Yesterday's manoeuvrings within the Tory party are some of the most bizarre I have ever witnessed in all my time following politics.
For Michael Gove who had been seen as one of Boris Johnson's key allies and a likely future Chancellor under a Johnson premiership to suddenly abandon his colleague, denounce him and announce he would be standing himself was extraordinary to watch. Then Boris, showman to the end made a speech peppered with references to Julius Caesar's Brutus and where in its denouement he withdrew from the leadership race using the carefully calculated phrase we have seen repeated on all media outlets: "..in view of the circumstances in parliament that person cannot be me.".*
It is becoming clear that Gove is now himself a busted flush having first brought down David Cameron's premiership (along with Johnson) and then latterly turned on Johnson and brought down his leadership ambitions too. There are lots of Tory MPs shocked by this behaviour and although politics is a dirty business I think there are now simply too many who will not want to be seen to reward this sort of behaviour. It's possible now that Gove doesn't even make it to the final ballot of members. He may even, if reports today are accurate withdraw from the race and throw his weight behind Theresa May who is now the clear front-runner and very likely to be the next Prime Minister.
Nothing is certain but May is 4/11 with Betfair with Gove at 19/2. For the rest of this post I am going to assume that Theresa May will now win.
Because in reality that fits the pattern of almost all the Tory leadership campaigns that I have witnessed as an adult. Right through from the one that followed the fall of Margaret Thatcher.
In 1990 Geoffrey Howe dropped his bombshell as he resigned from Thatcher's cabinet and Michael Heseltine responded to his clarion call that "The time has come for others to consider their own response to the tragic conflict of loyalties, with which I myself have wrestled for perhaps too long." by challenging Thatcher for the leadership directly. As we all know his bid failed and instead the hitherto ultra-loyal John Major who had rapidly risen through the ranks to have recently become Chancellor of the Exchequer won the crown**. Heseltine was widely seen as having been punished for his disloyalty. This is despite the fact that the majority of Tory MPs knew that Thatcher was finished anyway, they did not want to reward Heseltine for having been the one to actually bring her down.
In 1997 after the Tories lost the general election the subsequent winner was William Hague. He had been very loyal to John Major all throughout his travails in the 1990s and was appointed to the cabinet after John Redwood had quit in 1995 order to challenge Major. He was seen as a trustworthy pair of hands to guide the Conservative Party through a difficult time. Redwood was eliminated in the second ballot, another victim of the Tory Party's dislike of disloyalty.
In 2001 the story was a little bit different and deviated from the norm in that the winner in the end was Iain Duncan Smith who himself had been a serial rebel in the 1990s against John Major's government. Duncan Smith was actually the beneficiary of the fact that he ended up in the final ballot against Ken Clarke who as a Europhile was wildly out of touch with the Tory membership who by now had the final say when the MPs had whittled the field down to two. This aberration however was short lived as the party rapidly realised they had made a mistake selecting Duncan Smith not least because it was very difficult for him to credibly demand loyalty from his parliamentary party after all the times he had failed to do the same thing himself under Major. So in 2003 without even a leadership election the Tories got rid of Duncan Smith through some back-room shenanigans and replaced him with Michael Howard the former Home Secretary who himself had been (publicly) loyal to Major in government thus ending the experiment of allowing a former rebel to lead them.
2005 saw another loyalist David Cameron push through the field to emerge victorious. Cameron in fact is the epitome of a loyal party member having devoted much of his life to working in the engine room of the Tory Party before he became an MP first in Central Office and then as a special adviser to Norman Lamont and Michael Howard. Indeed he and George Osborne used to help out prepping John Major for PMQs during the 1990s.
And so to the current leadership contest 11 years on. Given the history of how the Tory party selects its leaders and the disaster that befell it the one time it deviated from this norm and selected someone who was widely seen as disloyal it is looking like once again that rather than the showboating politicians and/or the ones who have been willing to publicly betray the party leadership it will be the quiet, unassuming but publicly loyal Theresa May who will win the ultimate prize.
There is almost certainly a lesson in here for future aspirant Tory leaders. Keep your head down, get on with the job and no matter what you might really think, always, always swear absolute loyalty to your leader.
