Wednesday 1 February 2017

On the Stoke Central By-Election Candidates

And so the finalised list of Stoke Central by-election candidates is out, and 10 folks fancy their chances. And it's a circus, albeit one not likely to produce much merriment. Who then are the lions and acrobats? Which of them is the clown?

Naturally, Gareth Snell has roared into action. Labour were all over the constituency from the very moment Tristram Hunt declared Trexit and, as I've observed before, the party has a formidable machine and a real weight in the constituency that will be tough for its opponents to crack. That hasn't stopped people from outside the constituency who can't find Stoke without the aid of Google Earth have tried explaining to me that the local party couldn't have selected a less suitable candidate. Au contraire. Gareth has lived locally for 13 years, worked in a series of part-time, insecure jobs while a student, worked in a local MP's office where he dealt with the full gamut of constituent concerns, has sat and currently is a borough councillor, organised low paid workers as an employee of a local Unison branch and, most topically, defeated UKIP in a council by-election this summer in a ward that voted 80/20 to leave the European Union. His politics, while not Corbynist, are by any measure on the left. And during his too brief tenure as leader of Newcastle-under-Lyme Borough Council, he pushed through a no redundancies, no cuts to front line services budget despite government cuts to the local government grant while introducing the living wage (not the fake Tory rebranding of the minimum wage) to its lowest paid workers. It's worth noting that subsequent Labour administrations have carried on in this vein. No cuts, no diminution of service, no redundancies. In the context of Tory austerity, that sounds like a record any Labour member would be proud of.

It seems the objections all centre around Gareth's remain-ism and that he said rude things about Jeremy Corbyn on Twitter. Last thing first, while we all say daft things on social media in the heat of the moment there won't be too many Stokies bringing up Guido's "exposé" on the doorstep. Rather these have been all over his muckraking site and, surprise surprise, the Daily Express to generate social media interest in an attempt to suppress Labour support. This isn't meant to offend their readership, but to ensure the bulk of the new membership have an entirely passive relationship with their party. Why, some would reason, should anyone from Momentum turn out to help in Stoke when the candidate is evidently not a Jeremy supporter? Guido and the Express aren't interested in the truth, but they are interested in using anything to destroy the Labour Party as a going concern. It's sad that this has to be explained to folks who should, by now, know better.

The second point is on remain vs leave. The bookies are offering slightly more favourable odds to UKIP based on the assumption that Stoke Central heavily voted for leave and we have a remainer candidate. And that's where the analysis ends. But as noted previously, the record of all of last year indicates that if Brexit is a new political cleavage, an issue around which electoral fortunes turn, then it is a lopsided one. Leave voters have got their way. We're leaving the EU. Some might moan about the pace of the departure, but it's very much a minority pursuit. For most of them when it comes to politics, it's back to the same old same old. If Brexit was blocked it would then be a different matter. Remain voters, however, are more motivated by this issue. For a variety of reasons, they - rightly - believe Leave conned, lied, and stirred up hate on its way to victory. And so when elections come round they are moved to make a point about it at the ballot box. That explains how the LibDems have come surging back in local council by-elections, won in Richmond, and confounded expectations in Witney. It's how you can have bizarre results where the LibDems take a safe Labour seat in Brexit-supporting Sunderland. Had remain won, I have no doubt the terms would now be reversed. It would be UKIP enjoying another wind as the gust of defeat drives at its sails. And because of the song and dance UKIP are making about remain-supporting Gareth, they might be unwittingly helping Labour's chances.

