Time for us all to grow up

Brexit is a terrible indictment of our political culture. We have all, on both sides, refused to behave like grownups, to take responsibility for our mistakes and misjudgements, and to be prepared to spend time understanding the issues, and recognising that change takes time. Watching a video of a woman in Lancashire in tears, berating some Remainers with “my father fought a war against the Germans, and they are walking all over us” reminded me sharply that on both sides people are experiencing extreme distress, the issues are as much emotional as practical. We are a deeply divided society, and the Prime Minister’s assurance that “65 million people want us to get on with it” is a straight and deliberate lie.
Human beings naturally tend to take recent achievements for granted, and complain about the things which have got worse. Those who hark back to the time before joined the Common Market forget how cold it was, how limited our diet, how poor most people’s education was, and how (by today’s standards) feeble our health services. We lived with the real risk of a nuclear war which might destroy the human race. Life expectancy was much shorter, and much work was hard, dull and damaging to people’s health. We had polluted rivers and poor air quality, only two TV channels, six month waits for a telephone line, few foreign holidays,
However, although most of these things are immeasurably better for almost everyone now, we Remainers failed to pay attention to what was happening in many communities which lost their sense of purpose in the 1980s. For them, the past has looked rosier than the future for a long time (partly because we were all younger then!). We have had a long time to think about it, but when the economic and cultural tide was swinging in our direction it felt as if all was well with the world, and we failed to see the need to take action. This was not just about a fairer distribution of money (though that might have helped). Money matters, but meaning and respect matter more. What was needed was an idea of how we create meaning in the lives of individuals and communities which had been founded round a clear purpose – mining, fishing, manufacturing, seaside holidays – which was not longer there. We still have no clear answers, but Brexit will certainly not provide one.
On the other hand, the Leavers, and the political representatives of their communities, failed to recognise that change comes slowly, some changes are irreversible, and all change involves compromises with people we disagree about, or with different interests. Nothing our government can do can bring back coal and steel, and there are no simple answers. Demagogues and populists offer simple, easy to understand, recipes, but they never work because the world is not like that. In its Article 50 letter, the Government is already proposing a Brexit which offers much less than the leavers promised. The referendum campaign focused around two major issues: free trade with our biggest trading partner and nearest neighbours, and the control of immigration. It was always clear that we could not have both, and the Government is now proposing to abandon the first in favour of the second. On the first, the loss of free trade will affect everyone. On the second, either we have a significant reduction in immigration, which will cause severe economic and social damage, or we don’t (as the Government is now hinting) in which case the leave campaigners will feel betrayed.
At the end of March a YouGov poll suggested that most people believe that Brexit will reduce immigration, but also that they will be worse off, prices will rise, and the UK will have less influence in the world. The people of the “left behind” communities will not have more influence over a Conservative government in Westminster than they have over a combination of Westminster and Brussels. When Brexit brings recession, these are the communities which will suffer most. Putting it right means working at creating change, and putting effort into real politics – thinking about alternatives, and working to bring them about.
People have always distrusted politicians, and the right wing media actively campaign to undermine trust in political institutions, because when they work well, they constrain the power of the rich and powerful. But politics is how we bring about change, and it is more than turning out to vote for a party every few years. We have failed to treat political education seriously in our education system, partly because of a crowded curriculum, and partly because of fear of indoctrination. But if people don’t learn about how change happens, and how it can be influenced, the sense of powerlessness persists, and feeds resentment and anger. It is not about how many MPs there are, it is about understanding how to find the facts, how to make the arguments, and how to make change.
It’s time we tried to be more grown up and to do the real work which citizenship requires.

A dark day for the UK

Yesterday the UK Government served notice that it intends to leave the European Union. We are leaving the second largest economy in the world, severing links which have kept the peace and brought us together with friends and neighbours for over 40 years. We have created uncertainty and instability in the lives of millions of people who have moved here from other parts of the EU, or have moved from here to other parts of the EU. We have given up our influence, our friends, and our economic future.  We have abandoned the idea that we could work better with our neighbours to solve major problems like climate change, product safety and quality, and decent working conditions. We have abandoned the idea that it is better to have a single European Court to rule on the implementation of agreements between European countries

For 40 years we have been one of the “big three” nations in the EU, with a major say in policy decisions. Membership magnified our influence on the world stage, and not much ever happened in Europe without the agreement of Germany, France and the UK. That is one reason why the overwhelming majority of MPs of all parties voted remain. Those who want to “take back control” over laws and regulations can rarely identify any specific regulations which they actually want to remove except things like the working time directive, which protect workers’ rights. On many progressive issues it is our Government which has obstructed progress.

Opinion polls suggest that the most important reason for people to vote leave was to control immigration. However, almost all the people living here who have come from other parts of the EU are either working, or are students. So our economy needs them. Since freedom of movement of people, capital, goods and services is the fundamental principle of the Union, full access to the single market was never going to be compatible with controlling movement of people into and out of the UK. So we are throwing away our free trade with our biggest market (44% of all our exports go to other EU countries), and our vote on how the Europan ecoomy is managed,  in return for controlling immigration. But if we reduce it, labour shortages will severely damage our economy: if we don’t reduce it, we will have given up our political influence and economic strengths in return for nothing.

We are leaving on the basis of a referendum which was explicitly advisory, where a narrow majority voted leave, and the leave campaign claimed that leaving would not prevent us remaining members of the single market. The Government’s claim that “65 million people want us to get on with Brexit” is demonstrably untrue. 11 million are under 15 and have no vote. Of those eligible to vote in the referendum 37% voted to leave, 35% voted to remain, and 28% did not vote. It is reasonable to claim therefore that at the time of the referendum 63% of the electorate did not want to change the status quo and leave the EU. Opinion polls since show that few people have changed their minds in either direction. The Government, and the leave campaigners have consistently tried to maintain the myth that the referendum result was a clear and overwhelming decision.

As of March 2017, we have no idea what kind of settlement will emerge from the next two years.  The process has started, and no political party expects to reverse the decision until the position is much clearer. However, it is entrirely possible that the terms of our leaving will be much worse, economically, socially and politically than remaining members, and it is possible that the majority of the electorate will agree, when the picture becomes clear. This is particularly likely since most young people, and most people with higher education qualifications voted to remain and most old people, and people without qualifications voted to leave. Over two years the balance between these two groups will inevitably shift in favour of the former, as young people enter the electorate and older people die.

The Government has promised that at the end of the negotiation Parliament will have a vote on whether to accept the deal (just as the Parliaments of the EU and the other 27 member states will). However, this plan will be a binary choice, between the deal negotiated or leaving without a deal, in which case a mass of regulations will be left in limbo, and we will be trading with the EU on World Trade Organisation terms, which will introduce tariffs and customs checks on many of our exports and imports.

