Richmond Park and North Kingston

by Harry on December 3, 2016

Rachel Reeves was on Westminster Hour at the weekend and sounded like a perfectly sensible person with whom one might have reasonable disagreements, until she was induced, as she should have anticipated, to talk about the by-election, at which point she defended Labour’s decision to stand a candidate not as if she was a loyal party member willing to say something stupid for the sake of unity, but as if she really believed that it was sensible and morally defensible behavior. This piece by Neal Lawson of Compass, if what it says is true—that some local party members preferred to refrain from nominating a candidate, but were told that the London Party would impose a candidate if they didn’t choose one) is… bemusing?

The fact that it was retweeted by Clive Lewis (I gather from my students that the phrase “I retweet that” means “hear, hear, old chap (or chap-ess)”, so I assume he approves, but what do I know?) is maybe a hopeful sign.

An aside, again on language use. I heard a Tory on the Jeremy Vine show this morning commenting on Tim Farran’s interview by saying that “I think Tim Farran has lost the plot”. “X has lost the plot” used to mean “X is disoriented and doesn’t know what they are talking about”. Said Tory MP, though, seemed to mean “I am disoriented and have nothing worth saying so will say something offensive about Tim Farran who seems to have had a great success, and is being pretty sensible and modest about the whole thing”. Is that what “X has lost the plot” has come to mean, or is it a phrase that now has many meanings?

{ 26 comments }

1

Neville Morley 12.03.16 at 6:20 am

I think the *intended* meaning of “Farron has lost the plot” is “Farron has signed his party up to strategy (anti-Brexit) that may play well in prosperous liberal Richmond but will cause rest of country to rise up with pitchforks to defend The Clear Decision Of The British People from backsliding Europhilac cosmopolitans”.

2

Hidari 12.03.16 at 9:13 am

Well what are the Labour Party supposed to do? They can look at the psephological data as well as anyone. Generally speaking (at least in England) the lower you go down the ‘social class ladder’ (especially in the North) the more pro-Brexit people become. Obviously not all working class people are Labour voters. But the Labour Party is a working class party. So if they tack towards anti-Brexit they lose working class voters in the North of England. But if they tack towards pro-Brexit they lose the Guardian reading classes of Islington etc. The phrase ‘stuck between a rock and a hard place’ springs to mind here, and this applies just as much to Corbyn’s successor as to Corbyn.

However, the idea that given the present situation Corbyn et al are going to enter into a ‘progressive’ alliance that will, on the Labour side, be (de facto if not de jure) led by Blairites is obviously not going to happen.

This does make one think that in the long term the Labour Party (and, probably the left in general) is simply finished in the UK. But this ‘progressive alliance’ with anti-Brexiters is not going to happen in any case.

I would as ever remind everyone that many people in the UK are struggling desperately to remain part of an EU that might not even exist in 20 years time, and even if it does exist, may well be dominated by the far right.

3

Ronan(rf) 12.03.16 at 9:45 am

Harry, a retweet doesn’t = endorsement, unfortunately. It’s one of the half written rules of social media.
Retweet & +1 or positive ammendment can imply endorsement, though. It can be complicated.

4

Neil 12.03.16 at 12:10 pm

Hidari, it’s clear that Labour has a problem, but since two thirds of Labour supporters voted Remain, it seems very likely that they have more to lose by their current strategy than to gain. They will lose more than the Guardian readers of Islington.

5

Hidari 12.03.16 at 1:58 pm

@4
yes but Labour need more than their ‘core’ vote. They need to reach out to new voters.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not offering advice: I think the situation for Labour is completely hopeless. But I can see things from their point of view.

6

Stephen 12.03.16 at 5:47 pm

Hidari@2: yes I completely agree with you, except that you write of “an EU that might not even exist in 20 years time, and even if it does exist, may well be dominated by the far right”. I would say 20 years is a very generous figure. And as for domination by the far right; well, I’m not sure what right and left mean any longer, but it seems to me that parties described as “far right” want to get out of the EU, not to dominate it.

7

Stephen 12.03.16 at 5:51 pm

Neil@4: right, two thirds of Labour supporters voted Remain if we can believe Ashcroft. Trouble is, distribution of Remainer Labour voters may not be uniform. If there are overwhelmingly many Labour Remainers in Islingtonesque constituencies in and around London, but a relative lack of them in the traditionally Labour regions of the Midlands and the North of England, then Labour have trouble coming.

8

Hidari 12.03.16 at 7:47 pm

‘ but it seems to me that parties described as “far right” want to get out of the EU, not to dominate it.’

They’re a bit cagey about that, actually. They definitely want out of the Euro. Some of them have stated they want to stay in the EU as long as it is ‘reformed’.

