Opinion

Personal views from University of Bath researchers on the news of the day

Posts By: Charlie Lees

This may be the week that finally breaks the Labour Party

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📥  EU Referendum, Public Policy

Brexit and its aftermath continues to wreak havoc on British politics. David Cameron’s wreckless and unsuccessful gamble may eventually lead to the break-up of the United Kingdom but that is in the long term. In the short term, the failure of the Remain campaign, and Jeremy Corbyn’s perceived culpability in it, is tearing the Labour party apart. This may be the week that finally breaks Labour.

The co-ordinated string of resignations from the shadow cabinet that followed the Brexit vote was designed to pressure Corbyn to resign as leader of the party. MPs have never accepted Corbyn’s leadership and the Brexit debacle presents the opportunity to replace him before changes to the party’s rulebook that make his position more secure are pushed through by his supporters at the Labour Party Conference in September. MPs recognise that this is a crucial moment in the battle for the future of the Labour Party. Many are now prepared to gamble their own political careers on that future.

Deputy leader Tom Watson warned Corbyn that he has lost the confidence of MPs in a gesture many are seeing as a firm elbow towards the exit.

But Corbyn, backed by key allies such as the shadow chancellor, John Mcdonnell, shows no sign of backing down. He fully expects to defeat a leadership challenge.

Corbyn’s confidence comes from two sources. He remains very popular with the party membership, which is now decisive in any leadership contest and seems content with the current direction of travel. Any possible challenger, therefore, would have to be able to trump that popularity with the rank and file and there aren’t that many of them in the Parliamentary Labout Party at present.

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By riding the tiger of populism, the Conservatives may have destroyed the UK

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📥  EU Referendum, Public Policy

It’s a familiar cliché that the Conservative Party is the most successful political party in the democratic world. Once called the natural party of government, it has been in power for most of the last 150 years and, for good or ill, has shaped modern Britain. The UK is a conservative country in all senses of the word.

But the past four decades have demonstrated that the modern Conservative Party can no longer be trusted in its role as the guardian of British institutions.

The revolutionary free-market zealotry of the Thatcherites and their successors not only put the social fabric of Britain under severe strain, but also undermined the credibility of the UK’s constitutional arrangements. Of the three pillars of High Toryism; church, state and monarchy, Britons only seem to still like the latter.

The decline in Tory respect for British institutions has also been on full display, not least in David Cameron’s willingness to risk the union’s survival twice – first in the Scottish Independence referendum, and then, probably fatally, in the EU membership referendum.

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Jeremy Corbyn could transform the Brexit debate – but does he want to?

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📥  Election 2015

Charles Lees, University of Bath

The tone of the debate ahead of the European Union referendum on June 23 has been shrill and disappointing. As with the 2014 Scottish independence referendum campaign, arguments on both sides have been simplistic, focusing on voters’ fears rather than their hopes, and appealing to their worst – rather than their best – natures.

British voters are being badly served by their political elites and also by a Westminster-focused media that is largely transfixed by process rather than substance. For there is much of substance to talk about. As my University of Bath colleague Aurelien Mondon recently argued: “debating the future of Europe is essential. But when will we start?”

The poverty of debate so far provides the Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn, with a huge opportunity if – and it’s a big if – he has the imagination and wit to take advantage of it. In a speech on Europe on April 14, Corbyn argued that there was a “strong socialist case for staying in the European Union”, saying that it protected worker’s rights and could act as a force to tackle tax dodging and corruption.

Yet, like Boris Johnson on the other side of the debate in the exit camp, Corbyn’s position as an advocate for remain is somewhat ambivalent given his previous public statements about the EU.

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Mayoral maths: why backing Brexit was the only option for Boris Johnson

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📥  EU Referendum, Public Policy, The Conversation

Like all successful gamblers, Boris Johnson knows how to play the hand he is dealt, clearly calculating the odds of success. The London mayor’s decision to break with David Cameron to become a figurehead of the Leave side in the forthcoming EU referendum is the product of untold hours of calculation.

When Boris tells us that the referendum presents us with “a once in a lifetime chance”, we should believe him. If he has made the right calculations, Boris could become the next British Prime Minister. Let’s have a look at what those calculations might have been.

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From ‘JesWeCan’ to ‘JeezTheyDid’: where next for the Jeremy Corbyn insurgency?

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📥  Election 2015, Public Policy

Jeremy Corbyn’s historic victory today on the first round of voting with nearly 60 per cent of the vote has been anticipated for weeks and does not come as a surprise. But for political commentators it still has the capacity to shock. It is no longer a question of ‘JesWeCan’. It is now ‘JeezThey Did’.

For the victory of Corbyn represents a rejection of the electoral logic and strategic calculus that has driven Labour Party policy for the last 25 years.

Back in the 1990s, Labour strategy was straightforward. The UK’s First – Past -The - Post (FPTP) electoral system piled up safe seats in Scotland, Wales and the North of England for Labour, and in the affluent South of England for the  Conservatives. General Elections were won in the centre, where the two parties fought over the marginal seats that would propel them to victory.