This does not need to be the only choice. There will, in reality, be four options at the end of negotiations:

  1. Leave the EU on the terms negotiated. At present we have no idea what those terms might be. We know something of what our Government is asking for, but we cannot know what the other parties might be prepared to accept. There are strong political reasons why this may not be generous to the UK.
  2. Leave the EU but remain in the European Economic Area (like Norway). This is possible, since we are members of the EEA under a separate Treaty. EEA membership includes full membership of the single market, but not all the regulations (Norway opts out of the Fisheries policy). EEA members can restrict the free movement of people in specific circumstances.
  3. Leave the EU without agreement, reverting to World Trade Organisation rules. This would mean the immediate imposition of tariffs on British exports to the EU and to all other countries. The economic consequences would almost certainly be worse than the previous two options.
  4. Remain a member of the EU on the current terms. This might be achieved by our formally withdrawing our Article 50 notice. Whether this is possible is unclear, since the EU Treaty does not specify a right to withdraw Article 50 notice but neither does it prevent this. The draft response to our Article 50 letter from the European Parliament explicitly says that we can withdraw our notice, and this is currently under consideration in the Irish Courts. It would ultimately be a matter for the European Court of Justice to decide. Alternatively we could ask the other 27 states to agree to us withdrawing our Article 50 notice. They might wish to do this, and if they all agreed, they could legally allow this (members of the EU make the rules).

I believe that the final decision should rest with Parliament, considering all four options. Since the Brexit decision was made by referendum, it might be wise to undertake a referendum on the four options, to advise Parliament. This would avoid giving disproportionate weight to “the will of the people” as expressed at a particular moment in 2016.  Such a referendum would be less divisive than the 2016 one, since there would be four choices on offer.

Where next for the Left – ideas from the Fabian Conference

These are notes of points I found interesting at the Fabian Society’s January conference. It is not an accurate account of the many discussions, nor necessarily my own views.

Labour vision – respond to anxiety

  • This is an emotional time, people are scared and politics seems irrelevant (even the US security guarantees are no longer reliable)
  • Labour needs a change offer that promises security and doesn’t scare people – do we want a “more equal” or a “fairer” society?
  • We must build hope and positive values based vision – Labour must be more than a set of grievances
  • Help people to cope with change and protect those who will lose
  • Labour needs a new patriotic alliance based on principle and mutual security
  • Recognise that economy is not everything – attend to people’s sense of culture and identity – recognise people’s attachment to place, strengthen devolution
  • Reinvent the mixed economy round fair markets with industrial and regional strategy
  • Refound the welfare state – a new model of social security – consider Universal Basic Income
  • Retain our international commitment – ask what the UK can offer the world
  • On immigration ask “what’s best for the economy?”, and manage local/sectoral tensions creatively. Focus on integration, not immigration

Strategy

  • We have been talking to ourselves for too long. We have not made an argument with anyone we disagree with for years
  • 33 elections since 2010 the centre left won 5 (some with support from less than 25% of electorate) In Stoke on Trent Tristram Hunt was elected on 19% of electorate (turnout was only 50%)
  • The Brexit dilemma – if we try to block Article 50 May calls a General election which we lose, because of a divided opposition and press/public perception of democratic betrayal. She then has a clear mandate for a very hard Brexit –is that better?
  • Make it clear what hard Brexit means for local jobs and businesses – remember that, whatever they privately feel, most businesses won’t ring alarm bells for fear of undermining confidence, and weakening their individual competitive positions.

Brexit

  • Keep reminding people that they didn’t vote to destroy jobs and the UK economy
  • Resist the race to the bottom in economic terms, workers’ rights and social welfare
  • Non-negotiable issues:
    – Access to single market
    – Confirm that EU citizens already in the UK have an absolute right to stay
    – Ensure that employment and welfare rights are not reduced by Brexit
    – Retain commitment to rule of international law and human rights
    – Seek cooperative., collaborative relations with EU states and EU
    – Recommit to internationalism and multilateralism (not Trump’s bilateral deals)
    – Insist on a Parliamentary vote/referendum at the end of Article 50 process

Constitution

  • Our economic crisis was/is a failure of governance, not of economics or politics. Politicians failed to put proper institutions and regulations in place, and to police the laws which existed
  • We need a People’s Convention to renew our constitution, including relations between the four nations
  • We need a more proportional electoral system to restore public confidence
  • Follow the Electoral Reform Society’s 9 recommendations on Referenda, including legislation that Referenda must require 2/3 majorities (like the Commonwealth countries whose constitutions were written by British lawyers)
  • Build networks not institutions
  • Create a job description for MPs so people understand what they do and why
    Introduce compulsory citizen’s juries
  • Make voting compulsory voting – this removes the incentive to minimise turnout, there are then no safe assumptions about likely results
  • Nottinghamshire “Power to the People” project?

A couple of notes on the inclusive society of Theresa May

  • Since 2010 Conservatives have cut £4.6b from social care, precipitating the crisis in the NHS – the current proposal to allow Local Authorities to raise Council Tax rise could restore 3% of this figure
  • In the Housing Bill, Tories voted down a proposal to make it a legal requirement for private rented houses to be fit for human habitation

A Universal Basic Income

 

A Universal Basic Income (UBI)[1] is an income paid to all people by the state, regardless of circumstances or need.  The idea has been discussed intermittently for over two centuries, but has attracted growing interest recently.

For different reasons it appeals to both political left and right, and one reason for growing interest is the decline of traditional working contracts, which blur the boundaries between employment and unemployment, with 2 million people in the UK now on contacts which do not guarantee minimum hours of work, and 5 million working online, paid by the task.

Pilot schemes are currently being proposed or implemented in Finland, Netherlands, Ontario and France. In response to a petition, Switzerland held a national referendum on its introduction last year, but rejected it by a large majority.

In the UK the new flat rate state pension and the pre 2013 Child Allowance have features of UBI.

Recent proposals

In the UK the idea of a UBI has been developed by the Citizens Income Trust, who have undertaken substantial work and a range of publications. Policy papers have also been published recently by the Royal Society of Arts, Compass, Progress, and the Joseph Rowntree Foundation (references below).

Basic Incoem is one of three models of welfare defined by Atkinson:

  • Contribution based social insurance – the model proposed by Beveridge (the National Insurance Fund) but not implemented in practice. Needs a continuing safety net for those without a contribution record
  • Social assistance funded from general taxation – effectively the current UK system (National Insurance is in reality merely an employment tax). Requires a potentially intrusive means testing regime.
  • Basic income – includes everyone, and in its pure form requires no means testing. Paid for from taxation (usually income tax, and involving abolition or reduction of tax allowances)

Our current system is a version of 2. Beveridge conceived of this as a safety net to protect those suffering poverty, which was almost entirely the result of unemployment or childcare costs.  It is complex, and involves elaborate/punitive conditionality mechanisms to incentivise work.

