All the parties are abandoning the centre, but Labour is cutting itself off from it

Notwithstanding my article last week, it looks as if Jeremy Corbyn really is the front runner to win Labour’s leadership contest, after a YouGov poll published this morning.  Also this week Conservative government ministers have been ramping up intemperate rhetoric on immigration and proposing foolish policies to curb it – in what looks like a calculated attempt to hold the far-right Ukip in check. Nobody seems interested in wooing Britain’s centre ground voters.

That YouGov poll, incidentally, is a proper public one, with open methodology. It shows that Mr Corbyn has 53% of the vote, enough to win on the first round. After distributions that would rise to 60% against Andy Burnham – though interestingly it shows that Yvette Cooper would attract disproportionate support from fourth-placed Liz Kendall, and almost enough for her to overhaul Mr Burnham. And yet, as also suggested by my article, she is not as well placed to stop Mr Corbyn – against her he would get 62% after distributions. Mr Corbyn is backed by 67% of trade union sign-ups and 55% of temporary members – and this is giving him a decisive edge.

The idea that political parties should woo centrist voters is scoffed at by Mr Corbyn’s supporters.They either believe that it is possible to work around them with a rainbow coalition of the left, including many who do not vote, or that  momentum for a hard left candidate will build and sweep the pliable voters of the centre in. Evidence for both propositions comes from the SNP’s overwhelming success in Scotland, which followed a sharp tack by that party to the left, and the adoption of “anti-austerity” politics, the current touchstone of the hard left. Of course this shows a typical English failure to understand the politics of their island neighbours. The SNP’s foray to the political left was based on an iron grip on the political centre, and a narrative (all Scottish problems arise from Westminster rule) that appealed to both left and centre. Only last year the SNP were advocating cuts to corporate taxes.

Meanwhile the down-but-not-quite-out Liberal Democrats are also turning away from the centre. This month’s Liberator magazine pours scorn on the previous leadership’s attempt to woo centrist voters. The party must ignore these voters to build up a core vote much bigger than its current 8% of the electorate, the magazine suggests, echoing an attitude that is now widespread in the party. If Labour lurches to the left, Lib Dems hope that this will alienate liberal Labour supporters, allowing it to advance its base. But this is hardly attacking the centre ground.

The Greens and Ukip never were much interested in the political centre. They are attacking the main party bases, left and right (both at once in the case of Ukip).

Who, then, are the political centre? By definition they are not loyal to any particular party, or not loyal for long. They tend to dismiss ideological narratives. Instead they focus on more quotidian issues, such as the economy, public services and tax. And above all they prize competence and stability. They overwhelmingly plumped for Conservatives in England in May’s General Election. They questioned Labour’s economic competence, and especially the idea of a Labour government dependant on SNP support. They did not vote Lib Dem, since they thought this might let Labour in. Also the Lib Dems were thought to lack credibility, after their much publicised tangles over student tuition fees.

And that analysis offers us a clue about what is going on. There is little point in trying to woo these inconstant voters early in the cycle. The early years of a parliament are for shoring up your base. The Conservatives in particular are keeping their powder dry for an attack on the centre in due course. It is not as if centrist voters aren’t sceptical about immigration anyway. The party must weather a bruising EU referendum, which could undermine its reputation for competence. And the economy, upon which the party sets much store, looks a bit too similar to that of the country before the 2007 crisis for comfort. But the party’s managers must be quietly confident.

Even the Lib Dems focus on a liberal core vote does not preclude a bid for centrist voters in key seats when the time comes. They have a big job to do to convince voters that they are still in the game, but mid-term chaos in the main parties might well offer them an opening.

It is Labour that has real reason to worry. It now seems odds-on that Mr Corbyn will take the leadership. The poor political acumen of the party’s soft left has let him in. Firstly it was Ed Miliband’s changing of the rules for electing the party leader, which made it vulnerable to being taken over by the political fringe (centrist supporters are unlikely to be interested enough to take part in such an exercise). Next it was soft left MPs, in particular supporters of Mr Burnham, that let Mr Corbyn onto the ballot. And if Mr Burnham does manage to stop Mr Corbyn (alas Ms Cooper stands less chance), it will be a thoroughly compromised victory. Mr Burnham is already making concessions to the hard left.