It's the Tory way.
*As an aside this debacle shows how wrong I was when I wrote the other day that it was most likely to be Boris Johnson who won the leadership. I should have adhered more closely to what history tells us myself! I'll be more careful in future for sure.
**It's worth noting that Major was able to "have his cake and eat it" when it came to Thatcher's nomination for the first round of the leadership ballot. Thatcher's team had wanted Major's signature on her nomination papers as he was Chancellor and that would add weight to her bid. But Major did not sign her papers as at the time he was under anaesthetic having dental surgery. Hence he was able to both profess loyalty and simultaneously not dirty his hands by directly backing her. This contributed to his success in the second round and will perhaps go down as the luckiest dental problem in political history.
Friday, 1 July 2016
Yesterday's manoeuvrings within the Tory party are some of the most bizarre I have ever witnessed in all my time following politics.
Sunday, 26 June 2016
I have just joined the Labour Party.
Before long term readers of this blog start thinking I've gone peculiar let me assure you that there is method in this.
Firstly, I will state for the record that I certainly consider myself to support Labour's "aims and values" which is what you have to be able to do to be a member. As I've mentioned before I consider this a fairly vague thing to have to adhere to but in so far as I want to see social justice in this country I certainly think I have at least as much in common with those goals as e.g. someone like Peter Mandelson. Or Tony Blair. Both of whom as far as I know are still Labour members.
OK, that's the admin out of the way (in case the Labour Party "Compliance Unit" (seriously that's a thing) are reading this).
To the method.
We have just had the most politically revolutionary event in this country since the second world war. All the pieces have been thrown up in the air and they will be falling down and settling over the next few months and years. The Tories are about start a contest to elect their new leader and hence Prime Minister. As I outlined earlier today that is very likely to lead in short order to a general election.
Let's face it, it's going to be Boris Johnson.
In the meantime as I am writing this 8 shadow cabinet ministers have either been sacked or have resigned in order to try and force a leadership contest to unseat Jeremy Corbyn as leader. I think Corbyn, although a very nice man is simply out of his depth as leader and hence would lead the party to a serious defeat at the coming election. If you thought it was bad for Ed Miliband (who actually didn't really have much of a track-record for the Tories to attack) just imagine what it is going to be like for a man with Corbyn's history and all the platforms he has shared with... Well, you've all seen the pictures. You know what I'm talking about and what will happen. He'll be thrashed.
It is costing me £3.92 per month to be a member of the Labour Party. That is a small price to pay if like me, you do not want to see a demagogic charlatan like Boris Johnson have such an easy run at hugely increasing his majority in a few months time. If you agree then you should also join so you have a say in choosing the next leader who after Johnson is likely to be the most significant politician in the country.
These are serious times and it simply cannot be left to the left wing activists who flocked to Labour last year to get to choose who this person should be. They had their chance last year and they have utterly failed. So please, if you can afford a few quid a month join Labour in order to make sure you have a vote in the contest to ensure there is a stronger opposition to one of the worst politicians I can imagine becoming Prime Minister.
You don't have to remain a member in the long term. I may do, I may not. That's not my concern right now. I'm simply looking at trying to make sure that Her Majesty's Loyal Opposition can do a proper job during the biggest political crisis of my lifetime.
Will you join me?
So as a country we've voted for Brexit.
I didn't of course, I voted for Remain. But we are where we are.
One thing that I have been certain of since the moment it started to become clear that Leave were likely to win on Thursday evening is that there will certainly be an early general election, likely very early. It was obvious Cameron would have to resign and therefore that there would be a new Prime Minister within a few months.
Boris Johnson is favourite to be that new PM but even if he isn't the new leader will face a number of pressures the inexorable logic of which will lead to them having to go to the country sooner rather than later.
Firstly there will be the fact that the manifesto that was voted on in 2015 and the mandate that Cameron had has been utterly eclipsed by this referendum result. It is simply not tenable for a new leader to piggy-back off Cameron's win and ride things out until 2020 when everything has changed so fundamentally.
