Why UK Labour lost? Part 5: Antisemitism 

For UK Labour antisemitism has been a festering sore. This issue could have and should have been dealt with earlier on in a far better way. As I said in my blog post about this during the election Jeremy Corbyn is not antisemitic. But this issue was poorly handled. By everyone in the party.

There have been cases of antisemitism in the Labour Party. Had Labour taken stronger action back in 2016 when former Labour London Mayor Ken Livingstone made some ill judged comments regarding Jewish people and Israel this may have helped. It is possible to support Palestinians, oppose and even condemn the actions of the Israeli state without being antisemitic. But Ken failed, and should have faced consequences much earlier.

It is no secret that Progress, Labour First and other involved in factional struggles used the antisemitism row to attack Corbyn’s leadership. In turn, Momentum and those supportive of Corbyn often responded to Antisemitism accusations saying it was a beat up by the right, and denied the problem. Neither faction come out of this looking good. Many of those on the NEC or senior roles in the Party who were investigating Antisemitism, were in fact from the right/anti-Corbyn factions. For those on the left who in some cases denied Antisemitism was an issue were in denial. Others dismissed it saying racism in the Tory Party was worse – which maybe true but in no way excuses it in Labour.

The UK’s Chief Rabbi’s intervention in the election may will have cost Labour votes. But the antisemitism row goes beyond Corbyn, or a left vs right of the Party struggle. It will now take years for Labour to regain the trust of the UK Jewish Community. A change of leader or factional power struggle won’t fix that. Further, the risk is that Labour activists may now shy away from expressing views on the situation in Palestine for fear of being labelled antisemitic.

The Board of Deputies for British Jews have asked current candidates for the Labour Leadership to sign up to 10 pledges which aim to end Antisemitism in Labour. Some of these pledges have caused concerns. Specifically pledge 8 about engaging with “the Jewish community via its main representative groups, and not fringe organisations or individuals.” Many Labour members are concerned that it is not clear what a fringe group is. When 50% of those with Jewish heritage in the UK do not belong to a synagogue for example, could many secular Jewish organisations be considered ‘fringe’.

10 pledges the UK Labour leadership hopefuls have been asked to sign up to regarding Antisemitism

Another concern is that the IHRA definition of antisemitism, which many supporters of Palestinians in the Party and else where are critical of. It is essential that a serious and respectful discussion occurs about the deadly conflict  between Israel and Palestine. This  can and must occur without fear of being labelled antisemitic for criticising Israel (just as one should be able to criticise the actions of the Palestinian state without being called Islamophobic).

This issue continues to be hotly debated within UK Labour. It played a negative role in the 2019 General Election and throughout the last term of parliament. Whoever is the next UK Labour Leader will too face considerable challenge trying to address this issue.

 

Previous posts in this series

Why UK Labour Lost? Part 1: Historical Context

Why UK Labour lost? Part 2: UK Labour’s strange loyalty to First Past the Post

Why UK Labour lost? Part 3: Its Brexit Innit

Why UK Labour lost? Part 4: Oooo Jeremy Corbyn

Why UK Labour lost? Part 4: Ooooh Jeremy Corbyn

When a party loses an election, the leader has to take responsibility. Many cite Jeremy Corbyn’s lack of popularity as a key reason for Labour’s loss. These calls have been made particularly by his opponents on the right of the UK Labour Party.

Few expected Corbyn to win the leadership election in 2015. From the start Corbyn was a polarising leader, and never very popular. Corbyn built up a core support base within the Labour Party membership, though always had fierce opponents within the Parliamentary Labour Party.

