Joff Wild on Jeremy Corbyn and an impending constitutional crisis

August 29th, 2016


As leader of Her Majesty’s Most Loyal Opposition Jeremy Corbyn receives a salary of close to £138,000 per annum. On top of this, of course, he gets expenses and a generous pension package. Last week, he told us that he does not consider himself wealthy. Some may wonder whether a politician so out of touch with reality can ever be taken seriously, but not, it seems, a majority of Labour members; for on 24th September it is almost certainly going to be announced that they have re-elected Jeremy Corbyn as leader of their party.

What we have learned over the last few weeks is that once the leadership contest which Corbyn is fighting with Owen Smith has been put to bed, the acrimony that exists across Labour is not going to go away. There will still be 150,000 (perhaps as many as 200,000) Labour members who believe that Corbyn is not up to the job, not to mention more than 1,000 Labour councillors, the mayor of London and the leader of Scottish Labour (Carwyn Jones has remained neutral, though it is pretty clear what he thinks too). Crucially, 80% or so of Labour MPs will continue to feel the same. That takes us back to the salary.

Jeremy Corbyn gets an enhanced pay package because the post he holds is an official, constitutional one. He is not just the leader of the second largest party in the Commons, but is also meant to head a shadow front bench able to provide close scrutiny of the government and to offer an alternative to it. In other words, the British Constitution mandates Jeremy Corbyn to ensure that Theresa May and her ministers account in full detail for the decisions that they take and to ensure in-depth critiques of those decisions. Because of his lack of support among members of the parliamentary Labour party, it is clear that Jeremy Corbyn cannot do this now and will not be able to do it after 24th September.

As this is the case, we are in completely uncharted waters. Our country’s constitution is not codified; instead, it is a mixture of statute, court decision and convention. It has not ever had to deal with a situation in which the leader of the opposition does not command the support of his party’s MPs but continues to insist on leading them. In the past, parliamentary leaders who have lost the confidence of their colleagues have always resigned – and our constitutional settlement is based on the assumption that this will always be so.

As we know, though, Corbyn does things differently. Because he does not believe in the primacy of parliament, his view is that as long as he enjoys the backing of a majority of Labour members he should keep his job. But while that may be fine for him and for his supporters, there is a wider picture to consider. Our constitution demands a properly functioning opposition – one in which a full shadow cabinet is backed up by a full team of junior shadow ministers and parliamentary private secretaries. For as long as Jeremy Corbyn leads Labour, this will not happen.

Because Corbyn will not resign, despite not being able to do the job he is paid to do, it seems to me that at some stage the Speaker of the House is going to have to get involved. He will be very reluctant to do so and, no doubt, he will be rebuffed by the Corbyn team, but John Bercow surely has a responsibility to ensure that the House of Commons performs the role it is constitutionally obliged to perform. And that means having an effective opposition. Bercow has the power to insist on or even to impose a solution; sadly, it may turn out he will have to use it.  

Whatever he does decide to do, Bercow is likely to be hung out to dry. The current situation brings the Commons into disrepute, while perceived interference in the internal affairs of the Labour party will undoubtedly lead to accusations of bias or worse. But a leader with minority support among his party’s MPs, presiding over a dysfunctional shadow cabinet in which individuals undertake multiple roles with little or no support, is not sustainable. Something has to give.

It all means Corbyn’s implacable refusal to accept that he needs a parliamentary mandate is going to cause ructions that go way beyond the Labour party.  That would be quite a feather in the cap of a hard left MP who has always wanted to shake up the British political establishment.

Joff Wild

Joff Wild posts on Political Betting as SouthamObserver and tweets at SpaJw


This is why Mrs May will be unlikely to hold an early election

August 29th, 2016

Con Majority

Boundary changes resulting from cutting the number of MPs from 650 to 600 could exacerbate Labour divisions as well as boosting the Tories.

The Guardian are reporting that leading psephologist and former Tory MP Lord Hayward has looked at the forthcoming boundary review/reduction in the number of MPs,

Two hundred Labour seats – more than 85% of the party’s total – could be affected by the review of parliamentary boundaries due next month, according to a detailed analysis of the review’s likely impact.

Up to 30 Labour seats could disappear altogether, says Lord Hayward, an analyst widely regarded as an expert on the boundary review, while the rest will see their composition altered in some form.

Although the changes will also affect the Conservatives, Hayward, a Tory peer, said his analysis of demographics in the UK concluded that Labour is over-represented.

“The party that will suffer most is the Labour party because such a high proportion of their current seats are well below the required quota, particularly in Wales, the north-east and parts of the M62 corridor,” he said.

The changes, initiated by David Cameron, which will cut the number of MPs by 50 to 600, aims to ensure that each person’s vote is of similar value by equalising the number of registered voters in each constituency to within 5% of 74,769. A higher proportion of Tory seats are currently within the range, so only between 10 and 15 of the party’s seats are expected to disappear.

