Brexit and Labour’s Spat: Everything That’s Wrong with The Independent Group

Yves here. The implications of the defection of seven Labour Party members over their distaste for Jeremy Corbyn go beyond Brexit, which means it’s over my pay grade. Nevertheless, the fact that no one from the Tories joined them and that the UK already has a perfectly good centrist party, the Lib Dems, that have been hemorrhaging Parliament seats suggests that this exodus is more of a blow, or perhaps only a dent, to Labour than the start of a grand new enterprise.

Even though readers had an extended discussion about the departures, the press has had another day to chew on its, and media reactions can both amplify and dampen political maneuvering.

Now admittedly some Tories may join; the BBC reported last night that two were considering it; the Telegraph claims it could be as many as five. The most likely names are People’s vote backer Anna Soubry, who is also a buddy of  Chuka Umunna, and Antoinette Sandbach

Even, so, this mini-revolt does damage Corbyn. Barnier had urged May to work with Corbyn on his “customs union” idea, which we pointed out, didn’t solve the problems it has been billed as solving (the Irish border and frictionless trade). Nevertheless, some sort of cross party effort seemed like the only way to break out of May’s box. With both party leaders both looking like damaged goods, it’s even harder to map out a way to steer out of a crash out.

From Clive via e-mail:

Yeah, I cannot figure out any possible benefit for anyone other than the Conservative party. If there were to be any defectors then they would have crossed the isle today. Even if a couple of Conservative MPs sidle over in the next few weeks, they just look shifty bystanders who only put their toe in the water when others have made their move. If any Conservative MPs do join in this week, it makes no difference anyhow as they’ll have been defying the whip anyway so it doesn’t change parliamentary arithmetic.

The centre ground is already very well catered to with the Liberal Democrats who have an excellent local party structure and highly effective ground campaign ability in their stronghold English constituencies and counties (and some urban areas plus some Scotland winnable seats / local authorities). I fail to see any logic in another attempt to capture the centre ground by any new party when the centre ground is already now yesterday’s political arena with all the action happening in left / right populisms. Whatever votes the new party steal from moderate conservatives or moderate Labour voters, they’ll be merely purloined from the Liberal Democrats. Splitting the centre vote allows Conservative marginal seats to remain Conservative.

The other way this might be being played is that the new party will be a foil to Farage’s new Leave Party (don’t know the official name and am too weary to even search it lest my search engine thinks I’m actually interested in this and search is even more crapified than it already is). But I don’t get that either. There isn’t any scope for a single issue party to gain national representation in the U.K. electoral system. UKIP failed to win a single parliamentary seat even when it got 10-15% share of the vote. And in any case, what does a Party of Remain do apart from capture protest votes? Again, the Liberal Democrats fulfilled the role of the remoaner go-to party perfectly adequately. So for U.K. politics as a whole the new party is just robbing Peter to pay Paul.

And only a couple of the MPs have name checkability. And even then not for good reasons.
Chuka Umunna is another in a long, long list of former Next Leader Candidates who ended up misjudging the political mood and found themselves on the wrong side of the political spectrum. Flouncing off to form a new party ‘cos your old party doesn’t want you is always a bad look. Luciana “anything Israel does is absolutely fine by me” Berger just doesn’t want nasty old Corbyn talking about the Palestinians. I don’t know why he does either, but at least he’s a conviction politician showing his convictions. No-one really buys the endless antisemitism complaining as being anything other than scores being settled. And the Conservatives have got the Jewish vote totally and utterly sewn up anyhow.

Still, it all gives the Guardian something else to write about.

And PlutoniumKun:

The problem of course is that the UK electoral system makes it very hard to see breakaway MP’s holding on to their seats, so you will end up with two dominant parties, neither of which really represent the general public mood.  That’s not a very stable situation.

As Politico noted in its morning European newsletter:

SECOND REFERENDUM MOMENTUM? What do the resignations of seven MPs from the opposition Labour Party mean for Brexit? Charlie Cooper has the answer: “Their hope might be that polls will begin to show that the Independent’s Brexit stance is making a large number of voters think about switching from Labour — and that this will be a powerful inducement to the Labour frontbench to change course.” Given that Brexit is 39 days away today, they all better hurry up a bit.

And finally, from Richard Murphy:

By Richard Murphy, a chartered accountant and a political economist. He has been described by the Guardian newspaper as an “anti-poverty campaigner and tax expert”. He is Professor of Practice in International Political Economy at City University, London and Director of Tax Research UK. He is a non-executive director of Cambridge Econometrics. He is a member of the Progressive Economy Forum. Originally published at Tax Research UK

It is hard to say Labour split yesterday. Seven MPs did instead throw a very minor strop and the supposed Independent Group resulted.

