Friday 7 June 2019

Your Hot Take on Peterborough

It doesn't matter how Farage spins it, defeat for his Brexit Party in the Peterborough by-election is an unexpected setback for his vanity project. In many ways, he couldn't have asked for a better by-election scenario. It came a fortnight after EU elections in which Farage did very well, cleaning up in those elections in, um, Peterborough, too. It's also a seat where 60% of the voting public supported Leave, and all this took place in a context where Brexit overdetermines all things political. Throw in the supposition the main parties are in disarray, how the former Labour incumbent Fiona Onasanya, was turfed out in disgrace for doing bird, and the revelation Lisa Forbes liked some dodge Facebook posts five years ago, this was Farage's show to lose.

And lose he did. Media domination and hype wasn't enough to get the Brexit Party over the line. They did well, certainly, but second place counts for nothing. Don't buy this "we didn't exist eight weeks ago" excuse. This is UKIP 2.0, feeding off its record and the media personality of its best known figure. Not to have brought home the goods with the best set of circumstances an insurgent party could hope for is bad news and shows up the limitations of thes project. As Stephen Bush notes, Brexit Party "insiders" have resorted to UKIP type by blaming postal votes and heavily insinuating there was something improper about "ethnic votes". By all means, Farage can go down the dog whistle path if he wants but that only throws off potential supporters and makes his outfit less able to pose as the voice for all leave voters. Remember, this project has drawn some (ostensible) left wing votes to it, which aren't likely to stick around if the Brexit Party replays past dalliances with Islamophobia and anti-immigrant scapegoating.

The second problem Farage has is the party itself. Deciding to incorporate the Brexit Party as a company in which there are no members, only a mailing list but ensuring, of course, a place the gullible can send their cash spares Farage from the nightmare of the UKIP NEC meetings or having to tolerate idiots banging on about gay donkeys and necrophilia. But the price of no independent party organisation effectively means no campaign machine. Speaking to comrades who went to Peterborough, the Labour bulldozer came to town, but the Brexit Party itself? It sounded just like the UKIP by-election farce in Stoke Central, but on an even lower level. Haphazard leafleting, little to no canvassing, no identification of supporters. We've already seen one intentionally elitist outfit bite the dust. Clearly, Farage's outfit is not about to fold but for as long as he persists with this top-down cadre model of organisation, the "party" will have little to zero efficacy as an outfit that can help at election time.

Can we discern anything else? The same flattening of the vote we saw in Newport and in local by-elections was very much evident, and we also see that when other issues come in to play Brexit - whether leave or remain - isn't a magic bullet automatically pushing all else aside. Peterborough then reminds one of all the by-elections after Eastleigh in March 2013 and the general election two years later. Regardless of incumbency, UKIP swooped in and took second place. Then, as now, media hype played its role. The persona of Farage as a repository of hope, nostalgia, and empire-tinged Brexit fantasies saw UKIP develop into a catch-all protest party, which was the position occupied by the Liberal Democrats until vacated by them when they went and carried the bags - and the can - for the Tories in coalition. The defection of Douglas Carswell and Mark Reckless saw them resign their seats and re-win them as UKIP MPs, albeit somewhat estranged in the case of the first. Peterborough could suggest a return to this pattern then. What is also brought into play is what was the counter-insurgent anti-UKIP vote, that is a layer of voters who voted tactically to keep the kippers out. If that happened then, and I did speak to some of these people during the Stoke Central campaign, including regular Tory voters(!), it can happen again.

Or perhaps the Brexit Party cannot be the catch-all protest party. The LibDems are no longer stymied by government, and are buoyed after benefiting from some serious vote lending at Labour's expense a couple of weeks ago. It's difficult to believe the Brexit Party would be much in contention if another by-election was to crop up in a Labour-held remain-voting seat. The LibDems on the other hand, who improved their vote in Peterborough but were stuck at the status of also-rans should do better were the seat's circumstances different. And, unlike Farage's mob who are largely passive, the LibDems are no slouches when it comes to campaigning.

Speculation, smeculation. There is an insurgent reactionary project in the land, and Labour gave it a bloody nose. It shows the Brexit Party is not unstoppable, it is hampered by deep flaws of Farage's own making and they're not ones he's inclined to fix. It also shows Labour doesn't have to go hard remain to mobilise sufficient support, and that stressing our regular strengths can smother the Brexit Party, and by extension the LibDems, where they haven't got any answers. Peterborough then is by no means a decisive election, but it demonstrates there is hope. Politics is not inevitably flowing to the right. We can stand against the stream, and we can win.


mikenotts said...