Secondly, Boris's (or A. N. Other leader's) majority will be wafer thin. Given the incredibly difficult task the new PM will have navigating a course through negotiations with the EU trying to execute a tricky and trap-laden divorce settlement will frankly be impossible when a tiny back-bench rebellion on any one vote could bring the whole house of cards crashing down. They will need a decent working majority as a bare minimum.
Thirdly, more pragmatically the recent precedents are not good for leaders who take over and do not win an election of their own within fairly short order. Gordon Brown bottled it in 2007 and his Premiership was dogged by "The Election that never Was". Jim Callaghan also refused to go to the country in 1978 at a time that was likely much more propitious than waiting it out until a vote of no confidence sunk him less than a year later and issued in The Age of Thatcher. By contrast John Major who had the good fortune to be able to eke out the fag end of Thatcher's third term from the end of 1990 through to early 1992 while he was still relatively popular won a huge mandate of his own.
Fourthly, if it is Boris then it is preposterous to expect that someone who has been banging on for months and months about us being lorded over by "Unelected Brussels Bureaucrats" can expect to remain in office for long unelected. He'll need the mandate to have any real credibility given all his on the record statements on this subject.
But, but, but I hear you splutter. What about the Fixed-term Parliaments Act of 2011? Doesn't that mean that we can't have another general election until 2020?
Well technically yes. Unless one of two things happen, both of which are quite possible.
One is that two thirds of the Commons votes for a dissolution of parliament. So effectively that would require both the Tories and Labour to vote for one. That is perhaps the most likely way it will happen. Because I simply cannot see politically how Labour refuses a general election no matter how frit they might be of the consequences (especially if Corbyn is still leader). Can you imagine the utter derision that will be poured on them if they deny the public the opportunity of a fresh election given how fundamentally the tectonic plates of UK politics have now shifted?
But if Labour make that dreadful miscalculation then all the new PM has to do is call a vote of no confidence in him or herself, bring down his/her own government and then wait two weeks. When no stable alternative government can be formed (which of course with the current parliamentary numbers would be impossible) then an election is triggered by default. A bit more messy but would get us to the same place. You could certainly imagine a politician with the sheer chutzpah of Boris Johnson delighting in the opportunity to use a mechanism like this. To bring down his own government in order to rise phoenix-like from the flames in an even more powerful position.
Finally if the new PM wants to short-circuit all of that they could simply invoke emergency legislation to repeal the Fixed-term Parliaments Act. That only requires a bare majority in the Commons and I doubt the Lords would do anything to stop it given the current circumstances. Then they would be free to call an election whenever they wanted, old-school style.
So three different ways to achieve the ends required. I would guess number one will happen but even if it has to be one of the other ways I am certain we will have an election within the next 12 months, quite possibly later this year.
In fact as Thursday evening bled into Friday morning and I became more and more convinced that Brexit was going to win I put some money on with the only remaining online bookies who were still taking bets on this market backing a general election in 2016 and covering one in 2017 too. About 30 minutes after I placed this bet the online site took the market down. I got odds of 10-1 for both bets.
I put my money where my mouth is. Mark my words, we'll be going to the polls again before very long.
Saturday, 25 June 2016
So here we are. I voted Remain, you voted Leave. You won. It was narrow but clear. 52% to 48%.
I fear that a lot of what the Remain campaign said would happen will now come to pass. I hope I am wrong but I think it is very likely that there will be various negative short and long term consequences of the vote we've just had.
Members of Leave have already started to back-track on the pledges made during the campaign. Nigel Farage for example has said that the pledge emblazoned on the side of the Leave battle bus was "a mistake" and that there will not be £350 million extra per week for the NHS. Daniel Hannan said on Newsnight last night that migration will not be curbed to any significant degree.
I don't know if you voted Leave for either of those reasons but if you did I think you'd be justified in feeling pretty annoyed today.
But it is very difficult to hold the Leave campaign to account. They were made up of politicians of different parties and now the campaign is over they have scattered to the wind.
Except that some of the leading lights in that campaign are likely to be part of the next government of the (currently United) Kingdom. Michael Gove for example is quite likely to be a senior cabinet minister. And Boris Johnson (who is most readily identified with that battle bus with the £350 million emblazoned on the side) is odds on to be our next Prime Minister.