It is very hard to see how Labour can make a rapid switch to the centre after this. The hard left narrative is not all nonsense, but idealism trumps all for them – and they are happier railing against abstract nouns rather than addressing the everyday troubles of ordinary working people. Mr Corbyn projects charisma but not competence. And even if he gets ejected from the leadership before the next election, it is hard to see how the party can present a credible face to the country as a serious alternative government.

It is hard to believe that not so long ago (even earlier this year) many thought that the Tory brand was so toxic that they would lose power, possibly for good. But Britain’s incompetent left have found a way to give the Tories new life.


17 thoughts on “All the parties are abandoning the centre, but Labour is cutting itself off from it”

  1. Labour has no reason to worry. Any of the other contenders would have endorsed the neo-liberal principles that they embraced so disastrously for the country in the Blair Brown years.
    Corbyn is a good thinker, not just an ideologue. For example, here is what he has to say about that most corrosive industry, energy:
    • For Britain to take the lead in developing the clean energy economy of the future.
    • To establish an energy commission to draft a “fundamental shift” in UK energy thinking.
    • The commission will be tasked to produce a route-map into “tomorrow’s ‘smart energy’ systems”.
    • Bring new partners into energy policy making, including local authorities and energy co-operatives.
    • To conduct a root and branch review of energy market subsidies.
    • To expect the energy industry, not the public, to meet the costs of their own clean-up.
    • To re-define of the roles of Ofgem, National Grid and CMA, to “promote a more genuinely open, competitive and sustainable energy market”.
    • To examine ways to allow communities to be owners of local energy systems, with the right to have first use of the energy they generate.
    • To socialise our energy supply and move toward breaking up the “failing energy cartel”.
    • Commit Britain to binding international climate change commitments
    Who else has come near an energy policy that we, the commons, need and will endorse?

    1. Yes that certainly sounds better than just resurrecting the CEGB (which, remember, led that catastrophic excursion into nuclear power) – which is what some of his critics accuse him of.

      But Ed Milliband showed that it isn’t enough to have some well-meaning ideas, and good intentions to deal with the evils of modern society. You also have to prove, in the rough and tumble way politics is done here, that you have what it takes to keep the show on the road, without casting uncertainty onto large numbers of private sector jobs (like those of people working in the energy sector, for example). That’s a tough call and I see no sign that Jeremy Corbyn is up to it.

  2. The article has a fundermental flaw – its model of ‘the centre’ is broadly correct, but then makes up its own fantasy version of voting patterns in the election, and then to attack Corbyn.

    I’m a former Lib Dem, both as a student activist a long time ago, and then as a voter, ultimately driven away by the Orange Book faction, the coalition and then by the needs of tactical voting.

    ‘Centre voters’, floating voter, etc are one of those slightly fantasy demographics beloved of the the media and commentators, both here and in the US. Its perfectly true that many voters like economic competence, stability, etc, and have no particular wish to be labelled left wing, right wing, etc. However, they dont always act in the simplistic way which the Westminster Bubble likes to think they do.

    Firstly, voters did not vote Lib Dem for the simple fact that we despised you. No backbone, no moral compass, and no hint that you thought that the coalition was bad for the country. You allowed the Tories to govern, and did relatively little to stop them doing their worst. Nick Clegg might have been the focus of our hatred, but you voted him leader, and you supported him. Thats why you got wiped out. Fortunately, activists thought they were not going to make that mistake again, and chose Tim Farron (whose always been a good bloke), rather than Norman ‘lets privatise the Royal Mail’ Lamb.

    People actually generally stayed with the Tories, but no more overall. Their vote did not desert, but considering that people like consistancy, a strong message and the press is overwhelmingly pro Tory, the result was hardly a ringing endorsement.

    As for Labour, I had no idea what they were about – seemingly austerity lite, yet not. Supporting the NHS, yet not. Hardly surprisingly, if you seem to stand for very little, your supporters will stay at home or vote for someone else.

