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Author Page for Dave Brockington

Born in San Jose, grew up in Seattle, received a Ph.D. in poli sci from University of Washington, worked for three years at Universiteit Twente in Enschede, Netherlands, and have worked at the University of Plymouth for eight academic years now in Plymouth, United Kingdom.

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Battling for the soul of my party

[ 173 ] July 16, 2016 |

So, in my inimitable way, I went out last night and got happily drunk.  Said drunk excursion commenced with chatting with several of my MA students. It turns out that one is a member of the Labour Party, and voted for Jeremy Corbyn last summer.  He’s not now. Nor am I, even though I voted for him with some questionable eloquence last summer.

Over the course of the evening, which involved a lot of music and alcohol, and a free ride home courtesy of the Devon and Cornwall Constabulary, I spoke to five members of the party, none of whom I knew were members before chatting with them (hence they’re not very active in said party). In this non scientific sample, they all will not vote for Jeremy. Their reasons vary. Two didn’t in the first place, yet three did.  Ultimately it came down to rationality.  As the (second, I was there for the shift change) bartender at my local said, “I joined the party so we could win and make a difference. We can’t win with this guy.”

Yesterday morning, the results of the council by-elections were filtering down, and the Corbyn faithful focussed on one result in particular:


One of the comments read “There were other wonderful results too.”

To which I replied on social media
“Imagine if the result had gone the other way, the kind of analysis we would see” . . . well, the result overall *did* go the other way, pal, and it’s a bloody good thing this isn’t in the news. There were ten by-elections on Thursday. Of those, the Lib Dems gained four, and the Tories gained one (at our expense). Of the seven where there was a Labour candidate in the previous election, we lost share in five elections (-11.3, -7.4, -5.0, -4.4, -4.1) and only gained in two (+10.6, +8.9). The winners on the night were the Liberals by far. We didn’t do so well, outside of the election in Bradford and the one in Islington, and if we can’t win in those two we have much larger problems than a leadership struggle.
Anecdotally, and now, vaguely empirically, Jeremy is not the way forward.

Boris Johnson, Diplomat

[ 117 ] July 14, 2016 |


I’ve been trying to make some sort of rational sense of this all morning. There are two rough theories which work together.  First, given the tone of her speech last night, it’s clear she’s trying to position domestic policy towards the currently unoccupied huge gaping hole in the center of British politics. This also squares with her sacking of George Osborne, which has been interpreted as an implicit rejection of austerity. Even Ed Miliband liked her speech last night:


To move to the middle ground, she needs to have her right flank secure. The right of the Conservative party in post-Referendum Britain is the Leave camp. Hence, the new job of Secretary of State for Exiting the EU goes to Leaver David Davis, the new job of Secretary of State for International Trade to fellow Leaver Liam Fox(!), and then the Foreign Secretary goes to noted diplomat Boris Johnson. It makes some rational sense to give the Leavers these jobs, almost a win-win: Brexiters in the party and electorate are placated, and as there’s no good way through Brexit, when things go south they’re lined up to take the blame for the resulting failure:



This is a high risk strategy, however, as ultimately it is May’s judgment to elevate these fall guys; she’s banking that the blame won’t rebound on her. If she pulls this all off, and the odds are on her side considering the level of attentiveness that the opposition is paying to the government at the moment, it’s easy to grow despondent about the near and mid-term chances of the Labour Party. Several events would need to occur for Labour to have a decent chance at winning an election by 2020. Labour will have to get its shit together, the economic fallout from Brexit will have to be significantly dire, and the sitting government will have to be perceived as responsible for the disaster. This is where all the Leavers at the wheel makes the May government vulnerable: the connection is easier to make. It’s also a bad plan, as all but the most cynical of us on the left sincerely hope that we somehow manage to get through the coming storm relatively unscathed in economic terms.

Back to the purported topic of the post: it does not make any sense to place Boris Johnson in that particular position. It’s something right out of the Onion. Furthermore, Gove was sacked outright. Perhaps it’s the one vaguely Brexit-related role where Boris can cause the least damage. Perhaps May’s staff were all on acid.

The State Department’s Press Secretary mostly keeps his cool, while Angela Eagle (note, right as she’s speaking about Boris) doesn’t (I have to admit to having watched that clip about six times this morning).  Following are several lists, none claiming to be comprehensive (which is likely an impossible goal), outlining the litany of countries and foreign politicians that Boris has insulted in his personal path-of-destruction: Slate, which includes this somewhat relevant gem:

During Hillary Clinton’s first run for the White House, in 2007, Johnson referred to her as “a sadistic nurse in a mental hospital,” criticizing her for embodying “purse-lipped political correctness,” and reviving a long-discredited conspiracy theory that claims she and then-President Bill Clinton conspired to murder Vince Foster, a close friend and White House aide who committed suicide in 1993.

This, which opens with the truth:

At a time when America is in a full-blown national discussion over race, our closest ally, Great Britain, has appointed a new foreign secretary (aka secretary of state), Boris Johnson, with a troubling history of racism.

