Keiran Pedley: LAB’s making a big mistake to assume that the only way now is up

August 2nd, 2015



As CLP nominations close, with Jeremy Corbyn leading, Labour members must remember that its electoral fortunes can get worse as well as better

A couple of weeks ago I wrote an article for the New Statesman in which I argued that Jeremy Corbyn was not the answer to Labour’s problems. Last week I was interviewed about it on the BBC and you can see the clip here. My reasoning is pretty straightforward, Labour can only win if its leader is seen as a credible Prime Minister in ­waiting and the Labour Party regains public trust on the economy. I think a Corbyn ­led Labour solves neither of these problems – in fact I think it would make things worse.

This week, a Labour supporting colleague that had seen my clip cornered me at work and said something that I thought was interesting:

“The thing you have to understand Keiran is that none of them can win anyway, so we might as well vote for Jeremy Corbyn”.

I was taken aback by this view but it turns out that it might be more widespread than I thought. In this week’s New Statesman podcast, Stephen Bush described several conversations he has had with people in Labour that said exactly the same thing. Many members do not think that any of the candidates can win in 2020 so they reason that they might as well ‘vote with their heart’.

This is a really dangerous mindset for the Labour Party to be in. Assuming it is true that Labour simply cannot win in 2020 (I disagree), Labour members have to realise that there are different degrees of defeat. For example, a Conservative majority of 80 has very different implications for Labour’s long term prospects than a minority Conservative Government. Labour cannot assume that because it got 30% of the vote in 2015 that the only way is up. Labour can lose votes too and the leader it chooses will be vital to whether things get better or worse.

In short, 2020 cannot be treated as a ‘free hit’ because Labour won’t win anyway. Things could get worse and Labour would then be further away from government than it is now.

My view is that if Labour puts forward a hard­left platform to the country it will do little to solve its problems in Scotland – as BES data has shown this week – but it will further alienate English voters and mean that the Conservatives increase their majority in 2020. Labour’s ‘Scotland problem’ is a difficult one to solve but I am sceptical simply promising to ‘oppose austerity’ an sscrap Trident will solve it. Meanwhile, such a platform will give the new Conservative leader a very easy General Election campaign to fight in England. He or she can present ‘Conservative security’ versus ‘Labour risk’ again – just as the Conservatives did with such success in 2015.

To win again Labour needs to form a new electoral coalition large enough to win 35­40% of the popular vote. It cannot realistically do so without winning over some Conservative voters – many of whom will have voted Labour in the past. Of course, winning over non­voters, Lib Dems, Greens, SNP and UKIP supporters will help too but it is a fantasy to think victory can be achieved with this group alone. Once you accept this reality, it is very hard to make an argument that Jeremy Corbyn is the man for the job.

But whatever you think about the prospect of Jeremy Corbyn leading the Labour Party – and I have made my thoughts pretty clear – the one thing Labour members must always remember is that there is no guarantee of things get better from here. If they do get worse, suddenly 2025 will not be winnable either and people will question if Labour can ever win again. Labour members have a serious choice to make when choosing the next leader and win or lose in 2020 that choice has significant long term implications for the party. If you are voting in the contest, whoever you plan on supporting, it is worth keeping that in mind.

Keiran Pedley is an elections and polling expert at GfK and presenter of the podcast ‘Polling Matters’. He tweets about polls and politics at @keiranpedley


Biden said to be considering a bid for the presidency

August 1st, 2015

This could really shake up the WH2016 betting

As I posted ten days ago a bet at 4/1 that someone other than Hillary would get the nomination was great value and I have a big position.

Potential contenders have until now been overawed by the Hillary factor. But if one big player like Biden enters the fray then others could follow.

Maybe Hillary will have a fight on her hands after all.

Mike Smithson


Remember the Saturday when the Telegraph and Sky News both declared that Alan Johnson had won the deputy leader election

August 1st, 2015

With AV LAB elections don’t always go to plan

Remember June 2007? So many Labour MPs had chickened out of doing other than nominate Brown for leader that there weren’t enough left for another candidate to go on the ballot. The result – the party got what the polling indicated was a leader who was an electoral liability – not someone who could lead them into a fourth successive general election victory.

Instead there was a hard-fought deputy race which on the day, even before the offical announcement SkyNews and the Telegraph had published that Alan Johnson had won.

As it turned out the victor, by a whisker with a margin of less than 1%, was Harriet Harman who has remained in the post since. She got it because of the way the lower preferences of the third place, John Cruddas split.