9

Chris Bertram 12.03.16 at 8:14 pm

Yes, Clive Lewis has been very supportive of the idea of a progressive alliance. Contra, Hidari he is very far from being a Blairite (insofar as that term continues to have meaning). The Blairites (and Brownites) are ultra-hostile to the very idea of a PA, particularly one involving the Green Party.

Hidari has a point about the pro-Brexit voters being people need to win over, but 48% is a big chunk of the electorate nevertheless, so if you could mobilize a list to get their votes whilst Con and UKIP split the 52% you might do well under FPTP, though geographic distribution is an issue. Personally, I think Labour is toast because of the way it is caught in the middle of Brexit and unable to adapt.

10

Harry 12.03.16 at 8:53 pm

Right, its the fact that it is Clive Lewis that particularly interested me (who has consistently been supportive, and is a leftwinger — who has so far been pretty loyal to Corbyn.

11

Hidari 12.03.16 at 10:26 pm

‘Personally, I think Labour is toast because of the way it is caught in the middle of Brexit and unable to adapt.’

Yes they certainly haven’t been able to capitalise on it in any meaningful way. On the other hand, what could they do? I think it would be electoral suicide to go against what is perceived as being ‘the voice of the people’: but on the other hand, it’s also electoral suicide to go along with the UKIP leaning Brexiters. So the Labour Party will probably split and then disappear and then become a ‘rump’ or ‘protest’ party like the LibDems. The idea that one by-election might lead to some progressive alliance is science fiction: there are no progressive forces in British society except those who want to tear it apart (i.e. the nationalists, who are only progressive via a very broad interpretation of that word), and the idea that these nonexistent forces might unite and take on the emerging “Thatcherite versus ethnonationalism” consensus/debate is out of Harry Potter (the ‘traditional’ Labour vote will move to son-of-UKIP, the radicals to the Greens, the liberals to the LibDems, with the SNP and Plaid Cymru mopping up the rest). “

In any case annihilation of the soft left seems to be continuing apace. The canary in the coal mine which no one wants to talk about was the obliteration of the Israeli Labour party and its replacement with the ethno-nationalist Netanyahu. That process has been going on since the 1980s and now seems more entrenched than ever. As I pointed out in a previous post, the ‘soft left’ connived with the ‘soft’ (and for that matter, hard) right in the obliteration of the hard left (remember Neil Kinnock’s purging of Militant, the de facto purge of the McGovernites in the US) ‘cos they thought that would impress the right who would allow them some scraps from the table. And for a while that seemed to work but Surprise! Now the right wants the annihilation of the soft left too, and the soft left now has no one to defend them.

In any case it would seem to be the end of the line for any left, at least in the global North. The sociological conditions which gave birth to it (heavily unionised manufacturing) have gone, and, in the US we see the end of this process, with the US shortly to be a post-union society. With no unions, the left has no money, and so they have to accept corporate money, and, therefore, represent corporate interests. The only possible place for the working class to revolt is by voting for an ethno-nationalist party, and that’s what will continue to happen until the left returns back to its working class roots, which will be never.

Contemporary debates don’t fit easily into the ‘left-right’ paradigm (one could think of left wing reasons to be either in favour of, or against, the EU: cf also Scottish nationalism), which again makes one think that the whole political setup we have taken for granted since the French Revolution is simply over.

12

kidneystones 12.03.16 at 11:35 pm

On the same theme, I just watched the media study their belly-buttons looking for ways that the winning team can be gracious, forgive years of smears, and extend the hand of friendship to those who’ve spent decades defining economic complaints as closet, or open, racism.

This was/is the great risk of identity politics. The given is that the left is moral and the right is not. What the left, however, does not seem to understand is that the real alt-right, not the scare-alt-right nationalist crackpots, makes no such concession.

The real alt-right regards the cynical deployment of the charge of ‘racism’ in order to shut down discussion on borders, etc. as essentially the most hateful form of dishonesty and, as such, profoundly immoral. Which is why charges of ‘racism’ fail utterly against Leave voters and Trump supporters.

For the Leave/Trump demographic, the very leveling of the charge identifies the hurler as: a/immoral; b/dishonest; c/cynical; and d/intellectually bankrupt.

Then, when the Leave/Trump supporters start behaving like people who’ve just won a referendum, or an election, the media steps in to whine about ‘hurt feelings.’

After one calls another ‘racist’ under the terms now commonly employed, the person on the receiving end isn’t likely to forget, or forgive.