The Guardian, limiting itself to only eight examples from only the past decade, and BuzzFeed doing what BuzzFeed does. This is only a sampling of the links I’ve come across this morning.

I’m left with just this: just what the hell was Theresa May thinking?





An Organised Opposition, Ready to Govern

[ 172 ] July 13, 2016 |


Hah.  Who am I kidding?

The Labour Party National Executive Committee, a relative obscure body to most until yesterday, voted 18-14 following a six hour meeting last night to allow Jeremy Corbyn to be listed on the leadership ballot without having to clear a threshold of nominations by MPs and MEPs (currently 51). Considering the politics involved, this was the correct decision. That said, the NEC had an out; while focusing solely on the relevant clause in the rule book makes a strong case for the incumbent’s automatic inclusion, the rules taken in their entirety grant the NEC the power to basically make shit up as they go:

I don’t think Labour’s existing rules framework can reasonably be read so as to exclude Jeremy Corbyn from the coming leadership ballot of members. I agree with Mark Henderson. There is a real danger that trying to do so based on the existing rules framework set out in Chapter 4 clause II could be successfully challenged in court.

But the rule book gives the NEC power to vary that rules framework, and it would in my view be reasonable for it to do so in this unforeseen, unprovided for and disputed situation. If it does vary the rules to require the no-confidence incumbent to reach the same nomination threshold as his challengers, I doubt the courts would intervene.

Ultimately, like SCOTUS, the NEC is a political body rendering a political decision, and in this case from a pure (perhaps short term) political perspective, they made the right call.  However, late in the meeting (some have argued that Corbyn dropped the ball; I had a link late last night but I’ve misplaced it) the NEC established different eligibility requirements for the upcoming leadership election. The £3 supporter is out, and a six-month freeze date is set for membership eligibility. While the BBC were reporting the cutoff date as 12 January last night, it’s still unclear (but it won’t be far off 12 January). New members of the party who joined after the freeze date are still eligible, but for a £25 surcharge (this being the Labour Party, clarity is a dangerous concept, so there are additional routes to the franchise discussed below). Some Corbyn supporters are, of course, outraged (!!!) at the eligibility requirements. For example (EDIT, to remove ambiguity, Peston is a journalist):


I don’t know exactly how it went down at the meeting, but however it did, it was a clever move to constrict the electorate. That said, the membership surge since Corbyn was named leader in September until Brexit was almost certainly motivated solely by Corbyn, but we don’t know how these 100,000 post-Brexit members would break in a leadership contest. Furthermore, this is not a new thing in the Labour Party. Eligibility to vote at the CLP and branch levels of the party (e.g. to vote on selection for parliamentary and council candidates) has long required a minimum six-month membership. Last summer, many were bemused that the barriers to voting for the leader of the entire party were virtually non-existent (£3) whereas a minimal six-month membership was (and remains) required before voting on selection for candidates to the local council.

There are also backdoors to voting for leader, which is being spread widely in Corbyn-supporting social media circles:


There are many things fascinating about this ongoing storm, but one that I’ve consistently found the most bemusing is the ratio of energy expended in some circles in the Labour Party at perceived internal “enemies” to the energy expended against the Conservative Party. My feed is full of 38Degrees petitions about how Labour should scrap the outrageous franchise requirements for the leadership election, but barely a mention that, umm, hey? we’re getting a new Prime Minister later today who was elected by 199 votes out of an entire electorate of 329. Instead of focusing his energy on the real opposition, the shadow chancellor instead pointed out that a significant number of his fellow Labour MPs are “fucking useless” as plotters.

Moving on, in skimming the rest of the comments from yesterday, I do want to make one point of clarification. I don’t necessarily believe that the PLP should have supremacy over the membership writ large. However, I do think that the two should be structurally required to work together and agree. In short, a vote of no confidence in the party leader should require the leader to resign (and disallowed from standing in the subsequent election). I also believe that the PLP should somehow have an equal say to that of the membership in electing the leader. Giving the Parliamentary MPs an equal weight in this process is really the only way that parliamentary government (or opposition) can work. Hypothetically, if a snap election were to be held by the Autumn, Labour either wins or attains a plurality of MPs, yet an overwhelming majority of those MPs neither support nor can work with the party leader, who becomes the Prime Minister? Nicola Sturgeon?  Balanced against this is that the membership should not have to accept just anybody as leader that the PLP forces upon them. How to do this effectively (and in a manner acceptable to all parties) is an open question. But, given current conditions (a leader who has strong support amongst the members, is happy to ignore tacit norms, yet has at best the support of only 20% of the PLP and of those, few are considered heavyweights or really acceptable to the broader electorate as a government in waiting) an infinite loop of dysfunction is likely.