Hi Phil,

I'll admit I'm a bit the worse for wear at the moment (a late '60's - in age - return-to-labour demographic) but i thought I'd post my contribution to a beer making forum I follow (a strange version of Orwells demented take on tobacconists all being fascists, except this is true);

[I don't watch the BBC though i do pay my licence fee, purely due to a cowardly fear of being targeted: simpler to pay. But my objection to the BBC seems to be the opposite of most people posting here: i think the last 40 years have been a disaster for this country and I support the current labour party in all its works. The BBC, castrated by new Labour (remember David Kelly's suicide and what led up to it?) then staffed at the highest levels by Cameron at al with tories, is a part of the problem.

However, that is not why I'm posting this - you guys all have your perfectly legitimate opinions and every right to post them.

The reason I'm posting is this: since I took an interest in brewing beer, I've signed up to two beer forums and browsed thru lots more. And what i think I can truthfully say is that when most members of a beer forum posts a political opinion, it is nearly always right wing. Thatcher loving, Corbyn hating, Pro-brexit, climate-change-is-a-hoax-by-all-the-worlds-scientists-including-NASA-who-are-lying, Trump loving etc.

Now, I wouldn't want to argue on a beer forum about whether the world is warming or not. My question simply is (which I'm struggling to understand - and I'm in my late '60's with a paid off mortgage and ample pension etc, so classic Farage recruiting ground) - WHAT IS THE CONNECTION BETWEEN BREWING BEER AS A HOBBY AND BEING EXTREMELY RIGHT WING?]

I been wanting to ask this for ages and now I've done it.

Dave Levy said...

I am using a phone so excuse the brevity. One of the factors in Labour's victory was a squeeze on the LibDems. This won't happen everywhere.

Dialectician1 said...

Dear Unknown

A great post. It's not just beer brewers or tobacconists, but a whole generation of people educated in the post-war era. You meet them everywhere. I've just finished reading Danny Dorling & Sally Tomlinson's book, 'Rule Britannia'. These two Oxford academics explore the basis of the ideology that underpins Brexit etc. There is a rampant 'individualist ideology', which has been nurtured over the years not just by the MSM but by our schools and academia in general. A lot of this ideology hangs on a mixture of a belief in eugenics & a narrow Kiplingesque understanding of 'our history' as the white man's burden. The present D Day anniversary plays into this 'plucky Englander' narrative: a 'special breed' of beings who once conquered the world AND defeated the Nazis. There is a pride in an anti-intellectualism that dismisses theory and rational argument as continental mumbo-jumbo. This allows the British to wallow in their glorious small island history: a nation of civilising, seafaring colonialists. Of course, this whole project is now being undermined by a continental urban elite AND Jeremy Corbyn.

BTW, great to see Corbyn begin the attack on eugenics/meritocracy with his social justice speech.

Anonymous said...

A "squeeze"?

They went up by 9 points in intrinsically unpromising territory for them and despite not running much of a campaign.

It is truer to say that they almost handed the Brexit Party victory.

Anonymous said...

The pessimistic view,

I have said before, the Tories are being forced, against their will I suspect, down a hard Brexit road. They obviously brought this upon themselves when they recklessly and idiotically
shoved the EU referendum into their manifesto, without giving it a second thought!

When this happens, i.e. when the Tories become the Brexit party with bells on then the Brexit party vote will decline and the Tories will pick up these votes and hey presto Peterborough will be theirs!

Labour are stuck with nuance, as jumping firmly in either way will damage them. Which is nfair given it was the Tories who created this mess in the first place!

The lib dems can just stick with their firm pro remain position because it can't do them any harm, i.e. the only way is up for them.

So I would say the result was bad for Labour and the Tories can take the positives out of it, albeit with the bitter after taste that they now have to become UKIP ultra or UKIP 4.0, you get the idea!

Now the above state of affairs is where aggressive imperialist policies gets you, so ironically if you see Jim Denham and support brexit, don't forget to thank him!

Those on the progressive side of politics should maybe do something else if they ever meet Denham.

Although maybe Denham did this all deliberately and understands that the only way the EU can possibly fully integrate is with little England pissing outside the tent, but in reality the likes of Denham and pro Imperialists like Boffy steadfastly refuse to answer this paradox.

The paradox being that they support the EU because they somehow (answers on a postcard) thinks that will lead to socialism via people uniting (yep that really is the sum total of their position) yet they support the one thing, i.e. Britain remaining, that will thwart and hinder this very development (but it doesn't matter because their whole logic is bullshit anyway!)

ps I noticed that about brewing beer too! I don't want to be prejudicial but British white people are a bunch of twats in the grand scheme of things, so maybe that explains it!

Boffy said...