Yes, I am aware there are other candidates in this election, so let's take a look. Jack Brereton won the Tory nomination to fight Stoke Central in a contest as foregone as any organised by the Zanu-PF. CCHQ are apparently pleading poverty and sinking all their resources into Copeland, but that doesn't mean the Tories won't wage a proper campaign. The Conservative group on the council are an ambitious bunch who fancy taking berths up in the Commons. For all sorts of reasons, a win is impossible but if they can take back second place and are seen to put UKIP back in their box, 2020 could make for an interesting time for them. The LibDems in Stoke are in a difficult place. I will give their man, Dr Zulfiqar Ali some credit. Rain or shine, he's stood and he's stood and he's stood, be it as a no hope parliamentary candidate, or a no hope council candidate. However, with local students not terribly well disposed toward his party for their tuition fee betrayal, and past LibDem support bound up with local "personalities" who've either retired from politics or now sit as City Independents, where can their vote come from? The same can be said for Adam Colclough of the Greens. Formerly of Labour, he absented himself from the party after the 2010 factional farrago left us with Tristram. But where is their support? Some students, yes. Scraps of votes around the slightly more better off parts of the constituency, yes, but enough to win back their deposit?

Moving from the parties to the living dead, this by-election sees the unwelcome return of the BNP. David Furness (who?) was their London mayoral election candidate in 2015, and describes himself as a "practising member of the Church of England". Because nothing advertises Christian values like the membership of a fascist organisation. While another opportunist carpetbagger, Furness's candidacy underlines the weakness of the local BNP. In fact, they have almost no discernible existence. Since we last took a look at Stoke BNP a few years ago, we found them a sad bunch sat in awkward silence over identical McDonald's Happy Meals. I am pleased to report the necrosis has continued apace. Their remaining activists have either dropped out of politics, or followed their local "brains", Mike Coleman, into the Albion First groupuscule/Facebook page. Yet for Stokies who did vote BNP up until 2010, the eclipse and tumultuous disintegration of the party since won't have registered. There will be some who rock up at the polling booth, spot the BNP on the ballot, and place their cross there as opposed to UKIP.

In the independent corner, we have two to choose from. Neither of which are associated with our friends the City Independents, of course. Mohammed Akram is a solicitor who has a history in local Muslim welfare organisations. And Barbara Fielding hails from Blythe Bridge on the city's outskirts. Quite why they're standing and what they hope to achieve is a complete mystery - something I often wonder about when independents contest parliamentary by-elections.

I'll pass over the Monster Raving Loonies (I await the inevitable "gags" in the comments box, below) and Christian People's Alliance, and head straight to Paul Nuttall. We've talked about him before, and he's given me more reasons to speak ill of him again. Consider this. If you are clever, if you claim "to have a PhD", if you are the leader of a political party and the media spotlight is on you, would you commit a violation of electoral law by declaring a house you've never been to in the constituency as your home, and then admit to it on national telly afterwards? He's been caught telling porkies, just like his time wearing the Tranmere Rovers' jersey and "being there" at Hillsborough. Here we have an incredibly brittle man whose national profile is entirely thanks to Nigel Farage. He knows he has no discernible qualities, which is why he has to make them up. And, I have to say, lying so much about his own biography easily lends himself to telling lies about immigration, about the NHS, about Brexit. And there's the small matter of being under investigation for office expenses fraud as well. Nuttall is a spiv, a fake, a lazy arsed mediocrity whose sole concern is to use politics to feather his bed. He doesn't care about Stoke, its problems, its people. The prize is another £75,000/annum and a few more years as Someone Who Matters, and he's quite prepared to wade in the sewer to get it.

And so the choice is pretty obvious. It's between stopping UKIP and their poisonous politics here, in Stoke, and throwing them into a reverse from which they may never recover. Or having them emerge victorious with all the terrible consequences for our politics that entails. It's between a union man who champions working people, and a lying wastrel who can't wait to sponge off the taxes of those selfsame workers. Are you in to stop this shit in its tracks?


Speedy said...

I wonder how much local activism really works? I'm sure the Labour candidate is the sensible choice, but the vote for UKIP will be a real bell weather as to the impact of UKIP on Labour in the next GE.

I read an article somewhere which said, rightly I thought, it was astonishing how the Tories have recovered from Brexit, despite losing a PM, and the supposed right wing threat of UKIP to their flanks has now become a threat to Labour. We shall see.

