View from the Margins

Politics from a 'Marginal Constituency’ by Andy Reed

As 2020 is just around the corner it feels appropriate to look back over the last decade and not just 2019. Perhaps because 2019 seems to have so politically exhausting and damaging it’s tempting to see the last decade only through the narrow lens of the politcs Brexit. It didn’t have to be this way in 2010.

The Fallacy of Getting Brexit Done will come back to bite Johnson or voters!

If you had pushed me to try and predict what the UK would look like in 2020 – remember all those catchy 2020 vision events you have been to – I woulnd’t have predicted what we are about to suffer.

In this article by John Rentoul it sums up nicely the key moments that shaped how we got into this terrible mess. When I lost my seat in 2010 Europe wasn’t even in the top 10 list of issues identified by voters. Yet the decade has finished being dominated by this divisive issue. And it isn’t over. The false claim of Getting Brexit Done by 31st January is of course another of those bumper sticker meaningless slogans. There is plenty of Brexit and its damaging conseuences still to come.

I don’t really have time to summarise the last decade any better than many of your favourite journalists and writers. And I would love to hear of your favourite and most depressing moments!

But I have been reflecting in conversations recently just how history can be defined by the small moments and marginal decisions, not some great masterplan. In my own alternative world Labour lost the 2010 election but sensibly elected David Miliband as leader of the Oppostition. The Party then didn’t spend the next decade telling voters how rubbish it thought the Labour government had been! We would still have had a Tory/Lib Dem coalition in 2010 but I don’t believe Cameron would then have won a small majority in 2015. No Tory majority, no ridiculous referendum and a wasted decade ahead delaing with the wrong problem for our decaying country – Austerity not Brussels.

There would have been no opportunity or reason for Labour to have lurched to the disasterous Corbyn period, which as we know led to the loss of hundreds of councillors in the various local elections and MEPs in the European elections and finally a General Electoin humiliation in 2019 to one of the least liked Prime Ministers in modern times. Labour ends the decade of opposition weaker and humiliated than when we lost in 2010. I will be writing lots about what we need to do next to recover all that lost ground, but only if we look like we are interested in fighting (See below)

In this alternative world nobody has heard of Brexit. The second coalition government of 2015 was about to head into the 2020 election (as part of the Fixed term Parliament Act) with Cameron having handed over to the unpopular architect of Austerity George Osborne and Labour under Yvette Cooper are 15% ahead in the polls.

Sadly none of this happened because of a small series of mistakes and plenty of political hubris. We have been devoid of genuine good political leadership for the last decade. Cameron will go down as one of the worst Prime Ministers of our time, closely followed by May. Both Miliband and Corbyn will be seen as abject failures for Labour.

So for 2020 I am not making any predictions about the next 12 months never mind the next decade. I am personally fortunate that I am now ‘retired’ and I could choose to disappear and just ‘enjoy’ life as one of the baby boomers generation. But I can’t sit back. I have always been driven to leave the world in a better place than I found it. I fear for the next decade as much as I feared for my future as a teenager growing up with the Cold War.

That’s why I am so concerend about the state of the Labour Party in these blogs. Without a decent opposition focused on winning the next election this country is at the mercy of a Tory Party dominated by the Faragist Right and a Cummings world view. It is not a pleasant prospect. So I will be acting practically on what I can do to help shape things in Leicestershire in my voluntary roles in things like the LLEP and Sports bodies, but along with others I will be advocating for a progressive alternative and a healthy Labour Party to hold the government to account. Fortunately we won’t have long to wait to know if Labour is serious about wanting to form another government all too soon. The Leadership election will tell us what sort of Party it has become. For me if it is a coninuity Corbyn candidate then I believe we will have taken the decsision to be a pressure group and not a viable government in waiting.

January 2020 will set the tone for the next decade with Brexit and Johson setting out his store on Brexit and whether he is a one Nation Tory or not.. It does feel a different era and country to that wonderful Summer of 2012. But as we have seen from the last ten years there is nothing we can predict about 2030 with any certainty.

I’d love for readers to stick their necks out and have a go at predicting where we will be in 2025 and 2030. Any takers?

I have taken my own advice from my last Blog and taken time over the last week to reflect, research and listen and not write! Clearly despite the call for people not to rush to judgement most couldn’t resist the temptation and have taken to social media to ‘explain’ why their faction is right about the #GE2019 result.

