Can Labour win? Is St Jeremy on his way to Number 10?

If I was to believe my Twitter bubble over the past few days I’d be thinking something astonishing was about to happen. Labour tribalists are all aquiver. Jaded, dispassionate cynics are waking up and smelling the coffee. Even the BBC’s correspondents, having casually written Corbyn’s Labour off weeks ago, are forced to admit things are getting closer. Too close for Tory HQ, where the apparatchiks are giving headless chickens a run for their money as they press the panic button. Can Labour really pull off the biggest election shock since 1945?

The answer is still a short and simple no.

In 1945 there was no polling. Even though the polls got it badly wrong in 2015 (understating the Tory vote note) they can’t be that wrong. Its true there’s been a dramatic shift since the local elections, and more particularly since the Tory manifesto was launched. The Tory lead has been almost halved, from overwhelming to merely comfortable. Most of the change came in the week after the 18th, when there was a small fall in the Tory ratings but a larger rise in Labour’s.

The average of ICM, YouGov, Opinium and ORB polling

It seems that those who were don’t knows but previous Labour voters at the beginning of the campaign have now overcome their qualms and are swinging back behind Labour. Previous Ukip voters, although still heavily Tory, are slightly more likely now to return to Labour. At the same time Corbyn’s strategy seems to be enthusing younger voters, where Labour support is consolidating.

Policy is less important as an attractor or repellent than image. The superficiality of the Tory reliance on parroting ‘strong and stable’ and contrasting May with Corbyn hasn’t worked. Even through the distorting mirror of the media, people can spot May’s flip-flopping over care for the elderly. She just doesn’t come over as ‘strong and stable’, proving that marketing myths have to have some credible core in order to work.

Tory panic is now displayed in their strategy for the remaining days. All they can come up with is a renewed attack on Corbyn while ratcheting up the abuse. They’re now using their tame press to imply he supports terrorists, re-running the British state’s war with the IRA and ridiculing his personal qualities. The aim is not to convince waverers so much as shore up the Tory vote and prevent further defections. This is a high-risk strategy as it depends on ensuring the same questions aren’t asked of Theresa May.

The key polls come this weekend when we’ll know whether the gap continued to close this week. At present the few polls published with fieldwork since the 25th suggest it’s stabilising. In order to win however, Labour needs, both this week and next, to gain support as it did last week. This is unlikely as it nears its historic recent peak. (Last week it was five points higher than Miliband’s score in 2015).

Therefore, it now depends on the Tory vote slipping. But here Labour faces a long-term problem in the proportion of over-65s who intend to vote Tory. A solid 60% or so of pensioners are sticking stubbornly with the Tories. This lump remains unmoved by May’s U-turns, more expensive social care, the collapse of the NHS and the promised end to safeguarding their pensions, having done relatively well out of recent Tory Governments. Thirty years of neo-liberal conditioning, relentless authoritarian British nationalist brainwashing and the lack of an alternative have done their work well and produced a politics of deference and a collective resignation that results in a perhaps wearisome but nonetheless dutiful Conservative cross on the ballot paper.

Labour’s only chance lies in previous non-voters confounding the pollsters and turning out to vote in larger numbers. Or in tactical voting.

A three or four week election campaign is hardly enough time to convince the poor and dispossessed to stop voting against their own interests. Or to persuade them to give up their cynicism about a political class (Tory, Labour and Lib Dem) that has royally stuffed them for the best part of 40 years. It’s going to take more than the patience of St Jeremy when being savaged by Oxbridge-trained journos to overturn that. Why should they believe that Labour has suddenly changed its spots and offers a credible alternative? Indeed, if the polls can be believed, non-voters in 2015 are as likely to be intending to vote Tory now as Labour.

As for tactical voting, this will only have a marginal impact of a few thousand votes in a handful of constituencies in the absence of any encouragement from the Labour and Lib Dem party leaderships.

Things might have been different. There’s a lot of what ifs floating around. Such as …

  • What if the parliamentary Labour Party had united behind Corbyn last year instead of using the Brexit vote to stab him in the back?
  • What if Labour could have become less arrogant and tribalist, able to move into the twenty-first century and recognise the need for a new politics, one more open to other forces?
  • What if Labour had embraced proportional representation?