But have working class values changed or has Labour? Labour has lost its industrial base but the oppressed class remains the same, only fragmented and lacking solidarity or consciousness. Labour meanwhile has retreated to the bourgeois element that was always a part but has now become dominant - only it has fucked this up by backing Brexit (because Corbyn's bourgeois leftism was always an elite of the elite), so it has lost its former working class support and has now turned its back on the bourgeois Leftists who, if they are anything, are Remainers.

Rather than looking inwards, Labour needs to look outwards - recalibrate or die. It needs to re-embrace class warfare, but make it comprehensible to office and shop workers, and it needs to re-embrace the EU as the best way of protecting their rights. But certainly the first of these is highly unlikely because the Momentum crowd of luvvy lefties despise the proles and their "prejudices" (not having experienced any of the dissonance of mass immigration, for example).

I'd be very surprised if at this point Labour as a party of government wasn't doomed. The Liberals (or new old Whigs) won't make it either. Perhaps it is time for a split the elective coalition between the Whigs and a party for the Workers. In any case, three lost elections down the road in Trumpian Brexitan the damage will be done.

MikeB said...

Quite right. These days, I tend to counsel voting with one's heart, even when this might mean supporting a no-hoper rather than a rightist Labourite. But this time round, surely support, and vigorous campaigning, for Snell is a no-brainer regardless of his positioning within the LP?

If the LP vote is reduced at all, then everyone opposed to the Left will claim it as a reflection of Corbyn's uselessness. "Even with a moderate candidate," they will say, "he can't command any confidence. Labour is doomed under his loony-leftie leadership". Even more nightmarish would be if Nuttall polls well, when we will see the further legitimising of the politics of deplorabilism. Farage's ubiquity in the national media will be challenged only by that of other lying, racist scum.

Vote Snell, Stokies!

Blissex said...

«Stoke Central heavily voted for leave and we have a remainer candidate»

As to that J Corbyn and many other "Remainers" voted for an amended Article 50, and K Starmer made a very good speech why that is Labour's position.

The question that will be asked of G Snell on every doorstep is: would you have voted for Article 50 as J Corbyn asked the Labour MPs to do?

The answer is crucial, to avoid turning the by-election into a single-issue one as a rerun of the referendum, which is the obvious strategy of UKIP and Conservatives.

Boffy said...

According to last night's Channel 4 News, it looks like Nuttall may already have legally scuppered his own chances, by saying he was living at an address where he was not.

On the other hand, the Channel 4 News item gave him air-time, and the opportunity to pass it off as the establishment media witch-hunting him. Meanwhile he was able to say that he was prepared to deal with the media, whilst Labour's candidate appeared to be in hiding from them.

I think Gareth's "Remain" position is a positive, though it depends exactly what "Remain" position that is. What is not a positive is being a committed Remainer, and then campaigning on the basis that you would any way still vote to carry through Brexit.

That just sends out a very confused Labour message, and suggests a tendency to opportunism, to say anything simply for electoral support.

Labour needs a clear message, consistently and confidently argued. Then you can utilise all of the troops on the ground to good effect. Its a bit like I always used to think about Alan Ball. The football commentators would always praise his work rate, telling us that he never stopped running.

My response was always that its not how much running you are doing, but whether it is to any purpose.

Kriss said...

Hoping to come up to Stoke to help out with canvassing so all this is useful to know.

A friend posted a photo of Nuttall's address - a house which is now for rent and clearly uninhabited.

Blissex said...

«at this point Labour as a party of government wasn't doomed»

I subscribe to a very simplistic theory of electoral success: oppositions don't win election, governments lose them when they screw up badly, and house prices in the south drive swing voters in marginal southern constituencies.
When southern house prices go up the government party gets returned with a majority, when they stall or go down the opposition gets returned with a majority.
This simplistic theory is applicable for decades, regardless of winning party.
An experienced, capable Brown government lost in 2010 as it had let southern house prices fall, and southern voters chose total unknown spivs Cameron, Osborne, Clegg as the winners, simply because they were the main alternative. Southern voters then returned a majority to Osborne and Cameron in 2015 as they kept pushing up house prices.