    Unlike the other three production line PPE, policy shop, SPAD, MP types, Corbyn seemingly stands for things, has ideas, and does not have an emptiness where their heart should be. And his ideas are often popular with voters. The Westminster Bubble might dismiss his plans for the economy, but they look fine to me. The above ideas on energy are entirely sensible, and very achiveable. In fact in terms of employment, the renewable sector has been very good, but anti green rectoric (stoked by special interests) have left these industies with an uncertain future.

    His ideas on renationalisation of rail is perfectly rational, and has a huge amount of backing amoungst voters (just look at the polling).

    Contrast this with the others. Someone from ‘The Apprentice (Frankie Boyle has written some excellent stuff about the Labour leadership contest), Someone whose ideas seem to be little more than calling in the UN over Calais, and someone whose appeal is that he’s slightly less wodden and slightly more Northern than the others.

    Do I want to vote for someone like Corbyn? Possibly not. But I know I’m not going to vote for the PPE policy wonk photogenic Westminster bubble types which have led both the Lib Dems and the Labour Party down such a sorry road for at least the past decade.

    If you want people to vote for you, come out with some actual ideas. Decent ideas that might work, and then stick to them. Ignore columnists, consultants, ‘commentators’ and people who think they speak for ‘business’ (which business, the local kebab shop? An investment bank?). Good progessive ideas, no jargon, no spin, and some basic consistancy. It might just work.

    And if Lib Dems and Labour can find common ground (which they can), then we might have some way of stopping the Tories from their own version of Year Zero.

    1. Thanks for the comment Mike. There is always a danger of political commentators like me (and you) projecting an over simplistic interpretation of how people vote. And I accept that I suffer from it. But it is based on rather more than a vague feeling (and described in a bit more detail my post straight after the election here). There was a significant group of voters who the Tories managed to sway in the General Election campaign; this was highly effective in Lib Dem seats – many had told pollsters that they would probably vote Lib Dem right up to polling day (and one reason why Lib Dem private polling went so wrong – not to mention Ashcroft’s polls). There is no evidence that these people despised the party in the way you suggest (I accept that many voters did, but of these deserted in 2010). They were particularly scared of a Labour government, and especially one supported by the SNP. I think that in Labour seats these largely migrated to the Tories in 2010. I cannot understand how such voters are to be pealed away from the Tories by a theatrical rejection of neoliberalism. If you follow this blog you will understand that I want to replace the neoliberal conventional wisdom with one based on more localism. That will be a very long and hard sell. To me, too many of Corbyn’s policies involve centrally directed initiatives were are even worse than what the current government is doing.

  3. If you have a look at LibDemVoice, a fair number of people (like me, often former members) were saying time and time again that they no longer trusted the LD’s, and would not be voting for them again. Polling backs this up – numbers were consistantly in the toilet. Every single time there was an awful set of council results or a lost by election deposit people said the same thing, and they were dismissed.
    Also look at the trend in party members – there is a lovely little chart on the Liberator website showing the decline. And as for hard policy issues, could anyone please tell me how they really differed from any other party, other than being ‘not one thing or the other’?

    Its certainly true that the Tories, backed by the rightwing press, and fanned by the BBC (and of course the SNP) did make great strides with the idea that Ed Miliband would be Nicola Sturgons poodle, and that certainly hit their vote. However, that would have been less effective had Labour had any real ideas or had refuted media lies years before.

    Your post election article identified the ‘floating voter’, but then mistakenly ascribes to Labour tactics that they really did not use. If, as you argue, Labour assumed that everyone thought austerity had failed, then why did they offer a version of it? They warned there were going to be cuts, and they were concerned about ‘hard working families’. Yes, they had opposed benefit cuts during the parliament, but austerity-lite is not an unfair description of their approach, hence nonsense like the ‘Edstone’. They thought that such an approach bought ‘credibility’, except that the (relative) myth about their economic performance had been pushed very soon after 2010, and as a recent article in the Guardian showed, they really did nothing about it. If you tell a lie loud and long enough, people will believe it, and thats just what happened. In fact it was worse, with many of the Progress wing saying they had to ‘apologise’, thus confirming what the opposition was saying about them. Instead of confronting it, they just stayed silent, hoping people would move on. They didn’t.