But it hasn’t. So it won’t (win, that is). And of course, had it done these things Theresa May would never have been advised to call an election in the first place.

Fair voting – what do the parties say?

If the anti-Tory parties were serious about getting rid of the Tories then surely they would prioritise getting rid of a first past the post system that guarantees the Conservatives healthy majorities on well under half the votes cast. This method, devised for a straightforward two-party system, has long outgrown its usefulness and now merely serves to prevent the incursion into the political mainstream of much-needed alternatives.

Moreover, nobody knows how it’s supposed to work. Apparently, it’s actually all about ‘tactical’ voting. So you have to decide which candidate you dislike the least in order to get rid of the one you hate the most, if your actual preference is unlikely to win. Then you have to decide whether your dislike of the candidate you don’t want to win is sufficient to overcome any qualms about voting for your second choice. Although you must then calculate whether that second choice is really in with a chance of winning. If not, maybe you’d be better to vote for a third choice, but only if you detest a fourth candidate enough to do that. Finally, you have to ponder the implications of helping your originally preferred choice obtain a miserable vote, thus allowing others to belittle and ignore the ideals you hold dear for another four or five years.

It’s all so damn complicated. Far simpler to follow the vast majority of the democratic world and institute a fair voting system where every vote counts and none is ‘wasted’. However, there’s little sign of enthusiasm for that in the manifestos of two of the old centralist parties. The Tories bizarrely want to extend FPTP, doing away with the alternative vote used for mayoral elections. The other conservative party – Labour – makes no mention of PR at all.

Imagine what this diagram would look like if it was Cornwall, not England!

The Lib Dems do include a pledge to introduce ‘fair voting’ and specifically the single transferable vote. But, stuck on page 89 of 95, it hardly seems to be a top priority. And of course, Lib Dems had the chance not that many years ago when they were part of the coalition government and spectacularly blew it. They could then have demanded STV for local elections, as in Scotland, as part of a deal with the Tories, allowing the latter to gerrymander Westminster constituencies. Given that no-one in Parliament cares a fig about local government this might well have had more traction than a pathetic referendum on the alternative vote, plainly chosen to maximise Lib Dem party gains.

The other parties – Greens and UKIP – are both in favour of PR, possibly again for selfish party reasons. Ukip’s suggestion of replacing the House of Lords with an English Parliament elected via the additional member system as in Scotland and Wales, with a UK-wide slimmed down House of Commons elected by PR is actually remarkably innovative and co-exists uneasily with the bulk of its back to the future programme.

When the fish, tin and MK have gone, what is the Cornish nationalist to do?

Manifestos are part of the hallowed ritual of general elections. The media report them, pundits pontificate and nerds (like me) might niggle, but for the vast majority they’re irrelevant, a far away country of which they know little. Moreover, if predictions of a comfortable Tory majority pan out, they seemingly care less. But as a public service let’s dive into the pullulating pit of platitudes that make up the party manifestos and see what they might say about one or two key issues. It’s a filthy job but someone has to do it.

First off, what do they offer the homeless Cornish nationalist?

Forward, you peasants, for our prosperous plutocracy

The Tories laud ‘our precious union’, but betray a serious problem of innumeracy as they go on to say ‘one nation made of four’. Recognising the Cornish as the fifth nation of these islands in 2014 was just a bad dream that’s thankfully been erased from their collective memory. Nonetheless, they’re in favour of devolving power ‘to improve local government’. This extends to giving ‘local government greater control over the money they raise’ (while reducing the money they get and directing lots of other money to unaccountable quangos such as the Local Enterprise Partnerships).

But never let a few inconvenient facts get in the way of a vague promise. The Tories live in their own strange, topsy-turvy universe. This is a place where saying things often enough is the same as actually doing them. When we look at the actual votes of our six, sad Tory MPs, working hard for hard-working folk, we find a very consistent record of voting against handing down more powers and resources to local government, as the West Briton has pointed out in some detail.

Turning to another traditionally centralist party, Labour promises it will set up a convention to consider the option of a ‘more federalised country’. If that looks a little too bland to get the towns and villages of Cornwall ablaze with enthusiasm, the priority they give this, which appears on page 102 of their (admittedly very long) manifesto, isn’t high. The only concrete policy they offer is to ‘restore regional offices’. Will someone please tell them this means re-centralization, not de-centralization, when viewed from Cornwall? Labour is careful to use the formula the ‘regions and nations of the UK’, but, as they ignore Cornwall, it’s not clear which, if either, they consider us to be.