It’s easy to tell why they are both wrong in principle, and so bound to fail. These are two of the eleven statements of principles that they issued:

  • Britain works best as a diverse, mixed social market economy, in which well-regulated private enterprise can reward aspiration and drive economic progress and where government has the responsibility to ensure the sound stewardship of taxpayer’s money and a stable, fair and balanced economy.
  • A strong economy means we can invest in our public services. We believe the collective provision of public services and the NHS can be delivered through government action, improving health and educational life chances, protecting the public, safeguarding the vulnerable, ensuring dignity at every stage of life and placing individuals at the heart of decision-making.

In the first they suggest that there is ‘taxpayer’s money’. I question where they place the apostrophe. And they are, anyway, wrong. They do not understand that a government with its own currency and central bank creates money for the country, and not the other way round. That’s a fundamental flaw.

The second paragraph suggests that the government is wholly dependent on the private sector for its ability to spend. They might as well have sent a note to the bond markets saying ‘please be generous to us’. It appears that Chris Leslie, almost certainly the most incompetent man to have ever been given the title Shadow Chancellor, has still learned nothing at all about money and macroeconomics.

This lot deserve to fail.

The UK needs a new politics. It is not getting it.

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  1. AndyGarcia

    All these 7 people have done is to make freeing the UK from this terrible Tory government and Austerity a little bit more difficult. Sure Labour is far from perfect. However, given the two-party reality, I know which I back.

    As for the Mediocre Seven they evidentially have no ethics or morals. If they truly believed in “People’s Votes” they would resign and stand as “Independents” in a by-election. They refuse to do this because they know they will lose. That leaves those who voted for the Labour manifesto and Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party now do not have an elected representative.

    A “New Kind of Politics” – my ass.

  2. larry

    Murphy’s final sentence was left out. After “The UK needs a new Politics. It is not getting it.”, Murphy writes,
    “And it won’t until we get PR.”

    1. Clive

      Oh, please, no, not that old chestnut. I simply cannot stand any more referenduming down. I don’t know who, outside of the Guardian, even thinks it is a thing. It was blown a loud and resounding raspberry in 2011

      I know there’s a widespread and possibly even justified qualm over the EU referendum’s closeness, but to be rejected by 67.9% against did, I think on any reasonable interpretation, settle the matter.

      Sorry Richard, I love you to bits, but this one is dead and buried. Even if it was to wake, zombie like, and stagger around a little, it isn’t a solution to anything.

      1. PlutoniumKun

        The fact that the electorate doesn’t want it, does not mean that its not what they need. First past the post is simply an awful system, its sole claimed virtue (providing decisive majorities) may once have been true, but is no longer true in any country its used.

        For whatever reason, England would never go for it, but I think its a certainty that Scotland would opt for some type of PR if and when they go independent.

      2. vlade

        AV is not PR. In fact, it can produce worse results than FPTP in regards of representativness. OF course, I’d have dire doubts about the UK voters understanding the difference, which may well make my point moot.

        1. hajo

          42% turnout for the AV referendum? UK voters just weren’t interested and no, they probably didn’t know the difference. Hell, I can’t even remember if I voted or not. What was the point of voting to replace one dumb system with another crippled one?

      3. larry

        For voting system alternatives, one can check with the Electoral Reform Society web site. There they list the systems used in Europe. None of them use FPTP on its own.

  3. NJ

    I mostly agree with your analysis. However, I have to say, calling the Liberal Democrats a “perfectly good party” is a bit of a stretch.

    They haven’t had competent management or even a stable platform in a century. And they misguidedly elected a hard-core Christian for their current leadership.

    The UK definitely does need a centrist party, but unless the Lib Dem’s stop behaving like a protest vote party, they won’t be it.

    1. Clive

      Keep in mind that their competition, in terms of management and leadership competence, are the Conservative and Labour parties. These are not, he says, trying not to resort to rude words, demonstrations of a high bar. So “reasonably well organised”, which I think is a fair description of the Liberal Democrats, is a definite step up from “nutty as a fruitcake” which is also a fair description of the rest of ‘em.

      I think the Liberal Democrats are suffering more from centrism’s secular stagnation and continuous blowback from their hideously misguided coalition with the Conservatives than any particular organisational failings.

      1. vlade

        I think it’s especially the blowback.

        People still remember both the Clegg-Cameron chumminess, as well as broken LD promises such as school fees and in general enabling, instead of inhibiting, Tory policies. A lot of people actually had a hope for LD/Tory coalition, believing LD would tack the Tory train to the centre, but what happened was LD was soo keen on keeping the government posts, they rarely if ever had any serious spat with Tories (I can’t remember any). Their only “win” was the AV referendum, which went down like a lead baloon.

        The next LD leader didn’t really help in fixing the image which needed a complete overhaul and a bit of a mea-culpa (which never came).

        1. Colonel Smithers

          Thank you, Vlade.

          It did not help that, perhaps, Farron was not allowed to or unwilling. He still defends Clegg without nuance.

          It was noticeable that the practising Christian was often being pestered about his views on gay marriage, but I can’t recall The Saj and The Khan being asked similar.

