

Remarkable how Corbyn and McDonnell went about this sinister plot to sabotage the Remain campaign, yet exactly the same proportion of Labour voters supported Remain and Leave as for the SNP, whose leaders have never been accused of sabotage or even of not working hard enough (and who were operating exclusively in a country where the majority of people voted Remain, whereas the bulk of Labour's vote is in England and Wales, where the majority voted Leave). We know from studies exactly why Labour's message in the referendum campaign didn't receive as much attention as it should: the TV news bulletins, where most people get their information about politics from, chose to focus overwhelmingly on the two Tory factions, Remain and Leave, at the expense of all others (Labour, Lib Dem, SNP, Green etc).

Corbyn was 'lukewarm' about the actually existing EU because it is very hard for anyone remotely progressive to be enthusiastic about it (the Brexit referendum came less than a year after the EU elite trumpeted their 'waterboarding' of Greece with enormous delight). His 'remain and reform' line was the correct one to adopt, it was the only credible position for any left-wing politician to adopt, and it was more likely to have persuaded a few extra people to vote Remain than the approach demanded by his critics, slavishly uncritical of the EU and campaigning arms-linked with David Cameron and George Osborne at a time of widespread antipathy towards the political class. I voted Remain and I was happier doing so because I knew there was a critical left-wing perspective within the Remain camp being articulated by Corbyn and others (when I see people waving the EU flag on marches, it makes me sick; I think it's a calculated insult to the people who have been ground down by the Troika in Greece, Ireland, Portugal and elsewhere, and a manifestation of narrow-minded, parochial attitudes on the part of people who probably consider themselves very cosmopolitan).

Blaming Corbyn for the failure of the mainstream Remain campaign is like blaming Bernie Sanders for Clinton's loss. Try blaming a campaign that was so incompetent and out of touch, their best idea for how to counter Farage's flotilla was to put a millionaire pop star on a boat so he could give the fingers to some fishermen: how do you think that went down in Grimsby? The idea that Corbyn secretly sabotaged the Remain side is on a par with the idea that Obama is a secret Muslim; it's exactly the same kind of faith-based, conspiracy-theory argument that remains immune to any evidence.

Anonymous said...


Bravo, sir.