It’s the good old Lib Dems, with Cornwall ‘sort of’ coursing through their veins according to the late Nick Clegg, who daringly utter the word Cornwall in their manifesto. Cornwall pops up as an example of a promise of devolution of revenue-raising powers to regions on page 44. The Lib Dems’ ‘devolution on demand’ is part of a rather quaint package of ‘home rule all round’, harking back to the days of Gladstone. The seriousness of this nostalgic offer remains in doubt however, when we read that they intend ‘greater devolution of powers to councils or groups of councils working together, for example to a Cornish Assembly or a Yorkshire Parliament’. This curious wording reads as if they’re still equating Cornwall Council with a Cornish Assembly. It suggests they still haven’t learnt the difference between devolving powers to an unfit for purpose local authority and creating the new institutions that will help to reinvigorate democracy in Cornwall.

Not surprisingly, Ukip doesn’t mention Cornwall by name either. ‘Our nation’ crops up 11 times but then we read of a promise of ‘a fair deal for all four [sic] nations’ which are to have ‘broadly similar devolved powers’. In Ukip’s utopia Cornwall will therefore be trapped in England. As England’s first colony, any Cornish claims to self-determination are likely to receive even shorter shrift there than within a multi-national UK. Meanwhile, the Green Party’s ‘Green Guarantee’ makes no explicit mention of devolution. Perhaps they think their commitment to localism covers the point.

Confessions of a bored psephologist

Is it just me, or is this general election the most tedious on record? Perhaps I’m getting jaded. Maybe the meaningless of the electoral ritual, after which the government always wins, is finally getting to me. But it’s proving difficult to get enthused, or even engaged.

Two weeks before polling day and we’ve had just one leaflet through the door from our complacent Tory MP, grinning like a Cheshire cat at the prospect of an easy return. Things on the streets seem eerily subdued, as if the people are sheep-walking to the inevitable Tory victory. Switch on the TV news and all we find is the BBC transformed into an extended Conservative Party Political Broadcast, wheeling out any old right-wing Labour has-been to fill a spare slot to have a go at that evil softie Corbyn.

As the BBC subtly hammers home the implicit contrast with the ‘strong and stable’ prime ministerial quality of the TMaybot, the only thing of interest left is how big a majority it’ll be. Will it qualify as a landslide? Will Labour survive? Will Tony Blair rise from the dead to reinforce belief in globalisation and greed?

On the right ex-Ukip voters appear stubbornly determined to punish Theresa May by ensuring she sees out the brexit negotiations and ultimately becomes the most reviled British prime minister ever. ‘Strong and stable’ fools nobody but the starry-eyed forelock-tugger.

Meanwhile, in the centre, as the likelihood of a Tory Government passes beyond inevitable, political discourse goes little further than a near hysterical call to the faithful to vote ‘tactically’. No matter whether it makes little psephological sense and ignores the numbers. No matter who the candidates are. No matter if it’s a blatant cover for tribalism or not. Just ‘stop the Tory’! I said ‘STOP THE TORY’!!

In Cornwall things are even more febrile. The number of candidates in this election is – at an average of four per constituency – the lowest since 1987. Furthermore, it’s easily the lowest of all the nations of the UK. In two constituencies the choice is confined just to the three old Westminster parties. Somehow, I can’t get that riveted by the prospect of a return to the 1950s and the politics of nostalgic deference. We seem to be drifting hopelessly towards a Gilbert and Sullivanesque political mind-set where

‘every boy and every gal
That’s born into the world alive
Is either a little Liberal
Or else a little Conservative!’

It’s just getting altogether too weird. Recently we saw the Tories win the Cornwall Council elections, gaining 15 seats in the process. But then the same old coalition of incompetents as before – Lib Dems and Independents – end up in theoretical control of the Council, despite losing a combined seven councillors. The winners came second and third, the losers came first. Can we hope the general election gives us the same result please?

