Posts Tagged 'general election'

Three key lessons from Labour’s campaign – and how the party needs to change

Originally posted by Democratic Audit UK  12/06/2017

Patrick Diamond

Jeremy Corbyn has confounded his critics and increased Labour’s share of the vote in the General Election. But the party is some way from being able to command a parliamentary majority, says Patrick Diamond. Labour has articulated a vision of society which appeals to many young people and ‘left behind’ voters. Now the party needs to get over the intellectual defensiveness which has afflicted it for decades – and reach out to people in English constituencies who have no tribal loyalty to Labour.

Politics in the Labour party will never be the same again in the aftermath of the 2017 general election. Only six weeks ago many commentators, most Labour MPs, party members and even Jeremy Corbyn’s allies feared he would be humiliated at the ballot box.

‘Politics in the Labour party will never be the same again’

It didn’t happen. Labour fought an insurgent campaign in which Corbyn deftly exploited his status as the underdog; the Labour party appears to have excited young people as well as so-called ‘left behind’ voters in ways not seen for decades. Criticisms of Corbyn’s leadership style focused on his inept approach to internal party management and estrangement from his own parliamentary party; where Corbyn exceeded expectations was his ability to fashion a distinctive, eye-catching political agenda that captured the imagination of the electorate, and distanced the Labour party from its potentially ‘toxic’ legacy (one of the historian Stuart Ball’s key criteria for effective opposition party leadership).

Of course, it has not been plain sailing for Corbyn’s Labour. Arguably, the leader’s greatest vulnerability has been his reluctance to acknowledge the place of other traditions in the Labour party beyond his own heterodox brand of socialism. Corbyn’s weakest moments during the campaign were his defensiveness over the nuclear deterrent, as well as controversy over his previous reluctance to condemn IRA terrorism. There are still major questions about the viability of Labour’s manifesto, for all that its ideological clarity inspired the faithful. Still, there can be little doubt that the campaign Corbyn fought marks a decisive shift in the politics of the Labour party to which all sections of the party will now be obliged to respond.

So what strategic lessons can, and should, we glean from the Corbyn leadership project in the wake of the general election result?

The first lesson is that Corbyn’s politics evidently appeal to many younger voters, as well as the social groups that have increasingly abstained from voting in the UK since the late 1980s. The dynamic here was that Corbyn projected ‘hope’ because his programme was not constrained by conventional electoral calculation; Labour’s prospectus offered a different vision of society after nearly a decade of spending cuts, tax rises, and missed deficit reduction targets. Corbyn’s views on policy articulated a rare combination of clarity and conviction. The Labour leader offers an innovative politics of participation which is about doing things ‘with’ people rather than ‘to’ them, sweeping away anachronistic institutions and inherited privilege; if carried forward this might be the platform for a resurgence of British social democracy.

The challenge ahead for Corbyn’s project will be to construct the electoral alliance between the ‘haves’ and ‘have nots’ that is required to win greater numbers of marginal seats, enter government, and deliver policies like progressive redistribution and public investment. Another general election appears likely to be called relatively soon. A Labour victory will mean winning in English constituencies like Reading West or Thurrock that Labour was unable to carry last Thursday.

‘There are still major questions about the viability of Labour’s manifesto’

The second lesson of the Corbyn leadership project is that Labour needs to get over the intellectual defensiveness that has plagued the party since the late 1980s. Corbyn says he now wants an open debate about policy; he ought to be taken at taken at his word. In the past, some modernisers behaved as if the best approach to making Labour a party of government was to give the entire PLP and party membership an intellectual lobotomy. This risked denuding the Labour party of the capacity to think and revitalise itself. The ascendency of Thatcherism convinced many that Britain had become an inherently conservative country, and that the Left could only win by accepting the basic parameters of the Thatcher settlement. In this election under Corbyn, Labour made its most audacious attempt since 1945 to shift the centre ground of politics towards the Left.