Jeremy, though polarising had strong supporters. Who can forget 2017 Glastonbury festival, where Corbyn was greeted by thousands of festival goers with the chant Oh Jeremy Corbyn” loud cheers after he recited Percy Shelley’s poem The Masque of Anarchy. After the 2017 election, where Labour’s support increased after the Manifesto was released, Corbyn’s personal popularity also rose significantly. But he remained polarising and continued to have many detractors. Corbyn’s support was and remains much stronger with young voters

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Jeremy Corbyn addressing the Glastonbury Festival in 2017

To those who say Jeremy Corbyn could never have been Prime Minster I respectfully disagree. The 2017 result got him close. However, to get him across the line he and the party needed to keep building support around the manifesto. And they needed unity of purpose and not division within the party, particularly within the parliamentary party. In an earlier post I suggested that Boris removing the Party Whip of Tory MPs who voted against him over Brexit, showed strength and gave the public confidence that the Tories would be united. By contrast Labour showed signs of deep divisions. Corbyn as leader had two options 1) try to bring the detractors into the tent or 2) cast them out.

But I believe there were two other issues that ultimately undermined Corbyn’s leadership after 2017. One was Brexit and the other was Antisemitism. The earlier smears that Corbyn supported the IRA or terrorists resonated with some Conservative voters, but never really harmed him politically. Later when he was being seen as indecisive on Brexit or not strong enough on Antisemitism, this alienated voters including some who earlier had supported or at least tolerated his leadership.

Once people have been turned off your leadership, they become open to other critiques or smears against you. These issues weren’t just about Corbyn, but as the leader he was the figure head and he took the hit for them. Further, on both Brexit and antisemitism he and those close to him could have handled these issues considerably better.

Previous posts in this series

Why UK Labour Lost? Part 1: Historical Context

Why UK Labour lost? Part 2: UK Labour’s strange loyalty to First Past the Post

Why UK Labour lost? Part 3: Its Brexit Innit

 

Why UK Labour lost? Part 3: Its Brexit innit

Many commentators say that the election result for Labour was about more than Brexit. It was, but Brexit was by far one of the major reasons for the result. 43 of the 47 constituencies Labour lost in the 2019 election were leave constituencies. To argue that Brexit was not a major factor, or that perhaps Labour could have won with a stronger remain position, is utterly deluded.

In his concession speech Jeremy Corbyn said Brexit had been one of the main reasons for Labour’s loss. This sentiment was shared by Momentum leaders Jon Lansman and Laura Parker during election night coverage. Others in the party and in the commentariat have dismissed this as too simplistic or a way of avoiding other issues (eg Corbyn’s leadership). 

As one of my earlier blogs post alluded to, this election was about Brexit. The Tories won on a policy of get Brexit done. The election was called because parliament was in deadlock over Brexit. The election was to break the deadlock and get a new direction set.

For Labour Brexit was not good ground to be fighting an election on. In 2017 Labour’s increase in support happened when the election debate moved beyond Brexit onto other policy areas.  Trying to use the same tactic in 2019 was not possible. Therefore to win Labour had to have a clear position on Brexit, and find a way to win both leave and remain voters. It was much like trying to pull a rabbit out of a hat when there is no rabbit or hat to be found.

In 2017 both Labour and the Conservatives stood on a platform of respecting the 2016 referendum result. In 2017 both Labour and Conservatives had leave and remain MPs, happy to deviate from the party line and express opinions in the media. In short neither party had a real advantage over the other on Brexit. Also negotiations with the EU had only just begun, and whoever won in 2017 would have to negotiate the withdrawal agreement and subsequent ongoing relationship with the EU.

For Labour it would have been better having lost the 2017 election, to let the Conservatives get Brexit done. If it went wrong it would be on the Tories watch. If it went ok, then the debate would move onto other issues that were potentially better ground for Labour (eg NHS funding, education etc). For Theresa May, the Brexit negotiations bogged her government down and resulted in her losing 3 votes in the House of Commons attempting to get her Brexit bill through. Ultimately it was the end of her leadership. But for Labour, the last 2 and a half years of Brexit paralysis was as damaging.

The party opposed May’s deal, but was split over what should happen instead. Some in Labour wanted a second referendum. Some MPs wanted a Norway style arrangement where Britain left the EU but stayed in the customs Union. A few MPs from mainly leave voting constituencies thought it best just to vote for May’s deal. It quickly became a factional issue. For those opposed to Jeremy Corbyn had since 2016 condemned his refusal to call for a second referendum. Others argued against taking such a position and called for the Party respect the referendum result – as it has promised to do in 2017. Former Labour MP Laura Piddock in her letter to voters after losing her constituency of North Durham put it this way:

I repeatedly argued, inside my party, that we should respect the result of the referendum and avoid a second one. Of course, when you are in the Shadow Cabinet, you are bound by collective responsibility and I respected that.

