Why I’ll be Voting Labour on December 12th

I’ve just finished re-watching a DVD about, and by, Tony Benn: “Will and Testament”.  I recommend it highly, even if you think you have no interest in politics. It reminded me of my own history, and of my parents’ and their parents’ histories. It also reminded me of why I’m voting Labour, even though I think a Labour Party led by Jeremy Corbyn will not win.

You might ask “Why are you voting for him if you think he can’t win?” My response is a) I’m not voting for a leader of a political party.  I’m voting for my constituency candidate,  b) I’m a socialist and I believe in what the Labour Party is trying to do with their manifesto.  Leaders come and go, and more than one serving Prime Minister has been replaced by their party while in office anyway, but why would anyone decide their voting intentions on the basis  of wanting to be on the winning side, rather than on principles and policy? That seems to me almost worse than not voting at all.  Not voting is a betrayal of those thousands who have died to win us the right to vote, and those all over the world who still don’t have a vote. I’m not encouraged by the fact that 30% of the electorate couldn’t even be bothered to vote in the Brexit Referendum but, PLEASE, you have to vote.  If you aren’t registered you only have until 23:59 on 26th November to do it. 

Now, back to my DVD.  Jeremy Corbyn is no Tony Benn but he’s been subjected to the same vicious character assassination that Tony Benn (and Michael Foot) was. The same vested interests, the same powerful forces, (and even some in his own party, just as Tony Benn was), have tried to make sure he fails.  It doesn’t matter that the words coming out of his mouth are much the same as those of other socialists in the past, he’s seen as a threat to the establishment.  Well, take no notice.  What is a threat to the establishment is you and me.  Our votes, for our constituency candidate, are a threat.  When I put my bit of paper in the ballot box I’m saying, “I don’t care what you think, I don’t care about the polls and the media, this is what I think”.  It wouldn’t even matter if Jeremy Corbyn lost his own seat, after all he is only one MP, as long as a Labour government was returned.  The choice isn’t Corbyn or Johnson it’s Labour or Conservative.  Left or Right.  The choice is between a party and government with a history of making the poor and defenceless pay for repairing damage caused by the excesses and failures of their policies, and one that doesn’t.  Even the right-of-centre New Labour project didn’t do that.  The choice is not between two people but between two parties whose gut instincts are diametrically opposed.  One imposed “austerity”, cuts in education, police, social care, health, pensions, defence etc., and will do more given the chance.  The other one would roll back austerity, making the people and corporations that caused the mess in the first place pay for cleaning it up.  The choice is between a party that believes having any kind of job (even one with no contract or zero hours) is aspirational, and one that believes secure work, and being paid a living wage for what you do, is inspirational.  The choice is between a party that believes the social and industrial infrastructure of the country should be in private hands, and one that doesn’t.   The choice is between a party that thinks homelessness and food banks are a Dickensian obscenity and one that couldn’t really “give a toss” (Mr Raab please note).  I know what I want.  10 years of Conservatism is more than enough.  Never mind what the Conservatives say they would do, look at what they have done.  Warts and all, I’m voting Labour.

UK Election 2019 – A Prediction of Sorts

I like to think I’m politically ‘savvy’: I’ve always been interested, even active, in politics – whether international, national or local. I have never failed to vote in any election for which I was qualified, whether that be for board members of an organisation, a union executive or a national or international political election. I have ‘blogged’ here many times on political issues and, particularly intensively, during elections. In these blog posts I have often tried to predict the outcome of elections and, to date, have a high success rate. In only three weeks the UK goes to the polls again and this time I’m struggling to make a confident prediction.

Against a background of gross social inequality, and on the back of 10 years of relentless swingeing cuts to publicly funded services, you would imagine that the electorate would be champing at the bit to vote for anyone other than the incumbent, Conservative, governing party. Apparently not: if the polls are to be believed (and that’s always a big ‘if’) the UK may be heading for yet another hung parliament or a Conservative government with a slender overall majority. Why?