The Corbyn leadership project’s third lesson is that when effectively presented, measures that are widely perceived to be traditionally ‘left-wing’ are still popular with mainstream voters. Among the most important issues raised in the Labour manifesto was the question of public ownership in a post-industrial economy geared towards the production of information and knowledge. For the last 30 years, the assumption in the Labour party has been that whether ownership is public or private no longer matters. It was thought that utilities and public services delivered through the private sector could still be regulated effectively in the public interest. Nationalisation in the 1990s was rejected by Labour because it was believed to be too costly to bring major public utilities like water, gas or rail back into public ownership. Yet it is clear that since 1997, public opinion has become more hostile towards private ownership of the utilities, especially rail. Previous assumptions ought to be interrogated: many privatised industries in the UK are natural monopolies; the privatisations of the 1980s and 1990s have been detrimental both to consumer welfare and economic efficiency.

None of this ignores the fact that Labour is still some way from winning a parliamentary majority at a general election. The party has made significant progress since 2015; but to defeat the Conservatives Labour has to be capable of winning seats throughout Britain. It is not enough merely to rouse already committed supporters: the party has to be capable of reaching out to ‘non-Labour Britain’ where there is little tribal affiliation with the Labour party. It is clear from the election campaign and the terrorist atrocities in Manchester and London that national security is likely to remain a major issue in British politics. Offering voters social justice without addressing their basic concerns about physical insecurity in a world of borderless crime and terrorist threats is a recipe for future defeat. To help the most vulnerable and marginalised in Britain, Labour has to be a party of power rather than a pressure group of social protest.

‘To defeat the Conservatives, Labour has to be capable of winning seats throughout Britain’

Corbyn has spectacularly demolished Theresa May’s hopes of securing a decisive Tory majority. The ‘moderates’ in the Labour party will have made a grave error if they dismiss Corbyn’s approach to strategy and policy as outdated and destined to end in failure. Yet it remains doubtful as to whether as things stand Corbyn has an electoral or governing project that can end the latest phase of Conservative hegemony in British politics. That is the next crucial task of revitalisation for the British centre-left.

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A new kind of democracy: anti-politics and the funnelling of frustration

matt flinders

Matt Flinders

By Matt Flinders, Founding Director of the Sir Bernard Crick Centre for the Public Understanding of Politics, University of Sheffield

This post was originally published on The Conversation on 12 June 2017.

“It’s not easy being a professor of politics. Everyone expects me to know what’s going on and what’s going to happen. But I’m just as bamboozled as everyone else by the outcome of the UK’s recent general election.

“Bamboozlement” has become something of a byword for modern democratic events. Think Brexit, think Donald Trump, and now think “Corbyn the conqueror” – the unlikely cult hero leading an “old” political party re-designated as a grassroots social movement.

“…the unlikely cult hero leading an “old” political party re-designated as a grassroots social movement.”

To some extent, recent events in the UK are symptomatic of a broader international trend that is often (but incorrectly) labelled as anti-political sentiment. But high levels of social frustration and political disengagement among large sections of the public actually veils a desire for a different kind of politics – not the denial or rejection of democratic politics itself.

It is this that explains the growth of populist nationalism (on both the right and left) in Europe and the United States. It also helps explain what happened on June 8 2017.

The success of Jeremy Corbyn and his “New-Old” Labour party was that it tapped into and funnelled the large reservoir of social frustration with politics. Corbyn offered a very different type of politics, both in terms of content (a clear shift to the left of higher taxes and nationalisation) and form (against the clean-cut image of “professional politicians”). Corbyn’s rather chaotic and almost amateurish approach came across as refreshingly honest. Never before have a scruffy beard and an untucked shirt become such electoral assets.

If you are anti-political (against how politics generally works), if you are anti-politician (against politicians who all look and behave the same), and if you are anti-establishment (in terms of believing in the existence of a largely untouchable political elite), then the Labour party under Corbyn positioned itself like a political lightning-rod to channel those frustrations.

