Opinion

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

Tagged: corbyn

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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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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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.