Monday, September 28, 2015

"It was New Labour that won" - the New Labour myth. By Mike Hedges AM

In 1992, the Conservatives won their fourth consecutive general election, despite Labour having expectations that they would win. Immediately after the defeat, Neil Kinnock and Roy Hattersley resigned, to be replaced by John Smith and Margaret Beckett. 

Pundits were predicting that Labour could never win and that we would have a Conservative government for ever; then came Black Wednesday on September 16, 1992, which was a humiliation for the Conservative Government under John Major. It would never recover from the blow to its credibility, nor regain the trust of those voters it had shocked and alienated by putting up interest rates so high, even if only temporarily.

Economically, for the country, it was a release. Britain was in control of its monetary policy once more; the pound was devalued, helping to pull the economy out of recession and heralding a period of growth that lasted until the banking crisis of 2008.

A Gallup poll on the 7th September 1992, the week before John Smith became leader, showed a Conservative lead of 2% but by 28th September, after Black Wednesday, it had changed into a Labour lead of 7%. When John Smith died in May 1994, the Labour lead was consistently over 20% in the opinion polls, compared to the 12.5% it achieved under Tony Blair at the 1997 general election. 

The Conservatives lost economic credibility on Black Wednesday and defeat at the general election became inevitable for them, whoever the Labour leader was. However, if Black Wednesday was not enough, we also had a series of scandals; party disunity over the Europrean Union; and the desire of the electorate for change after 18 years of Tory rule.

Labour vote
No of seats
% vote
Change in %vote
Change in turnout

As the table above shows, following the Labour landslide of 1997, there has been a continual loss of seats and - until 2010 - votes at every election. Turnout collapsed at the 2001 election and, despite making postal votes available on demand, turnout still is substantially under the 1997 figure.

From May 1994 until 2010, Labour was led by the two architects of New Labour: Tony Blair and Gordon Brown. During that time, 158 seats were lost; 14.4% or approximately 1/3 of the 1997 vote was also lost; and turnout fell by approximately 6%.

In summary: New Labour inherited a winning position and has overseen the continual reduction of the number of seats at each election since 1997. I believe a better way to describe what happened - as opposed to the New Labour spin - is:
  • the Tories lost the confidence of the electorate due to Black Wednesday;
  • Labour won a landslide but failed to fulfil the aspirations of its voters, many of whom became disillusioned - either staying home or voting for third parties in subsequent elections;
  • Labour lost economic credibility following the banking crisis in 2008 and thus lost in 2010;
  • Tony Blair was in the right place at the right time. Napoleon Bonaparte said, "Give me lucky generals"; so, with politics: "Give me a lucky leader."

Saturday, September 5, 2015

How the Labour Left is organised and the NPF elections by Peter Rowlands

As Red Labour have observed, why elect Jeremy Corbyn as leader and then allow the NPF to be taken over by the right. However, there is a distinct possibility of Labour doing no better, or even worse than two years ago when right wing slates generally triumphed in these elections. Then it was only Wales and the Yorkshire region that achieved a majority of the four seats, with two in Eastern, one in three others and none in five. This year we have only managed to put up a full slate in six of the eleven regions, and in two of the five others have conceded the youth election to Labour First by not putting up candidates. Clearly the focus on the Corbyn campaign has been at the expense of this election.

This poses the wider question of how the left is organised in the Labour Party, and despite the above it is true that the left did well in the NEC elections last year, partly due to the failure of the right to agree a common slate.

There are left organisations, some of which are organised locally, publications, blogs and an e-mail network,  and this has obviously all contributed to the rise of Jeremy Corbyn, although the extent to which that is so is difficult to establish.  

The main, indeed the only general left organisation for the UK is the Labour Representation Committee (LRC), particularly since Compass ceased to have a Labour orientation. It has a monthly publication, Labour Briefing, no longer independent since 2012 after a bitter row with the Campaign for Labour Party Democracy (CLPD), which specialises in constitutional change and is always very active at conference, but is a significant tendency in its own right. CLPD does not organise locally, but LRC does, with 17 local branches in England, leaving Scotland and Wales to the Campaign for Socialism and Welsh Labour Grassroots respectively, neither of which organise locally to my knowledge.