Well, for one thing, Brexit. The country was narrowly in favour of leaving the EU, but based on an incomplete turnout and, shall we say, incomplete truth about the consequences and the timing. Parliament was also split on the issue, and not along party lines, but for the UK General Election the offering from the main parties is clear (except for Labour). The Conservatives want to “Get Brexit Done”, the Liberal Democrats want to “Stop Brexit” altogether, and Labour want to renegotiate and put the whole thing “back to the people” – in other words another referendum. So if you want to stay in the EU you vote LibDem don’t you? Well, yes and no. Because we have an outdated “first past the post”, “winner takes all”, system and you want to stop the Conservatives from getting a majority you vote, tactically, for the party most likely to unseat them in your constituency.

There are shades of grey in the other parties that may be standing on your patch: The Brexit Party want a hard-line “clean break” Brexit, as do the UK Independence Party (UKIP); neither have a hope of forming a government and have no real policies beyond Brexit. The Green Party want to stay in the EU, as do the Scottish National Party (SNP) and Welsh Nationalists (Plaid Cymru). In England there are few seats where a huge majority, one way or another, is going to be overturned. The outcome is going to be down to who wins the ‘marginal’ seats – particularly where the marginal consituency is (or rather was ) evenly split on the issue of Brexit.

Of course this election should be about far more than Brexit. As I wrote earlier in this piece, on the face of it, after 10 years of stagnation and dismantling of social services that disproportionately affect the ordinary man and woman, it ought to be no contest. But, as I write this on 23 November, even I am no clearer. The leaders of all the parties have issued their manifestos, and have now faced the TV cameras as never before, most recently in a BBC hosted public Q&A session. It was depressing and I felt, if this is the best we can offer to the electorate, and the wider world, God help us.

Boris Johnson, current PM and Leader of the Conservatives, is energetic but a bumbling fool. His grasp of complex political matters or the reality of the lives of ordinary people is woeful. He doesn’t ‘do’ detail and was shooting from the hip, as always, offering nothing more than generalities and exposing himself as a man who, despite knowing Latin, is ignorant. Time and again, whatever the thrust of a question, he tried to bring the focus of the event to Brexit – and to attacking Jeremy Corbyn (Labour). Jeremy Corbyn came across as detached, patrician and listless. After years in the job he is still not comfortable in front of a camera or speaking from notes; he is a presentational liability. He’s allowed himself to be portrayed as an evasive fence-sitter on contentious issues like another referendum. He consistently fails to understand that the electorate, by and large, doesn’t ‘do’ detail either. They need ‘bullet point’ answers to straightforward questions: the ordinary electorate don’t want to hear a carefully constructed, dispationate, and complicated argument – they switch off. Labour should be the only show in town. They have an exciting programme that points to a different vision of our society BUT, without explicitly setting it in the context of a 15 year plan, Labour has left the door open to it being condemned as unrealistic, utopian, and unaffordable. That’s inexcusable. It can’t all be done at once, and it isn’t meant to be all done at once, but it appears as if it is meant to be because nowhere in the 100+ page document does it say so: the only date refers to Carbon Reduction. Not only that, but the apparently eqivocal position on Brexit is a bear trap that Labour has needlessly fallen into. Another Brexit referendum will be between Leave and Remain, with the two camapaigns, as before, drawing support from all parties. It makes sense then that, as PM, Jeremy Corbyn should remain impartial but why didn’t he just say that Labour MPs will be able to vote, as before, as their conscience dictates. His personal vote will be, as before, between him and the ballot box. This is an entirely defensible position, but instead he’s allowed himself to be portrayed as indecisive or, worse, duplicitous.