    Even their plans for taxation were pretty uncontroversional. The mansion tax had been floated by Vince Cable, and they wanted to keep the 50p tax rate, as well as dumping the Married Tax Allowance, thus allowing the reintroduction of the 10p tax rate. yes, they were going to increase Corportation tax – but since its been historically low anyway, with plenty of getouts, and they were only going to put it up 6% anyway, it was hardly Leninist. And the scrapping of Nom Dom tax status was so radical that George Osbourne actually did it.

    LD tax policy also included tax rises, a mansion tax, so not a vast amount of difference.

    In fact Labour worried constantly about the ‘middle vote’, and threw as many (often ineffective) bones as possible towards it. Hence the constant talk of ‘hard working families’ and other meanless phrases .

    However, they generally ignored their own base. In fact they did worse than that, as Arnie Graf has written, they barely spoke to their local organisers (news which almost certainly resulted in him being let go), and did their best to operate a (badly) centrally led campaign. The Scottish party seemed to fare little better, which was one reason for their terrible result there.

    The US Democrats had a terrible result in 2012, and another horrible midterm some years before. Why? As Daily Kos kept pointing out, there was no real messaging from the White House, candidates ran from the governments actual achievements, and thanks to a total disconnect between local activists and the DNC (in part the fault of Rahm E., who had undone much of the good work of Howard Dean), there was no reason for the base to turn out. You have to give your base a reason to vote, else they stay home. On the other hand, Republicans did, and thats why they lost. Sounds familiar? Labour even talked about ground game, as did the Democrats, and in both cases, it at best stopped things being even worse.

    UKIP didn’t really harm the Tories much, but it did harm Labour. Disgruntled former Labour voters either stayed at home, or voted for someone else, especially UKIP.

    The Tories got back in with 67% of people voting for other parties, many of them anti austerity. There is a lot to do, and a lot we can all agree on. I suspect that a ‘localism’ agenda is unlikely to get that far, but you can hope. However, opposing Corbyn because he might like ‘big government’ ignores the fact that his ideas are not unattractive. As a Labour MP on PM put it tonight, Corbyn was the only one to put forward any sort of policies or ideas at their hustings. He even challanged Alaister Campbell to tell him the policies of the other candidates. Campbell really couldn’t. Nature abores a vacuum.

    Hopefully Tim Farron will do something to fill that vacuum as well.

    1. Thanks Mike. I just want make two points. First I’m not attempting to deny the catastrophic consequences of the coalition and tuition fees for the Lib Dems. I’m just saying that it wasn’t the complete picture. It cost the party 30 or so seats – but there was a second haemorrhage, this time to the Tories, of less committed voters (not members) that completed the destruction. My evidence is the Ashcroft constituency polls in places like Hazel Grove, which showed comfortable leads for the party.

      Second, you describe well the predicament of the Labour Party this May. They were trying to ride the tide of anti-austerity anger as well as bid for the centre ground – but they lacked conviction in both directions. The only votes they picked up were disillusioned Lib Dems. In order to carry more conviction in pursuing the centre, they had to address the perceived failings of the previous Labour government (whether by “apologising” or confronting), and curb their spending plans (£35bn more pa than the Tories) – which would have destroyed party unity. Where I disagree with you is your suggestion that if they had pursued the anti-austerity line with more conviction they would have done any better. I think they would have done even worse, even in Scotland. But that’s an unprovable proposition, of course.

      There may be some good ideas coming out of the hard left, and Corbyn may be adopting some of them – but I actually think he is failing to confront the changes happening within our society and that most of his ideas are a step backwards and not forwards. We’ll have to disagree on that.

  4. And yet the SNP stood on an anti-austerity platform (allegedly) and cleaned up totally, so actually being for something, rather than repeating the conventional wisdom, can actually do you some good with voters.