I suspect that if (when) Boris becomes Prime Minister he will feel duty bound to call a snap general election in order to give himself the mandate to move forward with his negotiation plans with the EU.
When this happens I urge you to think very carefully about what has just happened. How quickly the Leave campaign has backed away from its promises.
If you are suffering from "buyer's remorse" right now. If you are one of the growing band of Regrexiteers who feel they've been sold a pup don't think there isn't anything you can do about it.
We have a representative democracy in this country and the chances are good that you will be able to send another message via the ballot box quite soon.
Please do not waste this chance. You need to speak to the politicians who will be in a position to do something about it in a language they understand.
All the best
Wednesday, 6 April 2016
What a pickle Cameron is in now.
With the leak of the papers from Panama based Mossack Fonseca it has been revealed that the Prime Minister's late father, Ian used their services and was able to ensure a company that he ran (Blairmore Holdings) was able to appear as if it was run offshore. This was done using various methods including Ian Cameron regularly flying to board meetings that were held abroad even though the bulk of the company's business was done in the UK.
Before I start, I should make clear that it seems pretty certain that neither Cameron's father, nor Cameron himself have done anything illegal.
However, David Cameron has benefited hugely from the schemes his father used. He has inherited a large amount of money from his father's estate and it looks very likely indeed that some UK tax was not paid on profits made by the company that may have provided that money in a way that is morally dubious to say the least.
Now you may argue firstly that as nothing illegal was done here there is nothing to see and we should move on as some are doing. I am afraid I profoundly disagree. Cameron has been banging on and on about tax avoidance (see here, here and here for examples from last year) for years now accusing those who engage in it of "morally wrong" behaviour. See here for his comments when comedian Jimmy Carr was caught out:
So the Prime Minister's position on this before this latest scandal blew up was crystal clear. People who are involved in avoiding UK tax by using clever schemes like making it seem like companies are based offshore when by any reasonable measure they are actually based in the UK are engaging in immoral behaviour and should pay their UK taxes. Indeed the pressure that comments he made above put on Carr forced him to pay more tax on his money and to stop the practise that was allowing him to avoid it.
That brings us to what should happen now.
Cameron's line so far has been variously to claim that this is a "family matter" and also that he has no shares nor any money held abroad. He made comments yesterday where he told us he simply has his PM's salary, some savings from which he gets some interest and one house in London that he rents out while he is in Downing Street (although this appears to ignore the house he has in his Oxfordshire constituency but let's let that one slide as to be fair he only has that because he is an MP).
Neither of these defences are good enough I'm afraid. It is not a "family matter" whether our Prime Minister has personally benefited from tax avoidance schemes that he has been campaigning and legislating against. It is very much our business. And his comments about his current finances ignore the history of where his "savings" came from in the first place. A classic politician's way of answering the question.
I am sure Cameron, who has a notoriously hot temper and has previously invoked his father as a huge influence on his life is furious about how this is all being reported. What he needs to do now to cauterize this is quite simple. If he knew nothing about the tax avoidance schemes his father's company used then he needs to work out how much tax would and should have been paid on what he inherited had those schemes not been used and write a cheque out to HMRC.
If however he did know what his father's company was doing and knowingly inherited a large amount of money where UK tax had not been paid in a "morally wrong" way (to use his own words) and then sat on it for years then his situation is much more stark.
I know others will take a different view but on manifest hypocrisy about finances I take a hard line. Under those circumstances he will have shown himself unfit for office and he must resign as Prime Minister.
Sunday, 3 January 2016
So the (evil natch) Tories have got themselves a majority and are now going to press ahead with boundary reform. They intend to reduce the number of MPs from 650 to 600 and also to even up the number of voters in constituencies to within about a 5% margin. This is in contrast to the situation at the moment where there can be huge disparities between numbers of voters with some constituencies being 4 or 5 times the size of others.
Now before I get into how Labour have no right to whine about this let me just reiterate my long held position on our electoral system. I think First Past the Post is not fit for purpose. I think it hugely distorts results, forces parties to focus on a tiny number of swing voters in marginal seats and prevents new parties from getting a foothold hence allowing our atrophied and sclerotic politics to perpetuate.
