Whether Britain acts against ISIL in Syria isn’t about provoking them or if they pose a threat, but whether our actions will be effective and justified. Whatever we decide, we will get attacked by ISIS; it’s their aim and in their interests. The bigger question is whether we should join our international allies against a terror group that has already declared war on us.
If we have to engage with ISIS sooner or later, then we have to evaluate whether this is the right time and we have the right plan. I said earlier that Cameron hadn’t properly made the case, and want to continue evaluating that.
The people who made up their mind ages ago – whether for or against – are the ones I tend to ignore. It’s clear they aren’t interested in the details and are driven more by ideological than operational reasons.
Yesterday, Cameron set out his case for air-strikes against ISIL (over 36 pages) and then Jeremy Corbyn responded with seven questions. Some of those questions are quite important and I find it odd that some in the shadow cabinet have already made up their mind without see Cameron’s response.
Labour’s Dan Jarvis MP also set out five tests for Cameron in an article earlier, but no one has yet published a checklist to see if Cameron passed them.
Cameron’s arguments for action
1) There is now an agreement at the UN Security Council for action against ISIL. The major world powers aren’t divided. This wasn’t the case in the past during Iraq for example.
2) As part of a coalition, we would help other countries in their actions against ISIL too. By staying out we shirk our moral responsibility (more relevant now Germany as joins in).
3) ISIL recognises no borders between Iraq and Syria, so we cannot attack it without being operational in both countries.
4) There is a diplomatic coalition in place – the International Syria Support Group (US, EU, Russia, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and other Arab states) – but there can be no solution until ISIS is degraded, so Assad can also be transitioned out of power and elections can be held.
5) We cannot degrade ISIL’s main fundraising activity – selling oil – without disrupting its operations in Syria. That requires bombing them.
6) If ISIL is the only major alternative to Assad (as he says), then countries like Iran and Russia would rather have him. To get rid of Assad, ISIL has to go first.
7) There are around 70,000 ‘moderate’ Syrian rebels who could fill the vacuum if we degrade ISIL’s capabilities. [This claim seems highly doubtful. The US military has lately backed off making claims about ‘moderate’ non-ISIL rebels].
Cameron’s case against ISIL in Syria, is essentially more a moral one than an operational one. Since Paris, he points out, it looks odd for us to stay out even though ISIL has already declared war on us.
Arguments against action
1) The biggest problem we have against ISIL is that Arab countries, which have more to lose, are happy to sit on the sidelines. The Saudis are focusing on Yemen and Turkey on the Kurds. Even Jordan has scaled down its bombing after the initial burst of anger when its pilot was executed. Without Turkey closing off its borders or Saudi Arabia seriously challenging ISIL ideologically (yeah right), this is going to remain a stalemate for a long time. Perhaps for longer than a decade. Without their help on the ground, ISIL cannot be seriously pushed back in Syria or Iraq.
For this reason, Iraq is already in a stalemate. As the Guardian’s Ewan MacAskill said yesterday: “Pilots [in Iraq] frequently return to base without having fired missiles or dropped bombs, partly they say because of fear of hitting civilians but mainly because after a year there is little left to hit. So what can the UK add? Nothing much that is not already being done by the US, France and other allies.”
2) The only way to make gains against ISIL is through ground troops. But Arab states aren’t willing to do that yet. In Syria, Kurdish groups are likely to stay within their territory. This has forced Cameron to conjure up 70,000 non-ISIL Syrian troops who will apparently take our side. Who controls them? Are they interested in fighting ISIL or (as is more likely) Assad? None of these questions are really answered, so we can assume they aren’t a serious part of the plan.
3) We are essentially hoping that once ISIL is degraded, Russia and Iran can be persuaded to transition Assad out of power. It may work, it may not. What if he says no? We are back in a stalemate again.
4) It’s difficult to tell whether we will succeed in Syria going by our operations in Iraq because Cameron’s details of our success in Iraq runs into… one paragraph.
5) There’s not much of a plan for post-reconstruction settlement either, though I accept can’t play a huge role here.
So… should we or shouldn’t we?
I’ll be honest, both those against bombing ISIL in Syria and those for it are painting it into a bigger deal than it is. ISIL are already very clear about attacking us, and a slight increase in the bombing campaign will force ISIL to change tactics but won’t lose them much territory (without ground troops).