    In fact Labours spending plans were possibly more credible than the Tories, but they were constantly attacked as not being ‘credible’, largely because of the big lie of Labour’s record in office. If you dont create your own narrative, someone is going to do it for you. And ‘apologising’ would have made it worse – that confirms you’ve done something wrong. In fact the Miliband campaign never quite worked out what it wanted to do.

    As a quote from the Guardian long read about the campaign makes clear ‘ “At the start of the parliament, we had an immediate challenge,” one of Miliband’s top advisers said. “The question was whether you confront the Tory spin that Labour had overspent, causing the crash, or whether you concede the point. But we neither confronted nor conceded – we simply tried to move on.”

    Instead, they wrote an article….in the Times…once. Wow.

    The idea that if Labour had done one thing or another about their economic reputation would have destroyed party unity does not stand close scrutiny – their problem was simply that they would not come up with anything that would refute a Tory attack line -it was simply dithering. Yes, I’m sure a disgruntled Blairite would have supplied a quote to the Telegraph, but little more than that.

    As for LD’s drubbing, it wasn’t just the coalition, tuition fees, etc, as you say, but it was a great deal of it. Every time LD MP’s went through the government lobby on legislation which went against everything they supposedly stood for, the more we all rejected you. The Welfare Bill was probably the worse, but there were so many others. I am reminded of David Niven’s comment about his friend Errol Flynn – ‘you could always rely on Errol…….you could always rely on him to let you down’.

    Hardly surprising that Nick Clegg’s ‘red lines’ were no more than a punchline, there must have been so many. And before anyone says about how the LD’s had to go into coalition, etc, we know that it was largely about being asked to sit at the cool kids table, plus the kudos of doing what all the commentators had to be done. You were enablers – the Tories would not have been in power without you.

    If you want an idea of how you looked, watch the West Wing episode ’24 Hours in LA’. There is a scene where John DeLancy plays a Democratic consultant, who is pitching the idea to Bartlett that he can lock up reelection by introducing a consitutional ammendment on flag burning. DeLancy looks at Toby Ziegler, and asks if Toby thinks he’s Satan. Toby replies that he’s not Satan, he’s the guy who goes into the gas station to get Satan’s cigarettes while Satan waits in the car.

    Thats what the LD’s seem to be – the guys who fetched the cigarettes. Since LD’s have tended to be a protest vote anyway, and a coalition to whoever might get the seat, its hardly surprising that people would chose someone else. But as the people who fetched the Tories ciggies, you were always going to be wiped out. And frankly, you deserved to.

    Far left ideas? Most of what I’ve seen from Corbyn so far could have been LD policy in 1997 or 1992 – I’ve just had a look at them (the 1992 one brings back memories – they were an odd size, and the envelopes were a pain as we were putting the packs together for the press). Frankly, they are not bad platforms for the future, either.

    1. Well Mike, I know your views are described honestly, and are shared by many former members of the LDs and quite a few current ones, but there is an alternative narrative that does not involve Nick Clegg throwing away all his principles in order to get the limousines. I don’t think you’ll engage with it though. Instead I think you are letting your anger with the Lib Dems (and the previous Labour leadership) act as a sort of displacement activity so that you don’t have to think to hard about how to appeal to the Tory/Ukip supporting majority in England for whom the anti-austerity narrative sounds scary and destabilising. Also it saves from having to examine the rather optimistic economic narrative that holds that there was nothing too much wrong with the economy in 2007 that a little Keynesian stimulus can’t sort out – and that getting back onto the happy path of 2%pa growth isn’t hard. It is my strongly held belief that the economy was in a mess in 2007, and that Labour government policies had made things worse (even if not for quite the reasons the Tories said). Interestingly the New Labour types are just as deluded as the left on this .

      And as for the SNP, they had spent a generation acting as the Tartan Tories to win over the centre ground. Their anti-austerity tack was in support of a wider narrative that Scotland would be better off independent, and was used alongside neoliberal arguments, such as cutting the corporate rate of tax and imitating Ireland.

      A lot of what Corbyn is attaching his name to is interesting. A lot also looks scary – and it looks suicidal electorally. Time will tell… but he looks an even better friend to the Tories than Nick Clegg ever was – at least he was able to moderate Tory policies for a few years. Corbyn will give them the Downing Street freehold.