Laura, who prior to the election has been considered a potential future Labour leader, had respected collective responsibility. Contrast this with former Labour Deputy Leader Tom Watson, who was in the media on a daily basis calling for a second referendum and for Labour to adopt this as its strategy. A number of other high profile remain MPs did similar.

The UK Labour Party needs to seriously consider the way it presented itself to voters over Brexit. 

The eventual change in position came after months of pressure, and a polling bounce to the Liberal Democrats after Jo Swinson became leader (a poll bounce that did not last up till the election). Internally those aligned with Progress the New Labour/Blairite aligned faction within Labour really pushed the second referendum. However the left of party struggled with this issue. Momentum aligned Guardian Columnist Owen Jones started 2019 opposing a second referendum, but by June was supporting a second referendum. After the General Election Owen Jones claimed Labour’s second referendum position had cost Labour the election. Momentum, and Corbyn supporters generally were split on Brexit. Just as EU membership had been a minefield for Harold Wilson in the 1970s, so too was it for Corbyn and Labour in the 2010’s.

Labour appeared incoherent on Brexit. Jeremy Corbyn, a former Eurosceptic was trying to balance a line so not to alienate leave or remain voters. His opponents in and out of Labour could use this against him. And to the general public it was not clear how a Labour Government would resolve the crisis. The 2019 position of negotiating a new deal where the UK remained in the Customs Union then putting this deal to a referendum where remain would be the other option, alienated traditional Labour voters in leave constituencies.

43 out of 47 constituencies Labour lost voted leave in 2016. Had it not moved to a second referendum position, the party may have had a tougher time in London (where it did quite well in 2019). But when 52% of the country voted leave in 2016, and with little sign of public opinion shifting since then, taking a stronger remain position was not wise.

The question of Brexit and the European Union was a huge challenge for Labour from 2016 onwards. After this defeat Labour will have to seriously reconsider its position. This will not be easy for the Party. But only with a viable social democratic position which respects the 2016 referendum result will it return to government.

Previous posts in this series

Why UK Labour Lost? Part 1: Historical Context

Why UK Labour lost? Part 2: UK Labour’s strange loyalty to First Past the Post

 

Why UK Labour lost? Part 2: UK Labour’s Strange loyalty to First Past the Post. 

I’ve made the point a number of times before, during and immediately after the election on this blog about the First Past the Post electoral system. I’ll make it again, the results in parliament DO NOT reflect the true vote. Labour won 10,269,076 votes in the general election. In terms of vote count this is its second best result since 2001. As a percentage of the vote labour received 32.2% in 2019. By contrast Labour’s percentages were 30.4% in 2015 and 29% in 2010. That the party had its worst results in terms of seats in parliament exposes the electoral system as not delivering results that represent public opinion.

labour vote 2001-2019
Graph showing Labour’s total vote in each election since 2001.

The Attlee Government lost power in 1951, despite increasing its vote and winning more votes than Churchill’s Conservative Party that took office in that election. The government that created the NHS was brought down by First Past the Post. Yet Labour and many of its supporters in the UK continue to oppose electoral reform. Unite the Union, Labour’s largest affiliate union, recently took the position that electoral reform was not a priority instead wishing to focus on getting Labour elected. Because UK Labour continue to support First Past the Post, on its own terms it did suffer a terrible loss.

Electoral reform wouldn’t have won Labour this election. That the Party lost 2.5 million votes in two years makes it a bad election under any voting system. Yet for the Conservatives to have increased their vote by just over 1% between 2017 and 2019, yet this resulted in them gaining 48 seats in parliament shows how strange the FPP system really is.

For Labour, part of their analysis needs to be looking at how the current voting system does not serve their supporters or democracy as a whole well. And hasn’t for a long time. Proportional representation doesn’t guarantee left wing governments, both New Zealand and Germany have had many years of right wing government under this system. But it does mean the make up of parliament reflects the will of the people.