Now, with Scotland firmly in the SNP camp, and the party under pressure from all directions elsewhere, the way forward is not so clear. We still have FPTP but the clarity is gone.

Reuniting the party

What is clear is that Corbyn and his team will have their work cut out to reunite the party after a bruising contest and to forge a policy platform and style of politics that will not only command the support of his MPs (most of whom did not support him and many of whom think he will be a disaster) but also overcome the scepticism of the electorate. He and his team will have to do this whilst trying not to alienate the more idealistic of his supporters, who will be looking closely for the first signs of betrayal.

In terms of policy, Corbyn will inevitably have to compromise in the short term. The Labour left is committed to scrapping Trident, withdrawal from NATO and also from the European Union, whilst most MPs and voters do not support these positions. It is no surprise, therefore, that Corbyn has already stepped back from these proposals to some extent. Other policy commitments, such as bringing the railways back into public ownership, raising the top rate of income tax, and creating a national infrastructure bank to boost economic growth, are more popular with voters and I would expect these policies to move centre stage. Whatever the policies, however, Labour’s opponents in parliament and the media will seek to portray the party as dangerously extreme and divided.

A new style of politics

The question of division leads us to the next question: what style of politics will Corbyn and his team pursue? Three questions need to be answered.

First, will Corbyn surround himself – as he has done throughout his career to date – with people who share his views  or will he seek to construct a big tent and welcome talents from across the Labour family? The answer to this will have massive implications for party unity and for its future electability.

Second, and almost as important, how will Corbyn choose to approach the weekly Prime Minister’s Questions? Will he immerse himself in the ritual and attempt to better David Cameron week-by-week or will he treat it with the contempt that many of his supporters think it deserves and concentrate on building his case in the country rather than playing the discredited old parliamentary games?

Finally, and most intriguingly, how will his new Deputy Tom Watson play his hand? Watson is a party insider and – many would argue – a bit of a political thug. He has the power to either make Corbyn’s task harder than it needs to be or to bring the party machine behind him in the name of unity. And if, in a few years time, it is clear that Corbyn is leading Labour to disaster, I wonder what role Watson will play as Corbyn’s opponents try to remember where they buried the political hatchets?

Professor Charlie Lees is from the University's Department of Politics, Languages & International Studies. 

The Results

  • Leader: 554,272 votes eligible; 422,664 actual votes; 207 votes spoiled.
  • Round 1: Andy Burnham 80,462 (19 per cent); Yyvette Cooper 71,928 (17 per cent); Jeremy Corbyn 251,417 (59.5 per cent); Liz Kendall 18,857 (4.5 per cent). Jeremy Corbyn wins on the first round.
  • Deputy Leader:  554,272 votes eligible; 408,470 actual votes; 374 votes spoiled.
  • Round 1: Ben Bradshaw 39,080 (9.6 per cent); Stella Creasey 78,1000 (19.1 per cent); Angela Eagle 66,013 (16.2 per cent); Caroline Flint 64,425 (15.8 per cent); Tom Watson 160,852 (39.4 per cent). Ben Bradshaw eliminated.
  • Round 2: Stella Creasey 86,555 (21.4 per cent); Angela Eagle 72,517 (17.9 per cent); Caroline Flint 74,581 (18.4 per cent); Tom Watson 170,589 (42 per cent). Angela Eagle eliminated.
  • Round 3: Stella Creasey 103,746 (26 per cent); Caroline Flint 89,538 (22.8 per cent); Tom Watson 198, 962 (50.7 per cent). Tom Watson elected.

 

What the party manifestos really tell us

📥  Election 2015

The outcome of the 2015 General Election may surprise us all but the manifestos offered up by the political parties have by-and-large failed to do so. Indeed, the scope of debate in the 2015 General Election campaign has been quite narrow and parochial.

The Conservatives and Labour Party have both run so-called ‘small target’ campaigns designed to shore up their core support whilst avoiding any distinctive but potentially divisive policies that would deter floating voters.

The Liberal Democrats have run a ‘safety first’ campaign that appeals to centrist voters scared of (real or apparent) ‘lurches’ to the left or the right, but at the same time they have taken care not to include any substantive barriers to co-operation with either the Conservatives or Labour after the election.

In addition, there has been very little serious and informed debate about immigration or about the environment, even from UKIP or the Greens.

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Want to form a coalition? Follow this simple step-by-step guide

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📥  Election 2015, The Conversation

Professor Charlie Lees is Head of Department for our Department of Politics, Languages & International Studies

Dear Dave, Nick, Ed, Nigel, Natalie, Nicola, Leanne, Peter, Alasdair, David, and Mike (Gerry and Martin, you can ignore all of this),

The outcome of the 2015 General Election may surprise us all. But what’s clear is that none of you will be able to govern alone. The coalition seemed like a one-off in 2010, but now it looks like the new normal of UK politics.

