Saturday, 29 October 2016

Labour should not put up a candidate against Zac Goldsmith in Richmond Park

It would be an extraordinary step if Labour were not to put up a candidate in Richmond Park where Zac Goldsmith has triggered a by-election by resigning over the Government’s decision to expand Heathrow. However, it is a step that Corbyn and the party should have the courage to take. The issue here is much wider than Heathrow.

Goldsmith has resigned as an MP and is running nominally as an independent. His main challenger, the Lib Dem candidate, shares his policy on Heathrow and the Tory party is not running a candidate against him.

It is not only the Tories who are supporting the "independent" Goldsmith, it is also UKIP. Goldsmith, who is a long time Brexiteer, is the candidate of Hard Brexit.

Only a few months ago, Goldsmith ran an unpleasant and disastrous campaign to be mayor of London. Critics - including some Tories - called his campaign “racist” and “disgusting”.

Labour cannot win in Richmond Park. The only party that can hope to beat the Tories there are the Lib Dems. Before Goldsmith won the seat in 2010, it had been held by the Lib Dems. 

The Tories and UKIP are forming a pact to help Goldsmith. Labour should do so too to help the Lib Dems defeat him. If there had been such a pact in the recent Witney by-election it is possible the Tory could have been beaten.

Of course, any such move by Labour would need to be reciprocated by the Lib Dems at a later date.

None of this would be easy. It could only work if there was trust between Jeremy Corbyn and Tim Farron (and potentially the Greens and other anti-Tory parties). 

This highly pragmatic approach may be the only way to stop the Tory’s grip on power.

Thursday, 27 October 2016

Who is to blame for Brexit? Part Two - what the main players did

Historical background to Brexit

The UK (with Sweden) is one of only two out of the 28 states in the EU which have not been invaded and/or been under a fascist or communist dictatorship within living memory. Unlike most Europeans, the UK does not value the EU for its role in keeping the peace or supporting democracy in the states themselves.

In the UK, the EU has been seen primarily as merely an economic organisation and transfers to and from Brussels have been seen as zero-sum rather than mutually beneficial.

The EU’s own role 

The EU itself clearly bears some blame for Brexit. It is an imperfect organisation. It suffers from a lack of transparency and a democratic deficit.

On occasions it has behaved appallingly. The treatment of Greece - driven into penury for political rather than economic grounds by Angela Merkel and others - was a case in point.

The sensible Remain argument was that the UK should remain in despite the EU’s faults.

David Cameron

Cameron bears primary responsibility for the Brexit debacle (and the complete lack of planning for the result). 

He offered the referendum because he was spooked by UKIP and as a sop to his own backbenchers. He did not offer it because he thought it was in the best interests of the country. He was unforgivably insouciant. He was weak.

In the campaign Cameron said (correctly) that Brexit would be disastrous. It is unsurprising that the voters ignored him - after all what PM would voluntarily offer the country a disastrous choice?  Answer: a PM who is a shallow chancer.

The newspapers

Murdoch, Rothermere, the Barclay twins and Desmond are all tax-cheating billionaire press-barons who between them dominate the national newspaper market in the UK. They all supported Brexit.

Journalist Anthony Hilton once asked Murdoch why he was so opposed to the European Union. “That’s easy,” Murdoch replied, “when I go into Downing Street they do what I say; when I go to Brussels they take no notice.”

The influence of the press-barons was not limited to the campaign. For decades their papers have ridiculed and derided the EU and not given the EU credit for anything. They effectively poisoned the well for pro-EU arguments in the UK.

Boris Johnson 

Johnson and the other leaders of the Leave campaign told a number of blatant lies. 

The UK Statistics Authority even formally asked the Leave campaign to stop claiming that £350 million is contributed to the EU by the UK each week. This was simply ignored. The Leave campaign’s bus was, notoriously, emblazoned with the lie that this sum would be saved and spent on the NHS every week after Brexit.

Nigel Farage

It was Farage who panicked Cameron into promising the referendum. He is a cynical populist, happy to stir up racial tensions to advance his aims.

Shortly before the vote, Farage posed in front of a poster depicting a long line of desperate refugees with the slogan “Breaking Point”. The poster was rightly condemned for inciting racial hatred. Farage would have calculated that it helped the Leave campaign.


The BBC is by far the most respected and therefore the most powerful source of news in the UK. It made two serious errors during the Brexit campaign.

First, it allowed the need for “balance” - and the fear of being lambasted in the Eurosceptic newspapers - to mean that it did not expose the lies being peddled by the Leave campaign (or, indeed, some less egregious ones made by the Remain side).

Secondly, its idea of balance was to give the lion’s share of coverage to the two sides of the Tory party plus Farage. Not enough time was given to other voices, including crucially Labour voices.

Labour’s campaign

Labour’s campaign to stay in the EU was led by Alan Johnson but made little impact. In part, due to the attitude of the press and of the BBC.

Jeremy Corbyn

Within hours of the referendum result, huge swathes of liberal-left opinion had decided that the disaster was the fault of Jeremy Corbyn. 

This was unfair. Corbyn campaigned vigorously for Remain. Angela Eagle praised him at the time for, “pursuing an itinerary that would make a 25-year-old tired”.

The media did not give Corbyn proper coverage for all the reasons above plus the well-documented bias against him which has been a feature of media coverage ever since he became Labour leader.

Corbyn was heavily criticised in some quarters for saying his passion for remaining in the EU rated at only about "7, or 7 and a half“ out of 10. This is odd. Qualified approval of the EU was more likely to persuade the doubtful than blanket approval.

