The reality of Labour MP deselection campaigns

Labour MPs seem to be spending a lot of time talking about deselections at the moment. We are being told that Labour MPs who voted to bomb Syria will be ‘targeted’ for deselection by ‘entryists’ and the Corbyn leadership campaign spin-off group with a ‘The Apprentice’ team name – Momentum. Names that have been mentioned in connection with deselection include Chuka Umunna and Stella Creasy. But is there any substance behind these stories?

On Channel 4 News last night, Michael Crick thought he had uncovered a plot in Stella Creasy’s Walthamstow constituency. He had found a leaflet that had been distributed in the constituency inviting people to attend a meeting to discuss the deselection issue. Crick did what he is known for and turned up at the meeting, where he discovered a grand total of 12 people, 8 of the school kids. Here is the vid:

For all the noise around deselections, the truth is, the only evidence of people campaigning for them are a miniscule number of people outside the Labour Party who have no power to deselect anyone.

It would seem to me fairly clear that some Labour MPs dislike groups like Momentum because it will place more scrutiny on what they are doing. They particularly don’t like to be reminded that the decisions they make have real life consequences that they will bear some responsibility for.

Until the boundary review is concluded in 3 years time, no deselections can take place anyway. The noise around Momentum is simply a continuation of the strategy used during the Labour leadership campaign. Guilt by association and the smearing of – on the whole I would guess – young people newly enthused by politics for the first time who want to find a way to organise and help Labour win the next election. Labour MPs should be embracing these new members rather than viewing them with suspicion.

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Labour leadership contenders – compassionate and aspirational

Mary Creagh is the latest Labour hopeful to throw her hat into the ring for the race to become next leader of the Labour Party. I just saw her being interviewed on the local news and she used very similar language to her rivals. Here’s what I mean:

Chuka Umunna

“…in my view the Labour Party does best when it marries together its compassion for the vulnerable and the poor with others’ ambition, drive and aspiration to get on and do well.”

Yvette Cooper 

“We need a Labour party that moves beyond the old labels of left and right, and focuses four-square on the future. Credible, compassionate, creative, and connected to the day-to-day realities of life.”

Tristram Hunt

“We can only achieve a Labour government if we can combine a compassionate story about supporting those who need it most with a sense of optimism and hope for those who aspire to climb life’s ladder.”

Liz Kendall

“We need to show people that we understand their aspirations and ambitions for the future. If you look right across England, we did not do enough to appeal to Conservative supporters, and we must.”

Mary Creagh

“We want our country united, forward-looking, confident, and proud not fearful, introspective and insular. We want a country where aspiration and compassion go hand in hand. A country for everybody.”

Andy Burnham

“Our challenge is not to go left or right or to focus on one part of country or another, but to rediscover the beating heart of Labour and that must always be about the aspirations of everyone and speaking to them like we did in 1997.”

So six candidates, some compassionate, some aspirational, and some both compassionate and aspirational who could not be more different. Take your pick Labour members!

An accurate assessment of Chuka Umunna

Inexplicably (to me) the current favourite to be the next leader of the Labour Party is Chuka Umunna. I thought Bill Mitchell gave quite a good assessment of the problem with Umunna in a longer post about the problems Labour-type parties are having across the developed world. Umunna, and (let’s face it) most if not all of his rivals have eerily similar thoughts on where Labour have gone wrong. Here’s Bill’s assessment:

In the days following last week’s election, various candidates for the Labour Party leadership have emerged. An apparent front-runner, Chuka Umunna exemplifies why British Labour and Labour-type parties around the world are failing and have lost meaning.

He told the press on Sunday (May 10, 2015) – ‘No-one is too rich to be in Labour’: Chuka Umunna sets out leadership stall:

1. “Labour was wrong to run a deficit before the financial crisis”.

2. Condemned “Ed Miliband’s attacks on ‘wealth creators’”.

3. “Labour can regain power within five years if it is ‘pro-business’ and makes clear no one is ‘too rich to be part of our party’”

4. “you can’t be pro- the jobs we want to see unless you are backing the people that create them”.

5. “Labour must appeal to middle income voters in England who have ‘ambition, drive and aspiration to get on and do well’”

He is a lawyer by background.

He is being championed by the pompous and scandal-prone Mandelson, part of the New Labour movement in Britain which destroyed the nature of the Labour Party once and for all in that country and turned it into another pro-business party with tenuous claims to its past.

There is nothing I have heard since the election disaster last week that indicates that anyone who is likely to lead the British Labour Party understands they have no existence if they continue to think that capital is the wealth creator and workers get the benefits of that endeavour, that a political party has to be ‘pro business’, that mass consumption and indvidualism is to be prioritised over decent work and collective well-being.

I agree. Why would anyone vote for a red Tory, when they could have the real thing?

A few thoughts on the Tories’ GE victory

The reaction to the result of Thursday’s election on the left has been one of confused outrage. How could so many people back the evil Tories after five years of austerity? Protests were organised on Facebook, and all day on my Twitter timeline, people have been Tweeting about how the Tories have no mandate because 75% of adults did not vote for them.