This makes the political considerations a bit more relevant. If Labour MPs vote against action in ISIL, constituents will say: ‘you’ve got a pacifist leader who doesn’t want to protect us if ISIL start shooting in the streets (shoot to kill) and then you vote against bombing them too! Doesn’t look like you care about our security‘.
Their job is to represent voters (who want action against ISIL), not members (who don’t) – and they have to deal with a leader who already looks weak on national security. Taking this into mind I suspect many Labour MPs will vote for action in Syria.
Put it another way. For Labour MPs, there is more upside to joining the international coalition against ISIL than downside. Cameron’s plan is too weak and wishy-washy to do much damage to Syrians or ISIL.
When Islamic State came to notoriety last year, many commentators including myself made assumptions about its plans.
I wrote for Al-Jazeera that it “poses a far greater threat to Muslims than it does to the west” – and this has remained true. I also said its impact on community relations in Europe and the US “could be devastating” – an obvious prediction that is also turning out to be true, sadly.
But I said something else which now doesn’t apply: “Its leaders believe fighting ‘apostates’ is more important than fighting non-Muslims for now. They want to unite the Middle East under their banner before truly turning their sights on the US and Europe.” I wasn’t alone in this assumption: Obama and his team have not engaged ISIS more forcefully also because of the belief that ISIS did not pose an immediate threat to US interests (see this and this).
But following the attack in Paris it’s clear that despite Islamic State’s initial focus on local sectarian wars, its priorities have now changed. The execution of journalist James Foley and aid worker Alan Henning showed it that it gained a lot (attention, supporters and perhaps donations) for going after western targets.
This goes to the heart of why I’ve been arguing with Al-Jazeera’s Mehdi Hasan over this issue. Mehdi wrote that Russian bombs provoked the ISIS attack, and so do western bombs. The implication is that if we stop bombing ISIS, maybe they’ll stop retaliating. That’s two separate arguments there, one about provocation and other about our response.
Keep this in mind: I agree with Mehdi on foreign policy issues far more than I disagree with him. This isn’t a debate about whether western foreign policy is counter-productive or not (it can be, frequently). I should also add that I don’t think he is excusing or justifying ISIS, as some claim.
My problem is that just as the Right try and divert debate about ISIS to immigration and refugees, many on the Left try and divert it to foreign policy. I think Mehdi et al only see world events through the lens of western foreign policy. All this obscures more important issues that we need to debate about tackling ISIS. (I spend 90% of my time criticising the right for their diversion, so I’m allowed to criticise fellow lefties too). And it assumes the world revolves around what we think / do.
Does western foreign policy drive ISIS?
There is little doubt that western foreign policy has enraged some Muslims enough to join terrorist groups, including ISIS. It has served as a recruiting tool for some of them. But this isn’t the whole picture. After all, there are plenty of other minority groups who have grievances against the government (young black men who get stopped and searched or face harassment) – but they don’t kill innocent people in response.
What annoys me about this narrow focus on foreign policy is that it allows Mehdi (and his fellow travellers) to avoid focus on the other factors that attract Muslims to ISIS.
Last week a NY reporter asked a Dutch ISIS fighter why he joined them. He responded:
Ask yourself which other group is implementing the Shariah as complete as possible? Ask yourself which group is fully taking care of the affairs of the people as complete as possible? No other group but the Islamic State, so me joining the Islamic State was just a matter of time, for they are able to govern the people and implement the Shariah on a large scale — protecting the Muslims, their wealth, health and religion.
This isn’t unusual. When the Luton family of 12 left for the Caliphate, their statement said they were now “free from the corruption and oppression of man made law and is governed by the shariah”, and, “That [Muslims, globally] are willingly leaving the so called freedom and democracy that was forced down our throat in the attempt to brainwash Muslims to forget about their powerful and glorious past and now present.”
When the Canadian ISIS fighter Abu Muslim (aka Andre Poulin) spoke to camera about ISIS, he similarly said:
Everyone can contribute something to the Islamic State, as it is obligatory on us … If you have knowledge on how to build roads and houses, you can be of use here.
In fact, read Islamic State’s magazine Dabiq and you see repeated calls for Muslims to make Hijrah (‘migration for the cause of Allah’) and posters like this:
And calls such as:
So do not say to yourself, ‘I will never succeed in my Hijrah.’ Most of those who have tried, have successfully reached the Khilafah. Amongst them are those who travelled by land, sometimes on foot, from country to country, crossing border after border, and Allah brought them safely to the Khilafah.
