Tory Party channel the Manchurian Candidate

Michael Gove just put out the following statement in response to Jeremy Corbyn’s speech today:

Labour have confirmed that they are a threat to our national security, our economic security and to the security of every family in Britain.

I felt like I’d heard these words before and it gave me an eery feeling. One of my favourite films is The Manchurian Candidate, in which an entire US platoon are brainwashed and when asked to describe the platoon’s commander, automatically respond  “Raymond Shaw is the kindest, bravest, warmest, most wonderful human being I’ve ever known in my life.” Has something similar been done to Tory MPs? See what you think:

“So what do you think of Jeremy Corbyn?”

“Jeremy Corbyn is a threat to our national security, our economic security and to the security of every family in Britain.”

“Er, thanks Minister.”

Michael Fallon has also been afflicted. It’s not too dissimilar to this:

In the film, Raymond Shaw has been brainwashed to become an unwitting assassin. What have they done to Corbyn though? I think we should be told!

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Corbyn has already won back nearly one in ten 2015 Tory voters

A poll came out yesterday which was the basis for this story in the Independent “Jeremy Corbyn ‘loses fifth of Labour voters'”. The poll found that 20% of people who voted Labour in 2015 said they were less likely to vote Labour again with Corbyn as leader. So is it fair to say that a fifth of Labour voters have already abandoned the party? Of course not!

The question asked if they would be more or less likely to vote Labour with Corbyn as leader. If you say less though, it doesn’t mean you will change the way you vote, you could just have changed from ‘absolutely will vote for them’ to ‘almost certainly will vote for them’. If the Indy’s headline was fair, then so is mine because 8% of Conservative voters said Corbyn being leader made them more likely to vote Labour. I could also have made the title “Over a third of SNP voters now support Labour”, or “More than a quarter of remaining Lib Dems to vote Labour with Corbyn”. All bollocks of course, but no more so than the Indy’s headline.

The poll did ask one interesting question though. It asked if Labour under Corbyn was more or less electable. Even after the battering Corbyn has received this week, 41% said more. Still a long way to go, but not as apocalyptic as advertised.

How could Corbyn maintain Party discipline?

It seems very clear that many in the Parliamentary Labour Party are hell bent on undermining Jeremy Corbyn at every turn. While not all are as up front about it as the publicity seeking Simon Danczuk, some big tests to party discipline await. It seems unlikely that the conventional ‘whipping’ system will be enough to keep MPs in line, particularly when Corbyn has been one of the most consistent rebels over the last 30 years. So what could Corbyn do?

To me, his strength lies in the mandate he has earned from the members and registered supporters of the Labour Party. A majority seemed to enthusiastically sign up to his ideas which he was not afraid of being open about (unlike the other three candidates). The other day, I received an email from Corbyn (seemingly sent to everyone on their mailing list) asking people to sign a petition against the trade union bill. In just a few hours, well over 150,000 has signed. More than double that number have now signed.

Why not then harness this enthusiasm in other ways? Corbyn could offer his MPs free votes on every issue, but the day before he can poll the members/supporters on the issue and publish the results by constituency. That way, if Labour MPs vote against Corbyn, they will know the strength of feeling in their constituency. It would really test the backbone of some of these brave dissenters to go against thousands of their own constituents. It would also be an good litmus test for any line Corbyn wants to take.

What do you think? Good idea, or am I talking rubbish again?

Sulking Labour MPs can’t abide democracy

To get on the leadership ballot, Jeremy Corbyn required the nominations of 35 of his fellow MPs. It’s estimated that only around 20 actually supported him from the beginning, while a further 15 nominated him in order to ‘broaden the debate’. One of these was Margaret Beckett. Having previously called herself a ‘moron’ for nominating Corbyn, she popped up again on local radio to lament at her ‘mistake’:

This is absolutely typical of the attitude of many of Labour’s former big names. That she thinks giving party members and supporters a wider choice of leadership candidates was ‘one of the biggest political mistakes’ she’s ever made speaks volumes. Democracy is fine it seems, as long as we don’t vote for the wrong person. Is it any wonder people are so fed up with the status quo?