Claimed advantages of UBI

The RSA claims its model has the following dvantages:

  • Motivates work – “work would pay better” (since UBI is paid regardless of work status)
  • Reduces fraud – fewer opportunities to cheat
  • Responds to changing work patterns – disrupted career paths, career breaks, retraining
  • Distributes opportunities for creativity more widely
  • Supports caring roles as demand for care rises
  • Removes intrusive and dysfunctional means testing,  and reducing interference by the State in individual lives
  • Redistributes from higher earners and childless people to relatively low earners with children (the “JAMs”, or the “left behind”)

Some objections

  • Political/social acceptability – increased taxes, removing conditionality, greater “rough justice”
  • Cost – there is significant disagreement about the costs of a basic income scheme
    Uncertainty of behaviour change – it might reduce willingness to work, thus reducing GDP (and the income to pay for the scheme)
  • Substantial rise in tax levels (estimates vary substantially)
  • Transition problems – difficult to implement rapidly, but partial/transitional systems lose the benefits (like simplicity, removal of means testing, or reductions in income) and thus reduce acceptability
  • Variable costs outside UBI – there are at least three areas where costs vary so widely that most proposals involve retaining some form of separate welfare benefit to meet:
    • Housing costs – because of wide regional variation housing costs are difficult to incorporate.
    • Disability costs – since people with disability necessarily incur additional costs, it would be necessary to retain some form of disability benefit
    • Childcare costs
  • Poor evidence – existing schemes are poor models because they operate in very specific circumstances and pay at levels well below subsistence

[1] Also known as Citizen’s Income, Basic Income Guarantee and other terms. It is similar to, but not the same as, a Negative Income Tax.

Discussion paper prepared for Norfolk and Suffolk Fabian Society – January 2017

Full version at Universal Basic Income: a note

What do we want from Government?

2016 was a year when public confidence in politics and government fell dramatically across a wide range of “democratic” countries.

Good Government exists to protect the rights of all citizens, and provide a framework of opportunities which enables them all to make an active and respected contribution to the community.

To achieve this it must ensure that all citizens have:

  1. Security – protection from threats from other nations and organisations; and protection from other citizens
  2. Protection from unfair treatment and respect from fellow citizens, government and its agencies
  3. Somewhere decent to live
  4. Sufficient food to live
  5. Protection against ill health
  6. Something meaningful to do, paid or unpaid, as long as they are able
  7. The opportunity (and obligation) to contribute to decision-making on issues which affect individuals and the wider community.

Government and political systems should be organised in such a way as to make it possible to deliver these rights.

If Government lacks sufficient money to achieve this, it should tax more, and no individual or corporation should expect to make personal profit until these rights can be guaranteed.

What is going wrong?

At present our political system is failing to deliver these rights to all its citizens, and in most of them rights are deteriorating, in response to the Government’s “austerity” policies, and to the decision to leave the EU.

  1. Budget reductions in Prison and Probation services are making the penal system more risky and less effective. Leaving the EU risks loss of European cooperation on policing which makes intelligence sharing, and the deportation of foreign criminals and terrorists, quick and easy.
  2. Leaving the EU, and the Government’s intention to withdraw from the European Convention on Human Rights, would remove the protection currently provided to British citizens by the European Court of Justice and the European Court of Human Rights. Recent changes to legal aid and Court charges already make access to justice in the domestic courts more expensive and difficult.
  3. Housing is currently treated as a commercial market, which makes houses investments rather than homes. In the most economically prosperous areas housing of any kind is too expensive for many people, leading to rising homelessness, even among people in paid work.
  4. Many people are experiencing declining real wages (and inflation is expected to rise in response to the decline in the value of Sterling following the Brexit vote). Combined with rising housing costs, this is resulting in rising levels of food poverty.
  5. Inadequate investment in social care, and a failure to manage the interaction between health and social care, means that growing numbers of people are denied prompt access to medical care, the quality of social care is inadequate, and providers are withdrawing from the market. Late intervention in health problems, and “bed blocking” because of lack of social care facilities is expensive and bad for the health of individuals.
  6. Underinvestment in skills, and failure to regulate the labour market (by failing to enforce existing regulations, by making access to Tribunals prohibitively expensive, and failing to respond to new forms of work) have led to the growth of low paid, low skilled and unrewarding work. In some fields (social care, probation) there is evident work that needs doing, but current market models fail to make that work profitable for employers or individuals (or both).
  7. Although the UK is a democracy, the first past the post electoral system means that elections are decided in a very small number of marginal constituencies, and votes in most areas have no real effect.  Because turnout in General Elections is generally below 70%, no Government since 1974 has been elected with the support of more than 34% of the electorate.  However, despite this lack of political support, political power has become increasingly centralised, with no sources of power and influence to balance that of the national Government. Once in power, the Executive has very substantial powers, with relatively little check from Parliament. The result is a growing detachment of political power from the experience of citizens.

Raising the money

Finally, our tax system is extremely complex and inefficient, and cuts to staff at HMRC make it increasingly unlikely that proper levels of tax are being collected. This throws the entire system of Government financing into disrepute. We urgently need reform, both in the tax system, and in its collection, as Richard Murphy has argued more eloquently than I can http://www.taxresearch.org.uk/Blog/

Brexit, Trump and the choices for Labour

Is this a crisis?

It has been widely suggested that the UK’s Brexit vote and the election of Donald Trump reflect some significant common social and economic changes across the developed world, and that these changes have important implications for politics on the left. It is also argued that similar forces are at work in European politics, with worrying implications for European countries facing elections in the next few years, and for the European project itself. I want to argue that the short term implications may have been overstated, but that the changes reflect long term trends, with common elements across the developed world and with serious implications for the politics of the left, but that it is easy to misread them.

Firstly, the changes of 2016 are nothing like as dramatic as they might seem. Both votes were won by extremely narrow margins, suggesting a very evenly divided electorate. In the USA, Hillary Clinton won the popular vote by a substantial margin, but lost because of the eccentricities of the Electoral College. In the UK, 63% of the electorate did not vote for change, but because they were evenly divided between committed Remainers and non-voters, the 37% of the electorate who voted for Brexit “won”. Despite this very finely balanced result this slight tipping of the electoral balance has been interpreted as a vote for radical change towards nationalism and to the right. Similarly, in both cases, the campaigns have emphasised division, magnified by the media, and the increasing tendency for people to see only news which supports their pre-existing views. A disillusion with politics and with “elites” has encouraged people to treat the political process like football, with passionate supporters cheering on their own teams, rather than recognising complex and finely balanced arguments.

Long term trends

Nevertheless, a real change is clearly taking place, and I suggest that it reflects four underlying secular trends: ageing, diversifying, globalising and a failure of capitalism. The first two are demographic. As life expectancy continues to rise, society is ageing[1]. As people age they become less concerned with the long term future, and tend to move politically to the right. Once retired from paid work, people lose a degree of control over their lives, especially their financial security, and it is natural to seek security and stability. However, diversification pulls in the opposite direction. The young adult population is much more ethnically and culturally diverse than their parents and grandparents[2]. Overall they have much higher levels of education[3], and they are more widely travelled. Understandably, they are more focused on the future than the past.