For ISIS, reaction to western foreign policy isn’t the motivational driver, it doesn’t even seem to be the key driver for its recruits, as much as some wish it to be. It is the call to join the true Khilafah that is driving ISIS propaganda and apparently many of its recruits.
Unless this is challenged in a pretty substantial way, western foreign policy is a bit irrelevant.
Will bombing ISIS provoke them into attacking us?
According to Mehdi Hasan et al, yes it will. But that is the wrong way to look at it.
The key question is: would avoiding any military engagement with ISIS make us safer? The answer is a resounding no, especially if the experience of others is anything to go by.
Ethnic groups that have been attacked by ISIS unprovoked (Yazidis, Hazaras, Turkmen, Shabaks and Christian nuns) – all of which started before the world had even heard about ISIS. Countries attacked by ISIS (or its affiliated groups) unprovoked: Tunisia, Libya, Egypt, Lebanon, Nigeria, Bangladesh, Somalia, China and more.
So clearly, the claim that Islamic State’s actions are a reaction to provocation is ignorant. Its own videos repeatedly cite verses from the Qu’ran about killing all infidels.
1) ISIL wants to conquer the world;
2) it kills non-Sunni Muslims indiscriminately;
3) it regards the west as satanic;
4) it gains (attention, notoriety, support) when it attacks western targets.
So how on earth can anyone seriously claim we shouldn’t provoke them, or that we can avoid conflict if we stay out of their way? This is seriously naive.
It’s true that Islamic State’s reasons for attacking people are “multi-causal” (as Murtaza Hussain said on Twitter) – but that is rather irrelevant. Whatever excuse they conjure up for each target (after all, they even justified sexual slavery), we know they seek a battle with western nations. As I’ve pointed out repeatedly, ISIS want western nations to attack with soldiers. What does it matter what reason they give for fighting us?
Mehdi then claimed (on Twitter) his point is simply that ISIS are more likely to attack us (or will do so sooner) if we attack them. This may be true. I don’t think western troops should return to Iraq or Syria for strategic reasons, but air-strikes have so far helped avoid the Yazidis being wiped out and the Kurds in limiting ISIS advances. Should we just sit by and let ISIS commit massacres one after the other in fear of being attacked earlier? That is advocating cowardice.
Will we avert conflict with ISIS if we sit around and do nothing? No. Is it right to sit to do nothing? No.
ISIL’s modus operandi is massive disruption: it doesn’t care who it attacks (it even ridicules the Taliban and Al-Qaida in Dabiq) and its soldiers aren’t afraid of dying. It’s willing to kill innocent people (even Sunni Muslims) in any country without provocation. Arguing about whether our actions make it less or more likely to hit us sooner or later seems like a very stupid debate to have.
“But surely our foreign policy helps ISIS? We need to admit this!”
Let me summarise:
Did the invasion of Iraq create the conditions for ISIS? Yes, it did. But ISIS has “six fathers” – of which the invasion is just one. As Amir Ahmad Nasr wrote, “the mindset that helped birth it has become far-too-common.” And the invasion was 12 years ago, while most fighters have gone over in the last 2 years while America has retreated from the Middle East.
Is western foreign policy helping get ISIS recruits? Yes, I’m sure it is. But a large proportion of its international recruits seem more interested in joining because they think it’s their religious duty and want to help build the Khilafah, than anger over foreign policy.
And should we provoke them? Well it would be a pretty stupid idea to wait until they get more powerful and then fight them.
So in this broad context, it’s pretty naive to just focus on foreign policy, which is what Mehdi Hasan seems to be doing. And if they want to kill us anyway, why shouldn’t we try and impede their advances?
But more importantly, what about other drivers such as the Khilafah ideal? Who will talk about that? What about a debate on why British Muslims are losing the war against ISIS? What should the strategy be in Europe and the Middle East to counter it? The answer to all of this isn’t and cannot just be ‘have a better foreign policy’ or ‘let’s not provoke them’. That is almost as ridiculous as right-wingers who just focus on refugees/immigration/multiculturalism in response to every terror attack.
That ISIS is imperialistic and hell-bent on war should now be beyond dispute. So the debate on how to deal with them is not just about foreign policy (that may be a small component) – but many other issues that are being swept under the carpet while we argue about whether we are provoking them or not.