People who think that "politics" matters of course think that manifestos, the battle of ideas, spin, tabloid campaigns matter, and I understand that. But for me the question of whether Labour and Corbyn or whoever else becomes a party of government in 2020 or 2025 depends mostly on whether P Hammond manages to keep southern house prices zooming up. If that does not happen, southern voters will "throw the bums out".

There is a small chance that if the Conservatives screw up Brexit that counts as the government screwing up badly, but for 2020 T May has already setup to blame the EU27 for anything.

Blissex said...

«What is not a positive is being a committed Remainer, and then campaigning on the basis that you would any way still vote to carry through Brexit. That just sends out a very confused Labour message»

I understand the appeal of personal consistency, but is G Snell prepared to campaign against the position of the Labour Party leader and of the Labour shadow minister for Europe and of 75% of the other Labour MPs?

Blissex said...

«its not how much running you are doing, but whether it is to any purpose»

It might turn out that the "purpose", or rather the unintended consequence, of campaigning for "Remain" in a 75% "Leave" constituency will be to lose the by-election and make it far more likely for Corbyn to lose the leadership.
I understand that the argument is that having a consistent position, and for the sake of that consistency to campaign against the «tendency to opportunism» of the party leader and 75% of the MPs, would help win the by-election, but it might be risky.

Boffy said...

Firstly, nationally, 65% of Labour voters voted Remain. I think it is political and tactical suicide for Corbyn's Labour to separate itself from this 65% base, and piss them off simply to assuage the 35%.

Secondly, even in Stoke where the referendum vote was 65:35, we do not know what percentage of Labour voters voted Leave. Labour only polled 40% of the vote in the last GE, and the combined UKIP and Tory vote was larger. We can assume that all of the UKIP voters voted Leave, and given that Tory voters voted nationally 65:35 for leave, we might reasonably assume that in a heavily Leave area like Stoke this was more like 80:20.

So, a large proportion of the Leave vote would be accounted for by Tory and UKIP voters. Even in Stoke, the percentage of Labour voters who voted Leave could be as low as 40%, and yet still produce the 65:35 Leave vote. Again, why would you abandon the 60%, or even 50-55% of your voters who voted Remain, to assuage a minority that voted Leave?

Thirdly, all past opinion polls and research has shown that voters concern about the EU comes low down the list behind their concerns over jobs, NHS, housing, wages and so on. Even labour Leave voters would be unlikely to stop voting Labour, and instead vote for the Tories or UKIP, given their anti-working class policies on these more prioritised issues. Polls even now show that around 62% are not prepared to see any reduction in their standard of living from Brexit just to achieve limits on immigration - which was the main factor behind Leave.

Ther would not be the big social unrest that the Brexiteers claim if Parliament did not vote for Brexit. Farage promised a big protest outside the Supreme Court, but the only protesters who turned up were pro-EU not anti!

In the meantime, Labour's dog's Brexit strategy is confusing Labour voters, and sending increasing number to the alt-Tories in the Liberal Democrats, which means that it risks losing that 50-65% of Labour voters that supported Remain, and so sinking any hope of building winning majorities, whilst rehabilitating the defunct Liberals who should have been dead and buried, but whose resurrection will lead to only a plague of walking dead unable to affect anything other than to guarantee further life for the Tories.

jim mclean said...

Unlike the Scottish Referendum result which is going on and on and on most remainers have accepted the Brexit result and just want to get on with it. Most of the moaning is coming from Brexit supporters who will never be happy. Thousands take to the street over Trump, not a whiff of protest over Brexit. In relation the UKIP odds a single large bet has caused the short odds according to one site that monitors betting.