The only other organisation on the left of any size is Red Labour, which has seemingly come from nowhere in the last two years, although it exists only on Facebook and does not seem to have a centre or a conference. Nevertheless, it boasts 46 branches, some of which are quite active, others dormant or little more than a facebook address.

Other publications include Tribune, Chartist, and Renewal. The leading blog is Left Futures, but others are worthwhile including Socialist Unity and Socialist Economic Bulletin.

Other than that there are some local groupings that are not tied to any of the main groups and a range of informal groupings and networks in CLPs, Labour groups and trade unions.

Whatever happens on September 12th, the left is now a more significant force than it was four months ago and a new organisation that is able to unite it and carry it forward is urgently needed.

Monday, August 24, 2015

What are taxes for? By Mike Hedges AM

Since being elected in 2011, most of the discussions I have heard in the Senedd have been around reducing taxes in order to grow the Welsh economy, rather than the need for taxation to pay for public services. When you look at the cost of private education and private health care, it puts into perspective the value for money we get from our taxation system.

Taxation exists to pay for public services. Too many people believe that we can have the same quality of public services as Scandinavia but have a taxation system which is more like that of the USA. It is not by random chance that those countries with the highest tax levels have the best public services and those with lowest tax levels the poorest. It is because taxation is necessary to raise the money to pay for the public services we all need.

Quality public services - be they health, education or infrastructure - come at a substantial cost to the public purse and the only way of paying for them is via taxation. Taxation can be on income, profit, consumption/ expenditure or value of land and property - or a combination of all of them. But if people want quality public services, these are the taxes needed to pay for them.

Whilst nobody likes to pay taxes, and some rich individuals and multi-national companies are expert at reducing their tax payments, providing quality public services means that, if some people do not pay then either public services suffer or others have to make up the shortfall. Every time tax cuts are made, they are shown as beneficial and they appear to be to those who are paying less tax and have more money in their pocket. The effect that these reductions in government income have on public expenditure on services such as health, local government and education are completely ignored until the cuts start affecting people.

The more difficult a tax is to avoid, the more unpopular it is with the rich and powerful. By far the most difficult taxes to avoid are the property taxes (non-domestic rates and council tax). There are no tricks, such as using internal company transactions or having non-domiciled status, to avoid paying the tax. The buildings - whether they are residential, manufacturing, commercial or retail - are not movable and the tax becomes liable on the property and has to be paid.

If we desire quality public services then we have to pay for them, via taxation. This is not the start of a campaign for higher taxes but it is linking taxation with expenditure. Remember the old adage: you only get what you pay for.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

The 2015 Election: Some Facts and Figures - by Peter Rowlands

It is, unfortunately, not a caricature to say that much comment on the recent election has consisted of vigorous assertion by the Labour Party right that the programme was too left wing, countered equally vigorously by the left that it was not left wing enough! Supporting evidence has been scanty, beyond the cry of ‘1983’ from the right, countered by ‘1945’ from the left.

The leadership campaign has, if anything, made this situation worse, with fear of a Corbyn win having elicited some desperate responses from the right, and from the other candidates, and, while Corbyn himself, to his very great credit, has stuck to an elaboration of policy, many of his supporters on the blogosphere have sunk to the level of their opponents.

It is surely only by a rational analysis, rather than blind assertion, that Labour can again successfully promote itself in 2020 or before, and this article looks at some of the more considered evidence and opinion about the recent election than that referred to above. Much of this has not received the attention it should have done, although there will hopefully be a renewed focus on this when the official ‘Learning Lessons’ enquiry  is published next month.