As is common these days, I get abused on Twitter by some lefties outraged that I’ve not fallen in line with popular opinion on the left.
In my latest column for LabourList I show why the assumption that Jeremy Corbyn will appeal to non-voters or UKIPers with his ‘clear principles’ or economic populism seem wildly optimistic. Britons who don’t vote or opt for UKIP are largely culturally conservative Britons who prefer the Daily Mail and Express over the Mirror, and value policies that the left would not want to sign up to (patriotism, low immigration, cutting welfare). Their biggest gripes are about immigration and welfare benefits, and in favour of reducing them not increasing them.
When you know Corbyn is a bit radical, why the shock when someone points out he may only appeal to other radicals?
Anyway, my point is this: yes, I’ve changed my opinions views the election.
I haven’t changed what I believe in. I still believe in economic and social equality, I believe in an economy that doesn’t unfairly reward the already rich and privileged, I believe in the free provision of education and other public goods like health. I believe the railways should be nationalised and that large parts of the banking sector have become a parasite on our economy. I still believe that climate change, sustainability, clean energy and ending waste are among the biggest challenges of our time.
But the British left is broken. I’ve written several articles on how we are out of touch, out of focus and repeating the same mistakes. And I’m sick of going along with this farce. I want to see a left that isn’t dogmatic, is full of new ideas and not constantly harking back to the 50s, wants to win and is willing to build wide coalitions to crush the Tories.
None of that is going to happen with silly sloganeering about “the politics of hope” – especially if the only people being preached to are the already converted. I don’t want to provide false hope with my articles, I want to point out that the world is a complicated place and not everything is as clear-cut as people assume. I want to challenge the the groupthink and narrow focus because that’s why the left keeps losing. I want us to think more about tactics and strategy not just repeating slogans that make us feel like we have principles.
Labour’s “greatest hits” are a list of things it has done while in power, not a record of principles held while in opposition.
We lost the election in May so badly that I felt intellectually jarred. The assumptions I had made about voters reacting to Labour policies and ideas came crashing down. The Tories totally outclassed us and many of us still don’t know why. But the last five years have been futile not just for Labour, but even leftwing activism. Most of the big movements quickly fizzled out due to lack of focus, lack of strategy and infighting. Isn’t it time to wake up to this?
The left barely understands how it comes over to people not inside its constituency and fully signed up. ‘The world is wrong’ is self-evident; ‘why are you not one of us?’ runs the logic. The next step is to embrace resistance and defensive, oppositional language, invoking ‘austerity’ and ‘Tory cuts’ and feeling self-justification and self-satisfaction. Do people not stop to think that these comfort zones are a substitute for thinking about issues?
The Tory party thinks about winning power first, then implementing their agenda; the Labour party wants to have a massive fight over its principles first, and it doesn’t even get near power.
If some lefties just want to just shout slogans and express their principles, that’s fine. They have a right to. Though they’d be better off joining a protest group or single-issue campaign. But if they want to win campaigns, to win political power and affect change, that requires a very different way of thinking. It requires building electoral coalitions and speaking to people who aren’t convinced by us. It require saying things that not everyone will find palatable at all times.
This is the kind of left I want to see. That’s why I’m no longer willing to go along with the group-think and purity tests. If you want that too, come with me. If you want to carry on as before, feel free to ignore me from now on.
Hindu charity that broke Charity Commission rules by supporting Tories before election does it again
A few weeks before the General Election in May, I found that the National Council of Hindu Temples – a registered charity – posted a message calling on British Hindus to vote Conservative.
It was clearly in violation of the Charity Commission rules, which state that charities cannot be politically aligned, and I complained. The Charity Commissionimmediately asked them to make amends and they deleted their post.
I can reveal that the NCHT has broken the Charity Commission rules again. Its General Secretary sent out this email below clearly expressing political support for the Conservatives over Labour.
Furthermore, it disparages “genuineness” of Hindus who support the Labour party.
What’s the NCHT’s key complaint? That Labour supported legislation in the UK banning discrimination on the basis of Hindu castes. The (mostly upper-caste) Hindu leadership of the NCHT opposes this piece of legislation. Yes, really.
Full email below (there’s more coming on this later this week)
“The revolution doesn’t start a thousand miles away, it starts with you.”