The third factor, globalisation, is more than a matter of moving production and work around the world. Rather it is a process of redistributing resources and opportunities at a global level. Thus, although many people still endure living conditions which most Europeans would regard as intolerable, global levels of poverty have fallen dramatically (halving between 1990 and 2015, and still falling fast), which internationalists of the left ought to welcome. However, it does mean that living standards in the “developed” world are falling relative to the rest, and those whose skills and motivation are comparable, or lower than, with their peers in less developed countries are particularly vulnerable, to immigration, which brings in better qualified or motivated workers, or to  offshoring, moving work to countries where labour costs are lower.

The fourth trend is the crisis of capitalism, evidenced in the financial crisis of 2008, when it became evident that existing capitalist models had failed. However, in a hugely complex and interlocked global economy, the political and economic consequences of collapse were too alarming to be contemplated, and Governments adopted policies formerly seen as heretical, to re-establish a degree of balance. Nevertheless, the model had failed, and it has proved unable to restore anything like the kind of prosperity and optimism which had preceded the crash.

The consequence of these trends is a world which is more equal, more diverse, more mobile and more productive. Overall living standards are rising and opportunities growing, but most people in the countries which have been winners since the industrial revolution of the West are losing in relative terms, and some people in those countries are losing dramatically. These are the people described in popular discourse in the UK as the “left behind” and the “just about managing”. In many places they are a small proportion of the population, but in others they are whole communities which have lost their sense of purpose and future. This is most evident in places where a single industry or employer has been driven out by international competition or technological change.

Parties in denial

One explanation of the votes of 2016 is that mainstream politics has failed to recognise this issue, or at least has failed to respond adequately to it. In the UK Referendum campaign, the Labour Party instructed its canvassers to concentrate on its core remain supporters, and to avoid discussion of immigration, which was seen as inflammatory, and likely to encourage Leavers to vote. This avoided discussion about the underlying causes of anxiety about immigration – failed housing policy, failed enforcement of labour market law, lack of effort to encourage integration, and underinvestment in public services. In the USA a similar pattern can be seen. The Clinton campaign, underestimating the degree of disaffection with “urban elites”, neglected what it believed were its secure core voters in the rustbelt states, and minority communities, in favour of trying to persuade “soft Republicans”, shocked by the Trump campaign, to defect. In both cases the strategy fed a “persecution narrative”, regularly talked up by the right and the media, which suggested that those worried about immigration were despised by urban elites as stupid racists, thus deepening a sense of grievance, distrust and discouraging dialogue.

Where does this take the politics of the left in the UK? All four significant English political parties are divided coalitions. The Conservative and Liberal parties all include passionate neo-liberal free traders, but all three include people with very different, and incompatible, views, (nationalists, egalitarians, supporters of a strong managerial state etc). The Labour Party is divided in a different way. From its foundation it was an unstable alliance between a movement of organised workers, fighting for their rights, and a largely middle class, intellectual group arguing, from a position of considerable privilege, for a more equal world. A commitment to equality looks very different if it is a matter of fighting for more on behalf of yourself and your peers, rather than redistributing some of your own advantages. The former group is not necessarily going to welcome the addition of new disadvantaged groups to the catalogue of people to be fought for, while the latter may be more cautious about the extent of redistribution. This is not a recipe for mutual trust, nor for a stable alliance.

Industrial change and globalisation have inevitably weakened the large employment and cultural base on which organised labour thrived. As their numbers shrank and their organisation weakened they became increasingly excluded from the economy and political debate, and their legitimate sense of grievance grew. I suggest that this is the underlying reason for the political shift over the last forty years.

The smaller scale of the UK, and the stronger welfare state, means that the reaction is less violent than in the USA, but the underlying trends are the same. When the overall level of resources in the “developed” world is shrinking relative to the rest, people become increasingly defensive, and hostile to extending notions of equality to a wider world. For the liberal egalitarians, this is a matter of redistributing “our” surplus more widely, while for the workers party, it is sharing an already inadequate cake with new, and perhaps undeserving, client groups.

Two Labour Parties

In this context, the YouGov survey of labour supporters, carried out in Autumn 2016, after the Brexit vote, but before the US elections, is illuminating  https://yougov.co.uk/news/2016/11/05/labour-workers-party-liberal-left/ . They surveyed 1,468 people who declared themselves as labour supporters or who had voted labour in one of the last three General Elections. They asked about a number of issues, but most critically, they asked what sort of Labour Party supporters wanted. The three options were:

  • Getting rid of capitalism and neo-liberalism and replacing them with a fairer economic system (8% of respondents)
  • Representing and standing up for ordinary working class people and their values (the “Workers’ rights” group: 33% of respondents)
  • Building a society that is fair for everyone, whatever their background, gender, race or sexuality (“Egalitarians: 47% of respondents)

What they found confirms the argument above. On a series of critical policy issues the second and third groups were diametrically opposed, often by large margins. On immigration, 63% of the “workers’ rights” supporters were hostile, while 62% of the “egalitarians” group were positive.  On human rights laws the balance was 48% negative to 66% positive. On welfare benefits 47% of the “workers’ rights” thought benefits were too easy to get, while 42% of the “fairness” group thought they should be made easier. Although both groups were positive about the EU, only 50% of “workers’ rights” supporters felt this, compared to 66% of the “fairness” group.

The two groups are distinct in other ways. The egalitarians were younger, more highly educated, from higher social classes and more likely to read broadsheet newspapers. 61% of them described their views as “left of centre”. By contrast, only 36% of the workers party supporters placed themselves as left of centre, and 30% answered “don’t know”.

This is a very profound divide. On many issues the views of the “workers party” supporters align more closely with UKIP than with the “egalitarians”, and it would be foolish to assume that historic tribal loyalty will overcome this in a general election (one of the major mistakes of the Clinton campaign). On the other hand, the egalitarians share many views with the egalitarian wing of the Liberal Democrats, and even with some “one nation” Conservatives.

It does not seem plausible that the Labour Party can go into another General Election without an explicit position on some, at least, of these issues. However, it is also clear that any position will alienate a significant proportion of its supporters, and a fudge will probably alienate both. The current leadership seems disposed towards the egalitarian, cosmopolitan side, which is going with the tide of demography and globalisation, but means abandoning a large group of traditional supporters, or persuading them to change their views. Its current position on Brexit, however, diverges from the egalitarian agenda, and risks alienating a substantial proportion of its supporters on that side too. Those for whom the constitutional and economic implications of Brexit are a dominant issue may well decide to switch to the Liberals, as the only party with a clear anti Brexit policy.