" It also shows Labour doesn't have to go hard remain to mobilise sufficient support"

Oh yes, it does, for the reasons I've set out here. The Tories will now turn hard right, and the Brexit company vote will surge back to them. If the Tories consolidate their core vote, whilst Labour continues its reactionary pro-Brexit, or at best duplicitous and confused position, it will continue to haemorrhage votes to the Libs/Greens/SNP and Plaid, as happened in the Local and Euro elections. That is especially the case as voters now see that in numerous seats these alternatives have a good chance of winning due to FPTP, so long as they get a larger vote than Labour.

As John Curtice pointed out for every 1 vote Labour stands to lose to the Brexiters, by not being Brexity enough, it will lose 3 to Remain supporting parties for being seen to be too Brexity. You do the maths.

"and that stressing our regular strengths can smother the Brexit Party, and by extension the LibDems, where they haven't got any answers."

Oh no it doesn't. The Brexit Company has only the one policy. It swallowed up the Tory and UKIP vote on just that one policy - hard Brexit. Labour's vote was determined by Brexit too - negatively. Labour's vote was made up of voters seeking to stop the Brexit Party, despite Labour's murky position, solely because it was the only way of stopping the Brexit company winning. It was lent votes by Liberals and Greens in a seat where those parties had no chance of winning. That will apply only in a minority of seats, and a declining number if Labour fails to change position, and the Liberals continue to soak up Labour voters.

John Curtice showed that despite Labour claims, there is no evidence that other issues played a part in its vote. It was fully consistent with what he had predicted from the Euro elections vote in Peterborough.

Jim Denham said...

Letter in yesterday's Graun:

• As a redundant miner who campaigned before, during and after the 1984-85 strike for both economic and social investment, I, far more than Mr Harris, am aware of the depth of betrayal, loss and anger in previously strong working-class communities.

However, there is absolutely no alternative but to take on the Brexit party, Farage, the ERG and the Tory party both in and outside of parliament, in the interests of working people throughout Britain.

The incoherent decision-making by the Labour party’s national executive committee that flies in the face of an annual conference decision does not in any way give the lead the nation is desperate for. The way out is a binary choice, starkly in or out. The May-negotiated EU agreement shows that any form of compromise cannot succeed.
Lawrence Knight
(Former president, Kent Area NUM), Aylesham, Kent

Anonymous said...

So would Labour have won if it went into Peterborough telling the 61% (on a high turnout) who voted Leave that we thought they should try voting again? Unlikely given the size of our majority.

Weren't current Labour tactics on Brexit enough to both stem potential loses to the BP and at the same time pick up LibDem/Green tactical votes against the new kippers? And the focus on 'bread and butter' local and economic issues sufficient to get enough of the Labour vote out to win? Hard to say for sure without detailed swing vote data but that's my impression.

It's just one by-election with its specific conditions but given the unfavourable circumstances we fought in (Euro-election BP boost, disgraced ex-MP, massive pro-BP media hype, ongoing sabotage from Labour right) wasn't this a vindication of current Labour Brexit-related tactics? They are just tactics and can be tweaked where necessary but I hope the panic amongst some on the left after the Euro-Elections subsides a little now.

The losers weren't just the BP in Peterborough they were the Labour right - witness the silence or feeble post election sabotage attempts from Phillips, Hodge, Watson etc. Adopting Watson's PV position would have lost us Peterborough - which was of course his goal.

So, class politics along with a local working class candidate and a formidable ground game (1000+ Labour campaigners) can - as you say Phil - beat Farage in otherwise unfavourable conditions. Is it over the top to say that Peterborough was a distant echo of the factors that led us to do so well in the 2017 general election? It ain't broke so let's not try to fix it with telling Labour leave voters that they didn't understand what they were voting for 2 years ago

Anonymous said...

I have noticed how the reactionaries continually use the working classes to justify their positions. Speedy will tell us for example that Corbyn represents the middle classes, despite the evidence. The telegraph told us that working class northerners would not be impressed by Corbyn's refusal to attend the lavish banquet!

You see these reactionaries are forever trying to flatter us and use us to justify whatever shit it is they are justifying, which brings us onto Denham's letter.

We can all roll out our token salt of the earth, real industrial prole to justify whatever position we take, so I fail to see why it matters that that letter was written by a miner? That really is only relevant to a manipulative charlatan - hey yes that's you Denham!

Shit I come from a mining village and let me tell you, a former miner was telling me the other day, we should send all these immigrants back to where they came from. I said, oh fuck off you ignorant twat!

Speedy said...

I was browsing through these comments with no intention to post until I received a name check.

Although you are quite right, Anonymous, that I do tend to say JC represents the bourgeois interest. I noticed his abandoning of social mobility for social justice and thought precisely that, without thinking about it too hard. I read his justification and thought, well he might have a point, but I would be interested in Phil's take on it (regardless of the fact that I fear anything out of JC's arse must be sacred to Phil, although admittedly he's not as bad as Owen Jones).