It could be a statement put out by ISIS, the group that has encouraged its sympathisers all over the world to take action in defense of the Caliphate. But actually that’s the strapline on the front page of National Action, a neo-Nazi group in the UK that is committed to “fighting to recapture our country in an increasingly hostile and foreign environment”.
Yesterday, Zack Davies was sentenced for the attempted murder of Dr Sarandar Bhambra, a man who was assaulted because he “looked Asian” according to Davies.
His family said after the sentencing:
We are in no doubt, given the racial and political motivations, that this should have been rightly defined as an act of terrorism. By his own admission, the defendant Zack Davies had extreme neo-Nazi views and is a member of a white supremacist organisation.
So why weren’t the actions of Zack Davies seen as an act of terrorism, when a similar attack by a Muslim man would have been?
And who are National Action, the white supremacist organisation that indoctrinated Zack Davies?
National Action, in their own words, a “National Socialist youth organisation” typically aimed at men “in their late teens or twenties”. They’re not an organised and hierarchical network and, in their own words, shun that sort of organising. It’s likely National Action choose a leaderless style of self-organising after the collapse of the EDL once Tommy Robinson left.
Their website states their mission:
Britain has become a nation of weak cowards who are hypersensitive and scared to say anything. Lying through fear is now considered normal – we have allowed hysterical twits to control how everything is done while our people limp towards rivers of blood. Where are the men who will tell the truth? Where are the men who will stand up and fight?
In June last year the Sunday Mirror ran an expose on them, calling them a Hitler-loving group that wanted to ‘ethnically cleanse’ the UK. Its not clear when the group started but its likely they were formed after the collapse of the BNP and EDL.
The Mirror revealed that they were trying to recruit students on university campuses and heaped praise on Norweigan terrorist Anders Breivik.
In a manifesto called ‘Attack‘ posted on their website, I found this paragraph:
A CASE FOR FASCISM
Nobody has ever gotten anywhere by being ‘moderate’. Nobody has ever gotten anywhere by being ‘nice’. Nobody has ever gotten anywhere by being ‘intellectual’. Nobody has ever gotten anywhere by being ‘respectable’. Men and movements got to where they did by one way and one way only. It is what the enemy calls Fascism, and so far as I have ever found it is the only thing that has ever worked. Just looking at it objectively the patriots in these two countries Germany and Italy used this method, this thing, and with it they kicked communism and took power all by themselves. Deep down isn’t that what we want? Only done right this time.
Done right this time. Hmmm. I wonder what that means. The emphasis in the text above is mine.
There are also comparisons to al-Qaeda inspired suicide bombers.
Fascism produced people who were willing to fight – who is really willing to fight for anything today? I mean really believe in anything enough to face hardship for it? Muslims are an example, they strap bombs to themselves. In our case though most of our people are for whatever reason unable commit perfectly legal acts like voting for nationalist parties – and nationalist activists are unable to hold open meetings and speak the truth. If the health of a people is judged by how vigorously they defend their right to existence then we need to find things that make them do that.
There is open support for Nazi style fascism and heavy implication that this should be achieved through violence or at least force. But these people are not harassed by the authorities.
On March 21st around a 100 National Action sympathisers turned out for a demonstration in Newcastle. There were no police attempts to arrest them of course.
Zack Davies, the extremist who tried to kill Dr Bhambra, posted an image of himself in a balaclava with a large knife and the National Action flag hours before he carried out his attack, reports Channel 4. A large amount of white-supremacist material was found at his house.
National Action regularly posts videos online showing themselves training to fight. C4 News reported yesterday that the group also helped to promote “Isis-inspired” neo-Nazi training camps inside the UK where members learned hand-to-hand combat and trained with knives.
So why aren’t they labelled as a terror group? And why wasn’t Zack Davies’s stabbing called the attack of a ‘terrorist’?
Top image taken from the National Action 2014 ‘review’ (PDF).
Seamus Milne says:
Opposition to all this [austerity] has barely begun. But there’s no democratic reason for people to accept it. The Tories were elected by fewer than 37% of voters. Only 24% of those eligible backed the Conservatives – and that’s not counting the unregistered.
I know some people will not want to hear this but this is a ridiculous argument.
I’m saying this because I’m also opposed to Tory austerity: we have to find a better argument than ‘the Tories have no mandate‘ because it sounds ridiculous to anyone outside the hard left.
1) The Tories went into an election offering even more cuts. They did way better than the party that warned against having that level of cuts. This means we have to find a different way of selling our argument, not repeating it endlessly in the hope that by some miracle people will rise up against austerity.