It’s reckoned in the current election is that Yvette will pick up the lion’s share of Liz Kendall’s second pref assuming she comes last. The question will then be whether this is enough to beat Burnham in the second round.

Mike Smithson


David Herdson asks: Where are UKIP’s 34 peers?

July 31st, 2015

An unreformed Lords shouldn’t be a closed shop for the old parties

Sex, money and people in high places all make for a good scandal, as Lord Sewel found out to his cost this last week. And as usually happens when a member of the Lords gets into trouble, the opponents of the institution cite it as an example of the need for reform of it, or even its outright abolition.

Not that there’s a chance of serious reform any time soon. It suits both Conservative and Labour governments to keep a second chamber that doesn’t pose too much of a threat to the first and into which they can parachute placemen and -women. It suits the Lib Dems too to keep their hundred peers in place while their representation in the Commons lies in single figures; a point which may have to the forefront of their thinking when they folded so easily on the subject in the last parliament.

Because the fact is that even more than the Commons, the Lords is a club for the established parties: the Tories, Labour and Lib Dems have 539 peers between them; all other parties, just twelve. There are of course more than two hundred non-party peers – crossbenchers, unaligned and bishops – but while that provides diversity in one sense, it does little to reflect changing voting patterns.

The last government in its coalition agreement pledged itself to appoint new peers with the intention of reflecting the previous election. It never quite got there and it was always a bit of a silly objective: were it to be followed rigorously, the see-saw effect of electoral swing combined with the length of peers’ service would see numbers in the Lords expand out of all control. To have been pushing Lib Dem membership up to 23% when their opinion poll rating was marooned in single figures would have looked unjustifiable.

However, that objection can be navigated if we take not the last election as the baseline but an average of the last three, both to mitigate the see-saw effect and on the basis that 15 years is closer (though probably still short) of the average length of a peer’s service. If, to avoid the introduction of flash-in-the-pan parties, we also introduce a 3% UK-wide threshold, or a 10% threshold for the regional parties in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, then on the basis of 550 party peers there’d be the following numbers:

Con 202 (actual 226)
Lab 181 (actual 212)
LD 101 (actual 101)
UKIP 34 (actual 3)
SNP 15 (actual 0 on principle)
DUP 4 (actual 4)
Plaid 3 (actual 2)
Sinn Fein 3 (actual 0 on principle)
SDLP 2 (actual 0)
UUP 2 (actual 2)

The Greens fall below the threshold (the three Green parties within the UK averaged just 1.9% between them over the 2005-15 period) but do have one member of the Lords at present.

Various things stand out on that list: the existing bias to the Tories and Labour (soon to be increased, apparently), the Lib Dems being spot on their ‘quota’, and the near-fair representation of those regional parties which allow their members to participate in the Lords. But by far the most striking is the scale of UKIP’s under-representation.

There may be some justification for this. On the criteria above, UKIP wouldn’t have crossed the qualifying threshold until this last election (their average from 2001-10 was only 2.3%) but even if they were expected to work up to their full allocation over three parliaments, they’d still be entitled to eleven or twelve in this one: four times what they actually have.

The House of Lords has never justified itself on democratic legitimacy but on grounds of effectiveness. Which is all very well but the fact is that democratic arguments are put forward when it suits one politician or another to do so. So would it really hurt to give a voice to the one in eight at the last election who voted for Farage’s party? Who knows – they might even brighten the place up.

David Herdson


Tim Farron’s LDs the main gainers, leaderless LAB the main losers in the July Local By-Election + overnight results

July 31st, 2015

The overnight results

Hilton, Woodside and Stockethill (SNP defence) and Kincorth, Nigg and Cove (SNP defence) on City of Aberdeen

Hilton, Woodside and Stockethill
Result: Scottish National Party 1,690 (55% +19%), Labour 771 (25% -20%), Conservative 350 (11%, no candidate in 2012), Green Party 130 (4% +1%), Liberal Democrats 125 (4% unchanged)
Scottish National Party HOLD on the first count with a majority of 919 (30%) on a swing of 19.5% from Labour to SNP

Kincorth, Nigg and Cove
Result: Scottish National Party 1,939 (61% +27%), Labour 606 (19% -19%), Conservatives 313 (10% +5%), Liberal Democrats 207 (7% -1%), Green Party 114 (4%, no candidate in 2012)
Scottish National Party HOLD on the first count with a majority of 1,333 (42%) on a swing of 23% from Labour to SNP