MPs of all parties face the prospect of battling it out with colleagues to retain a seat, but anxieties will be particularly acute within Labour, where anti-Corbyn MPs fear that the necessary reselection contests could be an opportunity to reshape the parliamentary party in Corbyn’s favour, if he retains the leadership. “This will have implications for large numbers of Labour MPs who may well have to compete against each other for reselection,” Hayward added.

I suspect this will be main reason Mrs May decides against an early election, notwithstanding the intricacies of the Fixed Term Parliament Act, an early election will deny her and the Tories a boost from the boundary review.

Although some might argue the cherry on the parfait will be the potential of many Labour MPs facing re-selection because of the boundary changes, it will be like the mandatory re-selections that many close to Jeremy Corbyn have been arguing for.

My own view if that does happen, it might force Labour MPs opposed to Corbyn to do something more radical if they are likely to be replaced to someone more politically in tune with Jeremy Corbyn, and that will split the Labour party further and wider than we’ve already seen.



A tribute to Sir Antony Jay

August 28th, 2016

Earlier on this week Sir Antony Jay, co-creator and writer of Yes Minister and Yes Prime Minister died. For my mind, both shows remain timeless, there’s the above clip about how leading questions can influence polling results, though the scene above was in the days before the BPC.

The scene below is probably even more relevant in these post EU referendum days. But there many other clips I could have used to show the genius of this show.



Going to war with Sir Richard Branson might not necessarily develop to Corbyn’s advantage

August 28th, 2016

Corbyn needs better strategists advising him, the current bunch aren’t very good on current evidence.

The Sunday Mirror have an article up by the Shadow Chancellor, John McDonnell.

Labour is calling for Richard Branson to be stripped of his knighthood following his bid to humiliate Jeremy Corbyn over Traingate.

Writing exclusively in the Sunday Mirror, Shadow Chancellor John ­McDonnell slams the Virgin billionaire as a “tax exile who thinks he can try and intervene and ­undermine our democracy”.

He brands fatcats who avoid paying full UK tax as “freeloaders” who are shirking their “public duty” – also singling out shamed rag trade tycoon Sir Philip Green .

And calling for a radical overhaul of the honours system, he adds: “Run off to tax exile if you want. But you leave your titles and your honours behind when you go.”

All this does is bring back the issue of Traingate after it had ceased to be much of a political issue after the initial heat and light, Labour seem to be ignoring the poll that showed more people believed Virgin Trains/Richard Branson’s story than believed Corbyn.  It appears vindictive from Corbyn, the Labour MP Jamie Reed called Corbyn’s approach ‘Nixonian’ which is how I think the public will see it.

As brilliant ideas go, this may well rival the Empire of Japan’s decision to keep the United States of America out of World War Two by attacking the American Pacific Fleet at Pearl Harbour. Back in January, YouGov found that Sir Richard Branson was the UK’s fifth most admired man, seven places ahead of Jeremy Corbyn.

This week stories such as the parlous financial position of the NHS and the widening Tory splits over Brexit emerged, Labour should be focusing on those not this, those topics will have more salience with the voters than traingate.

If Corbyn and his team are going after companies and people who embarrass him then train model company Hornby will be next on their list after they tweeted this.




The Purge: Election Year

August 27th, 2016

Are these signs that Corbyn isn’t confident of winning the leadership election?

Yesterday Jeremy Corbyn said he ‘fear[ed]some of his supporters may have been “unfairly” barred from voting in the party’s leadership election. He has handed a list of names to party officials, saying he wants a “fair and open” contest, with all those eligible to take part able to do so.’

On Thursday John McDonnell ‘accused Labour’s general secretary, Iain McNicol, of directing a “rigged purge” of party members, aimed at weeding out Corbyn voters.’

I am probably reading far too much into these comments but my initial reaction was Team Corbyn aren’t confident of winning, with the last public poll on this contest was over six weeks ago we haven’t got much to go on, but with the ballots having gone out this week, I wonder if this based on early returns.

Then again Labour’s NEC is apparently suspending members for posting their love of the Foo Fighters, suspending members for posting about their love of Justin Bieber or One Direction I could understand, so it might be a case of cock up rather than a conspiracy of a rigged purge.



The curtain lifted a little this week on Labour’s civil war and it’s not pretty

August 27th, 2016


Whoever wins in a month, the struggle will go on

Power struggles are the nature of politics. Usually, the public gets to glimpse only a fraction of the battles waged behind closed doors in what were once smoke-filled rooms. Outsiders end up having to engage in their own form of Kremlinology to work out what’s really going on: piecing together patterns in offhand comments, unattributed press briefings and articles, planted Commons questions or unruly (or unusually quiet) supporters.

