Saturday 16 September 2023

On the Fazakerley East By-Election

There was hope among some of the left that the Liverpool Community Independents would take the Fazakerley East seat in the by-election that took place on Thursday. In the end they did not. Labour held the seat fairly comfortably, despite tumbling some 27 points while LCI came second with a fraction over 30%. Undoubtedly, the standing of the Liberal Democrats, Tories, and another independent scuppered the chances of it becoming the sole repository of an anti-Labour vote. In his write up Alan Gibbons concludes, "a year-old group is consistently winning seats or coming second, proving there is a political space to the left of Labour. We are polling way above the usual left of Labour vote."

A couple of points are worth thinking about. As a signatory of the Transform initiative and the only one of its affiliates that has fought and won elections under its banner, there was bound to be some interest. This by-election came after a couple of other small scale challenges to Labour this year by councillors and activists forced out by internal shenanigans and witch-hunts. However, the conclusion Alan draws in his summing up is both right and wrong.

Right, because there is a political space to the left of Labour and this can only grow once Keir Starmer enters Number 10. The difficulty the extra-Labour left have had in getting their acts together has a long history, and the life of regroupment initiatives have proven not to be a happy one. But with Starmer's lurch to the right the space for a populist left formation is now open again, but one which any new left outfit will have to fight the Greens for. With the Lib Dems also likely to do well out of anti-Starmer disaffection in the coming years, this space is a bit more crowded than the ground open to the succession of failed left projects between the mid-90s and 2010.

And wrong, because Alan has misconstrued the significance of his group's vote. Slapping on words like Community and, more crucially, Independent will automatically attract more support, particularly at a local level, than employing the S-word. It reaches parts of the electorate party labels seldom reach. For instance, also on Thursday night Nick Parker stood for the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition in Carholme, Lincolnshire and got 74 votes (4%). You might ask which is the more accurate measure of socialism's explicit appeal at the ballot box, and how well LCI's challenge would have fared under the name 'Liverpool Community Socialists'. We don't have to ponder this in the abstract. In 2018 a couple of Labour councillors in Southampton decamped to TUSC and in that year's local elections they fielded a full slate of candidates. Across the city the votes were derisory, except for the two councillors who retained their seats standing not as TUSC but as independents.

If you stand as an independent, for a subsection of the electorate more often than not you are an anti-political two fingers to the (local) political establishment and will attract support on that basis. It is not meaningfully a "left vote", regardless of what is put on the leaflets, nor will much of it translate without the hard yards of community rootedness and year-round campaigning. In other words, while LCI does have a base and can look forward to doing well in future local elections, they owe their success to being independents rather than socialists.

Image Credit


Anonymous said...

Well, the obvious lesson to draw from that is: "Community" is the new S-word.

The Socialism that everyone hates is about an overbearing centralised state, but the Socialism that most have completely forgotten about is about Community. Looking out for each other, as opposed to succumbing to divide and rule from above.

"Community" as a buzzword is pretty much impossible to attack, unless you're prepared to go the whole nine yards and run a few thousand volts through the corpse of Thatcher in the hope of reanimating the old monster. Political terrain right now is not exactly favourable to that; "we're all Thatcherites now" is the hill that they've got to die on, "no such thing as society" probably has to remain the quiet part for the foreseeable future. So the left had probably better colonise "Community" first, eh?

Blissex said...

"Labour held the seat fairly comfortably, despite tumbling some 27 points while LCI came second with a fraction over 30%."

Threatened by much smaller swings than this the Conservatives to fight UKIP adopted kipper politics and Labour to defuse the SDP adopted "centrist" politics.

I doubt that to prevent the loss of dozens of seats as a chunk of their voyers switch to "independent left" candidates New Labour will adopt left politics: as long as some thatcherite party wins their historic role is fulfilled.

Blissex said...

«Threatened by much smaller swings than this the Conservatives to fight UKIP adopted kipper politics and Labour to defuse the SDP adopted "centrist" politics.»

1979: 76.0% 31.23m/41.10m: 11.53m Lab. 13.70m Con. 4.31m Lib.
1983: 72.7% 30.72m/42.19m: 08.46m Lab. 13.01m Con. 7.78m SDP+Lib
1987: 75.3% 32.57m/43.18m: 10.03m Lab. 13.74m Con. 7.34m SDP+Lib

In 1983 the SDP took 13% of the votes and left Labour with 25%.

2010: 65.1% 30.00m/45.60m: 08.61m Lab. 10.70m Con. 6.84m LDP
2015: 66.1% 30.70m/46.43m: 09.35m Lab. 11.33m Con. 6.30m LDP,UKIP

In 2015 UKIP took

Numbers for the Fazakerley East (2022 for the previous larger Fazerkeley) ward by-election:

2022-06: 21,0% 2381/11299: 1365 Lab. 638 Ind 290 LDP
2023-05: 20.7% 858/4179: 581 Lab. 277 LCI
2023-09: 20.2% 855/4208: 350 Lab. 258 LCI 177 LDP

Even in a low turnout election, where only the politically committed usually vote, it is clear that not many Labour voters are willing to vote for New Labour. I wonder whether there are more than 350 Labour party members and recent ex-members in that ward. Anyhow I would not be surprised if many Labour members and recent ex-members could not bring themselves to vote for New Labour.

For "the left" the strategy is obvious: put up a lot of "Community Independents" candidates to apply to New Labour the same pressure that SDP applied to Labour in the 1980s and UKIP to the Conservatives in the 2010s, with two possible outcomes:

* New Labour is forced to move left to avoid losing 100 marginal seats.
* New Labour fulfil their historical mission, loses 100 seats, and the Mandelson Tendency entrysts get thrown out of the party (not much of a chance of that, the entrysts.have burrowed deep into the party structure, pursuing a strategy of total PASOKification).

Anonymous said...

Blissex, it was a by-election - which encourages protest voting.

Especially for a Labour run council with long standing "issues".

Blissex said...

«a by-election - which encourages protest voting.»

Sure and indeed I pointed out that the SDP vote was a protest vote against "communist" Labour and UKIP was a protest vote against "euroquisling" Conservatives.

All it takes is that 10-15%, never mind 30%, vote for "Community Independents" and New Labour (but not their historic mission of ensuring only thatcherites can win elections) is toast.

In the particular case there is an interesting detail made clear by the numbers I reported previously: unlike in other by-elections the percent of voters did not fall, it was 20-21% as in previous elections. That is for wards all elections are in effect by-elections, only the committed, the activists, turn up.

What is remarkable is that in the recent by-election the New Labour activists did not turn up, but the Labour ones did. The LCI votes fell slightly from 277 to 258, but the New :Labour vote collapsed from 581 to 250.

A pretty significant protest.

Our blogger has been repeatedly warning that in a general election many Labour voters might rather vote Green than New Labour, and they might instead vote for local "Community Independents" or simply stay home rather than vote for Ndew Labour. The question is whether New Labour can switch enough "soft tories" to compensate for the loss of Labour voters.

Phil said...

For a significant "subsection of the electorate", Corbyn's Labour was "an anti-political two fingers to the (local) political establishment" and did "attract support on that basis". However, it was "not meaningfully a 'left vote', regardless of"... oh, wait.

Being an anti-establishment outsider, Corbyn was often painted as a "left populist", a kind of political mirror image to Farage. That was lazy and inaccurate, but it's also a mistake to go to the other extreme and insist that the appeal of that form of leftism had nothing in common with the anti-political appeal of populism - or that any candidate who appeals on an anti-political basis can possibly also be part of the Left.