          1. vlade

            Your last point is true, but TBH, my feel was that he was a bit of a straight-laced Christian (I’d not call it fundamentalist), which was not a great leadership pick to start with. Not for a “Liberal” party anyways.

            1. Colonel Smithers

              Thank you, Vlade. Fair comment.

              Much of the pestering and sniping came from the Clegg cheerleaders at the Guardian and Independent.

            2. Colonel Smithers

              Speaking of Liberals, Guy Verhofstadt’s recent tweet, lauding Ciudadanos, was a timely reminder of how scummy centrists are.

              The Hof sits on the board of Sofina, a Belgian investment firm owned by some of Europe’s grandest families and investor in many privatised firms, especially those in countries pillaged by the 2008 bail-outs.

          1. vlade

            Alternative Vote. Basically, you rank your preferences on specific candidates. In theory, you can limit how many preferences you can show – FPTP is a special case of one, full AV is the special case of all.

    2. PlutoniumKun

      The Greens too, try to claim one part of the centre, but have failed to make any type of meaningful breakthrough, despite the awfulness of the alternatives.

      The Lib Dems are a funny beast – they were handicapped for years I think by being seen as a sort of catch all for eccentric types who didn’t fit in with the Tories or Labour. I think many people who saw them as a sort of cuddly bunch of well meaning moderates got a horrible shock to find out that many of them were real life ‘Liberals’ in the old style 19th Century sense when they went into coalition with the Tories.

      In many ways, I think the Lib Dems have been blockers themselves – they’ve taken the electoral space that may have been open at various times over the years for middle class centre-lefties and One Nation type Tories and moderate greens to form a party full of awfully nice people. So in an odd way, they reinforced the Tory/Labour duopoly.

      1. David

        They functioned historically as a receptacle for voters fed up with either Labour or the Tories but who could not bear to switch directly from one to the other. It used to be said that elections were lost by whichever party had the greatest number of voters defect to the Liberals (later the Liberal Democrats. I’m not sure this applies nearly as much since the Coalition.

      2. Alex Cox

        In what way are the Greens attempting to claim part of the centre? My understanding is that the Greens are an anti-capitalist party, which would presumably be considered somewhat to the left.

        On the other hand, I know a very intelligent lawyer in Cambridge who has only ever voted Tory, or Green. So perhaps a green left-right fusion is possible!

        1. PlutoniumKun

          From my experience of the Greens, they have two very distinct wings – a more radical anti-capitalist wing and a more liberal-ish hippyish social democrat with lots of solar panels type wing. Certainly, in their few strongholds, like Brighton, they tend to attract people who might be otherwise soft left Labour or Lib Dem voters, and also some soft Tory types (quite a few Greens I’ve met are quite posh).

          1. Oregoncharles

            in which country? The last reporting I saw was that the Green Party in England had moved sharply to the left; however, that was before Corbyn.

            The Irish party, OTOH, was in a coalition with a right-wing party – which destroyed it. So it’s probably more centrist, what’s left of it. But I don’t know much about Irish politics.

    3. Louis Fyne

      To quibble, IMO, centrism (aka lower-case ‘c’ conservatism aka neoliberalism) in the western world is dead.

      People want change—whether it’s a hard-right turn or a hard-left turn.

      “centrism” works when the bottom 90% sees a comfortable after-tax paycheck + some home equity + optimism for the future.

      the post-WWII economic model crossed the “event horizon” back in the 1990’s—even though it definitely didn’t feel like it. Reagan/Thatcher lit the match and kindling, Clinton/Blair tossed on the napalm.

      1. Lee

        People want change—whether it’s a hard-right turn or a hard-left turn.

        Or some combination thereof. Hypothetical future U.S. synthesis of left and right:

        The platform of the Independence Party, as well as its message, is clear and uncompromising: zero tolerance of illegal immigrants; a freeze on legal immigration from Latin America, Africa and Asia; increased tariffs on all imports; a ban on American companies moving their operations to another country or outsourcing abroad; a prohibition on “sovereign wealth funds” investing in the United States. America will withdraw from the United Nations, the World Trade Organization, the World Bank, and the International Monetary Fund; end all “involvements” in foreign countries; refuse to pay any more interest on our debt to China, essentially defaulting on it; and stop trading with China until China freely floats its currency.
        Profitable companies will be prohibited from laying off workers and cutting payrolls. The federal budget must always be balanced. The Federal Reserve will be abolished.
        Banks will be allowed only to take deposits and make loans. Investment banking will be prohibited. Anyone found to have engaged in insider trading, stock manipulation, or securities fraud will face imprisonment for no less than ten years.

        Robert Reich: 2010 Aftershock: The Next Economy and America’s Future

        1. Altandmain

          Apart from the “balanced budgets” part, that doesn’t seem so bad at all. A more left wing economic platform with a more generous social welfare state and stronger labour rights would seal the deal for me.

          Limiting military spending altogether should be added. That would help pay for the welfare state.