Corbyn Wins!

So Corbyn won, and won even better than all predictions. Nearly 60% in the first round of a four person race is pretty incredible. Corbyn won 85% of the vote amongst the £3 sign-ups, but nearly 49% of full Labour members gave him their first preference. For all the talk of ‘entryism’, in the end it didn’t matter. Corbyn would have won anyway. This is a good summary of the results:

The wishful thinking of the anti-Corbynists in Westminster led to rumours of a late surge for Yvette Cooper. She managed just 17% of first preferences. It turned out to be what always happens on the eve of landslide elections – the media tries to make it seem close right up to the wire. And what of the margin of victory? As Guardian journo Nick Watt put it:

This is just not acceptable to many in Labour. Jamie Reed tweeted his resignation letter as Corbyn was giving his victory speech:

“Who he?” Said John Prescott (one suspects it was his desire to be known that was the reason for the timing of his resignation):

Further resignations soon followed, but for many of them, this is probably apt:

For some though, celebrations (of a sort). A certain Telegraph blogger seemed pleased his livelihood for the next five years was now assured:

The Tories also reacted with glee. “Over-egging it” springs to mind. Is Corbyn “unelectable” or “a serious risk”. They don’t seem to have made their minds up yet:

Even “The Donald” is excited:

Putting all that aside, it’s going to be an interesting few days/weeks/months. Can Corbyn build a team and come to a consensus about attacking the Government and proposing a clear alternative of their own? His first test will come straight away in Parliament as debate on the Government’s anti-union bill begins and the Welfare Bill comes back to the House. The Tories also seem keen to go to war again in the Middle East. It will be interesting to see how many of Corbyn’s Parliamentary colleagues agree. This is the first time in a long time I find myself actually enthusiastic about one of the main party leaders. Long may this optimism continue!

Lessons for Corbyn in “Lerner’s Law”

I’ve seen a couple of references to “Lerner’s Law” on Twitter in the last couple of days and thought “What’s that?”. Before anwering this question, let’s wind back a bit.

Who is Lerner?

Abraham (Abba) Lerner was a Russian-born British economist, who, writing in the 40s and 50s developed a theory he called “functional finance“. JM Keynes was aware of some of this work, and there is evidence he agreed with much of it. Unfortunately Keynes died before really exploring Lerner’s ideas. If he had, maybe what we think we know about “Keynesian economics” would look a lot different today.

Lerner’s functional finance is a key plank of what is today called Modern Monetary Theory (MMT), and it was one of MMT’s key figures Warren Mosler who I first saw mention “Lerner’s Law”:

So what is Lerner’s Law?

I’m not sure it’s actually known widely as such, but what Mosler alluded to was a passage from Lerner’s 1951 work “Economics of Employment”. Bill Mitchell quotes this passage in his latest book “Eurozone Dystopia”. I found the relevant section here. Bill writes:

“Lerner’s work also contains a very clear message for progressive thinkers who are reluctant in the current debate to think outside of the confines that the neo-liberals have created. For example, Labour politicians in the United Kingdom confront the austerity debate with claims that they would ‘fix the budget’ over a longer time period to avoid the massive damage that immediate austerity brings. Of course, even debating the ‘health’ of the fiscal position in terms of some financial ratios is ceding ground to the conservatives, ground that is illegitimate. Lerner (1951:15) called progressives who argued in this way ‘proponents of organised prosperity’ and argued:

A kind of timidity makes them shrink from saying anything that might shock the respectable upholders of traditional doctrine and tempts them to disguise the new doctrine so that it might be easily mistaken for the old. This does not help much, for they are soon found out, and it hinders them because, in endeavoring to make the new doctrine appear harmless in the eyes of the upholders of tradition, they often damage their case. Thus instead of saying that the size of the national debt is of no great concern … [and] … that the budget may have to be unbalanced and that this is insignificant when compared with the attainment of prosperity, it is proposed to disguise an unbalanced budget (and therefore the size of the national debt) by having an elaborate system of annual, cyclical, capital, and other special budgets.