The proliferation of such evidence in Labour’s current infighting might have suggested that it’s different there this time; that the battles are much more out in the open. Yes and no. There is much more public hostility but we got a glimpse yesterday of how much worse they are behind the scenes.

That Labour’s conference might have been cancelled due to the lack of an adequate security presence is testament to both the organisational chaos within the party and the depth of the schisms between its factions (the two being closely related). Now that OCS have been appointed to deliver the security arrangements, some will no doubt argue that the conference was never seriously in doubt. Don’t believe it. Labour would not have gone to G4S earlier were they not panicking about an essential aspect of the planning, almost as time ran out.

The brinkmanship involved in having pushed the decision so late won’t have come from the senior party staff; they’d have wanted matters sorted months ago. Far more likely is that sorting conference security in a timely manner was just another casualty in Labour’s ongoing and multifaceted civil war.

Winning control of the leadership is hugely important in the factional battle but it’s far from the only one. Gaining an upper hand in the party’s governing NEC is almost as important. Both at the moment are up for grabs.

In contracting OCS, the party’s General Secretary, the embattled Iain McNicol, has again bought himself time but there’s no doubt that he is in the firing line of people like John McDonnell and Len McClusky. A LabourList article yesterday laid bare the extent to which untrusted staff are under attack from Labour’s left. It hinted at much more.

If, as it suggests, McClusky was a prime mover in the decision to boycott G4S but was sanguine about Labour contracting with Showsec (who are in dispute with the GMB), then he must have been well aware that he was setting up a position where either the conference was cancelled altogether or where it was picketed by the GMB and descended into farce as many delegates – and quite probably the leader – refused to cross the picket lines.

That there can even be the suspicion that the biggest union boss might have been willing to sacrifice conference in order to force out McNicol – the piece quotes McClusky as saying blame for the conference planning lies with the General Secretary – is indicative of how deep the divisions run. Corbyn and MacDonnell being unwilling or unable to restrain him is equally telling.

My money would be on the former: Corbyn has no reason to regard McNicol as a friend and the opportunity to install his own man as General Secretary (or the best man that he could get through the NEC) might well be worth almost any price. Another angle to both the conference and the leadership fights is that McNicol is a former GMB officer and the GMB has backed Owen Smith). Corbyn does of course have the small matter of winning his election first but these games are almost independent of that: if he fails there then all is lost; if he wins then best to have the ground prepared.

But it’s only one aspect. Beyond Unite v GMB, and Corbyn’s proxies v McNicol, Labour has any number of other divisions: PLP v leadership, Momentum v mainstream, and Corbynite ‘pure’ left v Owen Smith’s ‘pragmatic’ left to name three (and that’s before thinking about the wider picture of, for example Europhile membership v Eurosceptic voters). It’s true that all parties have divisions but what Labour is going through is well beyond the normal debates about policy and the jockeying for position that’s the daily diet of politics-as-normal.

Labour’s divisions matter for two big reasons. Firstly, and most obviously, it’s rendering them impotent as a party of opposition. It’s almost impossible for Labour to oppose the Conservatives when they’re spending so much time fighting themselves – and when they do take the argument to the Tories, they don’t do so in an organised way.

Secondly, and even more importantly, it means that Labour won’t split. Not yet anyway. With no one group in control, the battle is very much still on and until one group does gain a firm hand on all the party’s machinery, there is no reason for anyone to walk into the wilderness. Each side’s belief that they can prevail is what’s keeping them going; the belief that the other side/s might – and the understanding of how high the stakes are whoever does – is what’s driving the intensity of the fight.

But there also lies real risk. When Labour’s self-inflicted civil war is over – and that won’t be this year whether it’s Corbyn or Smith who’s crowned on September 24 – who knows whether what’s left at the end of it is worth winning.

David Herdson


August Local By-Election Summary and Important Notice

August 26th, 2016

The Lochs (Non Party Independent defence) on Fife
Result: Labour 1,318 (47% +1%), Scottish National Party 1,079 (39% +20%), Conservative 270 (10% +7%), Communist 86 (3%, no candidate in 2012), Green Party 45 (2%, no candidate in 2012)
Labour GAIN from Non Party Independent on the fourth count with a lead of 239 (8%) on a swing of 9.5% from Lab to SNP

By-Election Summary : August 2016
Labour 10,865 votes (30% -1% on last time) winning 6 seats (unchanged on last time)
Conservatives 10,493 votes (29% unchanged on last time) winning 7 seats (-1 on last time)
Scottish National Party 3,552 votes (10% +5% on last time) winning 1 seat (unchanged on last time)
United Kingdom Independence Party 3,448 votes (9% -5% on last time) winning 2 seats (unchanged on last time)
Liberal Democrats 3,217 votes (9% +3% on last time) winning 2 seats (+1 on last time)
Independent candidates 2,178 votes (6% +2% on last time) winning 0 seats (-1 on last time)
Green Party 819 votes (2% -2% on last time) winning 0 seats (unchanged on last time)
Other Parties 1,811 votes (5% -2% on last time) winning 2 seats (+1 on last time)