The most important areas of investigation can, I think, be reasonably grouped under these main headings:
  • How the UK voted, by region, age, gender, class and other relevant distinctions.
  • How the new electoral situation has changed Labour’s prospects.
  • How potential and actual Labour voters viewed the party’s appeal.
  • The impact of UKIP and the Greens.
  • Why Scotland moved from Labour to the SNP.
  • Why the pollsters got it wrong again.

I shall cite some of the main findings under these headings and comment briefly on each.

How we voted

The biggest single change was Scotland, where Labour’s loss of 40 seats was a huge blow, which will not be easily reversed, and obviously makes it much more difficult for Labour to gain a majority. It also means that we now have three different electoral systems – Northern Ireland, which was always different, and now Scotland, because of its domination by the SNP. The main system is what remains, in England and Wales. Here there were significant variations between the main regions, with London and the three Northern regions experiencing the biggest swing to Labour, with small to negative swings elsewhere, including, inexplicably, Wales. However, extra Labour votes were largely at their strongest in seats already held by Labour, and much weaker in the small towns and suburban areas that Labour needed to take.

The Lib-Dem vote went to Labour more than any other party (24%), but the Tories got, crucially, not much less at 20%, and the Greens 11%. Over 65s were twice as Conservative than Labour, with a much higher turnout, while voters became progressively more Labour as they became younger, but with a progressively lower turnout. Women, except the over 65s, were more Labour than men, particularly the young. There was some reversion to social class alignment, but the middle class Labour vote largely held, but turnout was much higher among the more Conservative inclined social groups. The Conservatives lost heavily to UKIP, as did Labour to a lesser extent, mainly from the older white male working class. Labour remains strong among BAME voters, but the Conservatives have increased their share here. Workers in the private sector are more Conservative, those in the public sector Labour, but less so. Those with more qualifications tended to Labour, those with fewer to the Conservatives.

It is clear that, unless Labour can either increase its turnout among the under 35s and the D/E social groups,  or increase its support among the over 65s, and preferably both, then winning is going to be very difficult. Labour must pay urgent attention to these tasks as well as analysing its failure to capture more than a handful of Conservative seats, and losing some to them.


The new electoral situation

Prior to the election, Labour had an in-built advantage, all of which has not only gone, but the advantage has swung the other way to the Conservatives, and that is before any boundary changes, which they will no doubt push through prior to the next election.

There are three main reasons for this reversal of fortunes. Firstly Scotland, where Labour’s huge loss of 40 seats contrasted with the Conservative’s nil loss; the huge decline in the Lib-Dem vote meaning that the opportunity for tactical voting, either by Labour to keep the Conservatives out or by the Lib-Dems to keep Labour in has largely disappeared; and the swing to the Conservatives in their marginal seats meaning that they are less marginal.

Several commentators have pointed to the huge challenge that Labour faces here, and of the necessity of winning back votes from the Conservatives if Labour is to win in 2020. This is strictly not true, as a combination of votes lost to the SNP, UKIP, the Greens and of new voters and previous non voters could suffice, but it is unlikely that all of that could happen simultaneously, and there is no longer a big Lib-Dem vote to be inherited.


How voters saw Labour

There have been a number of surveys on this, most of which have highlighted similar concerns. The most important were concern over Labour’s past and future handling of the economy, immigration, too generous welfare, control by the SNP and Miliband’s credibility as leader. Anti aspiration and anti business were lesser factors, as was austerity, about which there has been an interesting debate.

It is hardly surprising that Labour is viewed poorly on the economy, as its biggest mistake was not to defend its record in government prior to 2010 and allowing the myth that the deficit was Labour’s fault to become widely believed. Not having put forward a coherent alternative to austerity policies means there is little support for something that is not policy, which is not the same as support for austerity. The problem with the ’immigration problem’ is that it can embrace much, from racist opposition to any non white immigration since the 1940s to justifiable concern with pressure on local services caused by migrant European workers. Here and on   welfare, myths abound, but Labour’s rather desperate pronouncements on these issues prior to the election indicate that  much work is needed here.