Personally, i felt a bit beh... as a working class person who did well myself, and having noted the seizing up of social mobility since the 1970s, and having gone to a bog standard comp, I would observe the following:

- I thought grammar schools were a good first try and did create a lot more social mobility for all their faults.
- you see social mobility declining with the advent of comprehensives
- i would have never got into a grammar, so I'm not pro them
- but comprehensives reflect this social justice rather than mobility tendency
- what you really need to do (apart from massively investing in education, obviously) is ban private education (a point I have always made, reactionary or not).
- and radically reform the comprehensive system (even introducing "bussing" to avoid post-code selectivity).

Social justice just seems like shorthand for the classic bourgeois Left contempt for the striving working class who don't accept their place, and don't vote Labour. Use the excuse of pulling everyone up to keep everyone down. Maybe if Labour became more the party of these strivers (Libraries give us power) again, rather than the party that despises their aspiration perhaps they will do better. The Left's version of the "deserving poor" is just as distorted as the right's - precisely because they are coming from the same place, ie to maintain their own grip on power.

JC, of course, was privately educated (not to mention Milne!), which is one reason why he would fit into this mould, although of course Atlee was too. But even Atlee balked at banning private schools too, which is largely why we are where we are.

But that's just "reactionary" thinking.

Dialectician1 said...

Dear Speedy
Worth a butchers.

Mrbennett89 said...

I'm a former head brewer for a micro brewery in North Yorkshire. I'm as left as they come, perhaps the particular fora you're contributing to is simply inhabited by a majority of "I'm alright Jack" arseholes.

Speedy said...

Thanks, I read that. I can see the logic behind it and as I said he might have a point. I would simply observe (reading the links through, too):

- how do you define middle class? I have spent some time "among" the middle class and am middle class myself, now. However, there's middle class and middle class - I wonder what the Guardian's definition is? Presumably people like them, yet knowing the industry, I also know the Guardian is famously the poshest paper on Fleet Street, it's senior staff almost all privately educated, etc. Yet they all call themselves "middle class" (whereas I would call them upper class).

So how do they interpret these statistics that talk about "middle class with sharp elbows"? Are they talking about people like them in the top jobs, or actually the kind of aspirational lower-middle and working class people who send their children to these schools and do everything they can to help them get on, knowing, precisely as the article states, that education is not enough? The kind of people who have got on themselves, but are the first generation to do so? The kind of people that many Guardian staffers would never consider in the same social category as themselves.

- this is why I am suspicious of this kind of thing, because I wonder (and only wonder) if instead of giving people a foot up, it is (unconsciously) designed to punish people who have already got on, a bit, and as soon as they begin to ape the very strategies that helped the commentariat get where they did, they are criticised for it.

- it is naive to think education is the only solution. Deep-seated structural social problems developed over generations, not to speak of the broader economic picture, drive inequality. I may be mistaken but if there is one thing that remains constant it is the fight to retain privilege, and having seen many sides of this coin, and having been at the sharp end of a fair amount of class prejudice myself, I am quite attuned to this issue.

- in my opinion, tweaking the existing model will achieve nothing. Only radical interventions stand a chance of forcing change. Short of putting them all up against the wall, banning private education (along with private health) and radically reinvesting in education (which admittedly i respect Labour for calling for) would be a start.

- finally, just for the record, I have never not voted Labour and will never not vote Labour, which is more than can be said for many on the "Left".

PlebJames said...

The beer brewing question. A friend of mine has just written a book called "Generation Left" which states that for the first time in 2017, age was the most significant predictor of who you would vote for. On issue after issue, the older you get - the worse your views are statistically likely to become (present company accepted - you may be forced to recognise you're all outliers and anomalies).
I suspect beer brewing is an older whiter person's game.
By the way, generalisations can come over as insulting, but they are legitimate to talk about when they are statistically accurate - as in this case.

As for class - I have come to the conclusion that you have to look at two generations of a family to accurately assess class. I was brought up middle class (albeit by right-on lefties e.g. sent to local comp) but, due to moving to Leeds plus terrible government policies, I have no confidence in my ability to pass those advantages on to my kids. I guess you might call me downwardly mobile.
Whereas, my sister made some better career (and husband) choices and could (if she chose to) get her kids privately educated and pay their way through Uni.

As for Brexit - the Labour Party strategy HAS been the right one i.e. being ambiguous until such time as you're forced into backing a second vote. For my money, the time for that probably came just after the Chequers deal failed four times, but I understand the reticence. It has to come soon though, it really does.