2018 06 – Diary of a Corbyn foot soldier

Diary of a Corbyn foot soldier

by Michael Murray

murraymicha@gmail.com.  Facebook:  Michael Murray London- a commentary/digest of political and general interest news for busy people.

Dictionary definition of foot soldier: “…a dedicated low-level follower.”

A word on the May Local Elections and Labour’s future electoral prospects

“If asked to predict the result I’d say, the relentless attacks on the Labour leaderships will take its toll on the turnout, in the Tory marginals – and in the hitherto Labour strongholds. And on the morale of the foot soldiers.  If my own state of mind about what is happening in the Labour Party reflects the thinking – and action – of the wider party then we could be in for a disappointing result. I hope I’m proven wrong.” (Diary of a Corbyn foot soldier.” May 2018)

The results of the May Local Elections were the subject of contradictory verdicts – in the nature of the old teleological conundrum: is the glass half full or half empty?  To summarise the result: Labour came out of the contest with 2,350 councillors from the 150 local authorities (an increase of 77 over last time out) the Tories finished with 1,332 (a decrease of 33).  On the crucial issue of councils won, Labour came out with the same overall number, while the Tories lost 3.  While Labour didn’t win their much-publicized targeted majority in Wandsworth they nevertheless gained 7 seats while the Conservatives lost 8.  With regard to gaining overall control: Labour came within a few hundred votes of winning a majority there. Labour’s performance was noticeably poor in wards with large Jewish “populations, which was particularly costly for the party in Barnet, a marginal the party hoped to gain.” “The recent anti-Semitism scandal thus looks to have damaged Labour at the polls, and to have played a significant role in the failure to gain control of London’s most marginal council.”  Guardian, 5-May-2018.

Overall, it’s probably true to say that what the psephologists call the “anti-incumbent” swing to the Opposition, while not absent, as some wanted to claim, it was muted.  The BBC projected, from the local election results, that Labour would have gained 283 seats to the Conservatives’ 280.  A win, certainly. But not a sufficient majority on which to launch a ground-breaking political programme.  And, again, as a Corbyn foot soldier, I ask: what would the result have been if the Party was united – or at least not publicly disunited – on Salisbury, Russia, Syria – and anti-Semitism?

One of the most interesting observations made during the month, on the Local Election results, was made by Robert Ford, Professor of Politics,  Manchester University. “The Tories are on the wrong side of democratic trends,” he wrote. The steep age gradient seen in 2017 General Election patterns were represented in the Local Election results: “The Conservatives advanced by up to 10 points in areas with the most pensioners, but there was a swing to Labour in areas with the most voters under 35…. they solidified their grip on Leave-voting rural and small-town parts of England with large numbers of older white voters with low education levels. Class politics was once again turned upside down: the Tory vote share increased by over 10 points in the wards with the highest share of people doing routine manual work, or who left school with no qualifications, but flat-lined in places with the most middle-class professionals and fell in places with the most graduates.” Guardian, 5-May-2018

Looking at the results another way: Labour are on the right side of the demographic trend and the Labour leadership is least damaged by what can be seen in the Brexit debacle as an existential “identity” crisis centred on the “left behind” in England. This crisis is more a product of neo-liberal driven social and economic change than a psychological “stasis,” as media commentators such as James O’Brien of LBC like to explain it.  An obvious lesson from the election results is that Labour needs to focus even more on organizing rural and small-town England and addressing the age and educational divides. It has made a great start with the 2017 Election Manifesto. The Party has put enough distance between itself and the austerity-lite political economics of Blairism to be in a position to offer real solutions to Britain’s post-industrial, under resourced economy and society. However, the continuance of the Remain-Leave dichotomy of Brexit Britain remains the principal stumbling block to any significant breakthrough in Labour’s electoral prospects. This is underlined by the following key statistic. Conservatives advanced by an average of 13 percentage points in authorities which recorded a 60%+ vote for Leave and all of the four Tory council gains came in strong leave areas. (Richard Ford, op cit).

A year ago, in the run-up to the Labour Party Annual Conference, the New Statesman carried the headline: “Labour’s Decision Not To Debate Brexit Shows Momentum’s Power.”  Now we are seeing “sections” of the Momentum leadership, while stating their support for the Labour leadership on Brexit, calling for it to be discussed at the 2018 Annual Conference, in September.  In this they are echoing right wing and centrist organizations which have been demanding the same thing.  While the Cabinet – at this dangerously late stage in the Brexit process -remain at sixes and sevens, the end-game is still as clear as mud, the public mind as polarised as ever, the media ready to exploit to the Nth degree the differences within Labour on Brexit – what, as George Galloway is wont to say – can possibly go wrong?