          Personally I could support this synthesis party. There are those on the right with populist overtones. Tucker Carlson, Steve Bannon, etc. We don’t agree with them on everything, but the point remains – they agree that the American worker has been screwed over.

      2. eg

        As a denizen of the squishy middle myself, I concur. People are voting with their feet, and it’s away from the center.

        Given the right-wing and right-wing lite ethos that has prevailed for the last 40ish years, a big step leftward is probably necessary just to get back to something approximating the middle — so be it.

  4. PlutoniumKun

    I think Corbyn has gotten away lightly with this. Splitting away from an established political party is a very delicate thing – you have to look like you are offering something genuinely new and positive to the electorate and not look like just a few disgruntled. The UK electoral system is very hard on centrist parties as the Lib Dems have historically found out. Despite most people being theoretically moderate and centrist in their views it never seems to work out that way in the polling booth. The system favours geographical concentration, not general popularity.

    My first thought on reading about the split is that something precipitated this ‘out of time’. There is no evidence of any planning, just a rushed together meeting and manifesto. First impressions really matter, and no matter how hard they try, I think they’ll struggle to overcome the notion that they are just an anti-Corbyn fringe. They will win some votes on this, but not many, and certainly not enough to be an electoral force.

    They will act as a spoiler, but on present evidence, it looks like they won’t be organised enough to ‘spoil’ more than a handful of seats. Mind you, historically UK electorates always used EU elections for ‘protest’ votes (hence UKIP success there), while returning to their party ‘homes’ for parliamentary elections. So I wouldn’t even be sure they would cost Labour more than a few seats – damaging, but not catastrophic.

  5. The Rev Kev

    From what I saw of this group, they seemed to be a bunch of dissidents that are now on course for their journey to oblivion. I doubt that there will be any long-term effects and I would guess that their defection will be shortly pushed out of the headlines as other pressing matters take their place, especially as there are only 37 days left to Brexit.
    I saw a video clip from a film last week that reminded me how much the British leadership has fallen in regards to taking every situation with a calm, cool intellect. The British were once expected to not get over-excited but to remain cool as a cucumber. Unlike the present lot of hysterics that is. The British even joked about this sangfroid among themselves as you can see from the following video clip. But it worked for generations-

    1. Harry

      Agree. Corbyn really dodged a hail of bullets. 7 appear to have grazed him. As far as I can tell, the 7 were all in safe Labour seats. Wavertree for sure will be restored to the Labour fold next election.

  6. vlade

    TBH, I think their problem is that they want to be populists ala Macron, but don’t know how. I do believe that the UK voters are tired of both Labour and Tories (much more than the parties, who live in their bubble) realise.

    But neither of the splinters is charismatic enough, and has populist enough drive, to get them. The “we’re not like them” is not good enough, at least not w/o a very charismatic leader.

    1. Matthew Kopka

      A centrist populist is a definitional absurdity, as are ruling class populism and industrial populism. The French seized on Macron in a pinch, in a choice between an unsavory right-wing populism and a split among the socialists. Some will o’ the wisp patriotism (as opposed to populism) may have attached to his candidacy, De Gaulle or Eisenhower-style. But does anyone think he has retained a trace of it? Last I saw the populism was throwing stink bombs at his palace.

      1. vlade

        See Andrew Babis, Czech PM. He’s what I’d call a centrist populist. On his first elections, he scooped the right party voters, virtually destroying all but one, on his second election, he sucked the air from left wing (while dropping at least some right-wing voters) with the same efficiency.

        Macron was IMO elected on a populist platform, but once in, tacked to the neoliberal (which TBH was pretty much to be expected, given his background).

        1. David

          Macron wasn’t so much elected on a populist programme as out of a desire for change at nearly any price, and disgust with the two main parties. His core support was only about 15% of the electorate but he squeaked into the second round because of a corruption scandal involving Fillon, who would probably otherwise have finished second and gone in to beat Le Pen in the second round. Macron has identified populism as the number one enemy.
          For what it’s worth, I can’t remember a time since the 60s when someone or other wasn’t demanding, forming or breathlessly hyping a « moderate «  party of the « Centre ». I have long believed that the Centre, as such, doesn’t really exist outside the imagination of pundits.

          1. vlade

            “desire for change at nearly any price, and disgust with the two main parties”.

            That to me pretty much encapsulates populism (replace “two main parties” with “political elite” for more generalisation).

            I’m not talking about Macron as president, but more Macron’s party, which got >30% of the vote. 10% more than the next one, and just shy of the sum of the next two parties.

            Centrist parties have a problem that historically, they didn’t want to evoke emotions, which is what gets the votes. It doesn’t matter when things go well, and people prefer status-quo, but it matter when they don’t.

            There’s a number of extremist parties in Central Europe which, if you’re a person who does not pay too much attention to the politics, and is not a news junkie, you’d not know that they are extremists. Their main, official, line tends to be “we’re anti-corruption, for decent people”. And since all of us consider ourselves decent people, it’s a nice and easy to understood “programme”. So they capture not just the extreme opinion, but a lot of the “centre”.