The end of an era

The events of 2016 (and perhaps similar events in other developed countries in 2017) were not a sudden rejection of a political order, rather they are a reflection of much longer term trends, and are best seen as the death rattle of an unsustainable economic and political order. The underlying trends are unlikely to change. Western societies will continue to age, and their living standards are unlikely to rise at the rates seen in the post war period. The world will become a more equal place, at the expense of the former richest countries. Those countries may attempt to stem the flow by protectionist policies, but while these may be popular in the short term, they are likely to aggravate problems by slowing global growth. Political stability will depend on strategies for sharing the misery more equitably, something for which conventional democratic politics has not proved well equipped.

The Labour Party is ideologically more committed to equitable solutions, but its traditional base is not well placed to achieve this. The egalitarians already form a majority of their supporters, and the tide of demography is on their side (although the rising numbers of older people are a restraining force). As the proportion of better educated, more cosmopolitan people grows, the egalitarian agenda will become more popular. However, this risks driving away a substantial proportion of the party’s traditional base, who do not share this agenda. In the short term, at least, this is a recipe for electoral disaster.  However, the alternative strategy, to become a party “for the working class”, would harness the party to a declining proportion of the electorate, socially conservative and increasingly disorganised and unpredictable. It would also involve competing with UKIP and a Conservative Party happy to rebrand itself as the party of “hard working people”.

The core strategy for the Labour Party must therefore have two strands. The first is to persuade voters, including especially many of the “workers party” tendency among its own supporters, that an agenda focused on equality is, in the long term, best for all, and that a party which fights only for the sectional interests of the native working class is unachievable, as well as wrong. The second, equally difficult, is to ensure that this is true, and that the response to a declining share of global resources should not be to ignore the interests of particular groups and communities. We must resist the pressure from the right to scapegoat “other” minority groups. Fair treatment for migrants and refugees, the protection of human rights and decent welfare support for those who fall on hard times are all parts of a civilised society where we all benefit.

[1] Average life expectancy has been rising steadily for more than a century, while birth rates have been below “replacement rate” since the 1960s.

[2] “Mixed race” is the most rapidly growing ethnic group in the UK population.

[3] When today’s 70 year olds were leaving school 4% went on to higher education, in 2015 the proportion was 48%.

Changing Work – a Fabian Discussion

This set of notes and questions are designed to prompt discussion by the Fabian Society Norfolk and Suffolk Branch in October 2016. Comments and suggestions are welcome from any reader. One starting point for discussion is the Fabian report “Changing Work: progressive ideas for the modern world of work” edited by Yvette Cooper.

Work is changing in a variety of ways, uneasily accommodated by our political and economic systems.  What work is paid for and what is not, on what terms and with what rewards, are all changing, with distinct implications for relations between genders and generations.  While some authoritative sources predict that demand for work will outstrip our numbers in the near future, others believe that the total volume of work required will decline as a result of automation and technological change, and propose a “citizen’s wage” as a way of protecting individuals as this pattern emerges. Certainly there are large areas of activity, and communities based around those activities, where demand has disappeared, creating “left behind” populations.

Meaning of Work

  1. What do we mean by “work”? What work is paid for and what is not, and why?
  2. What is work for – money, security, meaning and status?
  3. What happens to those individuals and communities whose skills and experience are no longer required?
  4. The basic/citizen’s wage would deal with declining demand for labour, but not with meaning and status.

Future of work

  1. Technology is hollowing out the workforce. Automation has already replaced many jobs and transformed others, especially in traditional working class occupations. Increasingly it is invading the professions, who have been protected up to now.
  2. The rise of artificial intelligence may challenge our ideas of work more fundamentally.
  3. What will remain for humans is high status and low status with little in between
  4. The economy is moving from a focus on manufacturing to services (perhaps we are approaching “peak stuff”)
  5. Is the total demand for work growing or shrinking, and what determines that?
  6. How is work distributed around the world – the place of migration?
  7. Is “career” dead?  – no more secure status roles with apprenticeship, skills development and progression?
  8. Changing class structure- the rise of the “precariat”, “self-employment”, and the “gig economy”.

Skills and Productivity

  1. What is the role of work in productivity?
  2. How do we develop and maintain skills across the lifecourse?
  3. What kind of skills do we seek? (hard v soft, digital, manual)
  4. What should be the shape of “working life” – entry and retirement, patterns of work across the lifecourse.

Working conditions

  1. What should be the rights of workers in the emerging economy, and how can they be secured?
  2. How can workers have voice in the merging economy? What will be the role of Trades Unions?
  3. How can/should, workers be connected to the work?
  4. What do we do about gender differences (real and historic)?
  5. How do we secure equality of opportunity and rights?
  6. How should pay be determined?
  7. How do we protect people from exploitation?

Policy

  1. How far can policy influence what happens?
  2. What should be the relative roles of the State and of corporations in influencing change?
  3. What would a new social contract look like?
  4. Do we need industrial policy – picking winners, preserving employment…, concentrating on our USP
  5. Where and how should industrial policy be determined – the role of devolution.
  6. What might “solidarity” mean in the new world
  7. How do we maintain the social infrastructure?

Why I am not voting for Jeremy Corbyn

We need serious change

Last year, after some thought, I voted (like very many others) for Jeremy Corbyn in the Labour leadership election. I did so because I recognised his honesty and authenticity, because he was clearly a man of principle, because he was proposing a real break with the less desirable parts of the Party’s past, and because he was advocating a new kind of politics – kinder, more rational. I also voted for him, because he, with John McDonnell, seemed to be proposing a radical, and potentially popular, response to the collapse of capitalism which we have seen since 2008. In the year which followed, I have campaigned for the Labour Party, and argued with voters on the doorstep about Jeremy Corbyn.

I have no doubt that we need a new politics and a new economics.

Our current political model is broken – first past the post gives a Government almost unfettered power with the votes of only a quarter of the electorate – achieved through focused campaigning in a handful of marginal seats, leaving most voters, and most areas, effectively disenfranchised. Weak opposition, and ineffective procedures mean that much poor legislation is passed. Central Government has created an unhealthy concentration of power, progressively destroying the influence of what used to be balancing agencies – Local Government, the Trades Unions, the professions, charities and Higher Education. The House of Lords continues to play an important role, but mainly by accident, and the corruption of its process of appointment is only mitigated by its absurd size (newly appointed cronies don’t get much of a hearing). The result is that many people believe, with some justification, that politics had nothing to do with them, or if it does, there is nothing they can do about it. This is one of the drivers of a dangerous populism which we seen throughout the developed world.

