Thursday, 22 December 2016

Labour Pains

The Labour Party’s travails continue. The French call it the ‘parti travailliste’ which seems particularly apt these days. Though the Labouring Party works as well.

The latest blow is the departure from parliament of Jamie Reed, Labour MP for Copeland in Cumbria. It’s a blow not because he’ll be particularly missed – I’m sure I’m not alone in having reacted to hearing his name with the word “who?” No, the damage is that it forces another by-election on the Labour Party, and a difficult race.

The odd thing is that he justifies his decision to leave parliament, for a job in the nuclear industry, by claiming it will allow him to do more for his community than he could as a Labour MP. That feels to me like arguing that burning down a house is the best response to not being able to fix the leak in the roof. But Reed came from the nuclear industry in the first place and he may view it as less toxic than I do.

Sellafield, in Jamie Reed’s county of Cumbria
An easier place to help the Community, apparently, than Parliament
He says it’s not about money. His pay will be higher than as an MP, but only marginally, he claims. Some cynics, however, have suggested that it may be more a matter of job security. The rumours persist of a possible snap election in May and it’s possible Reed is so uncertain of winning his seat back that he prefers to take a job with a better guarantee of tenure.

Others might feel that the people who say that aren’t so much cynics as realists.

There are two reasons to feel a little concerned about a possible snap election.

The first is that, as many commentators have pointed out, it’s likely to be first and foremost a Brexit election. We know where UKIP stands on Brexit: they want Britain out of the EU the hard way – out of the Customs Union and Single Market as well as the European Union itself, bravely forging ahead in a world where foreign nations will applaud British grit, see the far greater opportunities offered by a 70-million strong population over half a billion, and rush to sign new trade deals on terms massively favourable to the UK.

The Tories are far from clear where they stand, except that they’re absolutely resolute that Brexit means Brexit. But since no one know what Brexit means Brexit means, supporters of the hard position can fancy the Tories are on their side, but so can supporters of a softer exit, with Britain staying at least in the Customs Union, possible even in the Single Market. All things to all voters, or at least all Brexit voters, an enviable position.

The Liberal Democrats have also come out for an explicit position. They oppose Brexit altogether. It’s a courageous stance, since it appeals only to the 48% of the electorate who voted to stay in the EU. Still, they’re alone in taking that position, so that trend in the electorate’s all theirs, and when you’re on 8% in the polls, 48% must look highly attractive.

That leaves Labour. Its spokesman on Brexit, Keir Starmer, has taken a highly intelligent position. He accepts the electorate voted to leave and accepts we therefore must. He however feels we can sensibly argue for a soft exit which will damage the economy least.

Unfortunately, his position is not being echoed at the very top of the Party. The leader, Jeremy Corbyn, maintains a Trappist silence. His closest ally, the Shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer John McDonnell, says little though a few weeks ago he did talk about the great opportunities offered by Brexit.

Those cynics we were talking about before, among whom on this occasion I count myself, suspect this is because they are temperamentally inclined to the Leave side, but had to hide the fact since they were at the top of a party committed to remaining in the EU. However, these are people who make it a point of pride to be strictly honest in politics, so the cynics like me must surely be mistaken.

Sadly, though I know that, I can’t free myself of the nasty suspicion.

The result is that the top of Labour Party, which is the bit most voters look at, is firmly glued to the fence. They neither back Brexit nor oppose it. That means they take a symmetrical position to the Tories: rather than all things to all voters, they are no thing to any of them. And it shows.

At this stage of the 1992-1997 parliament, Labour had a lead of 20% in the polls. It went on to win a comprehensive victory at the next election.

At this stage of the 2010-2015 parliament, Labour had a lead of around 2 or 3%, but went on to a depressing defeat.

A few days ago, a fellow Labour Party member took pleasure in pointing out to me that the Conservative lead had fallen to a mere 7%.

There’s a great line in the film Sully about everything being unprecedented until it happens for the first time. All the precedents may be against Labour winning from this position, but the unprecedented can always happen.

Still. Sounds like Jamie Reed doesn’t feel that way. But maybe he’s a rotten old cynic.


Anonymous said...

Happy Christmas, maybe everything will change in the New Year and we will all decide Mr C is a fine chap and give him our total support. Alternatively pigs might fly.

David Beeson said...

And the same to you. Have a great 2017. I keep checking the sky for pigs...

Awoogamuffin said...

For all the remainer outrage out there I find it baffling that nobody is capitalizing on that. Well, maybe the Lib Dems, but they're like a tree falling in the forrest with nobody around to hear them. Surely Labour should be the party for remainers, if anyone.

David Beeson said...

I wish Labour would take a position, a stand, around which supporters could rally. I don't think a simple 'remain' message would work – we can't ignore the 52%, even if the LibDems can. Keir Starmer, Labour Brexit spokesman, is taking an intelligent position. I wish the whole party would take it up.