            My experience then is that they get a lot of voters, who, if you talk to them, and show them some of the things they say in less public forums, or behaviour of some of their representatives, are genuinely shocked who they voted for.

            But it usually has to be prefaced by a lot of legwork, as they are also very good at saying that the “status quo” (which is basically everyone except them) is out to get them so can’t be trusted. Of course, given how the status quo elites lied and misled over the years, it’s easy to believe.

        2. PlutoniumKun

          Its a very familiar idea in Ireland – Fianna Fail (once the biggest party) was very much a populist centrist party (generally right of centre in social issues and left of centre in economics, but always keen to tack with whichever way the wind went).

          1. eg

            The “tacking” between leftist parties and rightist parties seems to be the way an electorate prefers to approximate a center, rather than expressing outright support for a centrist party.

            Among other things, it provides the “throw the bums out” satisfaction that electorates appear to enjoy with semi-regularity …

  7. flora

    I understand Independent Group (I think that’s their name) has registered as a private company, not a party, and is requesting donations be sent to their private company?

    I’m I mistaken about this?
    And, is this how UK parties are normally set up, as private companies? (It would be a good way to avoid election finance reporting and hide whoever might be big funders.)

    1. Clive

      No, your understanding is spot on. And no, it’s not how it should work at all. The only reason for the shell company registration is, presumably, to get around rigorous source-of-funds disclosure requirements. And political party regulations. So those are more black marks. And begs the question, who, exactly, is or are funding them? Call me old fashioned and cynical, but anyone who funds a political group but wants to hide their funding probably is doing so because they know if word got out, people would go “oh no, not them!”

      The not-really-a-party-party can’t field candidates at the upcoming county elections, for example, as a consequence. You can stand as an “independent” in U.K. elections (not as a member of any party). But you can’t stand as a member of a party and claim (e.g. on the ballot paper) to then be an “independent”. So even the name is slightly bait-and-switch, being generous, or a deliberate attempt to mislead, more likely.

        1. Matthew Kopka

          Look for a splashy advertising campaign to confirm that it’s something of an astroturf effort.

          BTW, I do think Angela Smith’s comment was maladroit, potentially suggestive, but I think it’s being misinterpreted. Looked to me like she was trying to say something like “not just Black Asian and Minority Ethnic people” but anyone who’s a little different. Which to me would suggest that she’s really not a dreadful racist at all. Anyone else read it like that?

          After the Omar assasination, I’m a bit more wary of this pounce-and-kill culture we’re developing.

          1. Nell

            You might be interested in the interpretation of one of the panelists present when Smith ‘mispoke’. It is a nuanced piece which recognizes Smith’s fumblings but nails the media double standards on racism.

          2. Skip Intro

            If she weren’t so eager to throw anti-semitism stones in her glass house, she might not be subject to the same gleeful level of of idpol lynching. One might note, scrambling metaphors, that taking human shields can be a double edged sword.

          3. Avidremainer

            Sorry, what comes out when you’re not thinking is usually close to how you feel.
            The PLP passed a vote of no confidence in Corbyn, hence the second leadership vote. Are the not so magnificent seven ( wonderful ) a harbinger of what is to come or the end of the affair?
            British MPs can now face a recall vote. Any mileage in this?

            1. vlade

              recall can be triggered only for very specific reasons (like getting jail time, something that a Labour Peterborough MPs is facing. She’s a good case of showing that nutcases can be in all parties BTW, claiming her prosecution – for lying about a speeding ticket – was like prosecution of Jesus).

              Labout leadership is now making noises to include quitting the party in the law, which IMO is pretty funny – because the point of FPTP presumably is that you vote for a person, not a party. Once you admit that it’s the party that matters, not the person, the argument for FPTP pretty much goes away (as MPs can be allocated to districts even under PR).

        2. Mattski

          If they begin to roll out a sophisticated ad campaign it may be further proof that they’re an astroturf operation. They could even be a bit of a Blairite trial balloon.

          Just running, these days, can be lucrative. Get your name and face out there; someone will buy you.

          Should, by the by, be illegal.

          1. Colonel Smithers

            Thank you, Matt.

            They are already owned, e.g. Umunna by the bookies, Smith by the water industry and private equity, Berger by, sort of, her real homeland, and Leslie by the firm that publishes highbrow stuff like Asian Babes and Readers’ Wives and downmarket stuff like the Express, JC, Mirror and People.

  8. larry

    flora, you are right that IG has set iself up as an independent company. And political parties are not set up in this way. Col Smithers contends that this is so that they can avoid complying with election finance law regarding their finances in a relatively straightforward manner. While political parties generally have to engage in various maneuvers to avoid regulations.

      1. Colonel Smithers

        Thank you, both.

        I have not picked up who is funding the far from magnificent seven, but have not been able to ask around.

