Saturday, 1 February 2020

Stoke Central Labour's Nomination Meeting

Stoke Central Labour Party met up this Saturday morning to make its nominations for the leadership and deputy leadership contests. Spoiler alert, we voted to endorse Rebecca Long-Bailey and Dawn Butler. When you consider how in 2010 the local party endorsed David Miliband, in 2015 it gave Yvette Cooper the nod and, despite voting to endorse Jeremy Corbyn in 2016, selected Gareth Snell over a Corbyn supporter in 2017 for the Stoke Central by-election, how did the party move to nominate two left wing candidates this time? Without the time nor the inclination for another blood and guts analysis of local politics, we should have a goose at what happened on the day.

In all, 61 voting members turned up, which was significantly more than the equivalent meeting in 2016. And the politics? With the leadership debate up first it was clear there was a mood for unity ... against Keir Starmer. Regardless of who was speaking, criticisms came from all corners criticising him for bouncing Labour into support for the second referendum. In the end, the fall out of Brexit for Stoke Labour proved too much and overrode the conditions of support that's causing him to scoop up nominations hand-over-fist in CLPs elsewhere. With a desultory three votes to his name, he at least managed to triple Emily Thornberry's tally. And so it quickly became apparent - folks were either speaking for Lisa Nandy and Rebecca Long-Bailey.

The arguments for Lisa came in two batches. For some, there was genuine enthusiasm. One comrade who was originally more favourable to Keir found Lisa's diagnosis of Labour's malaise compelling, and thought she performed very well in front of the media. Especially her Andrew Neil interview was assured and despite his best efforts, never managed to trip her up. Another comrade suggested her socialism was just the ticket because she offered a bridge between the north, where we suffered, and the southern (London) seats. He also said that she listened, which is a sign of a good leader. One suggested she was less likely to come a cropper in the media, and has that elusive (and nebulous) swing appeal.

The second set of arguments were motivated by what we'll clumsily refer to anti-Long-Baileyism. A recurring argument praised RLB for her contribution to the manifesto and that comrades liked her socialist ideals, but we have to row back from that (a position some disappointing melt used in 2015 to help secure the nomination for Yvette Cooper). Another comrade argued we needed someone who wasn't divisive and can unite the party, which is something Lisa can do and Becky (apparently) cannot. A couple of other comrades were more blunt. There's no point the left blaming the hurdles if that's the race you're in (though, it might be said, said athlete might be annoyed if members of their own team had put ground glass in their running shoes beforehand), and RLB will face the same. Another said Jeremy Corbyn was no good and we heard it time and again on the doors. The truth of the matter is people wanted sensible, centre policies, and as RLB carries on where Corbyn left off she won't be able to win.

In the arguments heard for RLB, one comrade pointed out that had the party united behind Corbyn as its members expected the MPs to then we wouldn't be in this situation, because Labour would have achieved even more in 2017. The fact of the matter is politics is now a clear case of them and us, and we have to stand up for us. Another emphasised the importance of the green new deal and, quoting Tony Benn, how we should never let the media choose our leader because it's only a hop, skip, and a jump from them determining our policies. Taking some sound advice, I held back until all the main arguments were heard and then had my three minutes emphasising three points: rebutting the nonsense about Labour needing to be more centrist ("didn't hear any arguments on the doors demanding benefits be cut and more of the public sector sold off"), criticising Lisa's pitch ("can't support someone who misrecognises a stark age division for a problem with working class voters and towns"), and endorsing RLB as the only candidate who gets this and has a strategy to win ("we don't need to build a red bridge between the north and the south, we need to build it between the generations").

The first round of voting gave us, in addition to the figures already mentioned, Becky 29 and Lisa 28. And following distribution ... RLB scooped the nomination by 31 votes to 30. Tight but a win is a win.

The deputy leadership debate was a less polarising affair. Again, there was an outbreak of consensus in terms of the brick bats the erstwhile deputy leader received, and how the next office holder must support and not undermine the members' choice. A few comrades wryly observed that they thought the field for this contest was stronger than the leadership. Again, applying the wait-and-see advice before speaking it seemed like Angela Rayner was going to walk it. Member after member got up to talk about her qualities, nous, fighting spirit, and roots in the union movement. Another comrade said he was particularly impressed with the performance of Dawn Butler and Rosena Allin-Khan, whereas Angela seemed a bit on the flat side. And another said this was a bit of a blind contest because we don't really know who the candidates are and what they might be like in position.