Progressives should first and foremost seek to educate the public about how the economy and money actually operate and what opportunities the government has to act on our behalf to advance our wellbeing. If we think in this way, then options that have been constructed by the neo-liberals to be ‘dangerous’, ‘radical’ or ‘taboo’ will start to appear reasonable and grounded in reality.”

So simply stated, Lerner’s Law would be something like “If you try to present your ideas cloaked in the language of you opponents, it will do your cause great damage”.

This offers a lesson to Corbyn and his supporters. Corbyn has manfully tried to present policy ideas that currently sit outside what is thought ‘possible’ within the current orthodoxy. He has done so though while trying to present himself as being enthusiastic about balancing the budget, or at least the ‘current’ budget. He has also talked about how he would ‘pay for’ his policies by raising taxes on the rich. Both of these are examples of disguising ‘new doctrine’ as old as Lerner wrote, and leave him open to attacks from those holding on tight to the old.

Mosler, in his Tweet embedded above invokes Lerner’s Law to criticise the idea of “People’s Quantitative Easing” as proposed by Richard Murphy and adopted by the the Corbyn campaign. It takes an idea that is actually quite revolutionary (Overt Monetary Financing), and cloaks it in the language of something that was on the unorthodox edge of current orthodoxy (Quantitative Easing). This has opened it up to all kinds of criticism (for example the recent FT letter signed by 55 economists).

When it’s suggested that ‘progressives’ should adopt different language to try and explain alternative policies, it’s sometimes replied that this is a hopeless cause as the current orthodoxy is so ingrained in the public’s minds. Lerner has an answer to this (quote also referenced from Bill’s book):

The scholars who understand it [the “new doctrine”] hesitate to speak out boldly for fear that the people will not understand. The people, who understand it quite easily, also fear to speak out while they wait for the scholars to speak out first. The difference between out present situation and that of the story [The Emporer’s New Clothes] is that it is not an emporer but the people who are periodically made to go naked and hungry and insecure and discontented – a ready prey to less timid organisers of discontent for the destruction of civilisation.

Let’s speak out!

From compassionate and aspirational to radical but credible

Before Jeremy Corbyn entered the race for the Labour leadership, all candidates agreed for the need for Labour to be both compassionate and aspirational. Post Corbyn Mania however, the three ABC (Anyone but Corbyn) candidates have really stepped it up a gear (/s). Each has a whole new message for voters.

Here’s Andy Burnham:

What this contest has shown is that the Labour Party is crying out for change. Members are sick of standing on doorsteps with little to offer voters. They want a radical vision that can inspire and excite, but also one with credibility at its heart. That is what I am offering.

Yvette Cooper:

We need to be confident enough not to swallow the Tory myths and to set out a strong, radical alternative instead. But it also has to be credible – credible enough to be delivered, and to build public confidence in Labour’s economic approach so we can win, and change Britain’s economic policy in practice.

Liz Kendall:

The most radical political ideas often begin with the simplest of beliefs. I believe that every single person in our society has potential and should be given the opportunity and power to realise their potential, and live the life they choose.

…And giving young people, who’ve been hit so hard since the global crash, credible hope for the future – by working with businesses to revolutionise skills and lead the world in new clean energy jobs.

This is the conversation I imagine they might have had:

AB: “Jeremy is winning because he’s radical. We need to be radical”.

YC: “Jeremy is not credible though. We must be”.

LK: “How?”

YC: “Just say we are radical and credible but importantly, we must never spell out what that means.”

LK: “Genius”.

AB: “But surely if we all say that, no one will be able to tell us apart?”

YC: “Well you say you are radical and credible, I’ll say I am credible but radical, and you say you want a radical vision that offers credibility.”

LK: “Great idea.”

AB: “I can see no flaws in this plan.”

Is it any wonder Corbyn is wiping the floor with all of them?

What do the public think of Jeremy Corbyn?

If you are on social media, then it’s clear, Jeremy Corbyn will win the Labour leadership in a landslide and then go on to win the keys to Downing Street in 2020. On social media though, it was also clear that in May, Ed Miliband would be entering Downing Street after Labour became the largest party in Parliament. It didn’t quite work out that way. So away from Twitter, what do people actually think of the man?