To make things more lively, Owen Smith announced that he’s likewise challenging Jeremy Corbyn, although he still needs to gather the 51 endorsements of MPs/MEPs. Obviously, the coup against Corbyn didn’t have much of a plan beyond an elegantly timed cascade of resignations from the shadow cabinet. It was assumed that he would conform to the tacit norm by resigning, so why bother planning for the unexpected. He didn’t resign, so here we are.

If I’m Theresa May, my first order of business is a snap election. The opposition are the very definition of disarray, and this has the side benefit of pushing Article 50 back several more months. I’m sure there are risks to the Conservatives of an election (the potential for a greater UKIP presence in Parliament at the expense of Labour, or that she could lose . . . ) but it seems to me that the benefits outweigh the risk, especially when her own majority remains just as small as David Cameron’s.


Rules and Labourshambles

[ 284 ] July 12, 2016 |


Javier Sajuria posted this over at the UCL Constitution Unit last week while I was busy finding new and efficient ways to haemorrhage cash in Geneva.  It’s worth a read, and applies some political sciency-type stuff to the situation that the Labour Party finds itself in.  Rules matter, they aren’t neutral (implied), and the Labour Party failed on two levels: codifying this set of rules in the first place in 2014, and then the PLP failed in their role as gatekeeper by allowing Jeremy Corbyn on the ballot at the last minute. The Conservatives, in contrast, made it more difficult for their MPs to fail in this regard by forcing a winnowing of the field presented to the membership to only two candidates.

The final two paragraphs capture the problem Labour faces:

Finally, under the current rules, the leader of the Labour Party is not accountable to the PLP. This might seem obvious given that those voting for the leader are the members and supporters, not the MPs. However, the current situation shows how important it is that the leader is able to bring together all groups within the party. As we have seen earlier this week, not even a vote of no-confidence with over 80 per cent support can force Corbyn to resign, nor stop him from putting his name forward in the event of a challenge of his leadership. Under the current situation, is difficult to see how the Labour Party can provide a strong opposition to the government, if any at all.

The main take home point from this exercise is that the Labour crisis is not (only) ideological. Preference heterogeneity within parties is a well-documented phenomenon and the internal mechanisms should be able to cope with it. This is exactly what has been failing in the case of Labour. MPs were not able to understand their role as gatekeepers and guardians of party unity, but also the rules do not give them enough power to fix the problem. It seems that in this case, the leader of the party is willing to test how much he can steer the party to the left before breaking it.

Back in August I discussed (neither as pointedly nor as eloquently) a problem the party might face with its electoral system:

Labour have invited such shenanigans, and have only themselves to blame for creating electoral rules that cast a modicum of doubt on the legitimacy of the outcome.

In re-reading that post, it’s apparent how the PLP worked out just a bit too late that they failed in forwarding candidate(s) that would not negatively effect party unity. Assuming that the NEC allows Corbyn on the leadership ballot automatically (and he will, of course, fight the NEC if they do not), he will probably win. His support within the party membership is down, but not enough to make it close in my estimation. He’s ahead of Angela Eagle 50% – 40% in a leadership contest, though this is against the backdrop of his net favourability (among party members) falling from +45% to +3% between May and (very) early July; in May 60% of members wanted him to lead the party into a general election, while now it’s 41%. These figures do not include the three-quid supporters, and this (astonishingly misguided) facility will again be in place:

What about the £3 supporters?

People who signed up to vote last year under the £3 supporter scheme will not automatically receive a ballot this time around – so they will need to part with another £3 and register again. This scheme will re-open once the NEC has confirmed the timetable for the election.

It’s not ludicrous to suggest that the £3 supporters will break for Corbyn in a leadership election.

The Labour Party is faced with a leader (under the current rules, this could be any leader) who is not accountable to the PLP. In a parliamentary system, this is dangerous, as we’re witnessing. It hard codes in an increased probability of dysfunction, and given that we delight in dysfunction when we’re at peak organisation, we don’t need the help from the rule book. If there’s a snap election, and Labour lose by a margin worse than 2015, what prevents Corbyn from hanging on as leader? Nothing. Sure, there’d be a leadership challenge, but the current rules combined with the cult-of-personality that the hard left have for Corbyn, it’s possible that this continues in perpetuity. The rules as currently constructed would not prevent this, even following a crushing electoral debacle.

Such an electoral tsunami is several years off, as odds are against a snap election. Theresa May should call one, for both electoral advantage and democratic legitimisation. Since the referendum, the Conservative lead over Labour has increased by four points in the ICM poll, but this is not due to an erosion of support for Labour but by what appears to be the Tories gaining support at the expense of UKIP; either way the Tories have an 8 point lead according to ICM. However, past experience suggests an election will not be called. The last three times there has been an internal leadership change that resulted in a new Prime Minister (Wilson to Callaghan in 1976, Thatcher to Major in 1990, Blair to Brown in 2007) there was not a resulting snap election. All three heirs saw out the statutory limit of the extant parliament before calling an election.