But Labour don't agree with this. Since the Second World War they have been in power cumulatively for 30 years, most recently the 13 years from 1997 to 2010. In all those long years, and especially when Blair had his big majorities between 1997 and 2005 they could easily have put through a change to the electoral system to make it more proportional (or what I would call "fairer"). Indeed after the Jenkins Commission (set up by the new Labour government) reported in 1998 and recommended we change to a system of Alternative Vote Plus (a preferential system topped up to add proportionality) they would have had the perfect political opportunity. But they chose not to do this. The system that had served them so well and given them a huge majority was deemed fine and dandy. Blair has subsequently admitted as much.
The boundaries have long favoured Labour because of their vote distribution and the constituency sizes. Until the night of the long sgian dubhs they could expect to get significantly more seats than the Tories even if their vote share had been the same. It's questionable whether this is still the case following their rout in Scotland but nevertheless this held for many, many years.
So what we essentially had was an electoral system that was strongly bent in favour of the two main parties, Labour and the Tories, and then within that bending, it was bent a little further in favour of Labour than the Tories. Labour were fine with the massive bending towards the two main parties, and of course the extra bending towards them in favour of the Tories.
Unsurprisingly the Tories, while happy with the overall massive bending towards the two main parties were not happy with this extra bias towards Labour. They saw an opportunity to "fix" this problematic (for them) part of the system by evening up the constituency sizes and reducing their number. They were (and are) able to use the cover of "making the system fairer" even though the effect will be to bend things more in their favour. Analysis suggests it may give them another 20 or so seats compared to what they would get at the moment. It's not an exact science but most observers agree it will be to their benefit.
And of course Labour are not happy with this change. There are cries of "foul" and "gerrymandering". But they've brought this on entirely themselves. A rotten system that was bent in favour of red/blue hegemony but slightly more towards red will now be a rotten system that will be bent a little more towards blue. But the Tory argument that evening up the constituency sizes will be fairer is very hard to rebut. It is unfair that there is such disparity in the system and Labour could get more seats than the Tories for the same vote. If you accept the premise that FPTP is the best system (as Labour clearly have every time they achieve power) then you simply don't have a leg to stand on trying to claim what the Tories are doing is unfair.
I'd scrap the whole lot and change it to multi-member constituencies using a preferential voting system. But Labour have never done anything like that for Westminster and there are no signs they want that now. Maybe after another 15 years of opposition (which is looking increasingly likely with the Corbyn/McDonnell nexus) they'll change their mind again. Although even if they do I'd have no confidence in them actually changing things were they ever to fluke back into power again.
But in the meantime the best thing they can do about the incipient Tory changes is pipe down.
They long ago forfeited any right to complain about "unfairness" in our electoral system.
Sunday, 20 December 2015
Something that has been bubbling under for a while with me is a niggling feeling that Nick Clegg hasn't really been held to account for the utter devastation that the Lib Dems suffered back in May. Sure he resigned and is now just a lowly backbench MP. And indeed he is now in the somewhat excruciating position of not being able to step down as any subsequent by-election under current circumstances would probably lose the Lib Dems another seat that they can ill afford to squander.
So perhaps that combination is enough. And yet I feel that somehow it is not.
I was a Lib Dem from 2008 to 2013 and I still very much consider myself a fellow traveller at least with the membership if not the leadership in the latter years of the coalition. I was excited by the vibrancy of the party in the run up to 2010 and after the coalition was formed I was genuinely optimistic about the possibility of real political reform and a strong liberal flavour to the government that would play out over the following 5 years.
Sadly it was not really to be. At least not in any meaningful and sustainable way. Despite the promises the only political reform we got were fixed term parliaments which were only really instituted to protect the Lib Dems from their larger coalition partner and they were set at 5 years rather than the more accountable and liberal 4 years that most campaigners for this change wanted to see. Apart from that, electoral reform at Westminster, Lords reform and other measures people like me wanted to see fell by the wayside.