UKIP and the Greens

Both, predictably, did very well, despite ending up with only one MP apiece. The Greens, thanks to the Lib-Dem implosion have probably secured lasting extra support, now at 4% although clearly at Labour’s expense. In most of the seats lost to the Conservatives, the Green vote was higher than the margin of loss.

But it is UKIP that is now the most significant extra force. The failure to even win a seat for Farage highlights the injustice of our electoral system and may well serve to boost pressure for the adoption of some form of PR, and UKIP are likely to remain strong at least up to the forthcoming referendum. Thereafter it is, assuming a by no means certain win for remaining in, partly a question of how the Conservatives position themselves, but it is difficult to see UKIP sustaining its momentum,  although its appeal now goes well beyond the EU to cover immigration and nostalgia for the whole gamut of reactionary prejudice. The decline of UKIP would help the Conservatives most, but Labour as well, although it would make it harder for Labour to win overall.



As indicated above, this now effectively constitutes a separate electoral system, about which much has been written, which I do not intend to add to, except to say that without a significant number of Scottish MPs Labour’s task is much harder. With the SNP having firmly established itself as the dominant Scottish party there can be no assumption that, in the short run at least, those seats will be won back.


The pollsters

They got it wrong again, more badly than at any time since 1992. To be fair, it was only Labour and Conservative that they got  badly out, by three points too many for Labour and the same too few for the Conservatives, thus enabling a majority government to narrowly emerge, and experts on a hung parliament to go back to their ivory towers. Investigation into the reasons for this error are ongoing, with not much evidence of a late swing over Scotland, nor of ‘Shy’ Conservatives (i.e. those deliberately lying), but some evidence of turnout by Labour being down for those indicating their intention to vote. 

This brief summary of what happened on May7th has not touched on the wider and more important issues that will determine Labour’s future. Can Labour win on the basis of a populist social democracy now being promoted by Jeremy Corbyn here and elsewhere in Europe? Or is a reheated Blairism the only way back to power? Is our unjust electoral system a barrier to change, and is PR the only way forward? Did Labour lose because of a number of factors which can be changed, or is its plight part of the crisis of social democracy afflicting similar parties in Europe.

Such questions and others will be debated in the coming period, but in order to move forward we must have a clear idea of what actually happened.

For those interested in further reading, I list some of the main sources below:
Touchstone.  TUC Polling.
Ipsos Mori   How Britain voted in 2015
P. Kellner  You Gov  How Britain really voted.
J. Curtice   IPPR   A defeat to reckon with.
A. Harrop  Fabians   The mountain to climb.
Smith Institute  Red Alert. Why Labour lost.
UK Polling report.

This article was written for Chartist magazine.

Friday, August 14, 2015

Why I am supporting Jeremy Corbyn - by Mike Hedges AM

Jeremy gives hope to both the party and the country.

I have always wondered how the First World War generals could have been so stupid trying the same tactic time after time. Yet more of what failed in 2010 and 2015 a form of austerity light is considered by some the solution next time. If it fails in 2020 we can always try it again in 2025.

You win elections when you give the electorate hope. When they think you are on their side. Labour lost in 1959 and in 2015 because we were not prepared to differentiate ourselves from the Tories. We are the party that stands up for the poor, the down trodden and exploited. We are the party of the ordinary workers and their families not of the casino capitalists of the city of London.

I want to debunk two myths. Firstly is that you keep the last election vote and add to it.

Remember the last election, the experts, the leadership, the planners had it all worked out. All we need to do to win is add the disillusioned Liberal Democrat to our 2010 voters and we would win. According to electoral calculus 7 % of the electorate who voted Lib Dem in 2010 voted Labour in 2015 so we should have won or at least come a close second.