This is where I spoke in favour of Dawn Butler. As some members might not know who they're voting for, it's perhaps worthwhile opening out the contest for a decent debate. As Richard Burgon and Angela have already made it onto the ballot, I suggested that comrades might consider lending her their votes. I also said there were sound political reasons for supporting Dawn too - the Tories will be looking to scapegoat minorities so we need someone in the leadership that can call out Boris Johnson's racism and champion equalities. Also, Dawn isn't a factional player - she supported Gordon Brown and Ed Miliband while they were leaders, and stuck by Corbyn when the rest of the parliamentary party tried to come for him. If we want unity, here we have a candidate who has practised it throughout her Commons' career.

After hearing other members speak, we went to the vote. This time it was more emphatic. In the first round, Dawn was well out in front with 24 to Angela's 18. But then the joys of Labour proceduralism intervened. After eliminating those with fewer votes, on 27 to 26 respectively neither had 50% and after "redistributing" Angela's votes to Dawn she was left with 30, one vote under the threshold for endorsement. How annoying!

In all, not results I was expecting the CLP to come up with but welcome nonetheless. I hope other comrades looking to make the case for Becky and Dawn find this post useful.

NB Dawn Butler's nomination was accepted by the regional office.
Image Credit


Peter Hack said...

hi, interesting read but really disappointing re 2nd Referendum. Did you want to lose London instead ? if you search the Telegraph Facebook site there is an article on Mitford the only economist to back Brexit that I am aware of; as customs barriers are erected then the price to car and other manufacturing will be high ditto family farm agriculture. Elections are to be fought on the future not the past; Brexit will not go well; Starmer is well placed to articulate that he got the balance right. frankly as France stands fighting austerity where is the British Left standing shoulder to shoulder with the analysis of its tax evading elites ? check out Mitford and ask why his analysis was not communicated to the British people. I mourn Robin Cook and frankly as a French speaker may leave the Labour Party; the guff that I am hearing from the Lexit left led by thye Morning Star is too mind numbingly parochial. Britain is divided. some of it wealthy and if some of the wealthy are not gathered on board we will lose again..Starmer is the man to make that case. Brexit is the Tories; England is alone.

Boffy said...

Its understandable that some Labour members in Stoke feel pressured by local reactionary public opinion and given that the Labour Party is an electoralist party rather than a principled socialist party cave in to it, rather than stand against it.

The idea that Labour lost because of the decision, late in the day, to back a second referendum is nonsense. In fact, Labour's performance in the General Election, as Paul mason has pointed out, having very belatedly and half-heartedly adopted a position of support for a second referendum, was actually far better than its performance earlier in the year, in the local and EU elections, when its more obvious Corbynite pro-Brexit position shone through. In those elections Labour really was decimated ending in 5th and 6th places.

What is more Labour's GE showing might have been better had it a) not left it so late to swing to a more anti_brexit stance, but b) had that stance itself not been so stupid, of calling for a second referendum whilst continuing to claim it would negotiate a "Jobs First Brexit", and then not being clear whether in the referndum it would back its own deal or Remain!

So, in backing RLB and Butler, Stoke Central members have again got it wrong on the basis of a false analysis, and a collapse into tailing local public opinion. A continuation of the politics of Corbyn and the continued influence of those that were behind him will doom Labour to irrelevance. None of the candidates offer any real hope that a socialist can get behind, but at least Starmer had a correct analysis of the problem over the last three years in relation to Brexit, and represents an internationalist perspective of the kind you would expect from an ex Trot - which is no doubt why the Stalinists are also so vituperative in their attacks on him.

The Labour electorate has changed across the country, if even if a large part of it in places like Stoke is stuck in time warp. On the back of it, the party's membership has also changed across the country, one of the positive things that Corbyn's leadership challenge, and anger at the Brexit vote has achieved. The best hope now is a large Starmer victory, and a large mobilisation of the rank and file to prevent his leadership being hijacked by the right.

Caoilte said...

As someone involved in running an upcoming nominations meeting I'd be interested to hear how your CLP decided that a candidate had to get 50% of the total votes rather than 50% of the votes that round. As I read the rules they do not specify the former and I think it would have been reasonable for your CLP to have nominated Dawn. It might even be worth challenging. Dawn could certainly do with the nomination.

Blissex said...

«There's no point the left blaming the hurdles if that's the race you're in»

But the role of parties, even before winning, is representing: the usual mandelsonian argument is that 60% of voters are affluent "Middle England" thatcherites, the 40% have nowhere else to go, so Labour should compete with the Conservatives for that 60%.