Corbyn’s crew enter Cornish lists: Labour candidates named

In a brilliant bit of timing and a blaze fizzle of publicity, the Labour Party quietly announced its ‘Cornwall’ general election candidates a week ago. This was just as the TMaybot’s team descended on Cornwall to bark ‘strong and stable’ as much as they could at the travelling media circus while locking local reporters in a small room. Only a few days later Labour’s announcement wasn’t exactly front page news in the press on the day of the local elections. Perhaps it was in the ‘volunteers wanted’ section.

So who are the horny-handed sons and daughters of toil who will lead the ‘Cornwall’ masses to the sunny uplands of Corbynia, a curious mixture of the 1970s and 1940s, a place where everyone is friendly and smile at each other all day while earnestly not making up their minds about Brexit.

Anyone volunteering to be Labour candidate in the two eastern constituencies must have a strong death wish. North Cornwall is the most torrid territory for Labour, which just managed to save its deposit there in 2015. Their candidate this time is Joy Bassett, an Anglican lay minister in Bodmin who works at the family’s solicitors’ firm. She’ll be trying not to get squeezed by the Lib Dems (an awful fate at the best of times.)

The young Labour candidate in South East Cornwall made news last time around by disappearing on holiday with his mum halfway through the campaign. Traditionally, Labour in South East Cornwall has turned to Plymouth as a useful store of potential candidates and this time is no exception. Their more credible candidate comes in the shape of 59 year old Gareth Derrick who lives in Ivybridge. You may remember – well, you probably won’t – that he was Labour’s candidate in the Police and Crime Commissioner elections in 2016.

Gareth’s experience of 36 years in the Royal Navy, where he ended up as a commander, and a subsequent business background in management consultancy, defence contracting and a ‘development’ company should enable him to stand up well to Sheryll Murray, if he gets the chance. Labour in South East Cornwall are actually only 4,000 votes behind the Lib Dems, who have looked on helplessly as the social basis of Liberalism in the constituency – the chapel and the Cornish working class – has disintegrated. The area has suffered large-scale gentrification, which has transformed it into a safe Tory seat.

In St Austell & Newquay and in St Ives, Labour also came fourth in 2015 and with very similar proportions of the vote – 9-10% – as in the South East. Kevin Neil in St Austell & Newquay is described as a ‘former resident’ who’s been back working in Cornwall since 2016. Kevin believes in democratic socialism and is working with Momentum trying to introduce such ideas to the Parliamentary Labour Party.

In St Ives Labour has chosen Chris Drew, a Cornish born and bred community worker and scion of a well-known Penzance family. Chris says he will offer a ‘real alternative’. It’ll be interesting however to see how much effort Labour puts into this seat, in the face of Lib Dem Andrew George’s desperate pleas for a ‘progressive alliance’. There are still 4,500 Labour votes up for grabs and George needs as many of those as possible to stand any chance at all against the fundamentalist-Brexit margins of Cornish politics.

Labour’s best two performances in 2015 came in Truro & Falmouth, where they scored 15% and almost beat the Lib Dems into second place, and Camborne and Redruth, where they did beat the Lib Dems (into fourth place) and got 25% of the vote. In Truro & Falmouth Jayne Kirkham is their candidate. She moved to Falmouth in 2006 and is a Labour member because she ‘believes in equality’. For her sake, let’s hope there are some redistributive policies with real teeth in their manifesto then.

Camborne and Redruth is Labour’s only realistic hope, but it’s still a very slim one. Trailing George Eustice by 7,000 votes in 2015, they need to ruthlessly squeeze every last Lib Dem vote, given the 7,000 Ukip voters who will, it’s reliably reported, have no Ukip candidate to vote for and will turn like sheep to what they think is a ‘strong and stable’ sheepdog but which turns out to be a ravenous wolf that’ll eat them alive.

Labour’s candidate has to be an improvement on Michael Foster, who they cruelly inflicted on the long-suffering local citizenry last time. This time they’re putting up a local resident who, to my knowledge, doesn’t have a second home. Graham Winter works as a senior advisor in waste management, a useful training for the House of Commons one might have thought. Born in Barnsley, he moved to Camborne in 2005 and is involved in various local activities.

Postscript: the Liberal Democrats in Camborne and Redruth are still keeping the identity of their candidate under wraps, while their websites seem to have been last updated in 2010. Here’s a suggestion for them – save your money and don’t bother.