        I can guess, but reckon that my guesses would have preferred a bigger group of Labour rats, ideally Tory defectors sooner rather than later to balance the Labour contingent and latter appear to be a genuine centrist realignment and different timing to inflict greater damage on Corbyn.

        1. Clive

          I too have a guess and yes, they’d have wanted a lot more impressive fire and music razzmatazz to have been bought for their $’s, not the old kazoo and a limp sparkler which featured in yesterday’s performance. They’d also have good reason to be keeping themselves in the shadows, not exactly being seen as politics’ Father Christmas-type figure. More like Scrooge McDuck.

          it’ll all come out in the wash, I’m sure.

        2. Pavel

          The best description I read of the Unmagnificent Seven (and I wish I could find the source of the quote, apologies to him or her… I read too many things!) was “a group of seven people who look like they just met in the elevator for the first time”.

          A joke of a political “party” who will only embarrass themselves further when they fade into history. Not exactly the Gang of Four and the original SDP (as many others have pointed out).

  9. David

    There are only two reasons for leaving a political party : principle or ambition. We can be fairly sure it’s not the first here. The seven must have judged that they were better off outside the Labour Party, presumably because they believe that the Party will split further, and will be heavily damaged by Corbyn’s position on Brexit. Rather like a group of young engineers leaving IBM in the eighties they hope to be the startup that eventually replaces Labour. As the party’s position deterirates, they think, other MPs will have to join them on their terms. Under such circumstances you don’t need an ideology or even a programme. I agree that they probably won’t do much damage in the long term but the are deluded enough to think they are the future. Thus the need to act now. I can’t see many Tories joining them either : no matter how much they may hate each other they can all benefit from the power-grabbing machine that the Tories are.

  10. John Somers

    Clive – when you say “oh no, not them!”, are you implying the funding might involve one ACL Blair?

    1. Clive

      Colonel Smithers and I are trading unspoken hunches above ! I’m not willing to put my head above the parapet. And my guess could well be wrong, hence me not wanting to look even more stupid than I normally look, that rap sheet is long enough as it is !

    2. PlutoniumKun

      If I were to make a wild guess I’d say no – not Blair. The ‘mainstream’ Remainers (which of course includes Blair) could hardly hide their annoyance at the timing of this split. It allows Corbyn off the hook at a crucial time when he might make a stand for their Referendum.

      Also, whatever you think of Blair, he was a consummate communicator and political strategist. I can’t believe he had his fingers anywhere near the shambolic launch. Quite simply, if Blair was behind it, they’d have done a much better job of it.

      1. vlade

        Yep, I believe that too. This is too incompetent for Blair to have any real involvement IMO. I think if Blair was involved, there would be more defections and coordinated across the parties.

    3. fajensen

      If one was funding a crash-out Brexit, it would make sense to jam the controls on both sides of parliament, would it not?

      One can be very generous because the funding is only needed for a few months and one can also lie freely about that part because those bright young things would not expect that they can be conned. This happens a lot in business when a facility is closing and they want to keep the operations staff from leaving “early”. Why not in politics?

  11. Ape

    The Blairist party? Do you really want to try to sell that?

    In the US the Obamaists would have some hope, but this sounds more like a Clintonist splinter. Not a business that I’d expect to take off.

  12. martbev

    Others have commented on the first bullet point in the seven dwarf’s list. The second is also interesting: “A strong economy means we can invest in our public services. We believe the collective provision of public services and the NHS can be delivered through government action, improving health and educational life chances, protecting the public, safeguarding the vulnerable, ensuring dignity at every stage of life and placing individuals at the heart of decision-making.” It recycles the New Labour mantra of encouraging a “strong” (read financial) economy so as to achieve a modicum of redistribution, and individual “choice” in welfare provision. We know how that worked out.

  13. Penny

    What is difficult to communicate is how little either the 7 OR Corbyn represent the views of ordinary centre left members if the Labour Party, Corbyn is every bit as alienating to us as Clinton was to left of centre Dems

    1. Bob Anderson

      Clinton was alienating to the Obama/Biden neo-liberals more than the left of centre Dems. This part amazes me people forget. It led to the weak turnout in the primaries and caused Clinton headaches That is why people on this board maybe surprised when the “Obamaite” Neolib who gets chosen just doesn’t do well, but wins a large bulk of contests. Clinton neolibs are just less tribal and will back Obama’s people much easier than the “If Joe ain’t running, I ain’t voting” group in 2016.

      The lack of neolib’s coming together in both parties was very big problem why Oligarch/KSA backed “ruling class” populist Trump got the nomination and why Clinton struggled. The vote became split and nobody unified like in 2004 around John Kerry or even Obama in 2008. The Republican side was a absolute mess.


    Every reply misses the point that the UK would have a greenhouse of political movements if only the rotten to the core electoral system was dismantled and replaced by PR or variants thereof. The present supermarket offering just two branded products is well past sell by date. The UK has the only first past the post electoral racecourse in the UK. Brexit would never have escaped from the madhouse if a rational electoral system had been enacted years ago.