Blissex said...

«65% of Labour voters voted Remain. I think it is political and tactical suicide for Corbyn's Labour to separate itself from this 65% base, and piss them off simply to assuage the 35%.»

I understand that and the following arguments very well, but that's a problem for the Labour Party leadership, and we are discussing here the Stoke Central by-election. Maybe the leadership position is wrong, but should the Stoke by-election fought by campaigning against the leadership position? In a constituency in which a large chunk of voters no longer automatically vote for whatever has a red rosette, and 65% of them are "Leavers"? Maybe there is a good case, but it looks risky to me.

As to the national/electoral issue, the big problem and opportunity that Labour has got is that the 63-65% of Labour voters who voted "Remain", and the 48% that nationwide voted "Remain", are phenomenally concentrated, as there are a number of constituencies with 75% "Remain" vote and where Labour also has enormous majorities (e.g. Corbyn's):

* The opportunity is that in those few "Remain" constituencies even losing a large chunk of Labour voters still results in a Labour win at general election time, and many people (like me...) got over the "Leave" victory.

* The problem is that in the other constituencies the "Leave" vote also was quite strong, and the intersection with the Labour vote also quite strong. Several "Remain" MPs, including notorious T Hunt, reported exceptionally high "Leave" sentiment among Labour voters when canvassing.

As T Hunt well said, it is a fantastically hard job to bridge the gap between cosmopolitan middle classes and marginalized low income classes. He did not add that it is one of the legacies of the extraordinary turn to the right pushed by mandelsonians during Blair's era, and it is quite unfair that J Corbyn of all people has to do the miracle, but I think that he is doing well.

The conservatives have an even bigger long term problem, but for now they are putting on a mask of unity. Interesting times ahead.

Speedy said...

Boffy: I think it is political and tactical suicide for Corbyn's Labour to separate itself from this 65% base, and piss them off simply to assuage the 35%.

So suddenly we have had a conversion to political pragmatism? That applies to Brexit but not immigration, presumably.

Anonymous said...

Snell has already said he would not seek to block Brexit IIRC.

Anonymous said...

Boffy wrote >There would not be the big social unrest that the Brexiteers claim if Parliament did not vote for Brexit.<

Are you kidding? There would be an explosion of Brexiteer indignation. Jo Cox type incidents x 100. It would enable right wing Brexiteers to cloak themselves in the garb of 'injured democrats' and 'commie Corbyn' Labour as the ones who had trashed the referendum vote. If you buck a democratic vote of this size and scale, expect law and order problems.

Boffy wrote >Farage promised a big protest outside the Supreme Court, but the only protesters who turned up were pro-EU not anti!<

That's because Farage's base had won their referendum battle and didn't see the need to mobilise. But if Labour scuppers Article 50 in the Commons, that would all change.

Boffy said...

There is absolutely no evidence of that being true. Farage called on his base to turn up to the Supreme Courts, the gutter press were calling the judges enemies of the people, and they were being whipped up into a belief that the Court would stop Brexit. Still they didn't turn up. Reason they just aren't that arsed about it, as all surveys and polls show.

62% say they are not prepared to suffer ANY loss of living standards simply to reduce immigration. And, this sizeable vote you talk about represented a vote to leave of only around 27% of people aged 16 and over. A large proportion of those that voted Leave are geriatrics in their 80's and 90's, who think that the world map is still painted in the red of the British Empire, and who could vote as they did because they will not live long enough to see any of the disastrous consequences.

In fact, a large number of them have already croaked since they voted, so who knows whether the slim majority for leave even exists now or not? Certainly few of those geriatrics are going to be getting out their zimmer frames to go and cause chaos on the streets of the capital.

I'm far more concerned about all those 16 -40 year olds who will actually suffer the consequences of the vote, and who where they could voted everywhere in the country overwhelmingly for Remain. They are also the future Labour voters, who are being turned away by the party.