In the run-up to the last election, there were numerous polls each week on where the parties stood. They didn’t turn out to be very accurate, but millions of words were written about what the polls said. Given that, there have been surprisingly few polls done about how the Labour leadership contenders are viewed among the wider public. The ones that have been done have shown mixed results for Corbyn fans.

First there was a poll carried out by Survation which showed that Corbyn was most popular of the four leadership contenders amongst those polled and scored highest when asked which candidate would make them more likely to vote Labour. This poll was released just after a string of New Labour’s men of yesterday lined up to warn of Corbyn’s ‘unelectability’.

The Survation poll was follwed up a day later by a Comres poll that contradicted the first. In this one, respondents were asked if Corbyn would worsen or improve Labour’s chances. 31% said worsen vs 21% improve. Less positive then.

How much weight should we place on these polls however. My personal experience of people ‘offline’ is that the majority of people I interact with on a day to day basis have either never or only vaguely heard of any of the Labour leadership candidates, and those that do don’t really care enough to have a firm view. Amongst my friends and colleagues I am a bit of an oddity, the sort of person who would pick three pointless answers on politics in the final round of Pointless. My experience is that most people just aren’t paying attention. From this I conclude that the 2020 election is still very much up for grabs, but Corbyn (or another candidate if he doesn’t win) will need to grab people early and hang onto them with a consistent message.

What do people in your circles think of Corbyn. Is it the same as mine or have your detected a more widespread whiff of Corbyn-mania then me?

What’s the best electoral strategy for Labour?

I thought this might be a good topic for discussion. To me, there are three possible strategies Labour could adopt in an attempt to win the next election:

  1. Try and say as little as possible, but make noises about credibility and stability with a healthy dose of fiscal responsibility, to ‘win trust’, then if and when you win, implement your programme without much regard to what you said before.
  2. Lay out a long shopping list of policies you and your supporters want to see implemented and make you case for them to the electorate over the course of the Parliament.
  3. Offer new ideas, but try and sell them in the language of your opponents.

It seems to me 1 has been done rather successfully by George Osborne and the Tories at the last election. They made rather vague promises, then when they one, promptly nicked some of Labour’s manifesto and whacked a couple of million people with previously unmentioned tax credit cuts. The ABC (Anyone but Corbyn) candidates also seem to want to be as vague as possible, using words like aspiration and compassion without ever explaining what that means. They also drop in the word ‘radical’ every now and again as if to try and convince us they have big plans should they win.

Strategy 2 seems to be being adopted by the Corbyn campaign. It has been incredibly successful in firing up the left and looks likely to take him over the line to become Labour leader. Can this same strategy continue to work after the leadership election though.

Strategy 3 would involve taking concepts like ‘fiscal responsibility’, ‘personal responsibility’ and ‘something for nothing culture’ and reframing them to fit the vision you want to present. I think Corbyn has weakly tried this already on the deficit, but rather unsuccessfully.

What do you think? Which strategy is best, or is there another strategy that could work?

Corbyn Mania reaches Bradford

Being naive and overcome by madness, I naturally jumped at the chance to see Jeremy Corbyn speak in Bradford, the place I currently call home. The venue was the Karmand Centre on Barkerend Road. Perhaps anticipating a large turnout following a well attended event in Norwich the night before, the event was moved outside onto the adjacent cricket pitch. This was a good idea as I would estimate that between 600 and 800 people turned up. This is pretty impressive for a political meeting in Bradford. I reckon it’s more than George Galloway managed to pull in at his victory rally in 2012. This was the scene an hour before the event. There were already quite a few people there:

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I was there pretty early and managed to snaffle some free Corbyn merchandise in the shape of this beer mat:

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I wondered aloud on Twitter if Liz Kendall had her own merchandise and someone replied that her beer mat instead crosses out the word socialist and doesn’t include beer.