In addition to that a number of measures that most liberals would never have wanted to see on the statute books were rammed through in the teeth of party opposition. Secret courts were a resignation issue for some, most notably Jo Shaw who made the best political speech I have ever seen in person from the podium at the 2013 Lib Dem conference. I nearly left myself at that point but stayed on in hope only to drift away disillusioned later that same year. There were other things as well, tuition fees, 45p tax rate etc. etc. etc. I don't need to go through the list. Most people reading this will know them all by rote.
But politics is tough and it certainly wouldn't be fair to blame Clegg for all of those, although he was complicit.
There are some things though for which the blame squarely falls on his shoulders. I'll highlight just three here although there are more.
Firstly the complete lack of any attempt to change the way PMQs was practised at all. Clegg stood in for Cameron at PMQs many, many times. And instead of using the opportunity to do it differently, perhaps taking a more emollient tone and not constantly bashing anyone who criticised the government he did the exact opposite. He used the bully pulpit to attack the opposition over and over again. In many respects he was worse than Cameron. It made him look like Just Another Tory. Indeed after he resigned as leader he cited "sitting next to the Prime Minister" at PMQs as one of his biggest mistakes because of the "optics". He is right about that but it is much much worse than he states because of the way he himself carried out the same duties.
I asked Clegg about this very subject when I interviewed him in September 2012 and he claimed that he would have liked to change PMQs but when he had made slight attempts to move in this direction he had been branded as "ineffective and weak" and hence he had had no choice but to stick to the bearpit style. But this just simply is not good enough. What was the point of having a Lib Dem Deputy PM taking PMQs if when he deputised for the PM he made no difference to how it was practised and more importantly gave no inkling of how a liberal PM could do it? He had a responsibility to show how liberals in general and Lib Dems in particular were not happy with the current system and would change things. On this particular point he completely and totally failed.
Secondly cleaving far too closely to the Conservatives in the early years of the coalition. The "Rose Garden" press conference was clearly a misstep but it was indicative of a wider problem about how the party presented themselves. On the media and in parliament they went on and on and on about how there was a strong Lib Dem flavour to the government. They pounced on research that suggested 75% of their manifesto had ended up in government trumpeting this from the highest rooftops. But all this just made the Lib Dems look like they were crypto-Tories; when the cuts started kicking in, the tuition fees were raised, the NHS reforms were announced and all the other policies that were anathema to 2/3rds of the voters who backed Clegg in 2010 they "owned" the entire lot. There was no serious attempt to distance the party from these policies in government from the top level. Indeed Clegg seemed to revel in what he was doing, at one point light heartedly quoting Blair saying "It's worse than you think, I actually believe in the policies.". By the time the "differentiation" strategy kicked in in the last year or so of the parliament it was far, far too late.
The final one I want to focus on is how totally misguided Clegg's long term political strategy was. He seemed totally convinced that there were a huge swathe of liberal leaning voters out there who had previously gone for the Tories but now the Lib Dems had demonstrated they could do government they would come flocking to the yellow banner. And that these voters would replace all the lefties who had previously backed the party. Time and again at conference we members were all assured that the leadership knew exactly what it was doing and it would all come good. After the wipeouts in local elections and in 2014 losing all but one MEP (a devastating result for "The Party of Europe) the members were urged to keep the faith.
It was all wishful thinking. In May this year the electorate delivered their verdict. The Lib Dems lost 83% of their seats. They are now down to 8 MPs. There are some projections (that I take seriously) that suggest that in 2020 after the boundary changes they could be down to 4 MPs. They are a shadow of their former selves and are likely to be a political irrelevance for a generation or more.
I'm not saying there were any easy answers after the 2010 general election. There weren't. As I have argued many many times Clegg took the only option for stable government for 5 years and his party have paid in my view a disproportionate price for effectively putting the country before party.
But Clegg and his aides were complicit in a large number of tactical and strategic mistakes that made the ultimate result 5 years later even worse than it needed to be. They didn't listen to the many many voices from both inside and outside the party urging them to change tack. Clegg refused to stand down in June 2014 after the Euro elections when it was obvious to almost all political observers that he was a busted electoral flush.
