Friday, October 30, 2015

Democracy and leadership in the Labour Party - by Mike Hedges AM

Immediately after the defeat at the General election in 2015, Ed Milliband resigned. What if he had decided to stay on? We do not know.What we do know is what happened in Scotland.Jim Murphy was elected Leader in October 2014. 

Following his defeat and Labour’s rout in Scotland, Murphy said he would remain Leader of Scottish Labour. First to call for Murphy to resign from being leader was unseated MP, Ian Davidson, who said, "Morally, as the man who has led us to the biggest ever disaster that Labour has suffered in Scotland, he can’t continue." Then Pat Rafferty of 
Unite called for Murphy's resignation, followed by Kevin Lindsay of ASLEF. Then Neil Findlay MSP resigned from Murphy's shadow cabinet, citing the election results, followed by  MSP Alex Rowley.

The decision of whether he should continue was made by the Scottish Labour Party Executive. Jim Murphy narrowly survived a 
vote of no confidence by 17 votes to 14. Three of the 17 votes in support of Murphy included that of Murphy himself, that of Ian Murray MP, Shadow Secretary of State for Scotland and Labour's only MP in Scotland, and that of a Labour Peer. Murphy then announced on 16 May 2015 that he intended to step down as Leader of the Scottish Labour Party in June. 

In 2010 Gordon Brown did not resign until he had failed to negotiate a coalition deal with the Liberal Democrats. Gordon Brown announced on 10 May 2010 that he would stand down as Labour Leader 4 days after the election defeat that left a hung parliament. Am I the only one who thinks a new acting leader would have had a greater chance of successfully negotiating a Labour led coalition? Gordon Brown could have gone to the National Executive and he would almost certainly have been successful in continuing as Leader. 

I believe that there is a moral obligation on anyone who leads a party to electoral defeat to resign immediately. If you have been rejected by the electorate then I believe you have lost the authority to lead the party. At a more local level, the vast majority of the Labour Group in Swansea wanted to remove the Leader of the Labour Group who was also Council leader. To remove the Labour group leader, they needed to get a written request for a leadership election signed by two third of the group.
 This was a lengthy process. Whilst the removal of a Leader is not and should not be something undertaken lightly, making it incredibly difficult also does not help.

The mechanism of electing the leader of the Labour party at Westminster, Scotland and, I believe, Wales by one member one vote is highly democratic. The party members choose the leader of their party, as almost 60% of those that voted, voted to elect Jeremy Corbyn.

Two things I learnt from this election. Firstly, allowing MPs to be the gatekeepers of who gets onto the ballot paper came very close to keeping Jeremy off the ballot paper. Someone who was overwhelmingly elected by the members nearly did not make the ballot paper. Why cannot members either self nominate or have a proposer and seconder? Whilst, with the first system, all MPs could stand and under the second system in excess of 50, what it would do is widen the debate and allow everyone a chance. My expectation is that under that system a few more - perhaps up to six - would have stood. Surely democracy means you should have the maximum possible choice?
Secondly, members are enthused by the chance to hear a debate inside the party.  When I spoke in favour of Jeremy at the Swansea meeting I was amazed, as I know others were, at the number attending and the enthusiasm generated. By the time Cardiff was reached, the number in attendance was huge. A bus full came up from Swansea and there were people from all over south Wales present. Party membership in Swansea East is at its highest during the 40 years I have been involved. There are far more members that in the run up to the 1997 general election.

I want to now turn to internal party democracy and discuss West Glamorgan County Council, Swansea Council and the National Assembly Wales. Two bodies I have been previously been elected to and one I am currently a member of. In the days of West Glamorgan County Council and the early days of Swansea Council or decisions were taken collectively by the Labour Group. Whilst the Leader and committee chairs would have agreed the report with senior officers and would report to the Labour group, the final decision was the Labour group as a whole. They could and sometimes did reject or amend the recommendation. Also, members collectively made recommendations at sub committee that were then recommended either to full Council or to a committee of all Councillors. When the cabinet system was introduced, decisions became delegated to Cabinet members and then on in many cases to Council officers. 

Turning to the Assembly: this works on the system of a Leader directly elected by the wider party membership but with the Assembly members acting as the gatekeeper on who can stand. At the last election, won by Carwyn Jones, a Labour group of 26 members and a candidate needed to be nominated by six members meaning that the maximum number of candidates was four, three actually stood.Do we need Assembly members to act as gatekeeper? Why cannot a system that provides greater choice be brought in?Whilst we may not have a leadership election for sometime, a system is needed to be in place that makes it easier to get on the ballot paper in Wales, as much as it is needed at Westminster.The First Minister has immense power, brought about by being the Leader of the ruling group and directly elected by the membership.The Leader has absolute control. They choose the Cabinet. They can appoint to the cabinet who they want. They can remove any cabinet member at any time via a reshuffle. 

As you will have seen, there are other posts that are in the gift of the First Minister such as chair of the European monitoring committee. How did I find out that Jenny Rathbone had been removed? David Deans, the Western Mail journalist, told me. Whilst I am pleased Mick Antoniw has been appointed to the post, how did I find out about the appointment? No, it was not the Western was the BBC. I still have not been told about either event officially. There is no reason for the First Minister to tell me. He is not accountable to me as a member of the Labour Group. He is not accountable to the Labour group collectively or individually. His only accountability is to the Welsh Executive.We need to achieve two things: firstly, to make it easier for candidates to get on the ballot paper. Secondly to have greater accountability. This is a debate we need now when there is no leadership election imminent, rather than wait until we have a vacancy.

This is the text of Mike's contribution to a roundtable discussion at the Welsh Labour Grassroots AGM in Cardiff on 17 October 2015. 

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.