See earlier posts in this series:

Why Labour Lost Part 1: Historical Context

Why UK Labour lost? Part 1: historical context

Before Christmas I posted about the UK Election result and did an analysis of why the Conservatives won. I will now turn to the the UK Labour Party. Given my own history with NZ Labour I’ve followed the UK Labour Party with interest, especially since moving to the UK. My next few blog posts will explore some of this reasons for Labour’s loss and what the party needs to do now.

Fact: Labour lost the 2019 UK General Election.

Why: Some people blame Jeremy Corbyn. Others say Labour moved too far from the mythical centre. Many cite Brexit as the main problem. There has now been much written about Labour’s 2019 performance. To really understand the defeat, its worth getting a bit of historical context.

A brief history of the UK Labour Party:

Interesting fact I learnt recently at a pub quiz. Since it was founded in 1901, the British Labour Party has spent a total of 32 years in government.

The history of the British Labour Party has been one of a constant struggle to break through a (small c) conservative electoral system and a conservative public. After some not so glamorous attempts under Ramsey McDonald, its first real go at public office implementing a social democratic policy platform was in 1945. The Attlee government established the NHS, nationalised rail, nationalised electricity and gas and created the post war welfare system. The policies of this government lasted a generation.

Clement Attlee – UK Labour Prime Minister 1945 to 1951

After this Labour won again in the 1960s and 1970s under Harold Wilson, whose government abolished capital punishment, legalised homosexuality and kept Britain out of the Vietnam War. Wilson’s legacy has been much maligned since leaving office, both by the right and those within the Labour movement. Many felt his government didn’t do enough to implement a planned social democratic economic model that had been promised by Wilson before being elected. Probably most damaging to Wilson’s legacy, was his position on membership of the European Union. Anne Perkins in her article defending Wilson’s legacy makes the following point:

Perhaps most damagingly, he twisted and turned on membership of the old European common market, finally conceding – in a piece of brazen internal politicking – a referendum held in 1975 when he was back, for the final time, in No 10. It earned Wilson the undying hatred of the pro-Europe Labour right, without pacifying the anti-Europe left who scorned him as a traitor and hated him in a way that they never hated his successor Jim Callaghan, an overt right winger.  

This was not to be the last time that membership of the European Union would split the Labour Party

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Harold Wilson, UK Labour Prime Minister 1964 to 1970 and again 1974 to 1976.

After its defeat in 1979, Labour spent 18 years in opposition. Its return to government in 1997 was under the re-branded New Labour of Tony Blair and Gordon Brown. With some early wins such as the Northern Ireland Peace agreement, the introduction of a national minimum wage and the sure start policy supporting parents and children under the age of four living in the most disadvantaged areas of the UK. Overall though, New Labour subscribed to the economic free market model of the Thatcher Conservative government that came before it. Though winning 3 consecutive terms, its vote share fell throughout its time in office. But the lasting legacy of this government will forever be its support of the Iraq War.

Tony Blair, UK Labour PM 1997 to 2007

So come 2010 Labour are back in opposition. In the face of austerity cuts by the Tories and Lib Dems, Labour adopt an austerity light position in the 2015 general election. They lost. What happens after a party loses an election? Generally they do a lot of naval gazing and soul searching, oh and you have a leadership race. Labour had one of these in 2015. Some random socialist candidate stood by the name of Jeremy Corbyn. No one took him terribly seriously at first, in fact the right of the party encouraged him to stand to split Andy Burnham’s vote and help the right get their candidate through. Well Jeremy stood, members liked what he said and he won. Wow!

Most in the Party and the political commentariat believed this would be a disaster for Labour. It would be a repeat of 1983 where it is believed that Labour moved left and lost badly. Labour MPs weren’t prepared to wait that long, trying to oust him after the 2016 Brexit referendum. Their attempt backfired and Jeremy was re-elected with an increased majority. Oops. Oh well not to worry, at the following election they’d be proved right when Labour suffered a humiliating defeat and the New Labour/Blairite faction would take back over. Except oops, that didn’t happen either. Labour’s vote increased its share of the vote by 9%, and the progressive social democratic policy platform was cited as the main reason for this. In particularly Labour saw a significant increase in young people voting for them which I blogged about prior to the 2019 UK election. .