North Hykeham Mill on North Kesteven (Lincolnshire Independent defence)
Result: Conservatives 286 (40% -19%), Independent 180 (25%, no candidate in 2015), Labour 161 (23%, no candidate in 2015), Green Party 64 (9%, no candidate in 2015), Liberal Democrat 22 (3%, no candidate in 2015)
Conservative GAIN from Lincolnshire Independent with a majority of 106 (15%), no swing calculable

College on Northumberland (Lab defence)
Result: Labour 508 (69% -22%), United Kingdom Independence Party 102 (14%, no candidate in 2013), Liberal Democrats 83 (11%, no candidate in 2013), Conservative 39 (5% -4%)
Labour HOLD with a majority of 406 (55%) on a notional swing of 18% from Labour to UKIP

Droitwich East on Wychavon (Con defence)
Result: Conservative 495 (52% +8%), Labour 175 (18% -3%), United Kingdom Independence Party 171 (18% -2%), Liberal Democrats 108 (11% -4%)
Conservative HOLD with a majority of 320 (34%) on a swing of 5.5% from Labour to Conservative

Harry Hayfield


Only 3 LAB leaders have ever won overall majorities and the creed of the most successful is now being dismissed as a “virus”

July 31st, 2015


Electability has to be paramount or else what is the point?

One of the things that is often said, particularly by Tories, is that excluding Tony Blair the last time Labour secured an overall working majority was in 1966. That was a very long time ago.

For in Labour’s entire history just three leaders, the ones pictured above, have led led the party to working majorities at general elections. And only one of these, the “virus” as we are being told, secured more than one sustainable working majority.

Clement Atlee did it almost exactly 70 years ago this week. That followed the great changes in British society that had been caused by the war. He won again in 1950 but only just and had to go to the country the following year when LAB lost.

Harold Wilson chalked up a 4 seat majority in 1964 after a dismal period for the Tories when it had become battered by Vassal and then Profumo affairs. Wilson’s went to the country again in 1966 and won an overall majority of just under 80. Although he lost in 1970 Wilson returned to power in a minority in March 1974 and secured a minuscule majority six months later.

The party then had to wait until the Blair landslide in 1997 before returning to power.

The point I’m making is that winning a working majority for any party or leader is very difficult particularly since we moved away from two party politics.

In terms of working majorities, ones that were able to sustain the party through the parliament, you can argue that the last one for the Tories was Mrs. Thatcher in 1987. Defections and by-elections losses meant that John Major’s 1992-97 government did not have a working majority by the end.

It is too early to say whether Cameron’s victory on May 7th produced a working majority that will sustain the party for the whole parliament.

What is clear is that LAB needs to be led by someone with exceptional appeal to those parts of the electorate that are normally beyond reach.

Mike Smithson


A busy night of local by-elections previewed by Harry Hayfield

July 30th, 2015

Hilton, Woodside and Stockethill (SNP defence) and Kincorth, Nigg and Cove (SNP defence) on City of Aberdeen
Result of council at last election (2012): Labour 17, Scottish National Party 15, Liberal Democrats 5, Conservatives 3, Independents 3 (No Overall Control, Labour short by 5)

Hilton, Woodside and Stockethill
Result of ward at last election (2012): Emboldened denotes elected
Labour 1,421, 271 (45%)
Scottish National Party 512, 823 (36%)
Independents 87, 101, 55 (6%)
Liberal Democrats 145 (4%)
Green Party 99 (3%)
National Front 41 (1%)
Candidates duly nominated: Roy Begg (Con), Neil Copland (SNP), Peter Kennedy (Green), Charlie Pirie (Lab), Jonathan Waddell (Lib Dem)

Kincorth, Nigg and Cove
Result of ward at last election (2012): Emboldened denotes elected
Labour 291, 1,250 (38%)
Scottish National Party 1,389 (34%)
Independents 471, 120 (15%)
Liberal Democrats 331 (8%)
Conservatives 219 (5%)
Candidates duly nominated: Donna Clark (Lab), Stephen Flynn (SNP), Ken McLeod (Lib Dem), Phillip Sellar (Con), Dan Yeats (Green)