I blogged here about this in 2017: see http://www.harrygoldjazz.com/2017/05/09/go-compare-politics-and-labours-train-wreck-tv/

Jo Swinson (LibDem) looked like a school governor standing in for someone else – inexperienced and out of her depth – but her main plank is “Stop Brexit” at all costs. She reminded me of the phrase my dear Mum used to say, “If you scratch a Liberal, you’ll find a Tory underneath”. I can’t imagine any of them going toe-to-toe with Putin, Trump, Kim Jong Un, or any heavyweight world leader. Oddly, Nicola Sturgeon, SNP leader, came across as most assured, but then she’s peripheral (except as a collaborator with Labour or the LibDems in the event of a hung parliament).

All the main parties will maintain, and renew, the UK nuclear deterrent which I personally find disgusting – only the SNP wants it scrapped.

And so to my prediction. With the caveat that there may be a higher than usual number of swing voters and ‘don’t knows’ out there, and a massive number of newly registered (mostly ‘younger’) voters, I believe the LibDems will pick up a few seats in England and Wales, as will the Greens. The SNP will, again, wipe out the Conservatives in Scotland and come close to doing the same to Labour – in Scotland. So, unless Labour can get its act together in the next 3 weeks, or something happens to discredit Johnson personally, he and the Conservatives will win a slender but workable majority.

However if the election does end up in another stalemate, as I increasingly fear it might, then the vacuum left at the heart of our national politics may be filled by another charismatic politician with the power to stoke the burning resentment of the disenfranchised and frustrated. 1933 anyone?

Our National Politics is Broken

The UK is having another General Election, the third in 4 years. Why? You might be forgiven for thinking it’s because of “Brexit”, but that’s not really true. The reason we are, yet again, trooping off to the polls is because our political system is broken and, as a result, incapable of acting decisively in the National Interest.

For generations the UK political system has been ossified by the competition between 2 main ‘blocks’ of self-interest. The Conservatives (a.k.a. the Tories) and Labour. The former is generally perceived to represent the interests of individual, rather than state, wealth whereas the latter promotes collectivism. Our system of elections has (until recently in Scotland) been based on “winner takes all” and “first past the post” voting that, with a few notable exceptions, ends up disenfranchising most of the electorate in a constituency by electing MPs who have garnered fewer votes than the rest of the candidates in that constituency combined.

Instead of winner takes all we could have single transferrable votes, and proportional representation (PR), and many in the wider electorate might then feel their individual votes count for something. It’s no accident that the smaller parties, and independents, are all for PR while the main parties, the great historical ‘blocks’ of power, are completely against it because it would break their control, perhaps for ever.

Voter disinterest is one result of disenfranchisement, with historically low turnout at elections of any kind, and however important. The 2016 EU Referendum, arguably the most significant decision we have been asked to make in 40 years, saw almost 30% of the qualified electorate fail to vote at all. Vox Pop interviews often elicit comments such as “They’re all as bad as each other” and “It doesn’t matter what I vote, they’ll do what they want anyway”. A political vacuum like this is dangerous as it is fertile ground for those who bring a simple message, skillfully presented, a popular promise to “break the mould”, to a group of electors who feel left out politically, socially or economically.

And so, in the UK General Election of 2019, we have the spectre of a populist Brexit Party standing candidates in most constituencies, on the single issue of achieving a “clean break” Brexit. One thing we can say about the existing, party based, political system is that most of the candidates are known quantities. Many will be either the incumbent MP, or a former challenger in that or another constituency; they have been “vetted” and sponsored by their party. They have “form” and they will, more or less, stand by a policy platform agreed by their party conferences. Nobody, so far, has asked questions about the Brexit Party candidates. Who are they, what is their “form”, what do they believe in, and how would they vote on anything other than Brexit? Apart from Proportional Representation, what is the Brexit Party’s policy on The Environment, Education, Health, Security, Defence, Social Services, Housing, Education, Justice, International Development and Aid and Immigration – oh, and the Economy?

Having seen how, for the last 2 years, a handful of Northern Irish MPs of an unrepresentative minority in their own country have controlled events in our ‘hung’ Parliament, how will it be if the Brexit Party does the same in 2020 and beyond? It doesn’t bear thinking about.