Recent Blog Articles
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)
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?
Tony Blair writes today: “the route to the summit lies through the centre ground”.
We expected this right? Tony Blair is becoming famous for repeating himself all the time.
There’s also one glaring problem with this cliche: Cameron didn’t win from the centre ground. In fact he moved further away from the electorate and voters rewarded him for it.
Britons saw Cameron as right-wing as Miliband was left-wing. They were both equally away from the centre.
In fact, Cameron was further away from the centre nearer to the election than he started off! And yet he increased his share of the vote and seats.
Furthermore, most of Miliband’s major policies: cracking down on tax avoidance, abolishing non-doms, raising the 50px tax, focusing on the NHS etc – were very popular with the public. His analysis of people not being served by capitalism was right – even Tories like Fraser Nelson and Charles Moore admitted it.
So if this was about moving left or right, and about offering policies that chime with the public, why didn’t Miliband win big?
Because people value authenticity, and they value competence. Labour gave them neither; Cameron at least offered latter. Miliband didn’t have clarity of message either. People frequently misunderstood his positions or didn’t believe in them. When it came to the crunch, they could not bring themselves to place their trust in the man (sadly). Miliband just wasn’t believed, whatever he promised and however popular that was.
There’s a lesson here for the left: popular policies don’t necessarily win you elections if the person offering them isn’t believable. Unless he or she is seen as authentic and competent enough to follow them through, you can offer free owls to everyone and people will still reject you.
There’s a lesson here for the Labour right too: elections aren’t always won from the ‘centre ground’. That era of triangulation is over. Obama won, twice, on quite a liberal platform, railing against inequality and the top 1%, because he was seen as competent and determined.
UPDATE: There are other inconvenient facts too. As Peter Oborne points out:
Their prescription is curious after a general election in which the three parties which rejected the centre ground — the SNP, UKIP and the Greens — made the biggest gains in the popular vote.
Meanwhile the party which made the greatest claim to the centre ground — the Liberal Democrats — was virtually annihilated.
But don’t let the facts get in your way, Mr Blair.
The Labour leadership have finally settled on a clear line on the SNP.
Assuming that Cameron cannot cobble together a majority on 8th May and has to resign, that gives Ed Miliband his turn at forming a government.
Miliband says he won’t do a formal coalition with the SNP (Nicola Sturgeon ruled that out ages ago anyway), nor will there be an informal ‘Confidence & Supply’ agreement with them. Instead, Labour either do a deal with the Lib Dems to get a working majority, or they work as a minority government.
The Labour leadership are confident they can work as a minority government because the SNP and other minor left parties won’t vote down their Queen’s Speech and trigger a second election. In effect they are calling Nicola Sturgeon’s bluff because she has already committed to voting down a Tory Queen’s Speech.
So the Labour leadership are pleased because they think Sturgeon has little leverage. But can this strategy be sustained for long?
Firstly, this is from last night:
This is going to hurt in Scotland. Don't believe Miliband would reject votes from SNP to let Tories in; bad phrasing pic.twitter.com/angXsrs55r
— Sunny Hundal (@sunny_hundal) April 30, 2015
The SNP are predictably spinning it as: Ed Miliband would rather let the Tories back in than work with the SNP. That is wrong. There is no conceivable prospect of Miliband resigning his government than having SNP on his side.
Caroline Flint later clarified it:
What [Miliband] ruled out was this idea that, somehow, to have a Labour government we’re prepared to do a coalition or some other kind of confidence and supply deal [with the SNP].
But, at the end of the day, whoever forms a government, parties will get a chance to vote for a Queen’s speech, vote for budgets, and vote for policies, that’s the same with any government.
In other words: Hey Nicola Sturgeon, you are still welcome to vote with us! Just don’t expect a quid-pro-quo arrangement of any sort.
OK. So that was a misstep but this strategy is still sound, right?
I’m not so sure.
Keep one important point in mind: a large proportion of Scots don’t view the SNP as negatively as the English do. In fact, a large proportion of them (many of whom are ex-Labour voters) think the SNP have their interests at heart more than Labour. This seems obvious but a lot of people seem to be ignoring this.
More importantly, Nicola Sturgeon isn’t going to let herself be outmaneuvered by Miliband so easily.
Since Labour still needs a majority of MPs for votes on legislation, Sturgeon will just make his life harder by getting SNP MPs to abstain or complain over small things. That would put Miliband in a difficult position: either negotiate with the SNP (and have the Right savage him for it) or appeal to Tory MPs (thus alienating the left and giving an electoral boon to Sturgeon).
In Scotland, Sturgeon will keep arguing that Miliband would rather do a deal with the Tories than the SNP. In England, the Tories will argue that Labour are breaking their promise and doing deals with the SNP. Either way Miliband will be constantly attacked on all sides.
This isn’t ideal. Miliband’s administration could soon become paralysed.
For Miliband to argue in Scotland that he’d rather have Tory MPs vote with him than negotiate with SNP MPs would further alienate SNP voters (many of whom Labour need back). In effect he will be giving up on Scottish Labour without much gain in return.
By saying Labour rejects any deal with the SNP, I think Miliband is making a mistake. I don’t think this strategy can be sustained.
Nick Clegg clearly wants another coalition with the Conservatives. And I’m fairly sure Cameron recognises the necessity of carrying on their tolerable relationship. And a lot of people in Westminster assume the two will be joined at the hip when negotiating post-election.
But I don’t think it will be that straightforward.
Firstly, it won’t be easy from the Conservative side. Theresa May and Boris Johnson want their shot at being leader of the party and neither have time to waste. Neither want to wait another five years either, when more of the recent crop of Tories will want their shot.
Tory leadership hopefuls could make the argument to colleagues that another coalition would undermine the Tory party and force them to break more promises. Besides, Cameron has shown himself incapable of winning elections outright, so why not get rid of him and get a proper leader who will win in 5 years time? – they will say.
Many Tories, who will not want the straightjacket of another coalition, will find that a seductive pitch and may reject another coalition.
Secondly, its not a done and dusted deal from the Lib Dem side either. For a start, Clegg has to get approval from his fellow MPs and party members, and that won’t be as straightforward this time.
There will be far more hostility from Lib Dems this time, for good reasons. These are some points made to me by Steffan John (@steffanjohn) over Twitter. I’m quoting him directly without embedding tweets to make it look cleaner:
1) Maths for majority isn’t there.
2) Even if a small majority was, no national interest in unstable government with 4yr leadership contest.
3) 2010 had financial crisis backdrop and 4) threat of swift re-election. Neither there this time, so less pressure on Lib Dems
5) 2010 had common ground on civil liberties, localisation, constitutional reform, environment, raising tax thresh. All gone.
6) Labour not hated as it was in 2010; Tories far more Right-wing now. LD won’t support again, esp. as Lab-LD-(SNP) is possible
Steffan John is a Lib Dem and makes some good points.
And here is Vince Cable’s former SpAd Giles Wilkes
So let the Tories, in minority, try to cut 12bn off welfare, 25bn off unprotected departments, w/o LibDems there to excuse it.
— Giles Wilkes (@Gilesyb) April 19, 2015
There is, I think, a real chance Lib Dems will reject a coalition with Cameron, especially if there are signs of hostility from Tory MPs (stirred up by May and Boris).
That clears the way for Miliband to be Prime Minister, with Lib Dems choosing to either work in a coalition or sit on the sidelines, while the Conservatives choose their next leader.
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