Wednesday, 4 May 2016

'The 2015 Election one year on; reflections & predictions (Part 2)' by Phil Larkin

In part 2 of his post, guest blogger Dr Phil Larkin reflects upon the prospects of Jeremy Corbyn and the Labour Party and he predicts that the SNP has reached the peak of its powers.


Corbyn and the Labour Party
Jeremy Corbyn was made Labour Party leader in September 2015, after being nominated for the ballot by a number of Labour MPs, some of whom, like Sadiq Khan and Margaret Beckett, are kicking themselves for being so foolish. Corbyn was elected leader by over 60 per cent of the Labour Party membership, despite the reality that his views run counter to the vast majority of the Parliamentary Party on most key issues. During Ed Miliband’s time the rules on Party leadership were altered to give the membership a bigger say in the decision, and it was possible to join up online prior to the election for a fee of £3. I suspect that many who voted for him were younger members of the population with little or no memories of Labour’s travails during the 1980s. There are no such excuses for those who remember Labour’s fortunes during the 1980s, in particular the 1983 election; they are, quite frankly, old enough to know better.

As Opposition leader, in the estimation of those who supported him, Corbyn would trigger a massive renaissance of interest in politics among the youth of the country, terrify the Tory frontbench, and move the entire ground of British politics. As I predicted at the time, he has done nothing of the kind. He has proved just as wooden, plodding, cranky, and dogmatic as I believed him to be last summer. Corbyn’s political views petrified at some point in the 1970s and have not altered since. Yes, he has permitted those who voted for him to congratulate themselves on being so pure in their left-wing beliefs. He and John McDonnell have also guaranteed hours of fun for those who enjoy participating street protests and demonstrations which make them feel that they have achieved something but in reality all they have achieved is to alienate the wider electorate.

The main reason why Corbyn is always bound to be a disappointment to his followers is because, again, they attributed to him qualities which they wanted him to have, rather than seeing him for himself (the same flight from reality which predicted a Labour/SNP win in the 2015 election). To govern, as they say, is to choose, and Corbyn is not capable of the difficult choices of government. He has been accused of being anti-Semitic, a charge which he refutes, and I am definitely inclined to agree with his rejection of this charge. He is, however, altogether too comfortable in the presence of those who are. His entire leadership has been epitomised by the appointment of Seumas Milne, an apologist for Stalin, as Labour’s Executive Director of Strategy and Communications. How can anyone believe that this is going to make the Party more electable in 2020? I firmly believe that anyone who states either that Corbyn will become Prime Minister or that he will change the nature of UK politics does not, at heart, really believe this. It is simply recitation of dogma.

There has been talk about a possible coup against his leadership should the local election results in May prove dismal for Labour. I am not sure what the results of the local, London Mayoral, and London Assembly elections, will bring for the Party, but frankly I am sceptical about, first, whether there will be any type of coup against Corbyn, and secondly, whether a leadership challenge (even successful) would benefit Labour in any meaningful way. It is likely that a future leadership election would produce a result similar to that of September 2015 should Corbyn still be on the ballot. Even if Labour MPs were to stage a coup against him, leaving his name off the ballot (which, technically, they could do under the Party election rules) this would provoke open civil war between the MPs and the Party membership, fought out in the unforgiving glare of media publicity. It is always a good policy to stop digging when you are in a hole.

Also, I believe that by the mere act of putting Corbyn in power, Labour has already forfeited the 2020 general election. It is probably best to allow him and McDonnell either to step down of their own accord, or wait until the result of the 2020 election, and then hang it firmly around the necks of both men, the MPs that supported them, and those in the membership who put them there.

I am convinced, however, that Labour will govern the UK again. It will require much hard work in purgatory, though. Perhaps the best strategy for the moderate, centre-right wing of the Party is to look beyond 2020, and prepare for the future. It is significant that MPs such as Dan Jarvis and Tristram Hunt are examining the question of how the Labour Party might have relevance in a fast changing society and an economy increasingly dominated by technology. Jarvis especially is cognisant of the great changes which have taken place in UK society and economy since the days of the Beveridge Report and the great Labour victory of 1945. He also notes the reality that the social mobility which characterised the post-War generation appears to have stalled: it is a sobering thought that it could be more difficult now for young people to improve their life circumstances to whatever level talent and intelligence allows them than it was for their parents and grandparents. Some of this is undoubtedly due to the growth in inequality between rich and poor which has accelerated over recent decades. This inequality is self-perpetuating: although real talent can always rise, it is still much easier to succeed commercially or professionally if you come from the right background, went to the right school, and speak with the right voice.

Part of the solution to inequality, as Tony Blair asserted years ago, is obviously education. Where Blair and New Labour perhaps got it wrong was in focusing almost exclusively upon traditional academic style and university education. The aim of his Governments was to get 50 per cent of all 18 year olds into higher education, which in theory was a great idea, but too many young people ended up studying for pointless degrees, leaving them chasing an all too small a number of jobs in services industries and financial services. Strangely, the Tories appear more pro-active on the idea of technical education and hi-tech apprenticeships, with Lord Baker championing the establishment of greater numbers of University Technical Colleges in England and Wales to provide such education for new generations of young people, with a view to them forming part of the labour market immediately on leaving school.[1] These are foundations on which a future centre-left Labour Party can build. I still believe, like Lord Healey, that Labour will be better equipped to manage and govern this technically orientated economy and society better than the Tories.

Sturgeon and the SNP
As I wrote in a previous article, the SNP is riding high at present. Its present surge will almost surely permit it to sweep the board in the Scottish Parliamentary Elections, and probably do extremely well in the 2020 general election (although perhaps not quite as well as in 2015). As I also wrote, however, the almost total victory of the SNP in 2015 will eventually prove its Achilles heel: from their present position, there is only one direction for the Party’s fortunes to go, and that is down. With each passing day in executive office in Scotland the SNP becomes viewed increasingly more as “the establishment” north of the border, and as Labour’s result in Scotland in 2015 demonstrates, political establishments can be knocked down in an instant. Furthermore, as time passes the SNP will be pressed to make the difficult choices on taxes and public spending which the Scottish Parliament and Executive will soon have the legal authority to make, meaning that it will be increasingly less easy for them to blame Westminster for such difficult choices. In addition, as I have set out above, the victory of the Remain campaign in June will reduce the chances of another referendum this generation will be reduced almost to zero: what then will the point of the SNP be? I believe SNP’s story over the next ten years will be that of decline.

[1] I increasingly think that there is something in the words of the comedian Alexei Sayle, who said in an interview that the political right make mistakes only once, while the left seems fated to make the same mistakes several times over. 

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