Reports of death of ‘progressive’ alliance in Cornwall greatly exaggerated?

This morning confusion surrounds the whereabouts of the ‘progressive’ alliance floated for St Ives constituency in the general election. Last Saturday it was revealed that Green Party members meeting at Redruth had decided to stand a candidate in St Ives, thus dealing a cruel blow to those who’d been hoping for a ‘progressive’ alliance. The news was broke by Milo Perrin of Cornish Stuff.

No source was given, although a quote from Tim Andrewes, the Greens’ sole Cornwall Councillor, that he was not putting himself forward, implied that the story was based on a Green Party source. However, there was no actual Green Party news release or, indeed, any kind of official comment, just an uncorroborated facebook account of a secret meeting between unknown Lib Dem, Green and Labour participants last Tuesday at which agreement was not reached.

Since Saturday morning, after a predictable outburst of spleen from Lib Dem supporters in St Ives, things have been surprisingly quiet on social media about this purported development. Nothing seems to have appeared in the old, anti-social media either. We remain in the dark as to what may have happened to change Green Party minds since this appeared on the Progressive Alliance for Cornwall website on Thursday, the 20th.

It’s fair to say the supposed decision also came as a surprise to Green Party members themselves, judging by comments on the West Cornwall Green Party facebook page, which were not exactly favourable about the decision to stand.

More interestingly, Jacqueline Merrick, Green council candidate in Camborne, rather cryptically stated on that site on Saturday evening ‘stop jumping to conclusions, please’. Last night Amanda Pennington, Green candidate for Truro & Falmouth, followed that up by tweeting ‘nothing decided yet’. An official Green Party statement on who stands where will follow the local elections.

So was Saturday’s report fake news? Were the Greens bluffing? Or have they blinked and changed their minds in the face of a generally hostile reaction? Perhaps, just perhaps, electoral pacts in Cornwall shouldn’t be written off just yet. Perhaps also, more open discussion and fewer secretive meetings might be a good idea.

Will 2017 be 1931? Or 1974?

The Prime Minister made an ‘appeal to the nation’. ‘It is essential that the nation’s support of Government policy is placed beyond the shadow of a doubt … An election, of the result of which there must be no uncertainty, is also necessary to demonstrate to the whole world the determination of the British people to stand by each other in times of national difficulty’.

Sound familiar? The appeal for unity? The strident British nationalism? The confident expectation of victory? But it wasn’t Theresa May. The words were those of Ramsay MacDonald, leading a hastily assembled Government dominated by Conservatives into the 1931 election.

The Tories went on to win 471 of the 615 seats, leaving Labour with a pitiful 46 (plus six Independent Labour). It was the biggest landslide in British history. Theresa May and her advisers are no doubt dreaming of something similar, if not quite that spectacular. After all, there are some analogies. A snap election, the context of austerity politics, attacks on the living standards of the poorest and a Labour Party in Parliament at loggerheads with its own Leader.

So can we expect a re-run of 1931?

Or will it be more like the last snap election, which occurred in February 1974? Ted Heath, confronted by the miners, called an early election to establish who ruled the country – the government or the unions. But his call for national unity fell flat, as voters informed Heath that whoever ruled ‘the country’, it wasn’t him.

The Times reports the 1974 election

That election turned out to be a disaster for the Tories. They lost their majority and saw their poll percentage slide from 46% in 1970 to 38%. They also ended up with fewer seats than Labour (although with more votes!) The big gainers were third parties. In Scotland and Wales sufficient voters demanded their countries back to propel seven SNP and two Plaid MPs into Parliament. In England the beneficiaries were the Liberals, whose vote tripled to six million or 19% of the total.

So can we expect a re-run of 1974?

Although there are some similarities – economic uncertainty (caused by inflation in 1974, Brexit in 2017), a confident Scottish nationalism, political tension in northern Ireland and an unpredictable international context – there are also differences. The Labour Party was more united in 1974. The unions retained their social base. There was no far right populism and the Liberals had been riding high in the polls.

Moreover, before any Lib Dems get carried away by the analogy of 1974, their 19% vote share only gave them 14 seats. Given their refusal to countenance any talk of ‘progressive’ alliances and continuing dalliance with the Tories it could be a similar story this time around.