I have no specific recipe for what sort of "punishment" Clegg should now undergo. Indeed it is unrealistic and probably even churlish to think there is one. But the party, its current and future leaderships and its members should think very carefully before pursuing the line that Clegg was very brave to do what he did and that the party in any way owes him a debt of gratitude. They should also all do their best to try and make sure he does not ultimately become a well respected and loved grandee of the party (like say Paddy Ashdown) who is listened to and has great influence in the future direction of the party.
He made some major errors that have cost both the party and ultimately the country in terms of much reduced liberal influence in parliament for many years to come.
At the very least he should be held accountable for that.
Sunday, 13 December 2015
Here we go again. Mark banging on about electoral reform.
Well guilty as charged. However I really do feel it is going to play a substantial, probably pivotal role in the evolving disintegration of the Labour Party.
Before I lay out my thesis I should make it clear that despite my obvious opposition to New Labour's more authoritarian aspects and also to the sheer opportunism of the party in opposition between 2010 and 2015 I certainly do not wish to see its demise as a serious political force. Most of my family were Labour supporters when I was growing up. I was delighted with Blair's victory in 1997 and indeed enthusiastically voted for the party in both 1997 and 2001. If I was going to have to choose between 20 years of hegemony from Labour or the Tories I would choose Labour. They are closer to my own political philosophy than the Conservative Party for sure.
But it is becoming increasingly obvious to me that the Labour Party as it is currently constituted will not be here within a decade or two. We have seen a confluence of factors that now militate against its long term survival.
Firstly the membership has changed beyond all recognition from even 6 months ago, let alone 6 years ago. The extraordinary rise of Jeremy Corbyn who only squeaked into the ballot due to acts of charity by several Labour MPs who would never have dreamed he could win and certainly would never have done so had they realised this has triggered an influx of hundreds of thousands of new members, both full and "supporter" level, but all of whom have a vote in leadership elections. Many of these new members are what we used to refer to as "hard left" or even if they don't recognise themselves as such are certainly fellow travellers with much of what the hard left stands for.
Secondly Jeremy Corbyn, John McDonnell and their acolytes now have their hands firmly on the levers of power within the party. And despite their denials it is becoming increasingly obvious that the Momentum group set up to support Corbyn's aims is organising at a grassroots level and will eventually either through confrontation or attrition start to replace more moderate Labour MPs with candidates who are "one of them" to adapt one of Thatcher's most famous phrases.
Thirdly, the mere fact that Corbyn is the leader and groups like Momentum are now so active is leading to more and more people who were previously members of Trotskyist groups and other parties like the SWP etc. joining or in some cases re-joining the Labour Party. They feel like they have got their party back and are swelling the numbers.
A combination of these factors make it almost impossible for Corbyn to be dislodged. He won in the first round with 59.5% of the vote. This is a crushing victory. Burnham only managed 20%. And by way of comparison Blair only got 57% when he stood and won in 1994. Corbyn is master of all he surveys within the party. And the fact that if anything the membership now compared to a few months ago is likely to be even more Corbynite makes it even more difficult to imagine him being successfully challenged.
It is worth bearing in mind as well that if Corbyn is challenged, then according to the Labour Party rules he is on the ballot by default. This means he would no longer need the nominations of 35 Labour MPs to be a candidate in any future election.
The only way I can see the hard left cabal being ousted in the forseeable future would be if Corbyn himself decided to stand down. I wouldn't completely rule this out. It is possible that over the course of the coming months and perhaps couple of years he gets so worn down by the constant attacks from both inside and outside his party and from the media that he eventually chooses to throw in the towel. I have to say though that at the moment this seems pretty unlikely. He appears to be enjoying the job more and more and I doubt he will eschew the chance to remake the party in his own image.
And even if Corbyn did stand down I am certain another left winger, probably McDonnell or someone similar would stand for the leadership. And although the 35 MP threshold would kick in, given how hugely the membership has changed this year I would imagine there would be huge pressure on MPs to at least allow a left winger onto the ballot (who would then of course win). If MPs prevented this I would predict out and out civil war between the membership and the PLP with dozens of deselections happening in short order. Momentum might be largely keeping their powder dry for now but they would definitely not stand for that and they know they have the power to hold the MPs to ransom.