This is the key point that many of his opponents failed to understand. The more the media attacked and mocked him, the more Theresa May refused to engage, the more Boris Johnson described the Labour leader as a “benign herbivore” and a “mutton-headed mugwump” the more this seemed to energise and build Corbyn’s support base. It simply confirmed in the minds of the disaffected just how brash and arrogant the political elite had become.

Funnelling frustration and offering a positive message formed the magic formula for the Labour Party’s glorious defeat. It tuned into the populist signal.

The critical element, however, which offers a key to understanding contemporary democracy, was the manner in which the Labour party secured the support of at least three very different segments of the previously disillusioned or disengaged.

The first segment was the traditionally anti-political youth (aged 18-24) who were dismissed as “snowflake voters” who would melt away before getting to the polling booth. The pollsters were wrong. (Again.). Around 72% of younger voters ended up placing their crosses on the ballot paper (up from just 44% in 2015).

Many young people are still angry about the EU referendum vote and joined a second section of the public who were, put simply, anti-hard Brexit. This included remainers and soft-Brexiteers, but the common denominator was deep-seated concern about the increasingly belligerent, nationalist and aggressive tone of the Conservative Party.

This in turn leads to the third and final group – the white working classes, the “left behind”, who rejected mainstream politics and led “the revolt on the right” seen in the popularity of UKIP in 2015. The simple fact seems to be that a large proportion of the “left behind” went back to the left. They chose to support an anti-austerity agenda and investment in public services above the anti-immigrant anti-Europe stance offered by the Conservatives.

The times they are a-changin’

It seems then, in this bamboozling aftermath of June 8, that the public is not anti-political. They are “pro-political” but also “pro-a-different-way-of-doing-politics”. They crave the existence of real policy choices and a positive vision for the future.

As I argue in my new book, What Kind of Democracy is This?, the concept of democracy is in flux, and arguably more fragile than at any point in the last 50 years. Politicians need to be popular, but this is different to falling into the trap of populism (the very opposite of democratic politics). Populists tend to offer simple solutions to complex problems, generally by blaming “the problem” on a specific section of society (immigrants, foreigners, gypsies …), and then arguing that if we “the people” could only get rid of the cumbersome safeguards of democracy, life would be so much easier.

“Politicians need to be popular, but this is different to falling into the trap of populism.”

“Let the people govern” is a phrase often used to veil the imposition of centralised and unaccountable structures. Democracy has to have limits, but populists tend to deny this basic fact.

For many, Brexit, President Trump, and Corbyn’s 40% vote share have come as a series of political surprises. The rules of the political game have changed but nobody seems to know quite what they are anymore.

We need a new language of politics in order to fully grasp what kind of democracy this is. The language of left or right, for or against, in or out is the language of simple binaries or zero sum games. It no longer reflects a changing world of multiple and overlapping loyalties and identities. Most of all we need a language of politics that rejects the dominant politics of pessimism and offers in its place a bold new vision of collective action and self belief – a new politics of optimism to underpin a new kind of democracy.

 

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Featured image: ‘Jeremy Corbyn campaign in West Kirby‘ by Andy Mlah is licensed under CC BY 2.0

A seismic shift has occurred in British politics

matt flinders

Matt Flinders

By Matthew Flinders, Founding Director of the Sir Bernard Crick Centre for the Public Understanding of Politics, University of Sheffield

This post was originally published on The Conversation on 9 June 2017.

The 2017 general election was a once-in-a-generation opportunity that the Tories fumbled and Labour exploited to remarkable effect. The Tories managed to spook older voters and thereby alienate a core constituency; Labour, meanwhile, both connected with younger people and somehow got them to actually vote in large numbers.

All political scholars should beware reaching too quickly for their pens, keyboards or quills; to adapt the old adage, “write in haste, repent at leisure”. Nonetheless, it strikes me that a seismic shift has occurred in British politics. It is now clear that Theresa May’s gamble has been a catastrophic failure. With a hung parliament, the UK’s negotiating position on Brexit looks to be in tatters. Theresa May asked the British public to show its support for a ‘hard’ Brexit, but the public declined.