But 2% of 2010 Labour voters voted SNP, 1% voted UKIP, 2% voted Tory and 1% voted Green. If we had held on to that vote we would have polled 36.4% of the vote to the Conservatives 36.9%.
We cannot take our voters for granted and try and gain some conservative ones by moving to the right. Some people have said we lost due to lazy Labour voters not voting. It is my view we lost because too many ex Labour voters could not see how we would make their lives better. Why voting Labour would make a difference.

The second myth is that you win elections from the centre ground. If that was true the Lib Dems would win every election Although the Liberal Democrats most successful elections have been when they moved to the left.

Was the Attlee government in 1945 in the centre ground?
Were the Wilson Governments in the centre ground?
Was Thatcher in the centre ground?
Is Cameron in the centre ground?

We in Wales, when led by Rhodri Morgan, set clear red water between us and the Labour Party in London and we won.

What are my constituents telling me
Statements on my Facebook feed from my constituents include:

“If he (Jeremy)  gets elected as leader of the Labour Party I will come back from the Greens the only other party that leans to the left and in support of the people.”

“I believe it needs to change people’s minds and lead rather than take the populist view. That's what it was good at back when it started. Make fairness, caring and looking after the worker and the disadvantaged an electable ticket rather than trying to be a less conservative Tory party”

“I feel the Labour Party has forgotten its roots and those who started it. It was from trade unionists we came!! For a Labour Party to abstain from voting on welfare rights is completely diabolical.”

Finally, we win when we offer the electorate hope, when we appear economically competent, when we appear a party of principle - and that is why I am supporting Jeremy Corbyn for leader.

Friday, July 3, 2015

Corbyn for Leader! by Nick Davies

Thanks to the last-minute entry into the Labour leadership race of Jeremy Corbyn, what began as a tedious  political sideshow by the party that lost the election now has the potential to become an overdue debate about the kind of country we want to live in.

If the first big lie of the 21st century was Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction, a yarn spun by the US aided and abetted by New Labour and the second was that too much public spending by a Labour government caused the financial crash, a lie which the three establishment candidates refuse to refute, the third is surely that Labour lost the 2015 general election because it was too anti-business and frightened away the middle class.

That first lie is why politicians have lost the trust of the people, and remains a burden borne by even those Labour politicians who did not support the war, the second lie provided the Tories with the pretext to finish off Thatcher’s attack on the public sector and the welfare state. The third lie, easily disproved by the data, available to those who wish to find it, and by the experiences of Labour activists who were trying to get the vote out, was repeated ad nauseam by the initial candidates to replace Ed Miliband. Taking their cue from the New Labour figures that sniped at and undermined Ed Miliband right up to Election Day, they ruthlessly established the narrative that what caused Labour’s defeat was Miliband’s partial, flawed, but real attempt to distance Labour from the Blair-Brown years and to tackle inequality. Attempts to be more like the Tories presented a surreal spectacle to those voters, particularly Labour voters, who had not turned out, or as protest, voted for UKIP, because they thought Labour and the Tories were too much the same.

Liz Kendall represents the distilled essence of Blairism: the abandonment of any social-democratic project and the capturing of the political process by the interests of business.  Her pronouncements of the need to ‘balance the books’ are indistinguishable from the economically illiterate prescriptions of Osborne. There’s precious little of the political tightrope walking, known in polite circles as triangulation; her campaign is not that complicated! Who needs trade union backing when you’ve got the Sun? It’s missing the point, however, to label her as a Tory, as some do. In a way, she’s worse than that. She genuinely believes that what she advocates is what a Labour government should be doing. In that sense her campaign is a product of the political degeneration and the hollowing out of the Labour party since the 1990s, although no doubt she’d prefer to be called the ‘modernising ‘candidate

Cooper and Burnham, on the contrary, are busy triangulating themselves into a frenzy.  Both are incapable of uttering a sentence which does not contain ‘aspirational’, code for ‘rich’  and not, it appears, the millions of peoples’ aspirations to have a home they can afford, a route into a secure employment and good public services. Tacking right and then ‘left’, both admit that all is not well with the world, while frantically back-pedalling from their former leader’s modest attempts to do something about it.  Both have been booed at hustings when they have refused to commit themselves to opposition of the benefit cap, a policy so open to challenge (large benefit payments are made to buy-to let-landlords and to top up the earnings of those on poverty pay) that failure to oppose it is an admission of political cowardice; no wonder Frankie Boyle referred to candidates talking like hostages!  