These blogs will continue to reflect on a future for the Labour Party as these are the politics I know best. Specifically from the perspective of a marginal middle england seat. My own SajeImpact assessments about the performance of the new Tory Government will switch our work site – http://www.sajeimpact.com or on things sports related at http://www.sportsthinktank.com

I have captured a personal series of articles and blogs which I will link on this site in the New Year, which I have found most useful. As one of the disciplines I have tried to master is listening to those I disagree with, I have tried really hard to get outside of my bubble or echo chamber. Fortunately ’offline’ this is quite easy as plenty of people still stop and talk politics – whether I want to or not. It goes with the territory. But online it has meant following some threads I would normally avoid. I have had to delve into the online Corbynista world. I have had to maintain a sense of humour with these! On the other side I have been reading lots more from ‘Blue Labour’ writers. I have discovered the further ‘Right’ I go the more uncomfortableI feel. I have gone wider and further than normal, and with an open mind. It has been difficult at times, but that is necessary.

But there are themes that need unpicking to explain the GE2019- Corbyn, leadership, Culture wars, the end of ‘its the colony stupid’ Brexit, New Labour, the ‘Red Wall’ and how it fell, how to win back lost seats and build a majority in seats like Loughborough which will still need to be won at some stage in the future. There is also now lots fo analysis available about who voted and how. We know the biggest divides are now age, gender, Race, and education levels not class. This has massive implications for the future of any party. It is no longer the economy stupid!

In my normal work I get organisations to think strategically and for the long term. I will apply this experience to the work the Labour Party needs to do. Sadly it doesn’t do this well! And this is not about looking backwards to how we won in 1997. The world has changed and it is about building a new coalition of voters for 2024 or 2029.

Over the last six months I have found some great bloggers and ‘experts’ worth following. And I have muted others like Owen Jones and Bastani on the Corbyn left who are just jokes.

There are plenty of people I would recommend you follow to get some balanced perspectives and none more so than formally local lad Matt Singh on twitter

Check out Matt Singh on Twitter.
Pollster, election analyst, founder of Number Cruncher Analytics (@NCPoliticsUK|@NCPoliticsEU|@NCSpo). Travel, sports (volleyball, F1), Alsace wine. Own views.

In the New Year I will continue to pause and reflect on these pages. In January I hope there will be a natural flow to my thought process. And of course we will be in the battle for the Leadership of the Labour Party.

First I will help understand how we got to 12th December 2019. Second reflect on what this means for the politics in the UK for the 2020s and then third how should Labour react. Unfortunately Labour’s first act will be to quickly find a leader who can do all three parts of this thinking and analysis AND Lead. And all by March. It’s why I haven’t said anything yet or backed a candidate. It’s all too much and too quick. We probably need an interim leader to see us through and another to lead to victory. They are probably two coiffure the jobs.

I will do that after proper reflection. I know who I won’t be backing though and that is any body who is continuity Corbyn.

But as I promised myself I would reflect first and then start to explain. Today is not the day for the lengthy blog. Today is the day to wish regular readers a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year. It’s going to be another roller coaster of a ride in 2020.

At the same time as everybody is calling for the Party to pause, reflect and listen before rushing to replace the failed Corbyn leadership the starting gun has been fired by some of the possible contenders and their outriders for the Leadership of the Party. This is completely the wrong way round.

The Scale of the Fight Ahead

My heart sinks as I read the internal local Labour Party Facebook posts about the leadership election ahead. We have just come off the worst election defeat since 1935 and already people are falling into their differing camps based on some vague ideological difference or who they ‘like’ the look of. There is a big task ahead that needs a time to pause and reflect.

Face Up to Why We Lost

There are two things we need to do before even starting to think who should replace Corbyn. First we need to have the honest debate about why we lost. Whilst there will be a multitude of smaller issues that stack up against Labour we can see form the evidence already gathered that it was Corbyn, the Brexit position (losing both Leave and Remain votes) , the Manifesto (whilst some individual policeis may have been ‘popular’ the total lack of understanding of politics continually astounds me from those on the Left) and the shambolic campaign. Throw in anti-semitism and you have a heady mix of reasons not to vote Labour for many of our supporters.