So after a decade in opposition, it seemed in 2017 Labour were on the brink of coming to power. Labour could soon form a government on socialist/social democratic manifesto that would build on the earlier achievements of the Attlee government of 1945-1951. So what went wrong in 2019? My next few posts will look at what happened.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Qasem Soleimani murdered by the United States.

Less than a week into the New Year and #WorldWarThree is trending on Twitter. Thank you very much Donald Trump.

Trump having lost an impeachment vote in the US Congress, has resorted to the Bill Clinton playbook of 1998. Back then Clinton launched an air strike of Kosovo to distract from his own impeachment hearing.

The US has had a longstanding beef with the Iranian regime. I’m not going to try and defend what is a brutal and repressive theocratic regime in Iran. And no doubt US intelligence had evidence of Qasem Soleimani plans to undermine the US and its allies in the Middle East. But let’s be clear, Qasem was a senior official in the Iranian Government on an official state visit to Iran. The United States military chose this window of opportunity to launch an air attack and murder Soleimani.

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Qasem Soleimani’s motorcade attacked my the US government, murdering Qasem 3 January 2020

In 2015 US President Obama negotiated the Iranian Nuclear deal. At the time this was seen as a significant turning point in the Middle East. Whilst not ending longstanding tensions between Iran and the US, it at least brought the world one step back from nuclear disaster in the region. Further it opened the door for further dialogue. Trump on coming to power in 2017 tore up this Nuclear Deal as promised during his cynical but successful election campaign of 2016 which I’ve blogged about before.

The actions of the US have of course been condemned by Iran. Chants of Death to America were made by Iranian law makers in parliament. They have compared this act to the 1953 coup. In 1953 the US and its allies overthrew a democratically elected government and installed a regime that would be sympathetic western interests. Specifically western oil company interests.

Iran has also said there will be a response to Qasem Soleimani. They have offered up a $80US bounty for the murder of President Trump and have also said they could attack the White House amongst other targets.

Few other governments have come out in support of the US attack. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was one of the few world leaders to openly support the action despite Israel being a likely target of Iran.

In the UK, the Conservative Government who were supported by President Trump in the UK General Election were not given a heads up by the US prior to the attack. Dominic Raab Secretary of State for Foreign and Common Wealth Affairs has come out supporting the actions of the US Government but has also called for diplomacy going forwards. The Prime Minister has had little to say on the matter to date.

Qasem Soleimani, while no ally of the west and considered one of the hard liners in the Iranian regime, was also a key player in fighting and eventually defeating Isis in Iraq. The Iraqi government has called for all US troops to be expelled responded to the assassination of Qasem on their soil. Across the Middle East there has been similar condemnation of the US assassination.

So one week into 2020, a Hawkish US President focussed primarily on re-election and playing to his conservative base has authorised the Murder of a senior Iranian Government figure. The world now stands on the brink of another bloody conflict and heightened security threats everywhere.

But the world doesn’t need to be like this. The Iranian regime is brutal and repressive, and the recent protests within Iran demanding change are to be commended. So too are those protesters in 70 cities throughout the USA have come out in opposition to their governments assassination of Qasem. It is time for regime change in North America and the Middle East, and to build where diplomacy, peace and prosperity can replace war, violence and injustice.

Australian fires and the climate crisis everybody wanted to ignore

The start of 2020 has been a truely horrible one for Australia. The fires that are sweeping the country have been wreaking havoc. Currently more than 20 people have lost their lives and hundreds more have lost their homes and possessions. In the state of New South Wales its estimated that over half a billion animals have perished in the blaze.

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Fires across Australia have caused over $4 billion Australian dollars in damage.

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison has come under considerable fire over his response to this national emergency. He has been criticised for being slow to return from his family vacation in Hawaii, and generally for his government not showing adequate support to those impacted by the fire. The below clip shows the PM getting a particularly frosty reception from bush fire victims.