    1. Clive

      If only it were that simple. For a start, UKIP would not only have had MPs (anything between 40 and 60, perhaps even more) in Parliament now but also rather than a coalition with the Liberal Democrats in 2010, a UKIP/Conservative coalition would have been much more likely. Are you seriously telling me this would not have resulted in a referendum? And lest we forget, it is only soft Brexiteers in Parliament keeping the ERG hardcore nutcases at bay. Adding a cohort of UKIP’ers doesn’t bear thinking about.

      And have you seen Italian politics lately? Whom amongst us seriously sits here and thinks to themselves, oh, yes, what we really need is a political environment a little more like Italy’s. The Italian government is picking fights with the EU at every opportunity. Not to mention tweaking France’s nose. And AfD in Germany has had no trouble getting into the Bundestag.

      Pretending that non-FPTP electoral systems guarantees that only fluffy bunnies get into parliaments and automatically block “undesirables” is pure wishful thinking.

      Put it this way, do you genuinely think that France’s (for example) voting system will automatically prevent a profoundly eurosceptical President from getting elected next time, unless Macron seriously ups his game and steps up to the country’s challenges?

      1. vlade

        TBH, I think that if the UK had a different system, the scene here would look different (sort of truism, really).

        It’s entirely possible that Tory/UKIP coalition would come up, but the question is how long that would last, since the Tory crazies would naturaly gravitate towards UKIP more than Tories (over time). In PR, parties tend to be a bit less of a broad church both major parties used to be. They also learn to do compromises better.

        It does not guarantee fluffy bunnies, but then nothing does. Germany had a nice proportional system until it didn’t. So did say a Czechoslovakia up to 1948, when it elected communist party which promply ate all opposition (the only country of the Soviet bloc which more or less freely choose to join, by relatively uncorrupted elections).

        The main problem with the original comment IMO is the assumption of “rational electoral system”. A lot of systems are rational. Voters, though, tend to be emotional and can be played under just about any system. The question is, which system provides more checks and balances to deal with the idiots and idiotic choices that any system will throw up now and then.

        UK system worked well as long as everyone followed the unwritten rules. The problem is, revolutions by defintion ignore any rules, more so the unwritten ones.

        So I’d argue it’s a system that looks stable, but when problems start to accumulate, it’s actually more prone to a sudden catastrophic collapse. Italy was in a state of collapse for the last 50 years. UK political scene went from relatively normal in 2016 to a state of total collapse in 2018 (latest, arguably the signs were there in 2017 post the elections).

        The FPTP there is not THE defining characteristics and THE cause of it IMO, but it’s an important contributing factor, as the parties are just not used to cooperation – or significant inter-party rebellious factions.

        1. Clive

          The problem with theorising is that it is all-too-easy to imagine outcomes which reflect your preferred versions and you discount the yuckiest ones.

          Let us not forget — and it is virtually forgotten — unfortunately, the parliamentary vote to have the EU membership referendum was unanimous (bar a few votes, it was 80+% carried) and this was on the basis that, for Remain’ers, it was the big chance to settle the issue once and for all and shut those annoying UKIP’ers up for good. That’s seriously what Remain thought would happen.

          Who’s sorry now?

          If the voting system had been changed in 2011 — and a change has to be implemented on the then-current political landscape, not some fictional one which might have existed if FPTP had never been the default — and the votes cast in the 2015 General Election had been more-or-less mapped into seats in proportion to the share of the vote, you’d have a parliamentary make up of Conservatives, UKIP and the DUP as the coalition. That’s what would have happened.

          Talk about dodging a bullet. Bad though things are now, that would be quantifiably worse. But had the referendum to change the voting system gone the other way, that would be the Parliament we’d be suffering under.

          1. vlade

            2011 referendum was AV, which is NOT PR. Not even remotely (technically, FPTP is a special case of AV, with preference list lenght of one).

            No-one has an idea what parliament AV would have returned, as it’s unlikely the voters would understand it well enough to have even an educated guess.

            Assuming there was a real PR referendum, got through, and the voters would return similar numbers to the GE in 2015 (which we don’t know, as it could bring out voters in the safe seats, or others), the coalition you mention could, by the way, be a vote short of majority under a real PR (w/o any limitations, usually you may have 5% threshold, which would sucessfully eliminate DUP). That assume 4 DUP (0.6%) , 239 Tory (36.8%) and 82 UKIP (12.6%) seats. Of course, that ignores how the votes would be really split (since it’s impossible to allocate 1 seat to all those 0.1% parties and not run out of seats first), but that could have well eliminated DUP entirely. So saying PR would bring in this coalition is as unrealistic as saying that it would bring any other government. I’m not even saying it would be a better government – it could have, for example, quite easily given UKIP _more_ votes, as fewer people would vote tactically for Tories, knowing their UKIP vote was lost.

            Anyways, my point above was that the current UK system is more prone to catastrophic breakdown due to reliance on unwritten rules, and the long use of FPTP enhances this by breeding incentives into the parties that prevent them working efficiently if and when the rules break.