Well you know what? 80% plus people did not vote for the Labour Party either. I am someone who has never voted Tory and can’t imagine any circumstances under which I would, but I just couldn’t stomach voting for Labour this time either. They just didn’t deserve to win. I suspect a lot of people felt the same way as me. Turnout barely hit the mid 60s%.

We have a first past the post electoral system in the UK. It’s not a fair system, but the result under this system was fair. More people voted Tory than voted for any other party and they have won enough seats to command a majority in the House of Commons. People who voted Tory aren’t bad people, they just think differently to you.

Moving on to Labour, the early signs are not great. None of the MPs who currently say they are considering leadership bids particularly inspire confidence that they can transform the fortunes of their party. The front runner seems to be Chuka Umunna, a man who seems to be held in high regard by those inside Westminster, but who I’ve always thought has nothing interesting to say about anything. His strategy seems to be to do what Labour’s opponents have always demanded. An apology for ‘overspending’.

The Conservative’s majority is small. They will struggle to get anything controversial through, and anything the leadership wants, they will have to trade with the right wing nutters on their backbenches to pass it. That does not make for harmonious government. The Fixed Term Parliament Act means they will probably limp on for the full five years though.

Hopefully, the childish hissy fits that have followed the election result will soon make way for some more constructive opposition to whatever bright ideas the Conservative front bench come up with over the next few months. A lot of the pressure is going to have to come from outside Parliament as it did with things like on the sell-off of forests early in the last Parliament. Petulant protests against the legitimacy of a democratically elected government probably ain’t going to do it though.

What does it mean to be fiscally responsible?

Expect to hear this phrase a lot next week from the Labour Party – “fiscally responsible” or “fiscal responsibility”. The last time I heard it used was on Sunday when Chuka Umunna was being interviewed on The Sunday Politics by Andrew Neil. Umunna is the Shadow Business Secretary and he was squirming under questioning about why Labour wouldn’t pledge to renationalise Royal Mail. Umunna said he wouldn’t because he didn’t know how much it would cost to renationalise and he wasn’t willing to write a ‘blank cheque’. Labour, he said were determined to be a fiscally responsible government. But what does this mean?

The phrase has two meanings. One used by politicians and neo-liberal economists, and one, more relevant (to 99% of us) meaning.

The first meaning is all about numbers and rules i.e. the deficit shouldn’t be bigger than x, or the debt-GDP ratio shouldn’t exceed y. These numbers will be completely arbitrary and purely designed to make the person advocating them sound sensible or competent. Indeed, in the EU there is a fiscal rule that deficits should not exceed 3% of GDP (how’s that going). How did they come up with that? Is 3% some sort of tipping point? No. One of the French officials who helped come up with the rule said:

“We came up with the 3% figure in less than an hour. It was a back of an envelope calculation, without any theoretical reflection. Mitterrand [the French President at the time] needed an easy rule that he could deploy in his discussions with ministers who kept coming into his office to demand money … We needed something simple.”

You will often hear politicians talking about the way the spend your money, of getting value for money, or not wanting to shoulder future generations with debt. Expect this to be a theme from Labour as they try to convince people they can be responsible with ‘taxpayer’s money’. It’s likely we will hear Ed Balls come out with some nice sounding ‘fiscal rules’ before the next election. They will be completely bogus. ‘Economically illiterate’ as people are fond of saying these days.

A lot of people do seem to approve of these messages though and agree that’s how a government should act (a lot of this is down to people believing governments are spending their taxes, but as I argued here, they are not). The problem is however, this is absolutely not how a responsible government should be acting, and doing so is likely to be detrimental to the majority of its citizens.

Which brings us onto the second definition of fiscal responsibility. Here’s Professor Bill Mitchell on what we should think of fiscal rules (like a deficit limit for example):

“Is a deficit that is 2 per cent of GDP better or worse than one that is 4 per cent of GDP? The answer it that it all depends. The higher deficit figure might be the exemplar of fiscally responsible policy choices whereas the lower outcome might indicate fiscally irresponsible decisions. Or, the opposite might be the case, depending on the circumstances. There is nothing intrinsically good or bad about any specific budget outcome.

…It is not the government’s role to run deficits or surpluses. We want governments to make policy choices that will maximise the potential of the people to enjoy their lives and contribute the best they can, given their own circumstances to the well-being of society and the planet.

We might call this goal one of public purpose. An essential element of that goal, given current cultural morays in most nations, will be to ensure that everyone who wants to work has a job and for those that are unable to work, for whatever reason, have adequate income support so they are not alienated and socially-excluded.”

So a more relevant definition of fiscal responsibility would be the responsibility of government to use its spending power to maximise real outcomes like full employment and increasing living standards, building homes for people and ensuring we have world class health and education systems. But responsibility also includes ensuring inflation doesn’t get out of control, so it doesn’t mean spend spend spend. Tax and spending decisions should be taken on the basis of maximising real outcomes while keeping inflation stable. That’s true fiscal responsibility.