It appears that the only chance that the Labour Party have of shaking Jeremy Corbyn is to get obliterated in an election (and even then the outcome is not guaranteed). Of course, no sane person in the party would ever go into an election hoping for a devastating defeat (or a defeat of any variety). I’m not confident that some Corbynistas would likewise go into a general election behind Angela Eagle hoping for victory, however.

Theresa May to be Next UK PM

[ 278 ] July 11, 2016 |

theresa may

As Andrea Leadsom has just withdrawn from the race to be Conservative Party leader:

Andrea Leadsom says her backing from MPs is not “sufficient support to lead a strong and stable government” if she were to win the leadership election.

Additionally, a not-too-subtle dig at the opposition party.

This opens up several questions, most namely the on-again, off-again snap election.  Given that May will only have faced her fellow Conservative MPs in deciding the PM, and not the much broader electorate (and highly representative of the general UK population!) of Conservative Party members, combined with the somewhat disorganised state of the Labour Party, it’s in her interests to call an election as soon as possible. I’m willing to bet that we can find record of her and a good chunk of the Conservative front bench criticising Gordon Brown’s lack of calling a snap election in 2007 when he assumed leadership of the Labour Party uncontested.

While May was Remain, she was even more puke-warm than Corbyn. She’s on record today making it clear that there’s not going to be any back-door attempt to remain in the EU.

I’m on the radio in half an hour or so about political predictions for the remainder of 2016, and one of the points I was going to make was not to rule Leadsom out, even though the only poll we’ve seen had May ahead 63% – 31% among the Conservative Party membership. While not an explicit prediction, its veracity is consistent with any prediction I’ve made of late.

Today in British Understatement

[ 125 ] July 6, 2016 |

Chilcot says there was no need to go to war in March 2003.”

And . . .

“Blair “overestimated his ability” to influence US decisions on Iraq.”

“the inquiry does not accept Blair’s claim that it was impossible to predict post-invasion problems”.

“Blair presented the intelligence about Iraq’s WMD “with a certainty that was not justified”.”

Who would have thunk it?

Crowdsourcing Geneva

[ 17 ] July 2, 2016 |


The value of the British pound sterling in Swiss francs over the past 30 days.

Given I’m always looking for new ways to irresponsibly lose a lot of cash, early tomorrow (Sunday) the partner and I will take our hard earned pounds sterling to Geneva for two nights.  I understand the Swiss use a currency that is both convertible and worth stuff.  This is for pleasure, not work, and I’ve never been. While I should be crowdsourcing finance for this trip, given Geneva was already considered a significantly expensive city to visit before sterling decided to look to the German Papiermark for inspiration, instead I’m looking for ideas.

We’ll have help in the tourism thing considering we’re staying with an old friend of mine who has lived there for three to four years, but is there anything for whatever reason that you’d consider a can’t miss restaurant / museum / etc.?

Brexit: The Continuing Fallout

[ 168 ] July 2, 2016 |


When the NYT runs a series of stories about the cross between East Enders and Game of Thrones that British politics has become, it’s somewhat serious.

As part of the expert-sourced fear mongering in the run in to the referendum vote, one concern was that the financial services industry in London would haemorrhage jobs to some alternative location in the European Union. The response from the Leave Campaign was, of course, all rainbows and unicorns and lovely, sweet magical fairy dust. Well, turns out that a critical component of an already shaky economic foundation in Britain will lose jobs:

I spoke this week to several high-ranking executives at major financial institutions that collectively employ tens of thousands in London. While none of them have any immediate plans to move their European headquarters from Britain’s capital, all agreed they would eventually shift a significant number of highly paid employees to cities that remain in the European Union.

One executive in charge of relocation (who like the others, spoke only on condition of anonymity because of the political sensitivity of the issue) said the percentage of employees in his firm who might be required to move ranged from 10 percent to 40 percent. “Multiply that throughout the industry and it’s tens of thousands of people and their families,” he said. “And bear in mind that most of these people are millionaires.”

Helpfully, the NYT has graded the contenders for the next London here. Surprisingly, Amsterdam comes out on top, narrowly edging out Frankfort.

The NYT also has an at-times funny treatment on Boris here.

Labour are still engaged in a potentially fatal game of chicken. Tis is probably not an optimal strategy for establishing your bonafides as a government in waiting. And John McDonnell is making about as much coherent sense as the dreamiest of the Leave campaigners:

Amid the confusion, McDonnell used his speech to try and present a coherent Labour plan for a post-Brexit future, calling for the UK to remain in the EU single market and for the financial services industry to keep its privileged “passported” trading status.

However, the shadow chancellor appeared to dismiss the idea of the party seeking to block departure from the EU, saying: “The people have spoken and their decision must be respected.”

He also predicted that Brexit would end unrestricted travel and employment for EU nationals in the UK. “Let’s be absolutely clear on the immigration issue,” McDonnell said. “If Britain leaves the European Union, the free movement of people, of labour, will then come to an end.”

Sorry, mate, you’re not going to get to cherry-pick the best bits of EU membership without having the bits you don’t like.

