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What are the political parties for?

From George Murphy

Tuesday, 17 December 2019

The question is asked respectfully. Once again the wishes of the majority of the electorate will not be represented for the next 5 years. 

If Labour supporters are in despair, Liberal Democrats have only had one finger tip hold on power in the last hundred years. For five years they seemed to gloatingly support the government line that the financial crash was due to Labour overspending. It was a Liberal MP (a millionaire who had to leave office due to the second homes scandal) who circulated that stupid, tongue in cheek note about 'there's no money left' which had been understood as such from Reggie Maudling's day. By perpetuating the Tory claim that austerity was necessary and spending on welfare caused the crash, the Tories set the tone for the next 10 years. 

Well, Liberal Democrats will have heard all this. Labour, of course will need to search its own soul. The party is unrepresented in vast parts of the country, where Liberals are the second party. I write this as someone who was delighted when Blair came to power, then gradually became disenchanted over privatisation, PFI and Iraq (not a straightforward call because Saddam was murdering Kurds, Shias and others, Blair was right to act against Serbia). 

Ideally, Labour would reach out to Liberals and their supporters. Corbyn cited Scandinavian countries as examples of successful social democracy. Research suggests they are happier countries than ours and America. Slightly higher taxes and much better welfare provision are the norm. 

It would make sense for a Social Democratic Labour Party to emerge, espousing a mixed economy - matching the state and independent sectors found on the continent. A good leader could re-excite the Centre Left. 

Problem is, despite their desperate situations, the hard and soft left, even in the Labour Party, show few signs of uniting. Meanwhile, the waters are rising, Johnson is taking us down a Trump like path, economically and with barely concealed lying from their gleeful partners in the media. Still we are the majority!

That's enough from me, but I hope this starts a Hebden debate that others hear.

From Mike Prior

Tuesday, 31 December 2019

George Murphy asks a sensible question though in answering it he does stray into an even more interesting question: What is the Labour Party for?

There is, of course, one easy answer to this question. Historically, the name ‘Labour Party’ was invented in 1906 by a group of 29 M.P.s elected under the electoral pact agreed with the Liberal Party in a deal to reverse the anti-union Taff Vale judgement. The wider organisation called ‘Labour Party’ only came into existence in 1919 as a rather bizarre amalgamation of many bodies dominated by the unions. (Those who object to the word ‘bizarre’ might like to explain why, as a result of this structure, I get a vote for the Leader of the Labour Party as a consequence of my membership of the Trades Club). The function of this organisation was to win elections and that is what it remains to this day. Not to campaign, that was the job of its constituent bodies, notably the trade unions, but to win elections, in particular Parliamentary elections. And so it has continued down to the represent day. 

So the answer to George’s question turns out to be rather simple. The Labour Party exists to win elections and, moreover, to do this without resort to the tricks of its founding fathers, electoral agreements with any other party. Having crushed the Liberals in 1922, they forgot about their origins in the Lib/Lab pact and forged on as the sole representative of the working class they claimed as their constituency.

The election of December, 2019, may serve to open the eyes of Labour members to two contradictory political facts.
First, the only realistic chance of Labour forming a government lies in making a coalition with at least one other party; the Scottish Nationalists. Ever since Labour managed to lose the support of almost an entire nation in 2015, one that was once its bedrock and heartland

(see this blog post for more on this) it has only a faint hope of ever winning an absolute majority from English and Welsh seats. Not impossible, but did it in 1997 but very hard. There are 533 seats in these countries; Labour won 203 in December. A majority requires 325 seats. Labour once had 49 seats in Scotland. Go figure given the number of seats the Tories have in Scotland and, effectively, Northern Ireland.

Second, electoral cooperation was and remains total anathema to the Labour leadership. At a local Compass conference I attended last autumn, a Labour spokesman admitted that the only way he had been able to organise some small degree of cooperation with the Green Party in council elections was to go through the motions of selecting a candidate and collecting signatures to then ‘forget’ to hand the nomination papers in. In December, Labour totally refused to enter into any of the local electoral pacts which were being negotiated. It just complained when other progressive parties had the temerity to stand against them.

In Calder Valley, the Green Party stood down from its usual candidature in deference to the apparently marginal nature of the seat. Did they get anything in return other than a sniff from the local  LP? I think we all know the answer to that.
So; are we in for 5 years of hanging around waiting for Labour, vainly, to try and win under their next leader but two or possibly three. Or is it possible that the different progressive parties could work out some form of electoral alliance based upon reform to our constitutional system, in particular proportional representation, which might win in 2024?
Just dreaming of course.

From Graham Barker

Wednesday, 1 January 2020

The LibDems have always been a bit up or a bit down but never much of anything. ‘What is Labour for?’ is far more interesting - or merely entertaining, for those of us who have now given up caring.