When Aberdeen became a unitary authority in 1999, Labour in Scotland dominated. Of the thirty two local authorities in the country, Labour controlled or ran twenty of them, four were Independent, three were in the hands of the Scottish National Party, the Conservatives had a hand in running East Renfrewshire and the Liberal Democrats a hand in running Aberdeenshire. And Aberdeen was no different, Labour won 30 seats on the new council (and had an overall majority of 10). However, things went south for Labour on the day of the elections to the new Scottish Parliament. They lost control of eight authorities (the biggest upset being Falkirk) and they lost over a hundred seats overall. Aberdeen, however, they held on to and must have fancied their chances of holding again in 2003 but by then the Liberal Democrats were on the advance as they gained outright control of Inverclyde from Labour held their position in Aberdeenshire and became the largest party on East Dunbartonshire and Aberdeen. But by the time of the next elections in 2007, the rules had been shaken up and the Single Transferable Vote had been introduced and across Scotland the effect was devasting to Labour. Labour lost control of eleven of the councils they had run under First Past the Post and were only left with North Lanarkshire and Glasgow. The Liberal Democrats could now claim to run Scotland’s second and third largest cities (Edinburgh and Aberdeen), the SNP broke through in East Dunbartonshire and the Conservatives suddenly found themselves in a position of influence in South Ayrshire, Dumfries and Galloway and the Scottish Borders. And although Labour managed to recover some ground in 2012 (gaining Renfrewshire and West Dunbartonshire), the SNP gained control of Angus and Dundee and had an influence in the running of Aberdeenshire, Perthshire, Stirling, North Ayrshire and East Ayrshire) but as we have seen since the referendum in 2014, the SNP appear to be an unmovable force and when the Scottish councils come up next for election in 2017 it would not suprise me at all if the SNP become the new dominant force in Scottish local government.

North Hykeham Mill on North Kesteven (Lincolnshire Independent defence)
Result of council at last election (2015): Conservatives 28, Lincolnshire Independents 8, Skellingthorpe Independents 2, Hykeham Independents 2, Independent 1, North Kesteven Independent 1 (Conservative majority of 14)
Result of ward at last election (2015) : Emboldened denotes elected
Conservatives 1,478, 1,005 (59%)
Lincolnshire Independent 1,013 (41%)
Candidates duly nominated: Elizabeth Bathory-Porter (Green), John Bishop (Hykeham Independents), Diana Catton (Lib Dem), Mike Clarke (Con), Terence Dooley (Lab)

North Kesteven is a council that seems to believe that unless you are a Conservative or an Independent then you have no reason to be on the council at all. Back in 2003 there were nine non Con and Ind councillors (five Lib Dems and four Labour). The Labour councillors were wiped out in 2007 (going to the Conservatives) and the Lib Dems were wiped out in 2015 (going to the Independents) so what the electors of North Hykeham will do (based on past history) is either split 48% Con and 48% Hykeham Independent or decide that it is better to stick with the existing arrangement and elect another Conservative councillor to join the previous one.

College on Northumberland (Lab defence)
Result of council at last election (2013): Labour 32, Conservatives 21, Liberal Democrats 11, Independents 3 (No Overall Control, Labour short by 2)
Result of ward at last election (2013): Labour 878 (91%), Conservatives 90 (9%)
Candidates duly nominated: Peter Curtis (UKIP), Chris Galley (Con), Andy McGregor (Lib Dem), Mark Purvis (Lab)

Northumberland has been very interesting in parliamentary terms. Although between 1992 and 2010 it returned two Labour MP’s (Blyth Valley and Wansbeck), one Conservative (Hexham) and one Liberal Democrat (Berwick) it did a great deal of swinging around. In 1992, Labour led by 9% which increased to 24% in 1997 with the Liberal Democrats taking second place. That lead dropped to 15% in 2001 and then to just 6% in 2005 and then in 2010 the Liberal Democrats “won” Northumberland by 2% so 2015 was a literal example of “crashing and burning” as not only did the Lib Dems lose Berwick but their vote share collapsed from 32% across the county to just 12% (ending 3% behind UKIP) and for the first time since 1992, the Conservatives “won” the county by 1% making Northumberland possibly one of only a few counties to have gained from one party to the other via the Liberal Democrats. So the question has to be asked in College with the previous Labour councillor clearly having a massive personal vote, could this provide another Lib Dem fightback moment, could the Conservatives spring a suprise or could UKIP get another foothold in another council with no UKIP seats?

Droitwich East on Wychavon (Con defence)
Result of council at last election (2015): Conservatives 39, Liberal Democrats 5, United Kingdom Independence Party 1 (Conservative majority of 33)
Result of ward at last election (2015): Emboldened denotes elected
Conservatives 1,587, 1,201 (44%)
Labour 775 (21%)
United Kingdom Independence Party 724 (20%)
Liberal Democrats 534 (15%)
Candidates duly nominated: Andy Morgan (UKIP), Jacqui O’Reilly (Lab), Rory Robertson (Lib Dem), Karen Tomalin (Con)

Wychavon (the council between Worcester and Redditch) has been trending more and more Conservative with every election. 31 Conservatives in 2003, 35 Conservatives in 2007, 38 Conservatives in 2011 and 39 in May and as such the opposition has been slowly wittled away from 14 in 2003 to just six now, so presumably a Conservative hold is expected but at the same time could it also be another Lib Dem fightback win, a shock Labour gain or a UKIP win? That’s the problem with rural English councils, no one can really tell (but that’s the fun of local by-elections isn’t it really?)