I am sure as I return to further analysis we can add more reason and in a lot more detail, but this is the essence of why we lost. Those voters who deserted us (and many who held their noses and still voted Labour as the least worst alternative) couldn’t abide Corbyn personally or what he stood for. It wasn’t the MSM or billionaires and suggesting people were duped is insulting to them. Corbyn was toxic.

Before we decide what comes next we need to understand what went wrong and furthermore how we build the coaltion of support needed to win a Labour majority. Just winning back the Midlands and north won’t be enough. Once again seats like Loughborough are inthe mix but now with a 7100 majority! Looking at this list of seats compiled by the Fabians shows the size of the task and the mix of seats needed in 2024. So simply chasing either the ‘working class’ vote or University Towns won’t cut it. We need somebody who understands what it takes to win across our current base plus these seats listed below.

Leadership Qualities Required

Second and equally as important is we have to decide the skill set required to be leader of the Labour Party (part 1) and then in (Part 2) how to look and sound like a potential Prime Minister. Most of the names I have seen promoted already barely cover part 1… never mind getting anywhere near being ready for stage 2. To be fair sometimes the office can help grow an individual into looking Prime Ministerial. Sadly even making Corbyn wear a dark suit and tie never achieved this. But it goes beyond just looking the part. When I see the names mentioned to date I fear for the quailty of the debate ahead. Where are all the heavyweights with experience?

The mistake being made is Party members basing their decisions on those who they ‘like’ or think have done a reasonable job on Newsnight once or twice. This is what blinded many of them to the Corbyn disaster. Not enough listened to the evidence of what they were being told and what they MUST have heard on the doorstep. We warned them but were all just dismissed. Whilst the next leader must have respect within the Party their popularity outside is much more inportant. If you don’t believe this you are turning the Party into an ideological sect again (from all wings) whilst its primary purpose must be to win elections and put into practise its plans and policies.

Not Rushing to a Decision

So I will not be rushing to make any decision about who to support. I know who I won’t be voting for. Anybody who denies the reasons I have given above for our defeat. If they just parrot the Momentum line and want a repeat of Corbynism but just without Jeremy we will be making the same mistake again.

So for those who are NOT Party members or usually massively into supporting the Labour Party and who may have not voted for us last week who would you suport out of the names mentioned already? Your opinions are the ones we need to hear. Not the Faithful.

Keir Starmer, Angela Rayner, Rebecca Long-Bailey, Jess Phillips, Lisa nandy, Yvette Cooper, Emily Thornberry, Clive Lewis, Dan Jarvis, Jon Ashworth?

If none of these make your top 2-3 who else not currently being mentioned should throw their hat in the ring? And more importantly why?

At this stage I don’t really care what Labour Party members think. They have shown in recent times a lack of election winning judgement on these matters. Let’s be smart and listen first and then decide? How radical would that be! Picking an election winner.

Corbyn Should Resign Now

And finally I think there is nothing to be gained by Corby hanging around until next March. His presence will just be embarrasing in the New Year. Any interim leader who can genuinely oversee a review of the lost election and can add some much needed crediblity to the party would be far more welcome. Both Harriet Harman and Margaret Beckett did fine jobs when they deputised before. It doesn’t have to be them clearly but we have enough experience to put Corbyn on the back benches where he has always belonged.

Like many political progressive observers I felt angry and disillusioned on Friday morning and took to social media to point out where I thought the blame lay – Corbyn, Brexit and an inept Labour campaign.

Although I knew all these were massive problems for Labour and called them out during the election in these articles I didn’t see the massive Tory majority coming. By the time we got near to Polling day I had them down in my mind for a 20+ majority territory. Sadly the Polls got it largely right.

I don’t like to rush to judgement normally but I had seen that the Corbyn outriders had already gone into overdrive as soon as the Exit Poll was announced trying to frame this disastrous result being solely down to Brexit and nothing to do with their beloved Leader. I think a little silence from the usual suspects like Owen Jones would be helpful! But I get why they were doing it. Their entire project could and should fail with this Poll disaster but they want to fight a rearguard action. A little humility from them wouldn’t go amiss. I haven’t heard much contrition from Corbyn – just his usual moaning about the Media.