It was bad enough for Labour to become irrelevant literally overnight, but far worse is that it disgraced itself by fawning for years over a leader grotesquely unfit to lead anything. For that alone, many voters will never take it seriously again. Johnson may not have ticked all the prime ministerial boxes but Corbyn ticked none of them. For the supposed party of the people not to grasp how unpopular he was shows how out of touch Labour has become since 2015.

Even now, Labour seems concerned only to decide which form of evasion of the truth will play best to the faithful. For every day that Corbyn remains in office, contempt for Labour will grow. 

What’s Josh Fenton-Glynn’s assessment of his doorstep experiences, and of the way forward for Labour? He must have had some inkling that his chances weren’t good against an MP unpopular even among Tories. Does he have wisdom to share, or does it go straight into a box in the attic?

It’s all an absolute, total, copper-bottomed mess. If the next Labour leader is from the Corbyn/Momentum camp, or a current front bencher, or from the London bubble, make five years in the wilderness ten. Johnson and the Tories would have to implode and all but dematerialise for Labour to win, and that’s unlikely to happen. (Consider how quickly, ruthlessly and yet relatively painlessly Johnson rebuilt the Tory party before taking it into the election. Bumbling Boris is a far more astute politician than even many Tories want to admit.)  

I think we can forget tactical voting - it looks good on paper but it’s a game few voters seem to want to play.

Voters have long memories so Labour needs a leader with clean (and healing) hands, but there are few of them around and perhaps fewer reasons why they should bother standing. It might even be dangerous. Lisa Nandy and Jess Phillips should be prime candidates but let’s be under no illusion about the hostility a woman up against the hard left would face from day one.

Labour also needs policies that are credible and win confidence. Big ideas are ten a penny; it’s the competence to make things happen that voters look for and didn’t find in 2019. Most voters, I think, also want improvement rather than change. That may sound like splitting hairs but taking railways as an example, most rail users would probably be satisfied if the current system worked better and felt more like value for money. Nationalisation might just create new problems. (Anyone who remembers British Railways will also remember that it wasn’t great.)

If Labour wants a future, it has to understand more fully why it has been in power for only thirty of the past hundred years and has given us only three significant prime ministers. My fear is that with the current shower in charge, it has gone beyond learning any useful lessons.

From George Murphy

Thursday, 2 January 2020

With the help of our voting system, the majority of voters always lose. The biggest party only needs 1 in 4 of the adult population to support them (as many don’t vote). This time the Conservatives got 43 per cent support from voters. 

Thanks to contributors for the analysis of Labour’s woes, but are there any Lib Dem’s out there? Do you want to carry on dividing the centre left vote? First past the post looks here to stay. In these circumstances, are you content that your party is keeping the establishment party in office? 

I agree with some of the points about Labour’s errors, but I think we over praise the Tories’ tactical prowess if we lose sight of the lopsided arithmetic for keeping power in UK elections.

From Jamie J

Thursday, 2 January 2020

Am I missing a trick here..? How does Mike Prior get a vote for the Labour Party leadership through his membership of the Trades Club and I don't?

From Jonathan Timbers

Thursday, 2 January 2020

In the past, the Lib Dems may have been a centre left party. Whether this was on the basis of principle or bandwagoning is debatable.

These days, it's economic thinking is classical 'liberal' in the Thatcherite sense. That's why it slotted in so easily into coalition with the Tories in 2010. Some aspects of Lib Dem thinking connects with the left: in particular, the interest in 'pre distribution' i.e. levelling up the playing field by investing in education and supporting equality laws. Like the left, it also has a commitment to human rights because they are designed to prevent excessive state interference in people's lives. But as many Hebweb readers will recall, from past posts by Cllr James Baker, the Lib Dem party currently have an economic view which, to put it kindly, seems like a one dimensional version of Adam Smith (and isn't particularly representative of what he actually thought). The belief in the holy healing properties of free markets is particularly cultist.

There are other traditions within liberalism, of course, stemming back to Lloyd George, Beveridge, Keynes and Joe Grimond. But these honourable traditions have been buried by the modern party.

So the answer George's question: there is no real reason for the Lib Dems to exist at all except as an escape pod for disaffected Tories. This might help explain why they are so extraordinarily opportunistic - dashing into any space the two main parties have vacated.

Mike Prior's description of the founding of the Labour Party is not accurate, The Labour Party was actually proposed initially by the Independent Labour Party (ILP) as a broadbased electoral coalition of working class organisations and socialist societies. Initially opposed by the trade unions, it got sufficient support in 1900 for Trade Union congress to agree to the founding of the Labour Representation Committee on the basis of a proposal from the leader of the ILP, Keir Hardie.

Local groups - called Labour Representation Associations - were formed in constituencies or divisions as they were then known, including in Sowerby Bridge division, which covered Hebden Bridge. The ILP played a prominent role in these local associations, as did other local socialist groupings, trade unionists and local co-operators.