  5. Matthew

    Very good article, thanks for that. I am not sure about chasing the middle ground to be honest. I joined the Liberal Democrats for a lot of different reasons but one of them was liberalism is the place where we can find common ground. I’m not talking being everything to everyone, but one of the things that I often hear people talking about is that politicians have no common sense and I tend to agree with that. The Liberal Party can be that common sense, not populist but honest in areas of foriegn policy, taxation, education etc.

    Being a former member of the SNP I don’t think they win only because they have captured the middle ground and blamed westminster for everything. A big gripe that many Scottish voters have is that policies that come out of London don’t reflect the needs of the country as a whole but London only. The one size fits all is no longer good enough, I actually think the YES campaign was more an argument for federalism than it was for independence. People want the powers in Scotland so that those elected can persue policies that are important to Scotland but require a different approach than the one fits all method of London. From energy to immigraton Scotland requires the powers to have a Scottish approach to scottish issues , again that is federalism for me. A reason that the Liberals did so badly in Scotland I believe is that the party did not actually stand up for what it believed in. Taking the view that there could be no third question and that it must be an in and out debate then we will discuss devolution was a huge mistake because it made the party look like it didn’t believe in it’s own policy and reason for being in many ways. Working with the Tories didn’t help either in Scotland, the party needed to stand up for it’self and it didn’t do that enough and people like Danny Alexander and Jo Swinson are viewed as being Tories in the wrong party. If Alexander etc go in to the House of Lords we can pretty much guarantee another wipe out next year in the Scottish Parliament election in my opinion given that the party believes in reform of the second chamber but certain people will be happy to be in it to keep their careers going when they have been rejected by the voters, end of and the voters will not be happy to continue to fund their lavish lifestyles after they have been thrown out. They were paid very well for what they did and they have now been rejected.

    I think the Liberal Party needs to really think about what it wants to be, that will involve looking at what we stand for and that should be for the majority in this country and not the few, Jeremy Corbyn comes across as someone who cares about his job, cares about the people and their day to day lives. He is not viewed as part of the out of touch bubble of London and will put other peoples interests ahead of his own going by what he says. That I suspect is being viewed as honest by his supporters and why people are gathering around him. We need to talk less about the left, right and centre and talk about what matters to people, paying the bills, feeding their kids, providing the opportunities for the next generation to have decent life chances, idealistic I know but I think that is what people want to talk about and not whatever side of the coin we might think they stand on.

    Just my opinion but thanks for the chance to discuss.

    1. Thanks Bruce. And your point about the SNP doing well because of the “made in London” nature of public policy is well made. I would add that I think Labour’s meltdown in Scotland was mainly because they didn’t really get this point – even though they introduced devolution. Their MPs seemed more interested in Westminster. But to be fair on Jo Swinson, she did increase her vote.

      But I think there was a problem with the Lib Dem parliamentary party, and especially the leadership. They were too much part of the Westminster system, and although they sort of understood the issues of localism, the idea didn’t seem to run deep. I’m hoping that Tim Farron will mark a break from this (Norman Lamb is just as strong on this count).

      What you say about Lib Dems being the party of common ground and common sense is also very interesting. People like me tend to be on the hunt for radical ideas – but what will win people over is practical politics. Liberals should be more open than others, and therefore able to perform functions of reconciliation and common sense. We forget that at our peril.

      There is a bit of a paradox about Jeremy Corbyn. Clearly he does understand the issues of ordinary working people, or many of them. and he stands apart from a political elite that is seen as out of touch. But at the same time he and his supporters seem happy to dismiss 60% of the electorate as stupid and muddled and not to be engaged with. There’s a thin line between “standing up for your principles” and being out of touch with the complex realities of ordinary life.

  6. Bruce,
    The Lib Dems also lost because they ran around celebrating gay marriage success for example, so-called employment through apprenticeships, as their great victories while letting the NHS and house-building slip through their fingers and left social security policy untouched. To me this was neglect on a huge scale and so they deserved to go.
    Matthew, Corbyn “and his supporters seem happy to dismiss 60% of the electorate as stupid and muddled and not to be engaged with”. What’s the evidence for this?