Theresa May is going to be Britain’s next PM. She was beating the crap out of Boris a couple days ago, and now is well ahead of Mr. Charisma.  At least until things change.

In the week since the vote, hate crimes have overwhelmingly increased. It’s ugly out there. I’ve heard anecdotal stories from people I know as well that range from low-level abuse and harassment to worse.

But, it’s not all bad news. The march of Wales inexplicably continues, having defeated Belgium 3-1 last night.


Random Musings on the Continuing British Fiasco

[ 362 ] June 30, 2016 |

Conservative Party Chief Whip Michael Gove addresses delegates on the final day of the annual Conservative Party Conference in Birmingham, central England, on October 1, 2014. Talk of treason cast a shadow over Britain's Conservative party conference this week, where gossip raged over who might be next to defect to the anti-EU UK Independence Party (UKIP). AFP PHOTO / OLI SCARFF (Photo credit should read OLI SCARFF/AFP/Getty Images)

Michael Gove has joined the cast of thousands vying to be the next Conservative Party leader, hence Prime Minister.  Seriously. Yesterday while enjoying a pint or several with fellow bemused Labourites, we figured Gove was the next Chancellor of the Exchequer in a Boris government. After all, he screwed up education and alienated all the teachers, then messed up the justice system, so why not have a crack at what’s left of the economy?

His personal path of destruction has loftier ambitions.

Corbyn is not going anywhere, and will likely face a challenge from Angela Eagle. She will probably lose. I’ve asked this before, but I’m at a loss to understand how he can run an opposition without the support of enough MPs to fill out a shadow cabinet? A country based on an unwritten constitution runs smoothly on tacit norms. Corbyn is ignoring one of those tacit norms. As was brought up in comments yesterday, according to David Ward, Chief Policy advisor to John Smith, the then-Leader didn’t think there was the need to hard code the requirement to resign into the Labour Party rule book when he was redrafting it in 1993:

If the Parliamentary Labour Party had passed a motion of no confidence in John Smith he would have resigned immediately. How do I know this? Because he told me he would. In 1993 during the Labour Party debates on the creation of an electoral college we discussed the lack of a mechanism to eject an unpopular or ineffective leader. He argued there’s no need for one. Without any hesitation he told me that any leader who lost a motion of no confidence in the PLP would have no alternative but to instantly resign.

John Smith was acutely aware that the PLP is the part of the Labour Movement that directly represents millions of Labour voters. He knew that any leader lacking the support of Labour MPs would not have the slightest chance of persuading voters to elect a Labour Government. That’s why he favoured the adoption of an electoral college made up of the three pillars of the Labour Movement; MPs, ordinary members, and the affiliated unions that created the Party in the first place. This system gave the elected leadership a powerful link with trade unionists, members, MPs and their voters. If that link collapses, as it now clearly has with Jeremy Corbyn, then resignation is the only responsible course of action.

To quote a local Labour Councillor and a friend of mine:

The Labour Party leader effectively is leader of three things: the Party at large, the Parliamentary Party, and the Labour Party staff (although Ian McNicol, General Secretary is de jure in charge there). Just in terms of organisational functionality, if they cannot command substantial support in two of those three areas, then their ability to lead the Party as a whole is nullified.

The Labour Party itself is supposed to be the democratic representative arm of the Labour movement, whose official constituent parts include Trades Unions, various socialist societies, the Co-op Party, and unorganised disparate groups and individuals. Obviously this more disparate movement changes over time. It’s primary purpose is to elect representatives of this movement to positions in Parliament, Councils, and other elected positions. For someone so steeped in the Party, I can only be either astonished that the present leader doesn’t recognise this, or assume he ignores it.

Fortunately for Labour, the chances for a snap election following the naming of the new Conservative leader are receding, with both Johnson and Crabb on record as stating it won’t happen. Apparently the Conservative backbenchers don’t want an election having just had one nearly 14 months ago. The overly optimistic amongst us might read into this that they’re worried. I’m not one of those people. This does, of course, bring to the fore questions regarding democratic legitimacy and quite likely contradicts statements made by several of the contenders back when Gordon Brown supplanted Tony Blair. (Side note: the now notorious “Blairite” Tom Watson orchestrated the coup that deposed Tony Blair in 2007. Such is the loose relationship with reality exhibited by some Corbynistas).

UPDATE: While three days old, Owen Jones on the plight of Labour and the left in Britain. Sobering.

Finally, in skimming the comments from yesterday’s post, I’m delighted that the Daria reference was picked up. I should watch that again.



Post-Brexit Labour: Our Own Omnishambles

[ 481 ] June 29, 2016 |


I was planning on writing about something else this morning, like strategies to avoid Brexit, political and constitutional dilemmas of the same, or the soul-crushing reality of being a life-long Mariners fan (where life-long is measured in the life of the franchise and not me).