This is frustrating for you, Dave and you, Ed, but it does provide new opportunities for the others. You may get the chance to be in government or at least exercise influence over it.

In order to make sure you understand what the stakes are in this game, and how you can best play the hand dealt you by the great British public on May 7, I’ve put together a bluffer’s guide for you.

Rule 1: draw red lines in pencil

Nick knows what happens when you campaign with a big flagship policy only to have to go back on your word after the election. But by the same token, you should never completely rule yourself out of making a political deal with your opponents. You never know when you will need to talk to that erstwhile implacable political foe, as Ed may find out if Nicola holds the balance of power.

Rule 2: take your time

There will be a lot pressure from the civil service, media, and financial markets to come to a quick deal after the election. But there’s no need to rush.

As far as Europe goes, the time it usually takes for a new government to form in the UK is uniquely short. The average time for European countries is about a month and, in some countries (see the Netherlands and Belgium) it can be many months before a government forms. And guess what – they are no less stable for it.

So take your time, and weigh up your options.

Rule 3: really, really know your options

So you think you know the numbers, but how well informed are you about them? Did you know that 1,024 possible coalitions could have been formed after the 2010 election? This of course ignores inconvenient details such as party membership, ideology, pre-election promises, and personal enmities, though. Taking all that into account, these are the likely options in 2015:

Conservative minority government

Dave, I am sure you will find this an attractive option if the parliamentary arithmetic allows. As the incumbent prime minister and possibly the leader with the largest share of parliamentary seats, you will argue strongly that this is the only legitimate option. But the UK is a parliamentary democracy, and you’ll have to command the confidence of the House of Commons and be able to put forward a legislative agenda to make it work.

Strike a deal with Nick if you can, but you might also need to bring someone else in. Nick and Nigel don’t get on. Can you get them to play nicely if Nigel is elected? If not, ditch Nigel and consider looking to Northern Ireland to link up with Peter or David.

Labour minority government

Ed, you’ve made this option more complicated by ruling out “deals” with Nicola and by not going out of your way to woo Nick. On the plus side, you have more potential allies – and even if they’re not really allies, it would be hard for Nicola to vote with Dave to bring down Labour. What would she tell voters in Scotland? So Nicola, are you able to really lever Ed? And Ed, can you call Nicola’s bluff? Or can you find other potential partners? Have you talked to Nick? If you haven’t, you should.

Conservative-led coalition

Dave, Con-Lib 2.0 would be the best available option for you. You get on with Nick and his party are a known quantity (and a bit of a pushover, you might think, but never say out loud). It becomes more problematic if you need a third party to command a majority in the Commons. Would this just be “confidence and supply” or would you need to offer a formal partnership?

Nigel might co-operate on confidence and supply, but would Nick be prepared to sit around the cabinet table with him or Douglas Carswell? In fact, Nigel has ruled out entering a formal coalition, but he also said he’d resign if he fails to win South Thanet – and Douglas might take a different view on formal co-operation.

What about Peter or David? Their “plain speaking” on cultural issues like abortion and same-sex marriage might be a problem with your more metropolitan members and supporters. The Northern Irish parties are also keen on increasing public spending in Northern Ireland. Will die-hard provincial Tory backbenchers stand for more big-state largesse flowing to the Celtic fringes?

Labour-led coalition

All options come with risks, Ed. The perils of working informally with Nicola would only be amplified in a formal coalition, and it’s hard to see how governing with the SNP would help Labour win back Scottish seats. At the same time, a Lab-SNP arrangement would play very badly south of the border, all too easily fitting a narrative of English taxpayers subsidising rebellious Scots. Ed, I can’t see Lab-SNP ending well, and would avoid it if I were you.

An alternative for you would be some sort of “rainbow coalition”, perhaps cobbled together with Nick and bringing in Leanne, and possibly Peter, David, or Alasdair along for the ride. Given the number of parties this might involve, coalition management would be a serious problem, and the press would have a field day over the inevitable gaffes and rifts. Finding a way forward over key issues such as economic policy would be tortuous. Ed, you would have to think long and hard about this option as well.

Rule 4: Know when not to play your cards

None of the most likely options for government are problem-free. Any government that emerges after May 7 will be clunky, fractious, and vulnerable to manipulation over timetabling, procedure, and favour-trading. It will not be an easy ride under any circumstances – and in the context of a fragile economic recovery, austerity, growing enmity between the UK’s constituent nations, and calls to leave the EU, the next five years are going to be unpleasant and potentially disastrous for any party whose leader makes the wrong choice in the days after May 7.

I know it’s almost impossible for politicians to give up the chance to govern, but all of you might want to consider it this time. All good card players know that there is a time to play your hand and a time to hold.

For one or two of you, there may never be a better opportunity to cash in your cards. For others, including Ed, this might be the right time to pass. Let’s wait until May 8, and see the hands you are actually dealt.

The Conversation

Charles Lees is Professor of Politics at University of Bath.

This article was originally published on The Conversation.
Read the original article.