GAINS in August 2015
UKIP GAIN Beaver on Ashford from Labour
Liberal Democrats GAIN Alston Moor on Eden from Conservative
Labour GAIN Silverdale and Parksite on Newcastle under Lyme from UKIP
Labour GAIN Irvine West on North Ayrshire from Scottish National Party
Scottish National Party GAIN Renfrew South and Gallowhill on Renfrewshire from Labour
Conservatives GAIN Gravesham East on Kent from Labour
Conservatives GAIN Catterick from Independents on Richmondshire
Farnham Residents GAIN Farnham, Shortheath and Boundstone and Farnham, Castle on Waverley from Conservative

Next month, is a very important month for the 2020 General Election campaign, as the Boundary Commissions for Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and England announce their initial proposals for a new 600 seat House where each constituency is precisely the same size based on the electorate of the UK in December 2015. There are of course four exceptions to this rule, Orkney and Shetland (which will remain as a single seat), The Western Isles (which will also remain as a single seat) and the Isle of Wight (which will be split into two and named accordingly), the other 596 seats however are all in flux.

On September 6th, the Boundary Commission for Northern Ireland will report on how it believes Northern Ireland’s new 17 constituencies will be arranged. On September 13th England and Wales will announce theirs. There has been no date set for Scotland yet but I expect by the end of the month we will have all the initial proposals.

These proposals will also mark the start of proper betting for that election and so starting on September 6th, I will be calculating the new notional map of Britain if those boundaries were in place for 2015. As you can imagine this is going to be quite a task (and there is a very good chance I may ask readers for their help) it does mean however that I will not be able to tally the local by-elections for September (and possibly October as well), therefore I ask the other members of the PB community to volunteer to take over from me for those two months. If you are willing to do so, then simply reply in the comments box and give an example of how you would profile the by-elections for your local council ward.

In consultation with Mike, I will choose the best one on Sunday and then pass the details of those by-elections over the next two months to them and look forward to reading their summaries. Until the start of November (when there may be a huge crop of them) this is Harry Hayfield signing off from local by-election duty and signing on to new constituency tallying duty


From Labour’s conference problems Mrs May might infer Labour couldn’t cope with a snap general election

August 26th, 2016

If Labour cannot properly organise a conference with a year’s notice, surely they couldn’t cope with a snap general election?

In the past 24 hours, Labour’s annual conference has been thrown into doubt, as Labour were snubbed by G4S, the firm Labour had been boycotting until recently. Conor Pope of Labourlist writes

Concerns are mounting over whether Labour conference – due to open in less than a month – will go ahead after a major security company rejected a late offer to cover the event.

Labour approached G4S, which has provided security numerous times previously, earlier this week in an effort to solve the crisis that has thrown the annual conference into doubt. However, the company says it does not have sufficient time to make arrangements ahead of the September 24 start date. Working with G4S would have meant reversing a decision by the NEC earlier this year to boycott the firm.

A spokesperson for G4S yesterday said: “Safety for delegates and our staff is our priority and at this late stage and with our teams committed elsewhere, we are not in a position to step in and provide security for the conference.”

The only company to put in a bid for a security contract with Labour is Showsec – although an ongoing trade union dispute has led GMB to threaten to picket the party conference if such a deal goes ahead. Many party members and trade unionists would refuse to cross a picket line, throwing the conference into further chaos.

Another option, bringing in local police to provide security, also appears doubtful. As well as being incredibly costly, Merseyside Police are likely to be unsure about taking on the task at such short notice – a Liverpool FC home match on the day of the leadership contest announcement could also put pressure on the local police service. A spokesperson for Merseyside Police said that them stepping in is “not an option at the moment”, as they have not been approached by Labour.

The problem has heightened tensions across the labour movement, with leaked letters between GMB and Unite chiefs revealing growing unhappiness.

Whilst many will say if Labour cannot organise a conference, what hope is there that they could ever run a country, but perhaps Theresa May might infer something else, Labour had a year to plan for a conference, and they are spectacularly failing, how would Labour cope if she called a snap general election?

With the lead the Tories have over Labour, and her substantial leadership ratings lead she has over Jeremy Corbyn, coupled with the wider mess Labour finds itself in the moment, she might deny it, but she should be contemplating an early general election. Especially given Iain Duncan Smith making noises that he might plague Theresa May’s premiership in the way he plagued John Major’s premiership, increasing the notional majority of 16 she has in the House of Commons might be advantageous for Mrs May in the long term.


PS – G4S became the second major public service company this week, after Virgin Rail, to pretty much to tell Jeremy Corbyn to stick it, a harbinger that they think they he will never become PM?