2) Voters, by definition, are the people who vote. Of the people who voted the Tories did the best and that DOES give them legitimacy. That is how people see it and by pretending the election was a fraud makes lefties look silly.
Also, if we are indeed focusing on election turnout, it may NOT be a good idea to have anti-austerity protests headlined by a celebrity who urged people not to register or vote*. It makes us look really confused.
I’m not saying all this to make people depressed, though it will undoubtedly will do that to some. I’m saying this because I hate this line of argument as it doesn’t have currency outside the hard left, and because the Left really has to start being consistent on registration and voting.
* the fact that Russell Brand changed his mind at the last minute doesn’t absolve him, I’m afraid.
This came to my inbox last night, and I think the findings are worth sharing in full. Important to note, this was commissioned by a centre-right group, not a leftwing group.
Survation, on behalf of Bright Blue the independent think tank & pressure group for liberal conservatism, conducted an in-depth study of ethnic minority voter’s attitudes to immigration to inform their new report: A balanced centre-right agenda on immigration: Understanding how ethnic minorities think about immigration.
The report has six main findings:
· Ethnic minorities, like the wider population, are more concerned with having a well-managed immigration system and admitting immigrants who will contribute to the UK than lowering the overall number of immigrants
40% of ethnic minorities think that an ideal immigration system is one that is well managed and keeps out illegal immigrants. 25% of ethnic minorities believe an ideal immigration system is one that includes only those who contribute. Only 10% of ethnic minorities think that an ideal immigration system is one with fewer immigrants or no new immigrants (7%).
· The most important policy relating to immigration for ethnic minorities, like the wider population, is restricting migrants’ access to benefits
The policy which ethnic minorities would most like to see introduced to improve the immigration system is increasing the time before new immigrants can claim benefits (43%). The second most popular policy is increasing border policing to cut down on illegal immigration (36%). These two policies are more popular than tightening the immigration cap on non-EU migrants (22%) or withdrawing from EU free movement of workers rules (16%).
· Ethnic minorities are more welcoming of different types of immigrants than the wider population
93% of ethnic minorities do not want a reduction in the number of international students coming to the UK. 92% do not want to see fewer professional workers coming to the UK and 84% do not want fewer skilled manual workers coming to the UK. Across all types of immigrants, ethnic minorities are more likely to say that their numbers should not be reduced than the wider population.
· Ethnic minorities are more positive about the economic and cultural impact of immigration than the wider population
72% of ethnic minorities agree that immigration has provided skills for our economy compared to 42% of the wider population. 65% agree that it has enriched British culture compared to 34% of the wider population. 52% agree that it has helped support our NHS compared to 40% of the wider population.
Ethnic minorities are also more likely to believe that immigrants are integrating. 73% of ethnic minorities think that most immigrants prefer to be in work than on benefits, compared to 46% of the wider population. 69% think that most immigrants contribute tax, compared to 40% of the wider population. 47% think that most immigrants speak fluent English, compared to 26% of the wider population.
· Immigrants themselves are positive about Britain and participate in local activities
An overwhelming majority of immigrants, 93%, are proud (either very proud or somewhat proud) to live in Britain. 87% of immigrants feel respect for the British political system. Moreover, in terms of social mixing, most immigrants participate in a range of local activities. 50% of immigrants go to the pub with friends or colleagues and 47% participate in local community organisations.
· Ethnic minority views of immigration represent a political opportunity for the centre-right
Changing the party’s immigration policy is one of the top changes (24%) which would encourage ethnic minority individuals not currently seriously considering voting for the Conservative Party to consider it, behind only changing NHS policy and changing economic policy. There is an opportunity for the centre-right, and the Conservative Party in particular, to develop a policy agenda on immigration that strengthens its appeal to ethnic minority voters. Rather than a narrow focus on caps and clampdown, the Conservative Party should have a balanced agenda on immigration. This should include the championing of the significant benefits from immigration, as well as practical policies to address the challenges, and ensuring the system prioritises immigrants who contribute and places competent management of the system at the forefront of debate.
This week I was kindly invited by the Cambridge Universities Labour Club for a talk on where Labour goes from here.
In the initial part I talk about the wrong assumptions I made in the run up to the election. I’ve written about that here too.