We also need a new economics. The 30 year hegemony of neoliberalism is coming to an end, but what can be put in its place is far from clear. Growing numbers of economists recognise this, but the public have been offered, and generally have bought, a series of absurd, but plausible, misrepresentations of economic issues, and encouraged to believe that economics is simply too complicated to understand. We have failed, over several decades, to devise ways of matching our resources to our needs. We are not short of things to do, nor of people to do them (with the assistance of a diverse range of immigrants), but our economic and social systems fail to match the two. Long term structural decline in many areas of economic activity has led to communities left with no purpose, dependent on low skilled, low paid and undemanding employment, or on welfare payments which are progressively squeezed. Neoliberal “austerity” ideology has driven growing numbers into poorly paid work, and freed some employers to exploit workers, native and immigrant equally, while living costs rise. Absurd and immoral concentrations of wealth have been allowed to accumulate at the top, while growing numbers live precarious lives, uncertain about their futures, and one pay packet away from poverty. Government cuts to the enforcement agencies, and to legal aid mean that the laws we do have to protect people are unenforced and ignored.

It is not surprising that many people are very angry, while even more are ground into apathy, and convinced that nothing can be done. This is a classic breeding ground for populist insurrection, and we know from history, that such insurrection usually leads to even worse conditions for most people. In my view, the Referendum vote on the UK’s EU membership was a classic case – given the opportunity to “kick the elites”, people did so, and the people who kicked hardest were those who will suffer most as a consequence (people in areas of industrial decline, people with few skills, and retired people on modest incomes). As so often, the turkeys voted for Christmas.

We need a new direction

So we need change, and especially a change to the left, towards a more equitable distribution of resources, to stronger collective institutions and services, and less individualistic policies. This is certainly a change away from the broad policies of the Government of Thatcher, Major, Blair, Brown and Cameron, though all of them did some good things, and the achievements of the Blair years are often overlooked in the anger over Iraq. Some of these ideas were hidden in the over-elaborate, technocratic Milliband Manifesto of 2015. Jeremy Corbyn seemed to be offering a more coherent version of this agenda, more radical and with more passion and authenticity. The creation of a panel of serious international economists to support economic policy was a very encouraging sign.

A lot of people believed that this could be a route to a better world. Jeremy’s rallies in the summer of 2015 were astonishing, persuading many people that politics could be relevant. Like the Obama surge in the USA a few years before, people were enthused to believe that change was achievable. Some of these were very long standing Labour supporters, often people who had left in despair over Iraq, and who were moved to return by his passion, his commitment to traditional Labour values, and his authenticity. Many others were people who had little previous knowledge or contact with the Labour Party, but saw it as an instrument for real positive social change. Ironically, his policies, projected as wild extremism by some of the UK media, would mostly be seen as mainstream left of centre in any European context. For people whose lives have become harder, and whose futures look worse, there is an undeniable appeal in a humble but principled leader, who comes from nowhere, attracts vast crowds of enthusiasts and who promises radical change. Once accepted, any opposition or criticism rapidly becomes betrayal. Persecution becomes a badge of loyalty, and the media have provided plenty of persecution to feed this. These stereotypes still resonate deeply in our (still) Protestant Christian culture.

However, other members were more sceptical, as one would expect in a party which has always been a broad church. Some, with hard experience of practical politics, familiar with the grind of campaigning, of negotiation and compromise in local and national Government were unconvinced that the new vision was deliverable, or that it could be sold to the public and the media who shape their views, and many when canvassing met strong resistance on the doorstep. There were certainly some people, MPs and local activists, who simply did not share the fundamental values which Jeremy espouses, and believe ideologically in a closer compromise with capitalism that Jeremy and his supporters accept. No doubt, being human, some had careers to defend, and were relatively comfortable with their roles in the old machine (and it ill suits members of the workers’ party to be cavalier about the working conditions and careers of their comrades, however misguided). My sense (on slender observation and a lot of reading) is that more were unconvinced about the strategy than were driven by right wing ideology or personal self-interest.

The management issue

Probably the majority of the MPs and the longer serving members who are doubtful or hostile to Jeremy, take the view that winning and exercising power requires better management. Few doubt Jeremy’s ability to inspire large groups of natural supporters, but they do doubt his ability to lead a team, and to convince people who usually vote for other parties, or who have never voted at all. For them, the party needs not only to be right (and on most issues Jeremy’s views are not very different from most members and MPs), but to be good at presenting its case to sceptical voters (in the face of an overwhelmingly hostile media). This requires a coherent and competently led team at national level. The messages have to be clear, agreed, and supported at all levels. They need to deal with the minutiae of legislation and policy, and they will call for compromise with potential allies, and sometimes enemies. The leader needs to trust his team, and his team need to trust the leader, and this is what has most clearly broken down.

The accounts of poor management within the shadow cabinet come from a variety of sources, not mainly from people who are hostile in principle to Jeremy’s agenda, or party policy. Some believe that they are lies, constructed to embarrass and undermine Jeremy. I see no reason to believe this. If they are true, some of this no doubt reflects lack of relevant experience, Jeremy has no Ministerial experience, and has never led a management team, but there is a worrying air of paranoia about the Corbyn team, and certainly about some of his supporters. One reason for not voting for him is that, despite some political successes, he has not yet shown himself capable of leading an effective Parliamentary team, and some of his former shadow ministers say they find him uncommunicative and undermining.

The policy issues

This takes us to policy. I do not believe that there is much serious difference between the candidates on policy issues. The leadership contest was never about policy, but about management and leadership, and perhaps about conflicting visions of democracy and participation. However, there are a two key issues where the two candidates take distinct positions.

The first is defence policy. The most high profile issue is the symbolic totem of Trident. Jeremy has a long and honourable commitment to unilateral nuclear disarmament. I agree. Like Jeremy, I marched with CND in the 1950s, and believed, in the context of the Cold War, with only four nuclear powers, that we could take moral leadership by renouncing our own weapons. Many military leaders now agree that the military and diplomatic arguments for renewal are flimsy. It is effectively a very small semi-independent offshoot of the hugely larger US nuclear arsenal, and its costs undermine our ability to really defend ourselves on other fronts, let alone pursue other social objectives. There is a proper concern about the employment implications of abandoning it, but it would be cheaper to give every worker involved a million pounds redundancy pay than to go ahead. However, there is no evidence that the electorate as a whole will support a unilateralist position, and if the Party were to adopt a unilateralist position, it would provide an open goal for Tory attacks during an election. On the doorstep people do not like traitors, and that is how we would be presented by the Tories and the media. Not many party workers would want to knock on doors to defend it. In time, we may win the argument, but it requires years of persuasion. As a policy position in the next five years it is a guarantee of losing a general election. There is a proper debate to be had, but as a manifesto commitment, it is a suicide note.

A related policy difference is NATO. The UK is bound by treaty to defend any NATO member which is attacked. When asked whether they would support such a move if a NATO country was attacked, Owen Smith was clear that we would accept our treaty obligation. Jeremy talked about diplomatic efforts, and refused to confirm his support for the treaty. The experience of Ukraine demonstrates that sudden or covert invasions by Russia are not fanciful, and Russian tanks could reach the capital of Estonia in a morning. Of course, diplomacy is important, and should continue, but Russia needs to understand that in the event of a surprise attack, at a moment when Europe is perceived to be weak or distracted, the response would be clear and immediate.