Even given for granted all that, the problem is that the Conservatives are very good at getting the vote of the affluent "Middle England" thatcherite voters, so competing with them won't work, unless they fail to pump up property prices like in the 1990s, it still won't win, and will instead PASOKify.

«The truth of the matter is people wanted sensible, centre policies»

And thanks to that prime minister Jo Swinson with her LibDem-ChangeUK coalition (Chuka Umunna Chancellor, Chris Leslie Foreign Secretary) won her December 2019 landslide. :-)

Anonymous said...

«quoting Tony Benn, how we should never let the media choose our leader because it's only a hop, skip, and a jump from them determining our policies.»

But that's exactly the plan. While it is proven that in most elections the leader (and the traditional press) has a small to nought impact (0-2 percent points), once elected the leader has a large impact on the policies effectively carried out by the government once installed as PM. That's why the Mandelson Tendency entrysts are obsessed with the leadership: it has a disproportionate impact on whether Labour implements thatcherite policies or not (as well as parachuting loyal mandelsonians in safe seats). See 1977-2007 for the Murdoch-Blair case.

Blissex said...

«against Keir Starmer. Regardless of who was speaking, criticisms came from all corners criticising him for bouncing Labour into support for the second referendum.»

I blame also Momentum, for all that I like them and their support for Corbyn. They were seduced by the Mandelson Tendency argument that supporting "Remain" was a principle far more important than electoral politics.

«really disappointing re 2nd Referendum. Did you want to lose London instead ?»

In the 2017 general elections both major parties campaigned for "get Brexit done", did Labour lose London?

While Labour has 65% "Remainers" and 35% "Leavers" there were two important details that the anti-Corbyn (because the 2nd ref was just an excuse) campaign skipped over:

* Most "Remainers" like me were willing to accept a soft exit, EFTA/EEA style, and care more about domestic policies. The irreducibles were a much bigger percentage of "Leavers" than of "Remainers". As in 2017.

* Most "Remainers" like me were heavily concentrated in many fewer seats than "Leavers", and losing their vote would have lost far fewer seats than losing "Leaver" votes. As in 2017.

The only excuse for the 2nd ref campaigners was the result of the 2019 EU elections, but it showed both the enormous support still existing for "Leave", and that they were joke elections. In the general election almost all of the voting shifts of the EU elections evaporated, but enough remained to lose Labour a lot of seats.

Jim Bradbury said...

A very good and fair reflection of our CLP meeting yesterday from Phil. To start the clock had left a few members unable to participate but rules is rules. But I was happy to see my candidate for the leadership squeak through 31-30. For me it was and always will be about the policies living on post Corbyn. I also want to see greater democracy within our party, so therefore I support RLBs pledge to push for a resection process for our MPs. Most representatives are forced to seek a vote of confidence via the ballot box, shop stewards, councillors, etc, so why shouldn’t MPs. What has a hardworking MP with integrity to fear from such a process, unless..
I thought our speakers showed passion and heart in their pre vote statements and the majority showed comrades with different views respect in allowing them to speak without interruption. One things for sure whoever is honoured in the leadership vote I will be supporting them in anyway I can regardless. It’s just a great pity that the entire membership and the PLP didn’t do similar when the menu for real and genuine change was there for all to see.

Lidl_Janus said...

This whole process is kinda bizarre. We've got the CLP stage, in which members vote for leader, and then the actual ballot, in which members vote for leader (yes, the whole world's about to hear about the Iowa caucuses, but they're also weird).

At the exact time of writing, Starmer had 59.7% of CLPs and if anything the North West (RLB's apparent power base) appears at least as much, if not more declared than elsewhere. Maybe when the more rural CLPs declare the so-called 'Nandwagon' will get moving, but it seems pretty static at the moment. Thornberry might make the ballot, but the fact that this is in doubt when the other three were a lock weeks ago tells us where that campaign's going. She was the first to run for this contest, and was arguably the best-known MP by the time this contest started, so it's not like she hasn't had advantages.

As for the deputy race, barring unexpected developments I can't see how anyone other than Rayner wins. The problem for her opponents is that Rayner is an acceptable match for Starmer and Nandy (she arguably creates a balanced ticket) and RLB (they were already something of a pre-established team).

I'm not the first to point this out, but Starmer and Rayner both served in the Corbyn shadow cabinet without being full-blown Corbynites, and if they win, it'll be because they've done what the Blairites have always said you should do (whilst not actually doing it from 2015/2010 onwards): compromised and strategised in order to gain power.

Anonymous said...

