Labour’s dilemma regarding Corbyn

With Labour MPs voting 172-40 for a motion of no confidence in Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, and Corbyn resolutely staying put, citing his solid majority when he was elected leader by Labour party members,  we have a stand-off between the leader and the party’s MPs when unity is needed to form an effective opposition and to fight the next general election properly.

On one side we have the bulk of Labour MPs who say they’ve lost confidence in Corbyn, accusing him of a lack of leadership, and who are afraid Labour will lose  the next general election with Corbyn at the helm.

On the other side we have Corbyn and his supporters claiming that he has the backing of the party’s membership, that it would be a betrayal of the members for him to step down and that his opponents within the Parliamentary Labour Party have organised an unconstitutional coup against him.

This conflict can only be resolved if one side concedes defeat to the other, and the longer it continues the less impressed voters are likely to be with the party. How might a stable resolution of this conflict come about? I see only the following possibilities for a stable solution:

  1. Corbyn resigns, opening up a new leadership contest. For this to happen, Corbyn and his supporters would need to be convinced that he would lose if he were to contest a leadership election should one be forced on him. In this context, this means that there would need to be solid evidence presented that the party membership has deserted him. How that evidence would be gathered without a leadership election is unclear.
  2. Corbyn contests a leadership election and is reelected with a solid majority, ideally (for Corbyn’s side) with an increased majority of the party’s members. Those seeking to oust Corbyn would then have to concede defeat at least until the next election. It would however make for a difficult period for the party, as it would open the party up to attacks from the media and the government based on the fact that the bulk of the PLP have expressed no confidence in Corbyn.
  3. Corbyn contests a leadership election and is comprehensively defeated. This would allow the party to unite behind a new leader and put the Corbyn era behind it. But if Corbyn is correct about his support amongst the members how likely is it this will happen?
  4. The PLP decide not to mount a challenge to Corbyn’s leadership after all and to back down and see how he does at the next election. This will leave those MPs looking foolish and weak. Corbyn’s position in the party would be stronger, but he wouldn’t have an effective parliamentary team – who’d take them seriously?

Only possibilities 1 and 3 would really minimise damage to the party. 2 would at least make it clear Corbyn has the confidence of the party at large, but would leave the parliamentary party with a bit of a credibility problem or alternatively might see the party split in two. 4 would be leave the parliamentary party looking like a complete joke.

Any outcome that doesn’t comprehensively resolve the issue would mean the battles will rumble on.

This conflict thus risks the party splitting as it did in the 1980s or otherwise being seriously damaged, but with greater peril since this time round Labour’s already lost Scotland and has UKIP breathing down its neck in both England and Wales. If there is a leadership challenge and a resulting election fails to produce a decisive majority either way, that could actually make things worse.

I conclude therefore that it is not looking good either for Labour or for Corbyn.


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Initial thoughts on UKIP’s advance in the Euro elections

So UKIP topped the poll in the UK’s 2014 euro elections, returning 24 MEPs compared to Labour’s 20 and the Tories 19, with Lib Dems holding onto just 1 seat (they used to have 11).

Even with the surge of anti-EU parties elsewhere, it is unlikely this will have a big effect in the European Parliament because the pro EU parties still easily outnumber the anti-EU/EU sceptic parties there. However in terms’ of the UK’s domestic politics, and the debates about EU and immigration (the two main themes of UKIP’s campaigning) there could be a significant impact in various ways:

  • The Lib Dems, the most consistently pro EU of the major parties in Britain, who took Nigel Farage and UKIP on directly in the campaign and positioned themselves as “the party of in”, have had a disastrous result. They were lucky to hold on to their single MEP and fell to fifth place behind the Greens.  Those who believe in the EU should be concerned that the one party that was unashamedly, full throttle, pro EU got a drubbing after taking on UKIP in a high profile manner.
  • UKIP are unlikely to win more than a handful of Westminster seats at the next general election, due to the vagaries of first the post, the higher turnout, the fact we’ll be electing a government, and the likelihood they’ll fall back to at best 3rd place in share of vote. However, I’d expect the other parties to pander more strongly to the concerns of the voters who voted for them. Expect more talk of immigration controls, reform of the EU or pledges of referendums on EU membership.
  • A bigger impact may come from the reaction in Scotland to these Euro election results – Scottish politics has swung to the left of British politics generally for  as long as I can remember.  With UKIP’s perception as a party to the right of the Tories, the prospect of UKIP influencing Westminster politics may give a boost to the “Yes” campaign in the Scottish independence referendum. If that boost is big enough for “yes” to win the referendum, then British politics will have the biggest shakeup it’s seen for centuries as Scotland negotiates independence. The fall out would make the next Westminster general election unpredictable.