Continue reading ‘A seismic shift has occurred in British politics’

The Lady is not for Wobbling: Mrs May, social care and spending political capital

A shorter version of this blog was originally published by Prospect magazine.

Matt Flinders

When is a wobble not a wobble?

This might not seem the most obvious question to be asking in the context of the current General Election campaign but that’s exactly what makes it so important. Could it be that Theresa May’s recent backtracking on the costs of social care was nothing of the kind? Instead part of a more subtle game of preparing the public for tough choices that will inevitably have to be taken? Have we just witnessed the political equivalent of a footballer’s fake dive?

Partisan politics aside, there is little doubt that Theresa May is an incredibly astute politician.

She plays the game well and to some extent she has re-written the rulebook. The game of politics is rarely as simple as kicking the ball or scoring goals; more concerned with playing other players off against each other, often within your team, and knowing exactly when to go for the legs instead of the ball. The simple point I am making is that Theresa May has climbed to the summit of the British political system as if it really were a weekend wander with Philip.

“[The manifesto] highlighted the existence of major and increasing inter-generational inequalities…”

Continue reading ‘The Lady is not for Wobbling: Mrs May, social care and spending political capital’

Election focus: how can the Left re-engage the people?

simon-winlow

Simon Winlow

In the second of our blog pieces focusing on the fast-approaching General Election, Simon Winlow, co-author of The rise of the right asks how it can be that, against a background of social, financial and environmental catastrophe, a political party dedicated to the neoliberalism seem set to secure a large majority. How can the Left get the people on side again?

There’s a terrible air of nihilism, cynicism and acceptance about the upcoming election. The Conservatives have made huge gains in the local council elections, and UKIP and Labour have lost quite badly. Of course, the general election could be very different. More people will vote, and the local issues that can sway council elections tend to be forgotten as the big issues of the day take precedence.

Theresa May has clearly timed the election to take advantage of disarray in the Labour Party, and in the hope carrying a large mandate into the upcoming Brexit negotiations. Pollsters are predicting a landslide for the Tory party, with UKIP disappearing as an electoral force and Labour continuing its slide toward oblivion.

Continue reading ‘Election focus: how can the Left re-engage the people?’

Election focus: Housing policy predictions & radical solutions

In the run up to the General Election we will be bringing you insightful pieces from our authors on policy-relevant subjects, including housing, health, welfare and, underpinning it all, increasing social inequality.

Let’s look beneath the distraction of Brexit and Labour’s disarray and examine the issues we really need to be thinking about as we put our cross in the box on the 8th June.

DB pic

Duncan Bowie

In this piece, Duncan Bowie, author of Radical solutions to the housing supply crisis looks at what housing policies may be included in the party manifestos and explains the radical solutions we need.

“The focus on Brexit and the negotiations on withdrawal from the European Union has meant that housing has not, at least as yet, become the key issue in the election campaign that perhaps would have been expected had the referendum not taken place.

Debates so far have focused far too much on the contrast between Theresa May’s advocacy of ‘strong and stable leadership’ and whether or not the Labour Party leader is fit to be Prime Minister or the divided Labour Party is ‘fit to govern’. There has been little focus on policy issues, though (at the time of writing), the main party manifestos have not been published.

The political parties, including the Conservatives, were all caught on the hop by the election announcement and consequently the drafting of the various electoral offers have been somewhat of a rushed process. Even a matter of weeks before the election was called, Labour housing spokespersons were reluctant to make any policy statements policy on the basis that it would be premature to give commitments before 2020, even though housing was bound to be a key issue in the local and city region Mayor elections, which were scheduled. Labour was even hesitant to commit to repealing the 2016 Housing and Planning Act, despite the fact they had opposed it in parliament.

Continue reading ‘Election focus: Housing policy predictions & radical solutions’

22 reasons to vote #imvotingbecause #GE2015 #whyvote

With hours to go until Polling Stations close and constituency level polling indicating that this is going to be a close run thing in many areas across the country, your vote can really make a difference. So if you haven’t voted yet here are 22 reasons why you might want to go and make your mark NOW!

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