    1. It may be a bit of exaggeration John. But in England the Tories and Ukip managed over 55% of the vote between them. Meanwhile Labour, the Greens and TUSC managed not quite 36%. In Scotland of course the SNP picked up a lot of far right/nationalist vote, so the picture is more obscure. Voters that support these parties seem beyond the pale so far as the left are concerned, to judge by the sheer venom that comes from them when talking about them. Their feelings about Lib Dems are little better. They still dream of working around these voters by courting all left wing parties and drawing out non-voters. It is notable that the part of the Labour movement that has most at stake in winning real elections, the party’s MPs, is where Jeremy Corbyn’s support is the least.

  7. Matthew, in replying to John Carlisle’s questioning of your figures, are you not mixing apples and oranges? Overall, the Tories got 36.9% of the vote in the UK, and UKIP got 12.6%. That makes 47.5% of the vote, so less than half the people who voted for a right wing party. And of course much of UKIP’s votes actually came from disgruntled Labour supporters. last time I checked, the UK was still that!

    Far from Corbyn thinking 60% of the electorate is stupid, he’s the only one of the four with any clear policies on anything. I’ve just read an piece on Yvette Cooper in the Guardian, along with an article by Polly Toynbee saying that Cooper is about to deliver a knockout blow. Nowhere in any article have I seen anything about what Cooper actually believes, and what she will do. She is a vacuum, who I’m sure is intelligent, hardworking, etc, but a vacuum all the same.

    And ‘scary’ is an emotive term – what policies are so scary? Most seem perfectly reasonable, and I’m a former Lib Dem! The ‘electoral suicide’ line seems to be standrad at the moment, yet its worth noting that all those wonderful ‘non-scary’ policies of New Labour and Orange Book Lib Dem’s led to failure. Trying the same thing over again might not be a logical thing to do.

    Am I angry about the LD’s betrayal? Yes, damn right I am. And its not just me, as the election showed. Its not a displacement activity – its anger at a waste of people time, energy and talent, which led to the Overton Window being moved ever more to the right, the alienation of a generation of possible voters, and a Tory government who firmly believed in Grover Norquists idea of ‘shrinking the state…and then drowning it in a bathtub’.

    Bruce has made a whole host of excellent points, but I disagree with him in one respect. He says ‘ that policies that come out of London don’t reflect the needs of the country as a whole but London only.’. Actually, I think policies seem to come from and are for, a tiny subset of those who are in London. The Westminster Bubble is a terrible thing to be caught in, because it bears no reality to the bulk of the UK, or its economy.

    I wasn’t happy about the economy, or the UK as a whole, in 2007. Our politics was largely London based, with little difference between the two main parties (Neo-Liberal or Neo-Liberal?). Scandal was everywhere. And the voting system itself was unrepresentative.

    Localism was seen as OK for cutting stuff, but obviously not to be trusted when it came to spending money. The economy continued to be totally imbalanced in favour of finance, and a tax system which rewarded offshoring and evasion. Education was ideologically bent out of shape (who actually welcomed academies? Ofsted has had a terrible effect), and the universities were constantly under pressure.

    Infrastructure was being renewed, but often using PFI’s a device which delighted the City, but caused huge problems, and a look at Crewe & King’s ‘Blunder of Our Governments’ shows the harm caused by Brown’s awful ideas of the renewal of the Tube.

    The BBC was constantly attacked, and therefore became supine, and the press was incrediably powerful. Labour did do some good things, but all to often it was attached to a bad thing. It trianglated its way to disaster.

    Its why I voted LD in 1997, even though it could be argued my vote might be wasted in my area. I wanted better. Yet I ended up with the coalition, which seemingly just made the Tories only slightly less horrible.

    So now, if I’m voting, I want actual ideas, not just what some commentator thinks is acceptable. I’m much more likely to listen to someone with clear policies, and who believes them, and I suspect I’m not alone. People who voted Tory, UKIP, SNP or simply stated at home were often looking for something better or more solid than what they were offered from LD or Labour. If those parties want to win them back, then do something different, otherwise we will simply not bother.