But then over the last 36 hours I decided it was necessary to slow down and reflect and in a much deeper way. Yes Corbyn was the disaster I expected of him from the start and yes Brexit and Labour’s Position was another major factor. Yes the wish list manifesto with its wild spending spree was a further factor alongside the campaign that had no focus. ( I will return to the book – Don’t Think of An Elephant again and again!) But. And it is a big BUT. There are numerous and long standing trends that also underpin this defeat and not all the fault of Corbyn & Momentum. They are the same issues that helped us end up with a Leave vote in 2016 in many of our so called heartland seats. Politics and the economy isn’t working for so many voters across the country and particularly in the seats represented by the heavy losses on Friday morning. Post-industrial society has created too many losers and their needs have not been met. They took this out on Europe but in reality this is a domestic failing.

So I have started to read analysis from across the political spectrum. One of the biggest problems in this election has been more and more people bouncing around in their own echo chambers hearing only what they want to. I regularly drop into the Loughborough Labour Party Facebook group. It might be great therapy but my eyes just roll as I see more of the same half truths being peddled as truth. I gave up trying to be helpful and commenting a couple of years ago because of being shouted down and abused. The ears were closed to anything that looked like criticism of the beloved leader. Many of us just went quiet and others left the Party. But social media growth has just increased our selective hearing.

I always recommend people to read writers and articles they don’t agree with in all walks of life, not just politics. I always used to read the Daily Mail as an MP because I needed to understand their vile politics, and more importantly how voters were seeing the world. It was invaluable to see the alternate world views that I didn’t agree with but had to understand. The same is true now. I read a wide range of political views across the spectrum. I don’t have to agree but I need to see where people are coming from.

For example under the title Is This the End of Labour this short essay from Blue Labour makes uncomfortable reading. I have never been a proponent of the Blue Labour approach, but there are strong elements of this thinking that need to be understood. I have long argued with many of my middle class labour friends that they have to understand the patriotism of our traditional working class vote, not sneer at it. This is why so many of them disliked Corbyn. Many metropolitan liberal Labour (like myself) find this hard to grasp. But until they do we won’t be able to win back these voters. It is one of many things the Corbyn leadership team of his public schooled advisors don’t get.

There will be much more to be said over the coming days and weeks. That’s why I had already joined the Fabians and will look to be part of much wider political discussions in this next phase of my life!

Listening Comes First

But first there has to be much more listening. I intend to spend much more time getting further away from my own bubble (although to be fair I have wide network of bubbles – sport, politics, faith, work and some surprisingly good social mix with them all!) I’d like to spend the next 12 months revisiting parts of my old Loughboough constituency and just listening to people, their hopes and dreams and fears about their futures. No agenda. Just listening. The place has changed dramatically since 1997. For too many its not been for the better.

Not Just Shouting from the Sidelines

As we are probably stuck with a Tory government for at least the next 5 years then I will be committing myself to making the best of what will come our way into our local communities from government. I will call out injustice and inequality and campaign for an alternative progressive future. But in the meantime I will help practically with local projects and on building our local economy through my LLEP role and in building a stronger local economy in the face of Brexit.

The Next Labour Leader?

Quite rightly people are curious about who should lead Labour into the next General Election. I think this is the wrong question at this time. One of the problems with 2015 and 2017 is the Party didn’t properly reflect on how and why it lost. In fact so many Corbyniyes still seem to think we won 2017 so they never even wanted to hear about learning from failure! Hopefully this time they will listen. But rushing to pick a leader before understanding the deep structural problems Labour has and what the path to victory looks like would be a massive mistake. It’s also the case that at present none of the names mentioned fill me with any excitement about their leadership qualities and their ability to reach out into the country to form the electoral coalition you need to build to get 350 seats in 2024. So I will return to this when there is formally a list of candidates.

It may only be 1am on Election night and we have only had a handful of results but the exit poll and these early results are a disaster for the Labour Party. The final figure may not be quite as bad as these headlines but it will be a substantial Tory win. At a time that any half decent Labour Opposition would expect to WIN.

Anybody who knows me will understand my despair at the state of the Party since Corbyn and his machinery took over after 2015. I predicted the voters would reject Corbynism and they have at this election in dramatic fashion.

As the media have already reported the battle for the future of the Party direction has started. I kept my membership so that I could be part of this battle! It is too early on election night to describe exactly what this looks like for me. But I still feel as strongly as I did about the need for a progressive agenda for our country and a viable social democrat government that can build a very different and more equal society. We did it before and we can do it again. I don’t have the answers tonight, but I know it is a future without Corbyn and his supporters.

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