Perhaps the most important question arising from all of this though is why is it happening at all? How can we have a membership of a party that is so at odds with the vast majority of its own MPs? Why is someone like Jeremy Corbyn or John McDonnell even in the same party as say Peter Mandelson or Tristram Hunt or Liz Kendall? It doesn't really make much sense. Those people should really be in a completely different party to each other. Their aims and political anchors are in completely different places.
It's because of the electoral system stupid.
Of course in an ideal world Corbyn and Kendall would be in totally different parties. It was clear during the leadership campaign that they agreed on very little substantively. The problem is that if the hard left or the moderates wanted to split off and form another party the electoral system would punish both sides for doing this. In safe Labour seats where the Tory vote is very weak the left would probably be OK and the Labour Party and Splitters Party could fight each other for those constituencies. But in the vast swathe of marginals and semi-marginals against the Tories or other seats where e.g. UKIP or the Greens or the Lib Dems can run a united Labour Party close a split Labour Party would be a disaster for the left. In dozens, perhaps well over a hundred seats we would see the Tories primarily and perhaps other parties more marginally reap the rewards. Not because these other parties have necessarily done anything to deserve winning these seats but because Labour had split and First Past the Post awards seats to the largest plurality. In simple terms if Labour hold a seat with 50% of the vote where the Tories last time got 30% and Labour splits into two parties where each split party gets 25% of the vote the Tories win even if they still only get 30%.
Of course Labour knows all of this. If they have any doubt they just need to look to recent history and see what happened when Labour split during the 1980s when the Gang of Four formed the SDP. In the following two general elections both Labour and the SDP were hugely punished for being separate parties and the result was 16 more years of Tory government.
If we had a different electoral system based on some form of proportionality a decision to split would be much easier as even if the vote split down the middle (or more likely say the hard left got 10% of the vote and the moderates got 20% or 25% of the vote) then they would get seats allocated in roughly those proportions. And then following an election it's possible that those parties, perhaps in conjunction with others could form a government. But their respective electoral strengths would be clear and the coalition would be formed after an election rather than being forced to cram a load of people who loath and barely even understand each other's politics into the same party before an election.
But we don't have a system like this. And this is why by far and away the most likely scenario is that the Labour Party does not split and instead remains one single party. And slowly but surely that one single party is in the process of destroying itself. The constant off (and increasingly on) the record briefings against each other, the incredulity of many Labour MPs at the behaviour of the leadership (just look at the video of Tom Watson's face when McDonnell recently pulled out Mao's Little Red Book at the despatch box for this in microcosm), the grassroots organising to punish MPs who deviate from the Corbynite line. And eventually, inevitably the proof that Corbyn is unelectable in 2020. But even when this happens that won't stop the hard left. They simply will never accept that their programme is unpopular. They will blame anything but themselves and will instead carry on with their purity drive.
They will eventually after years of this be a hollowed out force with MPs fallen by the wayside replaced with true believers.
This could have been avoided or at least mitigated if the party had been able to separate into the more natural political groupings that common sense would dictate. But that can't happen. Our electoral system simply will not allow it.
It would be easy for someone like me who has campaigned for electoral reform for a long time often in the teeth of opposition from dinosaurs on the Labour benches to find this highly amusing. It is only 4 years since we had the chance to make a change to AV that could have helped facilitate a much better situation for the current Labour Party. But many within Labour fought tooth and nail to prevent this relatively minor but important progressive change to our system and they won. So they will now reap what they sowed.
But I do not find this situation amusing. It is deadly serious. Because the consequence will be probably 20 years at least of Tory governments. A Tory party who knew very well what they were doing when they blocked any chance of a proportional system during the 2010 Lib Dem coalition negotiations and a Tory party who pulled out all the stops (in alliance with those Labour dinosaurs) to prevent AV in 2011.
I suspect eventually Labour will come to see how they have shafted themselves in the long term through their refusal to countenance a more progressive electoral system.
But it will be too late by then. They won't have enough MPs to make any difference any more.