Saturday 10 December 2016

Quick Notes on Sleaford

Only two things have come out of Sleaford. Those mods (well, their name anyway) and predictions of imminent doom for the Labour Party. Yes, at the Sleaford and North Hykeham by-election, Labour failed to turn in a creditable performance. It dropped seven points, the Tories and kippers lost a couple apiece, and the LibDems surged past from nowhere and claimed the number three spot.

I don't see cataclysm written in the by-election results. It's hardly a place Labour should expect to do well, but it does condense two problems the party has. The first is with the former LibDem voters. The 35 per cent strategy so-labelled by Dan Hodges claimed that Ed Miliband's Labour was content with building an electoral coalition from existing Labour voters and those fleeing the LibDems during the time of their coalition with the Tories. That, apparently, would be enough to carry a general election. Unfortunately, there was some substance to this as the data sent back to canvassing teams screened out Tories and had us knocking on doors of voters with Labour and LibDem affiliations, don't knows, and no previous data. I digress. The problem Labour has is these folks are going back to the yellow party. This is powering their excellent showing in local council by-elections, and the upset in Richmond.

This is not unrelated to the second problem: Labour's incoherence over Brexit. The LibDems are the party of in. UKIP remain the party of out. The Tories are managing the process and routinely cloak their cluelessness in babble like the infamous objective of a "red, white and blue Brexit". And Labour? Um.

This paralysis is simply not good enough. The official position of the leader's office is the acceptance of June's calamitous result, but that is where clarity ends. A simple critical Brexit position is all that needs taking up, one putting the interest of our people first. Let's call it what it should be: a class position. From here flows the rest - the holding out for a Brexit that isn't paid for by our class, that retains the environmental and workplace protections guaranteed by EU legislation, that doesn't shell out free money to some of Britain's biggest companies under the guise of tariff protection. Yet what do we see? The shadow chancellor borrowing May's rhetoric about making "a success of it", next to nothing from the leader except at Prime Minister's Questions, and too many Labour MPs who think shouting about the "need" for immigration controls will connect with our voters.

Brexit isn't going away and until the party pursues a clear, Brexit-critical line explicitly aligned with the interests of our people, more miserable results await.


Metatone said...

Full agreement. I think the analyses have been a bit overblown, given the fall in turnout and how close the chasing pack are to each other and how far behind the Tory winner they were in this seat. That said, Brexit is right now the biggest issue in British politics and without a clear positioning Labour just look ineffectual.

Of course, Corbyn has the same problem as May - a party (and support in the country) that is split between the 2 sides. However, as you say, the obvious positioning is for Labour to say they won't support a Brexit that makes ordinary people worse off, etc. Oppositions exist to hold the government to account - and as the latest Yougov poll suggests, few ppl are interested in a Brexit that makes them worse off - so I'm mystified why Lab. can't get united around this.

Speedy said...

Like I said before, and saw in the paper today, it's the 0 per cent strategy - won't attract the wwc back because seen as "soft" on immigration, lost the luvvy lefties because soft on brexit. Ain't going to change, no matter how many "proper" policies are put forward as the public don't care. For affluent Labour supporters nothing is more important than Europe, for everyone else it is immigration. And then there's Cotbyn! The irony is the dreadfulness of the policy is actually overshadowing the dreadful perception of the leader, for now, although of course they are one and the same. The future is now. The past is another country.

Igor Belanov said...

If Labour is engaging in conventional Westminster party-politics then realism suggests that it can't afford to adopt a clear line on Brexit until the government comes up with its terms of negotiation. As it is, what I've heard suggests that they are sticking to the idea of remaining in the single market and keeping free movement, even if this has met with some dissent within the party. (Mainly from the right)

To come out firmly for or against Brexit at this stage would be to do serious damage to the party's medium-term prospects as it would involve losing a substantial chunk of support. The Lib Dems are merely enjoying a short-term boost as they have no fear of losing support and can afford to come out with a clear position that has allowed them to gain some tactical votes at these by-elections.