Shorter Boffy - "the Stoke Labour Party need to dissolve their constituents and find some different ones - and the same goes for Blyth, Durham, Redcar and Bolsover".

Boffy (and Peter Hack) would like to see Stoke, Blyth, Durham, Redcar and Bolsover more like London, which I'm pretty sure isn't what they want for themselves. They also want us to go back to those moderate days of "invade the world, invite the world".

A few stats for you all, sourced from here plus the BoE inflation calculator, an estate agents stats on house prices (Blissex, anyone with kids wants prices to halve, then they might be able to afford them), and UK GDP from I think the Fed.

Between 1997 and 2017 - 21 year period

Real male median (50 percentile) earnings fell by a couple of percent. Our Mr Median's pay rose from £357.60 to £594.10, a 66% increase. Unfortunately the BoE calculator says he'd need to be earning £619 to be where he was in 1997.

Real house prices rose by 250%. That's the killer.

Real GDP rose by 50% - you'll note that none of that real increase has found its way into pay packets.

Over this time period personal debt, including student loans, has exploded, look it up, more than doubled.

So Mr Median has seen his living standards fall, his debts increase, his likelihood of owning his own house more than halved - over 21 years.

Have you noticed that while politicians are happy to throw GDP figures around, no one ever talks about "standard of living" any more?

Boffy said...

Pretty sure that anonymous here is just BCFG/DFTM/Sentinel/Chris et al. Certainly the crap given out is all the same.

But, on a general point, should socialists want to dissolve the existing electorate and create a new one? Yes, absolutely, in the sense that we want to dissolve all of the reactionary ideas in the heads of voters, and, at least as far as the working-class is concerned create a new that is a class for itself, a class that is class conscience, that throws off the reactionary and bourgeois ideas, and becomes imbued with socialist ideas.

That is precisely what winning the battle of democracy as Marx puts it is all about. Its what a revolutionary socialist party exists to do, and most certainly cannot be achieved by simply tailing the existing working-class and its current set of bourgeois and reactionary ideas.

BCFG said...

"That is precisely what winning the battle of democracy as Marx puts it is all about. Its what a revolutionary socialist party exists to do"

Boffy has argued over many years that socialists should work within a very very non revolutionary party, in other words the Labour party.

Boffy has actually called the attempt to build a revolutionary socialist party as stupid and futile. Now he talks about the role of the revolutionary socialist party! WTF!

Oh and incidentally anonymous has nothing to do with me, Boffy's imagination is getting the better of him again!

Anonymous said...

It's me, the real anonymous. I see Boffy is doubling down. I hope he's young, I can remember when I was 19 wondering why my steelworker uncles weren't proper socialists like me, a sociology student.

I'd have liked him to address the collapse in living standards betwen 1997 and 2017 that I referred to, not just for the poor but for Mr Median Earnings. As I've said elsewhere, it's one thing to look on the much-maligned 1970s as a relative paradise for working people, probably the last time when a man on median wages could afford a house and family without a working wife, but it's sobering when the Thatcher years are starting to look good in comparison to today.

"As Marx puts it" - LOL. Marxism had two useful insights, probably not original - "follow the money" and "the ruling ideas of any age are the ideas of the ruling class" - which is why we get compulsory diversity training avery year at work (the sociology DID come in useful!). It wasn't quite as fraudulent as Freudianism, but that's a pretty low bar.

Dave Cohen said...

It's incredible to me how easy it is for people to look at the same series of events and draw two completely different conclusions. Labour's position on Brexit was, from June 24 2016 onwards dominated by head office's refusal to countenance any debate: how much of an influence did Lexit have, would a left wing Brexit be possible, how do we square the fact that most Tories voted for it and most Labour against? How do we on the left square the end of freedom of movement with what we would like to think of as a more positive view of immigration?

No debate was allowed, all that happened was that the country was offered two choices - Theresa May's hard deal or Farage's no deal. Only when No Deal looked like a real possibility, in the spring of 2019, head office sprung into action and Jeremy began to show leadership. But it was way too late, into the void presented by no left answer to May v Farage, all sorts of people had come in, essentially the extremist remainers, who like angry Corbyn supporters told anyone who disagreed with them to fuck off and join the Leavers.

Labour's faithful couldn't see it but everyone else did. Corbyn's refusal to offer any debate about Brexit lost him millions of remain voters, and his seemingly sudden conversion to remain in the months before the election lost him the leavers. To then blame Brexit for us losing is like saying "the reason we lost is because the Tories got more votes than us. If only we'd got more votes than them we would have won."