            I did not argue that PR would be a fix, or that the AV referendum in 2011 could have fixed it either. I doubt there’s any single action that could fix it, and even taking a number of steps would not fix it for a generation or two.

            But relying on gentlemanly conduct is like not locking your front door. It works if everyone follows, but once it’s broken, its gone, and locks become necessary, no matter how bad it may seem to the majority.

            The UK political system is IMO broken beyond reasonable repair. It may get temporarily patched to pretend to function a bit longer – although I doubt that will be the case if there’s a catastrophic Brexit.

            History shows us that when political systems get broken, all sort of stuff gets floated to the top. If there was real “political elite” (elite in a positive sense of the tortured word), they would try to figure out how to change the system gradually to something that is more resilient. Because for me it’s not important that the system throws now and then dumb results. All and any systems do. It’s the ability to deal with them and recover from them that matters.

            Which generally requires hard checks and balances – and we can see for example, that there are few checks and balances between executive and legislative, as executive was used to run the legislative as its yes-(wo)men – I don’t know what else I’d call the inability of the Parliament to run its own business, and be able to do only what the government allows it via control of the parliamentary business and/or killing the private bills it doesn’t like regardless of support in parliament.

            With the current crop, that change ain’t gonna happen, and I have no idea where it can take the UK.

        2. Oregoncharles

          ” Italy was in a state of collapse for the last 50 years.”
          But nonetheless has the 3rd largest economy in the EU. The current government isn’t so far off the norm for Italy, and they’ve somehow survived the chaos. Maybe it helps to work things out within the political system; maybe they have a good permanent government.

          I do like your point that the status quo would be quite different if Britain had had a different electoral system. A parliamentary UKIP might be quite different from the radicals you see now. But Clive is right that that doesn’t guarantee stability. Sometimes even the best systems crash and burn, usually when they encounter a situation they can’t handle.

          Time for creativity. A crashout will make the Transition Towns look good, anyway.

  15. Hayek's Heelbiter

    I find it fascinating that no matter how much mud the MSM slings at Corbyn – no doubt much justified – commenting on his ties, the fact he works in an allotment, his son’s flat (purchased under a program Thatcher instituted – a fact conveniently omitted in news reports), while remaining astonishingly quiet regarding the conservatives’ shenanigans on about any front you care to imagine – voting tax loopholes which they are themselves the prime beneficiaries, exploitation of grace-and-favour benefits at every turn, unwavering support of the feudal leasehold system, Courbyn’s fanbase of the disenfranchised remain solidly in his corner.

    But I wonder if the MSM should be careful what they wish for. The DNC skillfully made sure that no Republican who had an actual chance of getting elected President would survive the primaries.

    We all know how THAT turned out.

    I shudder to think what might be awaiting in the wings to succeed Corbyn should the MSM succeed in their vilification campaign.

      1. Clive

        Ahh… be careful to note the detail — they’ve resigned the Conservative Party whip and their party memberships.

        But they’re saying they will “sit as independents alongside the Independent Group” which isn’t the same thing at all as joining the group / party / knitting circle / whatever they are.

        1. The Rev Kev

          Thanks Clive. I missed that bit. They’re still probably toast as far as their next elections are concerned I am guessing.

          1. vlade

            They always were, as they would have been deselected.

            But this is potentially more important news than the Labour one, as it effectively reduces May’s majority to one.

            So here are the numbers now:
            Total Parliament numbers: 650
            Non-voting (except for casting status-quo vote): 3
            Required for majority: 323 votes
            Tories – 314
            DUP – 10
            Total – 324, one vote above required majority.

            That means that one more defection from Tories threatens sinking May’s government.

            And expect it to be sunk on a no-deal where even people like Grieve are likey to go for her. Now we find out whether Brexiters (Tory and DUP) want more ideologically clean Brexit or Corbyn government.

            1. Clive

              I think you also have to factor in Sinn Fein not taking their seats (but my mental arithmetic inabilities can never quite work out the effect of their never being there to cast a vote…)

              1. vlade

                Ah, I keep forgetting that. That takes DUP+Tories to 4 votes majority, actually 5, as one Labour MP died on Sunday.

                This means that she has no chance in hell of getting any sort of Brexit deal w/o a cross party support, as there are more than 5 Tories on each side of the Brexit-vote spectrum.

                So the EU negotiations are pointless, because she demonstrably can’t get any deal through Westminste, as long as she refuses to ask what sort of deal the parliament would support, if not hers.

            2. Anonymous2

              If Tories plus DUP no longer have a majority (as could be the case soon), does May ditch the DUP? Seek support elsewhere? Or GE?

              Interesting times.

  16. Knute Rife

    This looks like “Last Stand of the Blairites”, and they’re all delusional enough to believe this is a good move. If it is, that explains the two principles Murphy takes issue with, which are both just deliberately obtuse neoliberal crap.

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