Ultimately Labour can't win on the subject of Europe, but it is better from the narrow electoral point of view for it to look indecisive now rather than to overcommit itself and lose the ability to embarrass the government when it does finally announce its negotiating stance.

Metatone said...

I have to disagree with Igor (which is not my usual position) - the indecisiveness now actually is dangerous, because it allows the frame where the government triggers Art.50 and starts negotiating with no scrutiny. The deal will be crap but just as with austerity the Tories will pronounce TINA and Lab won't have anything to say b/c from Art.50 on it is a one-way process, crap deal or no deal are the choices.

Then, just as with austerity, in theory Lab. can make hay as the economy stutters, but in reality their fuzziness will mean that they get no credit as they critique the gov't and we'll just see a rerun of 2015...

MikeB said...

So Corbyn is goal-hanging, waiting for the goalie to venture off his line, so he can pounce.

It would work if there was someone in midfield doing the work to supply the ball, and a decent defence around the LP's own goal.

But the Party has neither of these atm - in fact, half the team is trying to put the ball into their own net.

I think that the short-term electoral argument that Igor puts forward and that Metatone critisises is recognised as deficient by many in the Party hierarchy. The trouble is that they can't come up with anything better, because the Party is simply paralysed by its ideological splits.

Igor Belanov said...

@ Mike B

"The trouble is that they can't come up with anything better, because the Party is simply paralysed by its ideological splits."

In essence this is the problem, and it has got even worse since Corbyn's re-election. In his efforts to be conciliatory and to try and improve the party's image by appearing more united, Corbyn has effectively avoided initiating any action for fear of appearing provocative.

The prevarication on the issue of Europe is not restricted to Corbyn, however, and the right of Labour is even more confused. Many seem to suggest opposing Brexit outright and insisting on a second referendum, while others seem to regard Brexit as an opportunity to embrace immigration control and appease sections of their constituents. Others want to preserve complete access to the single market and end freedom of movement!

As such, this explains what I wrote in my previous comment. If Labour is wedded to the traditional concept that maintaining at least the veneer of party unity is electorally essential, then this policy of wait-and-see naturally follows, because anything else provokes a split in the party's politicians and its voters.

I would prefer a stronger line, but the risks of this have to be acknowledged, especially as the political situation is amazingly complex and volatile. I find Corbyn's inertia annoying, but it is representative of his unwillingness to split the party, an unwillingness that will be his downfall sooner rather than later.

davidjc said...

Igor makes excellent points.

Also, it is wrong to say Labour hasn't got a line - it's freedom of movement plus any concessions the UK can get on state intervention. In other words it's putting the economic well being of workers first and fits McDonnel's expansionary plans.

It's fair to say that message isn't getting through!, but hard to work out why that is - candidates include: underlying economic stagnation, blamed the western world over on immigrants so an extra hostile right wing political atmosphere; biased media which has taken up the right wing agenda; obstruction from the party machine - Project Anaconda; leading labour figures talking against the line - Kinnock, Burnham, Lewis; and, sloppy leadership.

I don't know what weight we should give each of those, but I don't see why we need to lump it on just one, Corbyn's supposed incompetence.

It's quite possible a super competent, media superstar leader with the same pro immigrant line would have worse poll ratings because they'd be more clearly out of step with the poisonous political mood - e.g. Blairites forget that right wingers hate him as much as left wingers because of freedom of movement.

Whatever and whoever is to blame, the bigger point is that we have a leadership prepared to stand firm against bigotry and the widely held, but categorically wrong, assumption that immigration is bad. I'm grateful for that and I'm afraid we have to take the hit in the polls while it's unpopular.

SimonB said...

It's not just that Labour hasn't a clear line on Brexit, it's that Labour are non-existent to many people. The media strategy of ignoring the media is a massive failure. I can't help but think that, had Corbyn soldiered on, by now the public would have seen through the lies and they would have backfired.

One or two by-elections may not mean much, but with polls looking so bad I'm pretty sure we're heading for a catastrophic general election unless something changes.