As expected, the vote of no confidence in Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership by the Parliamentary Labour Party easily passed, 172-40, or 81% of sitting Labour MPs (who voted; there were a handful of abstentions and even several “soiled ballots” — so roughly 75% of Labour MPs are on record as opposing the leader).  This follows the resignations of two-thirds of his shadow cabinet, and all the various positions have yet to be filled (and considering when one adds in parliamentary private secretaries and junior shadow ministers, simply stated, there might not be enough Corbyn supporters remaining in Parliament to fill all the roles). Indeed, this morning the SNP has stated that it will request to be named the official opposition (no link, as this is just breaking):

A bit more on the news we mentioned earlier that the Scottish National Party will today ask to be declared the official Oppositon at Westminster.

They say their leader Angus Robertson enjoys more support than Jeremy Corbyn.

There are 56 SNP MPs – but only 40 Labour MPs have expressed support for Mr Corbyn.

They also say they are able to fill all the relevant shadow posts to the government, unlike Mr Corbyn.

They point to Parliamentary rules which say the official Opposition must be “prepared to assume power.”

A source said: “We have looked at Erskine May (the Parliamentary rule book) and will put it to the Speaker that the Labour Party no longer meet obligations to remain as the official Opposition.”

The expected response from the Corbyn and Momentum corners are that none of these MPs ever supported Jeremy, so this shouldn’t be a surprise and holds no democratic legitimacy. This is partially true.  It’s no secret that a significant share of the PLP were wary of Corbyn’s leadership, and a core of those on the right and center of the party took themselves out of contention for shadow cabinet positions (which troubled me; the shadow cabinet would have been more effective and representative had Liz Kendall and / or Yvette Cooper taken a role for the sake of the party). And yes, a significant group of MPs have been dreaming of a coup against Corbyn from September, so to some degree this was long in the cards.  However, from what I’ve heard, the majority of the PLP were firmly in the center — not knee-jerk hostile to Corbyn, and willing to give him time and a chance. It stands to reason that anybody who agreed to serve in the shadow cabinet was at minimum open minded about Corbyn’s leadership. It’s one thing to accept that a disaffected core existed on the right of the PLP hoping for this moment, but it’s another thing entirely to explicitly and publicly lose the support of 2/3rds of your own shadow cabinet.

As I stated yesterday, it’s close to impossible to lead an effective opposition, government, or even a marginalised political party if an overwhelming majority of your MPs are rebelling against your leadership. The response of Corbyn and his supporters is to hang on and cite the democratic mandate of the 251,417 (59.5%) votes he received in last summer’s leadership election. As I don’t shy away from stating, I was one of those 251,417.

However, there’s an alternative narrative of democratic legitimacy that is not likely to be warmly received by Corbyn’s supporters.  As MilitantlyAardvark said in comments yesterday: “A decent case could be made that MPs are elected by the people of their constituency and therefore represent a broader and more genuinely democratic section of Labour voters than the relatively small number of party members.”  This narrative is also here in The Guardian:

A defiant Mr Corbyn tonight brushed off the thumbs-down that four in five colleagues gave him, by reciting the rulebook which puts the leadership decision in the hands of the members who he believes remain as loyal as ever, although – amid such chaos – can that be assumed? More fundamentally, the rulebook becomes immaterial when there is no ability to do the basic job. The rules of a charity may, for example, put the appointment of a chief executive in the hands of the trustees, but that chief executive will not be able to function if the staff all want him out. And in the Corbyn case, the option of replacing “the staff” does not exist without showing contempt to the electorate, since they are not mere party functionaries, but MPs elected by 9.3 million Labour voters. And if the election comes this year, there would be no time to go for wholesale reselections to pick a new slate of Corbynite candidates, even if Mr Corbyn had not solemnly promised to avoid this unwise course.

That’s right. The PLP were elected by 9.3 million voters in May 2015. These people are (or at least should be) significantly more important to the operation of a major political party with aspirations (however dimming) of one day again returning to government.

That argument has not nor will it make any headway amongst the core Corbyn support.  Reviewing the discussion in the various pro-Corbyn and Momentum groups I belong to in social media, the tenor is that any criticism of Jeremy is apostasy. The PLP is the enemy (aside form the 40 who voted confidence) including those who once served in the shadow cabinet but have since resigned. It’s fascinating to read. And depressing. Politics in a democracy requires the building of coalitions, of compromise, of reaching consensual outcomes. Jeremy’s core support doesn’t appear to reflect this reality or even accept its legitimacy.

Unlike the Leave Campaign, the Corbyn team and supporters have a plan should he be allowed to stand, and win, the forthcoming leadership election:

“We will offer the most radical leadership reform package ever,” said one insider. “Reselection, recall, a lock on leadership elections that only members can remove. We will bring it.”

This is elaborated upon here. It’s difficult to say if this is really the plan, or wishful thinking taking the shape of rumour.  It would help solve the dilemma I wrote about yesterday, that if we’re going to allow the leader to be elected by, and only by, a direct vote of the membership, the elected leader needs the PLP on side. Having Corbynistas take control of a majority of the Constituency Labour Parties, and force re-selection of candidates for Parliament, is a means to this end.  It will result in bad blood, and could possibly result in a fundamental split in the party, where Corbyn and Momentum have control of the name and machinery, while the PLP breaks off to form another SDLP SDP (or even join the Liberal Democrats), presumably dragging a share of their CLP supporters with them.