It is easy to understand why Corbyn was blamed for Brexit. Labour MPs wanted to challenge him as leader and they needed a pretext. Their media allies like Polly Toynbee and Jonathan Freedland duly wrote articles excoriating Corbyn’s alleged failings over Brexit.

Professor John Curtice, political scientist and polling expert wrote an article in the New Statesman under the heading “Don’t blame Jeremy Corbyn”. He wrote: - “But in truth there is little in the pattern of the results of the referendum to suggest that Mr Corbyn was personally responsible for Remain’s defeat. The referendum outcome looks more like a pretext for an attempt to secure Mr Corbyn’s removal than a reason.” The emphasis is mine.

Tuesday, 25 October 2016

Who is to blame for Brexit? Part One - who voted for it?

On 23 June 2016, the British people voted 51.9% to 48.1% to leave the European Union. 

The turnout of 72.2% was much higher than in recent General Elections. However, 13 million registered voters did not vote and another 7 million eligible voters were not even registered. Millions of EU citizens living in the UK as well as 16 and 17 year olds were not allowed to vote, although there had been moves in some quarters to let them do so.

The vote for Brexit was a self-inflicted wound that seems likely to blight the UK for generations. The consequences of the vote are already being felt - a rising tide of intolerance and bigotry; the value of sterling has plummeted (according to one financial journalist to its lowest level since Henry VIII) pushing up the cost of imports, including food bills; Scotland is quite possibly heading for a second independence referendum, having very decisively voted to Remain.

As for the future, it is clouded with uncertainty and threat. It is clear that not only does the May government lack any plan to obtain the “best deal for Britain”, it does not even know what deal it wants. 

“Vote Leave, Take Control” may become a catchphrase for arch-stupidity.

Who voted for Brexit? Immediately after the shock of the result of the referendum, it was being said that Brexit was due to the votes of working class Northerners. This narrative has been much repeated and is now widely accepted as true. It is not true. 

Professor Danny Dorling has looked at the results of the only large scale survey carried out with voters on the day of the referendum by Lord Ashcroft. He found that the typical Leave voter is likely to have been middle class and living in the South.

Dorling points out that 
  • two-thirds of all those who voted either Remain or Leave were middle class (social classes A, B or C1) 
  • 59% of  those who voted Leave were middle class
  • 52% of those who voted Leave lived in the South of England
  • proportion of Leave voters in lowest two social classes, D and E, was just 24%

Here are some other results below taken from the Ashcroft survey. 

Age of voters
  • the older the voter the more likely they were to vote Leave
  • 73% of 18 to 24 year olds voted Remain
  • 60% of those over 65 voted Leave

Ethnicity of voters
  • White voters voted to Leave 53% to 47%
  • Asian voters voted to Remain 67% to 33%
  • Black voters voted to Remain 73% to 27%

How supporters of political parties voted

In favour of Leave
  • Tories - 42% Remain; 58% Leave
  • UKIP  - 4% Remain; 96% Leave 
In favour of Remain
  • Labour -  63% Remain; 37% Leave
  • SNP     - 64% Remain; 36% Leave
  • Lib Dem  - 70% Remain; 30% Leave
  • Greens   - 75% Remain; 25% Leave
There are many more supporters of some parties than of others. Here is the make up of the Remain and Leave votes by party affiliation

How Remain vote was made up 

Labour - 39%
Tory - 31%
Lib Dem - 12%
Greens - 7%
SNP - 6%
Other - 2%
UKIP - 1%
Plaid Cymru - 1%

How Leave vote was made up

Tory - 40%
UKIP - 25%
Labour - 21%
Lib Dem - 5%
SNP - 3%
Green - 2%
Other - 2%
Plaid Cymru - 1%

Almost 4 in 10 Remainers were Labour; 4 in 10 Leavers were Tory. Although there are comparatively few UKIP supporters almost all of them voted in the referendum so that they made up 25% of the Leave vote.

Reasons for voting Leave

The top three reasons for voting Leave were
  • principle that decision about UK should be taken in UK                                  49%
  • best chance to regain control over immigration                                                33%
  • remaining would mean having no choice about how EU expanded membership in years ahead                                                                                                                             13%

Crucially none of these three reasons bears out the electoral wisdom taken from Bill Clinton’s 1992 campaign that it’s “the economy stupid”. 

In fact, a majority of voters thought that Remain would be better for the economy, international investment and the UK’s influence in the world.

Social attitudes

How did the people who thought the following a “force for ill” vote?

Multiculturalism  - 81% Leave voters 
                            - 19% Remain voters    

Social liberalism - 80% Leave voters
                           - 20% Remain voters 

Feminism            - 74% Leave voters 
                              26% Remain voters

The Green Movement  - 78% Leave voters 
                                     - 22% Remain voters 

Immigration         - 80% Leave voters 
                            - 20% Remain voters 


The typical Leave voter was not a Northern working class Mirror reader. They were Southern and middle class and read the Telegraph or the Mail. 

The typical Leave voter was also white and elderly. Many would still remember the days that Britain had an Empire. Perhaps the words of American Dean Acheson describe the feelings of many of these voters towards their country. Acheson said in 1962 that “Great Britain has lost an Empire and has not yet found a role”. Their vote was a defiant assertion of their country’s greatness. Sadly, they were delusional.

Next piece

Who is to blame for Brexit? Part Two - what the main players did