The second major policy difference is Europe. Here the party’s formal policy accorded with the views of the vast majority of MPS, Peers, MEPs, economists, business leaders and academics, and a majority of Labour voters: that for economic, social, political and security reasons, Britain is better off in the EU,. The institution has massive faults. It is an ambitious project for peace and social cohesion on a scale and complexity never before attempted anywhere in the world, and it has been evolving over time. Some things have got better. There is now more democratic accountability, and it is ironic that the only certain consequence of our referendum is that we have renounced our status as one of the “big three” member states, always involved in the major decisions of the Community, and massively influential in its decisions (despite the stories told by the British media). We were in a position to reform from within, and the Brexit vote has already weakened our influence, despite the fact that we have not even begun the withdrawal process.

Legally, the Referendum was advisory to Parliament (unlike the Electoral Reform referendum where the legislation was explicit that the outcome would be mandatory). The electorate was very evenly divided, and very badly informed. Although the turnout was high, only 37% of the electorate voted to leave. Constitutional referenda usually require a much higher majority for change, because the change is irreversible, and the work involved will divert the whole of Government from other important issues for years. Voters were told that Brexit could achieve things which were patently untrue: most crucially that Brexit could lead to membership of the single market while simultaneously restricting the free movement of people. It is extremely likely that, when the likely terms of any settlement with the EU are clear, and they see that they can have border controls or market access, but not both, the electorate will change their minds.

Since the benefits of continuing membership are clear, current party policy is to remain, and there is still a majority for remain in Parliament, I believe that the Labour Party should take a clear position, not for a second referendum now (which would rightly be seen as a rejection of democracy), but for the proposed settlement to be put to a vote before Article 50 is triggered, and that the party should campaign for remain. It, as is clearly possible, Article 50 is not triggered before a General Election, Labour should campaign strongly for remain (which would garner votes from across the political landscape among “the 48%”). This is the position which Owen Smith has taken, while Jeremy Corbyn has argued that the referendum decision should be treated as decisive and irreversible.

A worrying debate: the retreat from reason

Four things worry me about the nature of the debate.

The first is its intolerance. It is perfectly possible to see the leadership challenge as treason, and there are no doubt plotters who hoped for this a long time ago. You can equally see it as a principled response by committed members concerned that the party is failing to respond to the needs of those it seeks to represent. There is truth in both stories. However, I am concerned by the vitriolic response and language of some of the debate, by booing and heckling in debates, in Parliament, in hustings and elsewhere, and especially online. The answer I am sometimes offered “if you shut up and get behind the leader we will stop” is classic bullying, and will maintain the divisions still longer, whatever the outcome. This is far from the “kinder politics” which Jeremy has espoused, and it is deeply damaging that it continues. He claims, with some truth, that he has made his views on bullying clear, but I think that a more effective leader would have been able to do more to stop it, and this view is shared by a number of people much closer to him.

My second concern is an attack on the “mainstream media”, as if all the media were alike, and as if journalists had no professional ethics. The professionalism of journalists is dismissed, especially on the basis that the proprietors have particular views (usually hostile to the Labour Party, and especially to Jeremy Corbyn). Of course newspapers’ editorial and comment pieces reflect their political position, but to suggest that they are all alike, and that news coverage and interviews are distorted by those views is to traduce the professionalism of comrades. Where there is evidence of systematic bias, as has been assembled by serious media academics, this needs publishing (as it has been) and the media need to be challenged on it. But to suggest that the BBC, The Guardian, the Daily Express and the Daily Mail share a common agenda to destroy Jeremy Corbyn is absurd.

Thirdly there is an attack on opinion polls. We are told not to believe opinion polls because their samples are too small, are biased, have been commissioned by politicians or newspapers with a hostile agenda, or because they have been seriously wrong in the past. Opinion polls are conducted by conscientious professionals, using techniques which have evolved over decades, with methodology which is explained in detail in their reports. When the outcome is different from the poll’s prediction, it is usually within the margin of error reported in the survey, or influenced by factors acknowledged in the survey report (but often omitted by the journalists). A serious polling company which distorts the evidence, or biases the questions, will not survive long, because, whatever their politics, the people who commission the surveys are interested in hearing the truth, not in having their prejudices reinforced – if they don’t like the results, they don’t report them.

My fourth concern is with attitudes to politicians. For a long time, the right wing media have pursued an agenda of belittling MPs and their work. This detaches politics from people, and allows actively anti-democratic forces free play with policy. One of the roles of Parliament is to regulate the power of other forces: the more we demean our representatives, the less effectively they will protect us from corporate and individual power. A classic case is Margaret Hodge, who was a major force for good as chair of the Public Accounts Committee, holding the powerful to account, and yet she is now routinely dismissed as a “Blairite traitor”. An alarming number of party members appear to have accepted the lie, that all politicians are inherently corrupt and not to be trusted. In the online world, some party members suggest that a large majority of Labour MPs are driven only be self-interest and do not care for democracy or their constituents. This is an extraordinary position for members of a political party. The death of Jo Cox briefly reminded people that MPs do a difficult, demanding and often unrecognised job, sometimes at serious risk to their safety. Like the rest of us, thy need to earn their living, but they do it mostly out of a sense of public duty, and also for the satisfaction of making the world a better place (however that is envisaged) But the period of rational discussion rapidly passed, and the abuse returned.

Finally there is the attack on experience and expertise. This was most memorably articulated by Michael Gove’s disgraceful comment during the Referendum campaign that “people have had enough of experts”.  People with long experience of politics are assumed to be dishonest and corrupt, and thus their experience is to be ignored.  The Referendum campaign gave a great boost to this view with its spurious notion of “balance” which meant that the broadcasters in particular had to give equal weight to the views of the overwhelming majority of economists and a handful of eccentrics. There is knowledge, and experience: we may choose to debate its relevance to our present circumstances, but we should not dismiss it because it is expertise.
These trends seem to me to be very troubling, and the leadership campaign has encouraged them in a dangerous and destructive way. They represent a retreat from rational discussion, as if the failure of our economic and political systems can be overcome by ignoring evidence, and bullying each other. That is a road which has, in the past, led to some very dark places. We need to restore respect for evidence and experience, and for each other. Otherwise the future is bleak for our politics and our society. When we have finished this election, we need to come together with mutual respect, whatever the outcome, and work together to put right what is wrong in our party and in the community at large.