Don Brind says he’s voting for party unity by putting Liz Kendall first

July 30th, 2015


It was, if you like, my Liz Kendall moment

Just as Kendall has been told she’s a Tory I was told “You should go and join the SDP”. It was wounding – the more so because it came from a friend. It was the 80s and we were on opposite sides of one of the many controversies inspired by or centred on Tony Benn.

Happily she is still a friend and says now “The 80s were a mad time. We all realise that now.” Over lunch we are discussing Jeremy Corbyn who she has known for the best part of 40 years and regards with great affection. “He’s a lovely guy – but he’s not a leader of the Labour party and certainly not a Prime Minister. And he knows it.”

She is backing Andy Burnham. She’s surprised to hear that although I’d be happy with Burnham or Yvette Cooper I am thinking of making Liz Kendall my first preference.

“I don’t like her tone,” says my friend. “why does she have to be so insulting to Jeremy?” In truth, there are doubts about Kendall’s ability to bring people together. But I think she’s a radical who has been hurt by being perceived as the “Blairite” candidate. An impressive email from Gloria de Piero, one of her campaign team, sets out Kendal’s ideas for tackling inequality — Ed Miliband’s signature issue.

I put my thought into action on Wednesday at a meeting of Tooting Labour Party. I voted 1.Kendall, 2.Cooper, 3. Burnham. Kendall led at one stage but was overtaken by Cooper in the final round.

Mine is essentially a tactical vote. I think a poor showing for Kendall would be bad for the Labour party. My vote for her is an investment in party unity – just as, back in the 80s, I lined up with Michael Foot and Neil Kinnock against Tony Benn. Those struggles are chronicled in Peter Kellner’s Prospect magazine homage to Neil Kinnock which is coupled with a plea to the former leader to intervene to save the party from Jeremy Corbyn.

Quoting from the YouGov poll for the Times Kellner says Corbyn’s support is strongest among party voters under 40—“those that were either not born or young children during Labour’s wilderness years. But Kinnock still holds an iconic status, even for them.

“Neil: your party needs you. Speak out for sanity and explain why a Corbyn triumph would undo the victories that led, in time, to 13 years of Labour rule. If you do, the party can still pull itself back from the edge of disaster.”

If that “disaster” comes about “militant Blairites” will have to accept responsibility for creating the conditions in which Corbyn’s campaign could flourish, according to the Independent’s Steve Richards.

In a typically insightful piece he says they ignored the complexities of the election result, in which the SNP won by outflanking Labour on the Left and the Cleggite liberalism “a creed much admired by some Blairites” led to the slaughter of the Lib Dems.

Despite the complexities they pushed a narrative that Labour’s defeat was the result of being recklessly Left wing. Ironically, says Richards, “it was a narrative made for the left-wing Jeremy Corbyn.” Richards says Corbyn “might win almost by accident. If he were to do so his election would be a seismic event in British politics and mark the biggest crisis for Labour since the split with the SDP and probably much bigger than that.”

The Telegraph’s Mary Riddell doesn’t share that concern – “the radical Left-winger is a beacon of modernity in tune with young voters.”She reckons Corbyn’s anti-austerity line may allow him “to harness the fury that will surely erupt in Britain when the Chancellor implements spending reductions of 40 per cent in unprotected departments, with the aim of saving £20 billion in this Parliament.”

Perhaps. But perhaps not.

It’s a paradox that to be a strong opposition you need to be perceived as an alternative government. And it’s hard to be that unless your leader looks like a potential Prime Minister. The importance of leadership was underlined by the YouGov poll for the Times reported here on PB this week
The answer from Corbyn supporters is that their man offers “collective leadership”. Kate Osamor the new MP for Edmonton asserts “With Jeremy as leader it’s clear that women will be listened to and will play an equal part in a collective leadership. “It’s not all about him – he knows that the model of the suited and booted media star leader is over. People are no longer interested. Instead Jeremy is about getting everyone together and working collectively.”

I have a high regard for Osamor. She’s one of the many talented new MPs elected on May 7th. But she’s asking the party to take a leap of faith. To me it looks like being beckoned into the abyss. I’m now convinced that Corby can win. But if he does I think we will have to go through it all again in two or three years time.

Don Brind