Regardless of how this ends up, if there’s a snap election between October and December, there’s probably not enough time to seize control of enough CLPs, nor will there really be enough time for a proper leadership election to progress. Last summer’s leadership election took three months from the close of nominations to the declaration of the winner.

Effectively, the Labour Party has defaulted on its job to be an organised opposition to the equally disorganised Conservatives precisely when the country needs precisely that.

Brexit: What Can the Opposition Do?

[ 413 ] June 28, 2016 |





Jeremy Corbyn chairs a meeting of the Shadow Cabinet (a meme that did the rounds yesterday)

Seeing as how it’s Labour, the obvious choice is to hit the self-destruct button. A vote of no-confidence in the Corbyn leadership will be held today, with an estimated 150 MPs expected to vote against the leader (out of 229 Labour MPs in the House of Commons). Given Jeremy Corbyn is exhibiting personality traits more familiar with a certain US Senator from Vermont, he’s not expected to resign. This creates a problem (on several levels), not helped in that the Labour Party isn’t even in agreement on its own rules:

And there will also be an attempt to stop Corbyn standing again, with a legal battle pending as two pieces of advice from lawyers have drawn opposite conclusions about whether the standing leader needs to secure MP nominations in the face of a challenge.

Whoever ends up on the leadership ballot, current rules dictate that it goes to a vote of the membership. If Corbyn is on the ballot, he should win. He won 60% of the vote in September, and since assuming the leadership of the party, membership has increased significantly.

The current highly fractious nature of the party (not to be confused with the business-as-usual fractious state of the Labour Party) offers us a delicious dilemma. To be effective, in government or opposition, the leader of the party needs his or her MPs largely on side. When elected leader, most of the high profile MPs of the right and center of the party ruled out participating in his shadow cabinet, and over the past 48 hours he’s lost the majority of what remained. It’s clear that Corbyn does not have the support of Parliamentary Labour Party, and that’s a problem. While the initial group who signalled their lack of support by rejecting the opportunity to serve in the first shadow cabinet did so on ideological grounds, the current tsunami of defections appear to be largely based on the assessment that Corbyn lacks the competence as a leader for what is expected to be a snap general election.

But, the dilemma. How can Labour square the current system for electing the party leader with the very real need to have a strong relationship with the majority of the PLP? If Labour is stuck with Corbyn, there’s really only two options, neither pretty. First, the system can be scrapped (which will not happen so long as Corbyn is leader). While it should not return to the “electoral college” system that elected Ed Miliband, where membership, MPs/MEPs, and trade unions had equal weighting), the PLP should have some sort of input. On the other hand, Momentum (the campaign group set up around Corbyn supporters; they function as a party within a party more or less) could attempt to “de-select” sitting MPs when it comes time for Constituency Labour Parties to select their candidates for the general election. That may or not be effective.

Either choice is sub-optimal, and is guaranteed to piss a lot of people off.

Regardless of what happens, should Corbyn go (either on his own or forced out) the party stands to lose a not-insignificant number of paid up members. Corbyn has a similar hold on his supporters as Bernie Sanders does / did. He is viewed as transcending politics into a near messianic figure. I’ve witnessed this in FTF discussion as well as among the several pro-Corbyn groups I belong to in the social media universe. Ideological purity reigns, and no criticism of the messiah is warranted. Anybody who comes out against Corbyn is either a traitor to the cause, or worse, labelled a Blairite. More energy in these groups is dedicated to criticising the moderate and “Blairite” wing of the party than the real enemy, and Tony Blair (who, recall, did what no other Labour leader had ever done by winning three successive elections, and was one of only four Labour leaders to win an election) receives significantly more attention in these groups than, say, Margaret Thatcher, David Cameron, or Nigel Farage. What is hilarious to watch is how each resignation from the shadow cabinet is being explained as either Tony Blair’s direct involvement, or all of those who resigned were Blairites at heart. Of course, this is rubbish; any MP with true Blairite tendencies ruled out serving in the shadow cabinet in September, and to cite two examples, it would be difficult to characterise either Hilary Benn or Angela Eagle as Blairites.

I identify as on the left wing of the party, but I guess in the parlance of the Labour Party, it would be among the so-called “soft left”. I voted for Corbyn, and posted about my reasoning here. That said, I do think that actually winning an election is a pretty good thing, and more critical than ideological purity (which premised that post in September). I still hold to my basic analysis in the September post, but following ineffective leadership of the Labour In campaign (which is stating it charitably) combined with his inability to mobilise much support amongst the PLP, I am becoming increasing less convinced that he is the leader to mobilise this hypothesised expanded electorate that I initially believed.