Anyway, Corbyn was about 40 minutes late. As he walked to the stage he received a spontaneous standing ovation. Surrounded by photographers and goons from the local Labour Party, it must feel a bit surreal to a man who has been an MP for over 30 years without anyone outside his constituency ever really noticing until now. He must be getting used to it though as this was apparently the 43rd event of this kind he had held, with many more to follow.

Before Corbyn spoke though, there were speeches from a number of people, with mixed results. A lady from the GMB union gave an impassioned ( but rather shrill I thought) speech against austerity and the local MP Imran Hussain spoke in his own unique style. If you haven’t heard him speak before, watch this. He shouts really loudly and talks. In really. Short. Sentences. It’s appalling! Not my cup of tea, but then he was one of the Labour MPs to vote against the Welfare Reform Bill (along with Corbyn), so what do I know? The standout speech was given by new Leeds MP Richard Burgon, not someone I know much about but his speech was rabble-rousing, funny and – unlike Imran – brief. Someone to look out for in the future I suspect.

Corbyn’s speech followed Imran’s and I suspect it’s very similar to the one he has given daily for the last 6 weeks. In the US, it’s called a stump speech and it was rather good. Corbyn is not an orator like a Galloway or a Livingstone, but he comes across as relaxed, impassioned and at times light hearted. He has some clear messages that will have rather broad appeal. When talking about tax avoidance he contrasted large multinationals with small businesses who pay their tax struggling to compete on an unlevel playing field. I think this is smart as it appeals to people’s sense of fairness.

He struck a very collaborative tone throughout the speech. It’s clear this is not a man who has ever aspired to lead, and probably still doesn’t really want to, but he is passionate about his ideas, and wants his ‘movement’ (as he calls it) and his ideas to have their chance. This represents a real change from the norm as for at least the last 20 years, politics has revolved around the cult of the leader. Since Blair and his ‘presidential’ style of leadership, a lot of focus has been placed on the man at the top and whether they are ‘prime ministerial’ enough. This is something Ed Miliband struggled with. He didn’t really know what what he wanted to be, and when he decided, asking the rhetorical question “Am I tough enuss?“, it was far too late. It will be interesting to see (if Corbyn wins) how people will react to a leader who wants to take a consensus approach to leadership. Corbyn also seems genuine about wanting the input of the party membership and the broader labour movement in thinking about the policy and direction of the party. Expect some changes to Labour Party conferences I would think.

I think there were a couple of areas where Corbyn will face problems if he does win, which came out in the speech. He spent quite a long time on foreign policy issues, which is obviously his passion. This raises two issues. The first is that while these issues are top priorities for the young (they certainly were for me when I was younger), they are a bit abstract to most voters. Foreign policy is – to me – not something to grab a lot of people who aren’t already positively disposed towards Corbyn and his ideas. His views on foreign policy, while perfectly defensible in my view if granted sufficient time, if not given sufficient time (as will almost certainly be the case), will be easy to caricature as being ‘friendly with terrorists’ or some other nonsense.

The other area I think Corbyn could tighten up on is economic policy. He briefly mentioned his ‘People’s QE’ idea, name-checking Richard Murphy and Joseph Stiglitz, but at the same time talked about needed to collect more tax to pay for public services. There is an inconsistency to me in understanding that infrastructure can be paid for QE-style on one hand, but on the other arguing that cuts are being made because the rich aren’t paying all their taxes. It leaves him open to the age old stupid question “how are you going to pay for it”. I would have thought he would need some support from academia to back up his anti-austerity stance, something Labour never tried to utilise in the last Parliament.

So that’s my summary of events. Unfortunately there was no time for a Q & A with the public at the end as Corbyn was whisked away to speak to journalists. I still have a couple of reservations about Corbyn, but hope he wins. He has definitely captured something in the public imagination. The audience tonight seemed to me to be very varied. There were sandal-wearing vegan types, quite a few elderly people in wheelchairs and on walking sticks, and a healthy number of people who just seemed to want to see for themselves what Corbyn was all about. Not wanting to be left out, there were also quite a few people trying to flog copies of the Socialist Worker to people at the end. I don’t think they got many bites though!

Win or lose, I hope that the momentum he has built up continues. in some form