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Australian PM is not he’s not Welcome by bush fire victims.

 

There is no question that Scott Morrison’s response and leadership during this national emergency has been weak. But the abysmal response of the Australian Government to this issue predates Morrison’s leadership of the country.

Few sane people would dispute that climate change is a significant factor for the fires in Australia. Those who have warned about the consequences of human created climate change have warned for many years that events like this will be the result. Yet Australia has had a long history of denying the looming climate catastrophe. Scott Morrison’s government was re-elected in May 2019 with a very weak climate change policy. With some parallels to the recent UK General election, where I blogged about Boris Johnson’s weak leadership on the Climate Crisis, Scott Morrison and his government has been poor on this issue. But this is nothing new.

Back in the late 1990s, the Liberal Government led by John Howard refused to ratify the Kyoto Protocol, a global treaty aiming to reduce carbon emissions. In 2007 there was a glimpse of hope that Australia would start to take this issue seriously. That year Australia elected Kevin Rudd’s Australian Labor Party (ALP) in the federal government elections. The ALP stood on a policy of tackling climate change. The situation seemed even more hopeful when in 2009 the Liberal opposition leader Malcolm Turnbull came out in support of the ALP’s proposed Mining tax.

But then came Tony Abbott. Tony has been a longstanding climate change denier. He recently made a speech in Israel claiming the world was in the “grip of a climate cult”, while his country burns. Tony successfully rolled Turnbull as Opposition Leader, and changed the Liberal Party policy to oppose the governments mining tax. The Liberals shot up in the polls, the ALP got the spooked and abandoned the policy. Shortly after Rudd was replaced by Julia Gillard, Australia’s first and only women PM. Gillard was very narrowly reelected in 2010 but relied on independent MPs in parliament for numbers. In 2013 Kevin Rudd once again became PM, briefly, before losing the election to Tony Abbott.

Abbott only served two years as PM, before he was rolled by Malcom Turnbull. As PM Turnbull was more moderate in some policy areas than the rabid Tony Abbott. But on climate change he knew he didn’t have the numbers in his party to push for any significant policy change. By 2018, having only narrowly won the 2016 election and consistently polled badly thereafter, Turnbull was replaced by Scott Morrison. Scott’s backers were the same people who’d backed Abbott, thus action on climate change was out of the question.

Mining companies have considerable power in Australia. They also have a truck tonne of money. According to Forbes Magazine Australia richest person, mining magnate Gina Rinehart is worth $15.5 Billion US. According to the Minerals Council of Australia mining is worth 198 billion to the Australian economy and accounts for 54% of the country’s GDP. Thousands in Australia depend on mining jobs for their livelihood. Many more live in communities that rely on the mining industry.

Mining companies put considerable time and resource into lobbying the Australian Government on policies that impact on their industry. They spent millions and worked overtime to oppose the mining tax in 2009. Politicians are scared of the mining sector. And recent history shows that those who serve their interests fare well in Australian politics. Also the voting public are influenced by what the mining sector say. Specifically they get concerned when mining companies and their political representatives say there could be job losses if mining companies are taxed or regulated. These messages impact how people think, and how they vote.

Most Australians and their politicians realise the climate change is real. But it’s been easier and more convenient to face up to the reality of the climate crisis. It’s easier to believe that the environmentalists are exaggerating. It’s convenient to believe scientific evidence is not conclusive regarding human activity causing climate change, when actually the evidence overwhelmingly concludes that it is. So Australia continues to do nothing about climate change. And now the country is going up in flames.

The fall out of these fires will be significant for Australia. For a number of communities their lives are now turned upside down, and many have lost everything. The fires will take weeks if not months to put out. The rebuild and recovery will take could take years. The environmental impacts of these fires will be devastating. Many animal habitats and forests may never recover. Politically, Scott Morrison and his government has taken a big hit over the fires. He may survive, he may not. But ultimately thats not important. What is important is that climate change has caused this crisis. And unless Australia and other developed nations take action on this issue – events like the Australian fires will become more and more common.