In Sowerby Division LRA, Sam Moore, a stalwart of Nutclough Mill workers' co-op, took a central role. You can read more about him in Andrew Bibby's excellent history of Nutclough Mill workers' co-op, All Our Own Work. If you care to, you can read my own much more modest history of the activities of Sowerby Bridge LRA during the first world war, and the contribution of local leading ILP-er Nancy Wheelhouse - see this web page.

For those who are interested in unbiased history, the Wikipedia entry on the Labour Party seems pretty accurate: Labour Representation Committee (1900)

From Mike Prior

Friday, 3 January 2020

Thank you, Jonathan, for your encapsulated history of the formation of the Labour Party which, despite your claim, is entirely consistent with my assertion that the 'Labour Party' was formed as such by the group of MP's elected in 1906. Various organisations with the word 'Labour' in their title existed before and after 1906 but a constituted 'Labour Party' was not formed nationally until 1918.

One remnant of this strange history is that the Parliamentary Labour Party as formed in 1906 still exists inside the Labour Party as a separate body along with all the other affiliated bodies.

As to why I had a vote and Jamie didn't, you probably didn't apply after Dave Boardman kindly circuited information about this arcane practice.

I suspect that the Trades is a member of the National Union of Labour and Socialist Clubs.

According to Wikipedia, "Affiliation means that the socialist societies - like a number of British trade unions - pay an affiliation fee to the Labour Party, and the affiliates' members become affiliated supporters of the Labour Party (a different status from full member), unless they specifically choose otherwise. In return the societies receive a formal role in Labour decision-making, and the affiliated supporters can take part in all-member ballots in certain circumstances. For example, they can participate in the election of Labour Party leaders and deputy leaders, have delegates and votes at Annual Conference."

Socialist societies also elect a delegate (currently James Asser) to the Labour National Executive Committee and can affiliate at a local level to Constituency Labour Parties."

That's all I can offer. My head is spinning with the weirdness of it all.

From Jonathan Timbers

Friday, 3 January 2020

I'd like to turn to Graham Barker's post. Unlike Mike's misrepresentation of Labour history, I couldn't find any facts in it at all. It makes a number of unsupported and rather nasty comments about Labour Party members. It fails to assess the potential candidates in light of their actual political beliefs, for example lumping Lisa Nandy and Jess Philips together. Lisa Nandy is, as far as I know, further to the left in terms of economic policy than Jess Philips, who has said very little that I can find on that key question. She may of course surprise us all in the weeks ahead.

As some will know, I have never ever had much time for Jeremy Corbyn or John McDonnell. The Shadow Chancellor was largely responsible for the cack-handed presentation of Labour's economic policies at the last election. (If you don't believe me, this is what the architect of those policies said about how McDonnell made them into vote losers: Labour’s Economic Plans: What Went Wrong? | Novara Media)

Novara Media

As I hope Graham can see, they were rather more than just 'big ideas'. They were fairly detailed policies designed to reset the economic system. He may be pleased to note that, in author's view, the nationalisation plans were given too much priority. On the other hand, as Meadway points out, Rebecca Long-Bailey developed some brilliant, specific proposals to support the delivery of the Green New Deal.

On the subject, singled out by Graham, of renationalising the railways, Graham's timing is bad. His post appears at the same time as a Tory Transport minister is seriously thinking about renationalising part of the Northern rail network, and after the Conservatives Government renationalised the intercity line that runs North South through Yorkshire. To say he is 'behind the curve' is an apt though very obvious pun.

As a former BR manager, I support the call from Steve Rotherham and Andy Burnham, and now the Campaign for Better Transport, for regionally integrated public transport networks, controlled by the Metro mayors or combined authorities/PTEs - ideally with stakeholder input from user groups and employees. This makes more sense to me than recreating a centrally run industry. Intercity should clearly be renationalised (as it has been in part anyway), but an integrated local public transport system is within our grasp, and the time is right to argue for it. A publically owned and accountable system is definitely the way ahead.

As to the purpose of the Labour Party, rather than thinking about how it can regain power through some backroom deal, as Mike Prior proposes, it needs to sort out its policies and communicate a strong vision of what a good Britain will look like (because it is fundamentally a Unionist party). Labour's history before 1945 was, despite what he says, one of co-operation with other parties in coalition governments in 1924, 1929-31 and between 1939-45. Even within its own ranks during those years, until 1932, it was actually two parties and not one: the Labour Party and the more left wing Independent Labour Party. It was in fact an ILP housing minister, John Wheatley, who gave us the Eaves estate in 1924. So prior to 1945, it habitually worked with others, though this got rather out of hand in 1931 when Labour PM Ramsay McDonald formed a national government with the Tories!

The Labour Party will win again in the future, either in coalition with nationalist parties, or alone in majority government. It has been in worse places than this, just about!

From Mike Prior

Sunday, 12 January 2020

A final word on the magical organisation called Labour; if you join the Trades Club before 17January you can vote in the Labour leadership election. So don't bother with the hassle of actually joining Labour, get cheap beer and reduced price entry and vote for....... Well, that one.