My vote

This time I will vote for Owen Smith, for three reasons:

  • Jeremy has not demonstrated that he can manage an effective Parliamentary team, without which there will be no effective opposition to this right wing Government, and no chance of winning a General Election. Whatever the cause (and there are many) he has not succeeded in convincing the majority of the party in Parliament to support him.
  • Jeremy’s position on defence policy – both Trident and NATO – is equivocal, out of step in the latter case with our treaty obligations, and quite unacceptable to the electorate. On its own, it could lose us the next General Election.
  • Owen’s position on Europe is right. It follows the party’s established policy, that continued membership and campaigning to reform the EU from within is the best way of defending the interests of the people we seek to represent. We need to continue the argument, and to stress that this is a properly democratic response: when we know what people will really be offered by Brexit, we must ask them whether that is really what they want.

This is not a ringing endorsement for Owen Smith, he would probably not be the best leader the Party has ever had. However, he has some managerial and organisational experience, he is a good public speaker, and has some political successes behind him. He does not have Jeremy’s charisma, but on the two policy issues where they seriously differ, I think he is right. If he wins, I will be pleased. If Jeremy wins I will expect to continue to campaign for the party as I have done for the last year. In the words of Jo Cox “there is more that unites us than divides us”.

Whose interests are we serving when we shout?

Despite the efforts of administrators to clamp down on abuse and personal smears in Facebook groups, people continue to assert the bad faith of their opponents, and especially of MPs with whom they disagree. Regularly we see claims that MPs are only in politics for personal gain, rather than principle. I don’t think anyone changes their minds as a result of reading such stuff, but the discourse is corrupted by it, and I wonder whether the people who post this understand whose interests they serve.
In 1969 Rupert Murdoch arrived in this country and began a long campaign to undermine confidence in a range of British institutions, including Parliament. Aided and abetted over the years by Paul Dacre at the Mail and the Barclay Brothers at the Telegraph (none of them, incidentally British taxpayers, despite their huge earnings and interests), he has abused the proper privileges of the Press, which exist to expose corruption and crime, to undermine public confidence in the political process itself. The parliamentary expenses scandal is a classic case. Although it was shameful, much of it was the result of incompetent administration and confused rules, rather than explicit corruption. The money involved was tiny by comparison with the, largely unreported, tax evasion of the press barons, who are not accountable to anyone. Of course, public institutions should be subject to public scrutiny, but so should corporate power, which is much less likely to receive it.
However, this constant coverage fed a narrative that all politicians are corrupt, only interested in their personal gain, or retaining “comfortable” seats in Parliament. It is hardly surprising then that people who do not take an active interest in politics from day to day come to believe that “they are all the same” (patently not true), all are corrupt (equally untrue), and have opted for an easy life (a travesty of the lifestyle of a conscientious constituency MP, as was revealed when Jo Cox was murdered – a rare venture into positive coverage of an MP). As a result, people pay less attention to political issues, even when they affect their lives directly, and do not vote in Parliamentary elections when their voice might make a difference.
So people are increasingly ill informed about the issues, more open to manipulation and lies, and to demagogues offering simple solutions to complex problems. This is exactly where corporate interests, of which the press barons are a classic example, would like us to be. A docile population unable to challenge corporate power, or feeling unfocused anger which can be diverted away from the real origins of their problems, and to support governments which will protect that power. Hence the Brexit vote, where many people, refusing to believe that the result would affect them personally, and believing, in some cases, outright lies (as some of the Brexit supporters admitted immediately after the result), voted simply to kick the ruling classes. It is ironic, but not surprising, that some of those most at risk from globalisation voted for an outcome which removes the UK from the protection (albeit limited) which membership of a large club gave them in a global world.
It is admirable that Jeremy Corbyn has advocated a kinder approach to politics. This is not just because the world is a nicer place if we are all polite to each other (though that is a good thing), or because civilised debate is more likely than shouting to find good answers to problems, but also because abuse coarsens our politics, and consolidates the power of those who would rather not be accountable to proper democratic processes. It is sad that many of his alleged supporters and his opponents do not seem to have heard the message.

The Labour Leadership Election

I find myself in a dilemma about the Labour leadership election. I voted for Jeremy last year, and I campaigned for the party in the Referendum campaign, in Broadland and Norwich. Like the large majority of members, I welcomed Jeremy’s new style of politics, and recognised his ability to inspire large numbers of people, both young and old (like me). I carried out the survey of members in Broadland last January which revealed overwhelming support for him (divided between those who were inspired by him, and those who believed in the importance of uniting behind the elected leader).
However, the Parliamentary Party’s vote of no confidence, and the leadership election leaves me, and I suspect many others, with a dilemma. I continue to believe in Jeremy’s values and policies, though I see little real difference with Owen Jones (as Jo Cox said “there is much more that unites than divides us”). I also believe that, as Bart Cammaerts has demonstrated,( http://www.lse.ac.uk/media@lse/research/Mainstream-Media-Representations-of-Jeremy-Corbyn.aspx )Jeremy has been subject to a systematic campaign of misrepresentation and abuse by much of the media. I can also believe that there is a small group of Labour MPs who have never accepted his election, and have worked to undermine him. However, I don’t believe the online claims of mass “Blairite” conspiracies.
What does concern me, is the issue of leadership and management. We have seen a series of worrying claims made by former members of the shadow cabinet about lack of communication and coordination. They all come from people who agreed to serve under him, who all claim to have supported him originally, and do not appear to be predisposed to oppose him. Among the claims that have come to my attention are: Lillian Greenwood’s transport strategy (undermined by the shadow cabinet reshuffle); Thangam Debbonaire’s appointment , (annnounced without consultation, then dismissed and reappointed); Alan Johnson (claims about difficulty in getting meetings and agreeing strategy during the Referendum campaign); and Angela Eagle (claims that regular weekly scheduled meetings with John McDonnell were repeatedly cancelled); and Sharon Hodgson (John McDonnell’s announcement of a Minister for Neurodiversity without consultation with the relevant shadow minister).
I find it difficult to believe that this is a conspiracy, and although there may be legitimate explanations for some of them, together they paint a worrying picture of an uncoordinated and poorly managed organisation, and a dysfunctional shadow cabinet. Some of this one can attribute to inexperience – the senior members of a shadow cabinet usually come with years of experience as shadow ministers, and often with managerial experience outside Parliament. Some of the problems may not lie directly at Jeremy’s door, and some have claimed that problems stem from the leader’s office, rather than the leader himself. However, dealing with them is clearly the leader’s responsibility, with the support of the shadow cabinet and the leader’s office.
Many Corbyn supporters are determined to see the whole story as a battle between the heroic leader and a right wing conspiracy. For me, and perhaps many other members, the issue is much more mundane, it is not a conflict between left and right, or between self-serving well paid MPs and the mass membership. It is an issue of competence to lead and manage.
My concern is, assuming that there is some truth in these stories, and that they are not part of a malicious conspiracy, is the leadership and the shadow cabinet aware of the risks which such confusion pose to the Opposition and to the party (leaving aside the public interest), and is anything being done to prevent this sort of confusion continuing?
An acknowledgement of the issue, and an explanation of how it is to be addressed, could do much to reassure those like me who would like to continue to support Jeremy.