    1. You’re looking at the UK and excluding the SNP, which is in some senses a right wing party (its raison d’etre is nationalism). The SNP draws on a lot of support that in England would vote Tory or Ukip. That’s why my numbers were drawn from England. And I don’t think the disillusioned Labour supporters that went to Ukip will be easy for leftists to engage with – they are socially conservative and haven’t bought the anti-austerity line.

      And there’s plenty that a lot of people will find scary about Corbyn. For me it’s his shaky economics and inclination to nationalise and add to public expenditure. For others it will be his suspicion of the private sector, which many will see as a threat to their jobs. Others will be scared of his views on defence, Trident or foreign affairs.

      I’m sure you don’t want to have the Westminster conventional wisdom rammed down your throat. But it has been crafted by people who have actually won elections in our FPTP electoral system. And I can’t find any sign that Corbyn wants to change that.

  8. In what universe is the SNP a ‘right-wing party’? Yes, they are nationalist, and frankly, a lot of what they actually do seems little different from any other middle of the road party in economic terms (they have their own version of PFI’s, and Salman’s dealings with Trump told you everything you needed to know about how the SNP would deal with the powerful v the powerless). And yet, they ran powerfully on an anti-austerity platform – and won massively. To lump them in with the Tories and UKIP doesn’t pass the smell test.

    I’m actually not sure what UKIP voters are for or against – becuase UKIP is to some extent a pot you can dunk your resentment into. However, a Ipsos Mori website did turn up some useful data

    They etnd to be older, working class and white. C2 and DE voters were heavily represented, with men voting in slightly higher numbers than women. Are they all racists? Some are, certainly. Are many cynical about Westminster politics, and how they have been sidelined? Totally. Are they the sort of people who have often been hit by austerity measures, but yet think its someone elses fault (foreigners, scroungers, etc) – very much so.

    Are they after ‘straight talk’, and ‘being open’? They reckon so, and Farage has the gift of being everything to everyone, whilst being nothing. However, that does not mean that they are UKIP supporters forever. They want clear policies that speak to their needs. Both Labour and the LD’s can do that, if they bother to listen. There will be a hardcore that hate modern society, and resent those that have come here (and judging by how I feel about some of my Eastern European neighbours, I understand completely), but much of the time, their vote is one of anger to a system that has shut them out.

    Corbyn at least has a policy on the economy. Yvette Cooper had a go at his today, without saying anything about hers – thats the problem. And when it comes to nationalisation, polls say its actually quite popular. The last poll I read about rail renationalisation had support for that around 60% for Tory voters, and in the 80’s for UKIP. Does anyone really like the electric or gas companies? Or Serco or Capita?

    Now I’m not sure all those positions would survive (pulling out of NATO, for instance), but if you look at past LD manifesto’s, they had no particular liking for Trident either. In fact I remember in 1992 when an LD plan to use nuclear tipped cruise missiles on subs was laughed at by the Tories – yet thats pretty much what we might have today. Trident isnt really a deterrent, it certainly isn’t independent, and I suspect its there only to stop the French laughing at us.

    The people who have won elections, have sadly been R. Murdoch and co. They have moved the Overton window to a point that those within the Westminster Bubble have come to accept those perameters – TINA. In reality, if you look at actual polling, voters are often much more ready that the hacks or the pols to think differently. And voters certainly havn’t been enthusiastic about pretty much any of their voting intentions when it comes to the main parties for years, which points to an opening for something different.

    1. I think you are proving my point that the English don’t understand what’s going on in Scotland. The SNP is a broad church. If you are a right winger in Scotland you vote SNP. They took the Tory seats before moving onto Labour. Labour mainly lost because they were terminally incompetent and took their voters for granted.

      I have to agree with you about Corbyn’s opponents though!

      And as for the rest time will tell. I do think there has been a bit of cross purpose in our discussion. You are arguing about what is right; I am arguing about the pragmatics. For example I agree that Trident is a waste of money. But abandoning it is a very risky strategy for a party that aspires to a majority under FPTP.

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