Corbyn’s entry has changed the dynamics of the contest. Having an opponent who says what he believes is an obvious challenge to the ‘triangulators’. Burnham, in particular, must be tying himself in knots. On the one hand it  relieves him of  the burden of being  ‘Red Andy’, but on the other, it limits his chance to use his  undoubted communication skills to hone his well-used ‘northern man of the people’ routine, to convince socialist in the party, with an nod and a wink, that he’s really one of them.

More fundamentally Corbyn’s entry means that that the discussion ceases to the one about the details of ‘austerity lite’. Corbyn is opposed to austerity, he supports council housing, public services a living wage, rights at work and trade unions; he is for the defence of the environment and he has a longstanding opposition to nuclear weapons and the Iraq war. Add into the mix the fact that non-members can pay £3 to become supporters and we could have less a leadership campaign than a movement.  

The ‘Overton Window’ is a term sometimes used to describe the range of ideas which, in a democracy, are regarded as electorally acceptable. The window may be pushed one way or the other according to circumstance. In the UK, the Overton Window has over the past 35 years been pushed to the right by the Tories, their outriders and sections of the media, notably News International. When in power New Labour did nothing to move it back to the left. By 2015 the three main Westminster parties had converged on political terrain which 40 years ago would have been the property of free market zealots and cranks: the privatisation of water and fuel, the assumption that a roof over your head meant getting onto the ‘housing ladder’ and a lifetime of debt, zero hours contracts, academy schools run by big business, and so on. None of it really works, of course, except for those who get rich as a result. The opprobrium heaped on Ed Miliband was the result of his modest attempt to take on this tyranny of what Tariq Ali has called the “extreme centre”. The same will no doubt be visited on Jeremy Corbyn, if he  has any chance of winning.

The media, which generally inhabits the same Overton Window as the politicians, is already having difficulties in dealing with Corbyn’s campaign, as shown by the inane question on Channel 4 News:  ‘Was he to the left of Karl Marx?’  It’s not that the journalists are thick, or, necessarily, even consciously biased, it’s just that many of   those who entered the profession in the last 20 years lack the  personal or professional hinterland to be able to  understand properly  what Corbyn’s campaign is all about.

Most of the population doesn’t share the elite’s Overton Window. It is consistently to the left of what were until May 7th the major parties on issues such as council house building and the renationalisation of rail, energy and water. It is true that those same people have concerns about immigration and many of them , apparently, support the benefit cap, because no Labour politician has had the guts to take on the right on the those issues. Corbyn is doing that.

Can he win? He’s been regarded by the media and the New Labour establishment as  a quirky addition to the contest, albeit a quaint throwback to our recent past, but  when people actually start listening to him, his life could be made very difficult indeed. Others, New Labour-loving  media grandees such as John Rentoul. Martin Kettle and the increasingly poisonous Dan Hodges are queuing up to make it clear that he cannot, or must not win. Some Labour activists are saying they like him but  he won’t win an election. Should their choice be dictated by ‘head or heart’?

It’s a false dichotomy. A party standing on an anti-austerity ticket did rather well in Scotland on May, 7th and only by opposing austerity and outflanking the SNP from the left can Labour win again in Scotland. As for the rest of the UK, campaigning on the basis of ‘austerity lite’  ‘or ‘cutting too far too fast’ wasn’t exactly a sure-fire election winner, was it?

If he does win, it won’t be ‘business as usual’ in the Labour party – or anywhere else, for that matter – and, even if he doesn’t, we may have another Scotland on our hands: a movement out of the control of the professional politicians and the uncomprehending media. Let’s hope so.