From 8m 15 seconds, I talk about the three big challenges the next Labour leader will have to grapple with.
From 19m 22 secs, I talk about the main leadership candidates (which included Chuka Umunna at the time).
(the sound quality improves after a minute)
A lot of people made mistakes in predicting outcomes in the 2015 General Election, mostly because the polling was so out of sync with the eventual result. I made predictions based on polling too, and it was embarrassing enough when they turned out to be very wrong.
But I made other assumptions in the last election cycle and its only right to own up to them. Partly, I feel its important for my readers, but partly I think its worth articulating them so I can learn from my mistakes.
The biggest mistake I made was this. Over the last 2 years, the Labour leadership’s ratings on leadership and economic competence started trailing that of the Tory leadership. I.e. Cameron was consistently seen as a better leader than Miliband (a gap that grew), and Cameron-Osborne were ahead of Miliband-Balls on economic competence. Because the polling stayed broadly positive, I assumed this was having very little impact on voting intentions. I also assumed that when it came to the crunch, people would vote with their hearts than on competence. BFM (Big Fucking Mistake).
Clearly, it has now been proven beyond doubt that if voters don’t see you as a credible and strong leader, then they won’t trust your promises. It doesn’t matter how much they like your policies (Miliband’s policies were quite populist) – they just won’t trust you to deliver them. They won’t place their faith in you. This should be a lesson for all of us on the left. Ed tried hard to shift those perceptions, and he improved, but he didn’t try harder and earlier. I had assumed (mostly because of the polls) that voters didn’t think this was a big enough deal. Clearly, it was.
The other big mistake was with UKIP. I assumed, again based on polling data, that UKIP hurt the Tories more than Labour. Many in the Labour leadership assumed this too. And this was true to an extent. But we didn’t anticipate that the Tories would be much better at tempting back Tory->UKIP voters than Labour->UKIP voters.
I suspect Tories did this mostly by raising doubts about Miliband and his tie-up with the SNP. They said the election was going to be close — too close — and that this metropolitan geek was going to be under Nicola Sturgeon’s thumb. “It would bring chaos.”
It played not only into their English nationalism but perceptions of Miliband’s weakness as a leader. Ex-Tory voters clearly got the message and returned back. Far too many ex-Labour voters didn’t, primarily because we didn’t connect with them, emotionally and culturally (I’ll come back to that point another time).
The point is that Labour-> UKIP switchers hit us harder than many of us (including myself) expected, especially in places like Southampton Itchen. That assumption was also a BFM, though its unlikely Miliband could have stemmed that flow easily.
So yeah, I hold up my hands and admit it: both of these were pretty big assumptions and I got them wrong.
Despite losing his seat in Westminster, Jim Murphy is trying to hang on as leader of Scottish Labour. I find this astonishing.
Late last year, when he became leader, he said they could hang on to most seats in Scotland.
He said he was “astonished” at how “easy it’s been to outwit the SNP“. Yup, the SNP look totally outwitted.
Since he became leader of Scottish Labour, the SNP increased their leader over Labour until the elections.
Plus, his own ratings took a sharp dive after being elected. At the end of January 33% of Scots said he was doing well, with 43% saying he was doing badly. By March, just 26% said he was doing well, 51% said he was doing badly.
Worse, Murphy couldn’t even convince Labour voters. Nicola Sturgeon’s approval rating amongst Labour voters was just -4. Jim Murphy’s net approval rating amongst SNP supporters was -54.
If Murphy can’t convince tempt back SNP voters, he has no chance of rejuvenating Scottish Labour. And in the last 6 months he has been leader, he made a bad situation worse.
His entire campaign utterly failed. As Adam Bienkov earlier pointed out:
The campaign run by Murphy has been complacent, uninspiring and counter-productive. Murphy’s central message – that a vote for the SNP is a vote for the Conservatives – is purely negative and gives voters zero reasons to actively back the Labour party. This strategy may have once seemed like Labour’s best chance of hanging on in Scotland, but the unavoidable fact is that it has not worked. Yet even today Murphy is still sticking to his script, telling reporters that the poll results are “good for the SNP and great for David Cameron.”
With Cameron victorious, Scottish voters are now more likely to think that only the SNP can stand up for them, especially since Labour in Westminster is talking about ‘moving to the centre ground‘.
So what is Jim Murphy’s case for staying on leader of Scottish Labour, since he has utterly failed over the last 6 months?
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