The DNA database and Mark Dixie

Update: The Times also has a useful look at Labour’s claims on this issue.

The Labour Party continue to portray Tory plans to restrict the retention of DNA of those charged, but never convicted, of a crime as somehow being “soft” on criminals, citing the case of Sally Anne Bowman who was killed and raped by Mark Dixie:

Gordon Brown MP, Prime Minister and Leader of the Labour Party, and Alan Johnson MP, Labour’s Home Secretary, will today make a campaign visit to highlight the vital role that DNA plays in tackling violent crime and why Labour has been fighting Tory plans to downgrade the DNA database.

At the visit in Stevenage the Prime Minister and Home Secretary will be joined by Linda Bowman, whose daughter Sally Anne was murdered in 2005.

Sally Anne’s murderer Mark Dixie was convicted through use of the DNA register, having been arrested but not convicted in a pub brawl.

The problem with this line of attack is that the Tories’ plans would not have made any difference in Mark Dixie’s case. When he was arrested his DNA was taken and compared to samples from the Sally Anne Bowman case. There was no need to have his DNA on the database to do that. There was thus no need to retain DNA for those never charged or never convicted to solve similar such cases. All that’s needed is to have a database of DNA collected from crime scenes and to have a policy of checking arrestees’ DNA against that of old crime scenes.

Such an approach is surely a far more proportionate use of DNA, far more respectful of privacy whilst at the same time more focussed on solving crime than retention of the DNA of those never charged with a crime in the first place, or those who have charges dropped or are acquitted.

Meanwhile, Genewatch point out that many of Labour’s other claims about the DNA database have to be taken with a large dose of salt.

How to shoot yourself in the foot in election advertising

The Labour party are trying to put voters off from voting Tory with this:

Being compared to Gene Hunt, one of the most popular characters from recent TV shows, is actually likely to boost Cameron’s chances, not hinder them. It has also opened up an obvious Tory response:

Tories Gene Hunt poster


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Blair’s announcement on his retirement

Blair’s announcement that he will seek and, if elected, serve a full third term but not a fourth one must go down as one of the most extraordinary declarations of an incumbent leader about his or her future in the job. Blair has told us how long we can expect him to be around for assuming the electorate, his party, his family and his health let him.

I’m guessing his intention was to end speculation about when/if he’ll hand over to Gordon Brown, and to prevent it being an issue during the forthcoming election campaign. He may also have done it to spike Gordon’s chances of being PM. However it seems to me that this may well turn out to be a turning point in British politics which could have quite unexpected consequences. I say this for several reasons.

Firstly, Blair has ensured that Labour’s historic third term in government, should they get it, will involve a struggle for the succession, starting openly probably no later than mid term. From day one, ministers’ pronouncements and activities will be scrutinised by both media and opposition for any hints at ambition for the PM’s job or support or otherwise for those considered to be in the race. As we saw with both Thatcher and Major, such jockeying for position can do a lot to undermine a sitting government.

Secondly, Blair has given anyone within the government who is in a position to oppose a policy an ideal means of doing so — delay it until the PM resigns. The policy’s future thereafter will be uncertain and making political alliances for the succession could then kill it.

Thirdly, this will give the opposition parties a reason to do everything they can to delay government bills and provide opportunities for them to exploit the tensions within the government and the Labour party for their own advantage or at least the government’s disadvantage.

Fourthly, in foreign policy, anyone who doesn’t like Blair can simply hold on for someone new. Blair’s ability to push forward his own policies in e.g. the EU will thus be considerably weakened — the EU leaders will know he’ll stand down by a certain point and can adopt delaying tactics on policies they dislike and policies that Tony likes.

Whilst Blair’s announcement may help to keep Labour disciplined in the run up to the next election, ISTM he has considerably weakened his ability to govern thereafter with this announcement, both on domestic policy and on the international stage. He has also made it more difficult for Gordon Brown to ensure that he’s the one to succeed Blair, whilst making it more likely that the struggle for the succession will see a level of infighting in the Labour party not seen since the 1980s.

At any rate, the PM’s annoucement has ensured that what happens in the post-Blair era is likely to be a dominant theme of Britain’s political discourse after the next election, as both the government, the media and the political parties gradually take on board the reality that Blair’s days have now been numbered by none other than Blair himself.

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