The Failure of the Stronger In Campaign: One Narrative

[ 246 ] June 26, 2016 |


Politico has this, which I encountered this morning. It’s the usual behind-the-scenes sort of thing. As a Labour Party member / activist / whatever, the following piques my interest:

Senior staff from the campaign “begged” Corbyn to do a rally with the prime minister, according to a senior source who was close to the Remain campaign. Corbyn wanted nothing to do with the Tory leader, no matter what was at stake. Gordon Brown, the Labour prime minister whom Cameron vanquished in 2010, was sent to plead with Corbyn to change his mind. Corbyn wouldn’t. Senior figures in the Remain camp, who included Cameron’s trusted communications chief Craig Oliver and Jim Messina, President Obama’s campaign guru, were furious.

Even at more basic levels of campaigning, Labour were refusing to cooperate. The party would not share its voter registration lists with Stronger In, fearing the Tories would steal the information for the next general election. “Our data is our data,” one senior Labour source said when asked about the allegation.

In desperation, the Remain strategists discussed reaching out to the White House to intervene directly. Obama had met Corbyn during a trip to London in April, when the American president argued forcefully for Remain. They wondered: Maybe Obama could call the Labour leader and convince him to campaign with Cameron?

Don’t bother, Labour aides told them. Nobody was going to coax their boss into sharing a public platform with Cameron. The idea was dropped before it reached the White House.

Some comments. Jeremy Corbyn is being thoroughly criticised within (and without) the party for his lukewarm embrace of remain, and his (putting it charitably) nuanced approach to the campaign. I’m not sure how much of the motivation for the revolt in the Parliamentary Labour Party is a function of sincere misgivings about his mishandling of the campaign, and how much is political opportunism (I’m thinking two thirds the latter), but it’s a safe bet that the sacking of Hilary Benn, shadow foreign secretary, was the opposite of a smart move. Of course, the core Corbynista support will brook no critique of their messiah (full disclosure: I voted for Corbyn, but he’s not a messianic figure. He’s no more than a highly principled, at times bumbling politician). This is shaping up to be a not insignificant problem for the party precisely when we need a strong, focussed opposition.

I see, and am some degree receptive to, the argument that one reason for the failure of Labour in Scotland during the general election was the party’s decision to campaign united with the Tories and Liberal Democrats against independence. The Conservative brand in general and David Cameron in particular were toxic north of the border, and we opted for guilt by association. That said, one or two joint appearances would have not killed Corbyn. Furthermore, Labour In was an anaemic campaign at the national level (at the local level here, it was well organised). I doubt a stronger Labour-specific remain campaign would have on its own turned the tide and clawed back the 550,000 votes we’d have needed to swing this thing, but nationally, we were limited at best.

The data thing is an interesting line. Labour are far more data-driven than any other party on this wee island.   The ‘voter registration’ data, to my knowledge, comes from the electoral register, which is available to any political party. While we’re data-driven, it’s a fairly unsophisticated approach engineered for GOTV. It was state of the art in the mid 1990s, but it’s not a patch on the micro targeting of the current era (however, it’s still vastly superior to what the other parties have, and does give us a marginal edge . . . which we need as we don’t have anywhere near the financial resources of the party opposite). We’re getting better at it, especially at the local level here where we have a few people who understand the utility of 21st Century approaches to data, but it’s still largely an archaic process.

Furthermore, on election day our data are best used to mobilise our voters.  We generally know who they are, where they live, and how they’ve been (self-reported) voting in past elections, and our “boards” and “road groups” are optimised to get our voters to the polls. We don’t bother knocking on the doors of known Conservatives, obviously, as it would be self-defeating to remind them that the local election is happening when they had forgotten about it. On referendum day, however, the data were close to worthless. Given support for remain cut well across party lines, and data hadn’t been sufficiently gathered / entered in the month prior to the referendum, we were flying blind on the day. GOTV data were drawn up using mosaic and socio-demographic characteristics, which is under the circumstances probably the best approach. However, it was frustrating, as many of our ‘targets’ voted leave or had leave posters in their windows, and many remain voters / addresses with remain posters were not on our sheets.

Long story short, I don’t see how sharing Labour’s data with the Stronger In campaign would have made a difference to the result. I will say this, however; Stronger In were flush with cash, something I wasn’t used to experiencing.

Finally, to answer Lemieux’s appeal in his excellent post:

I don’t know how many Brexit voters fall into the remorseful category. But I remember seeing somewhere (HELP ME BROCKINGTON) that a large majority of Brexit voters assumed that Remain would win. For what was surely a decisive number of Brexit voters, the vote was not a considered view that leaving the EU would be better than remaining, but rather was a vehicle for sending a message to British elites.

This is mostly anecdotal, but the Ashcroft poll I discussed yesterday does have this:

Seven voters in ten expected a victory for remain, including a majority (54%) of those who voted to leave. Leave voters who voted UKIP at the 2015 election were the only group who (by just 52% to 48%) expected a leave victory.

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