That’s the challenge facing Labour, now, and the Democrats in the US. Pretty much any name can be forgiven. Not these. Having been on the receiving end of a few such spitballs, I can assure you that only the first few have any sting. After that, I quickly start to lose all respect for the accusers no matter what our history.

UKIP may crush Labour, even under Corbyn, for precisely this reason. The charge of racism is toxic. That doesn’t mean the term should not be used, but rather that it should be used the same way we use strong bleach. It might remove the specific stain. But if it gets on anything else, forget it.

Games over.

13

J-D 12.03.16 at 11:51 pm

So the Labour Party will probably split and then disappear and then become a ‘rump’ or ‘protest’ party like the LibDems.

You think? I’m not a gambler, but if I were I’d have my money on the other side of that bet. To me, another Labour Prime Minister — let’s say, within thirty years — seems much more likely than not.

14

J-D 12.04.16 at 3:29 am

kidneystones

The real alt-right regards the cynical deployment of the charge of ‘racism’ in order to shut down discussion on borders, etc. as essentially the most hateful form of dishonesty and, as such, profoundly immoral. Which is why charges of ‘racism’ fail utterly against Leave voters and Trump supporters.

For the Leave/Trump demographic, the very leveling of the charge identifies the hurler as: a/immoral; b/dishonest; c/cynical; and d/intellectually bankrupt.

The statement that any leveling of a charge of racism is dishonest is logically equivalent to the assertion that no racism exists. But racism does exist; therefore, the assertion that all charges of racism are dishonest is itself immoral, dishonest, cynical, and/or intellectually bankrupt (probably not all four in any one case).

The statement that the real alt-right regards the cynical deployment of the charge of ‘racism’ in order to shut down discussion on borders, etc. as essentially the most hateful form of dishonesty and, as such, profoundly immoral is not strictly false, but it is nevertheless a gross distortion, because of the omitted fact that ‘the cynical deployment of the charge of “racism” in order to shut down discussion’ is something that doesn’t exist outside the imagination of the alt-right.

15

Hidari 12.04.16 at 8:16 am

‘To me, another Labour Prime Minister — let’s say, within thirty years — seems much more likely than not.’

You could be right: the future is unwritten, as they say. But if there is one, I suspect it will be a radically different Labour party, with a radically different approach. It may not have much in common with today’s Labour party, other than the name. It may also be in coalition with other parties. I would also say that if Labour governs again it will be towards the end of that 30 year period than the beginning. Brexit, ironically, has torn the Labour party apart far more than the Tories.

But don’t fall into the illusion of thinking that just because a party has been powerful in the past that means it will continue to be powerful. Remember PASOK. Also remember the Israeli Labour party. And the poor old Liberals in the UK who dominated the 19th century. Despite the recent coalition, and the last by-election, the chances that they will ever regain their former prominence is zero.

Your point also assumes that there will be a UK, as we understand that phrase (i.e. including Wales, Northern Ireland, and Scotland) in 30 years. Maybe not.

16

Collin Street 12.04.16 at 9:18 am

The statement that any leveling of a charge of racism is dishonest is logically equivalent to the assertion that no racism exists. But racism does exist; therefore, the assertion that all charges of racism are dishonest is itself immoral, dishonest, cynical, and/or intellectually bankrupt (probably not all four in any one case).

People don’t advance arguments that they believe to be simultaneously false and unconvincing. I mean, even in bad faith: a bad faith actor might advance arguments that they knew to be false if they thought that they would be effective, but if they didn’t believe them to be effective they wouldn’t advance them, whether they thought they were false or true. And a good-faith actor would only advance arguments that they thought were true, of course.

If someone’s advancing an argument, then either they think it is convincing, or they think that you’ll find it convincing.

But in reality, there’s barely space between the two to insert a razor blade: a person advances an argument because they find the form convincing, because they believe the argument is convincing / reasonable.

Which means: a person who advances stupid arguments must be stupid, and a person who advances ignorant arguments must be ignorant, even if they’re advancing the arguments in bad faith.

[Again: there are no political problems, only mental-health ones.]

17

J-D 12.04.16 at 11:15 am

‘To me, another Labour Prime Minister — let’s say, within thirty years — seems much more likely than not.’

You could be right: the future is unwritten, as they say. But if there is one, I suspect it will be a radically different Labour party, with a radically different approach. It may not have much in common with today’s Labour party, other than the name. It may also be in coalition with other parties. I would also say that if Labour governs again it will be towards the end of that 30 year period than the beginning. Brexit, ironically, has torn the Labour party apart far more than the Tories.

But don’t fall into the illusion of thinking that just because a party has been powerful in the past that means it will continue to be powerful. Remember PASOK. Also remember the Israeli Labour party. And the poor old Liberals in the UK who dominated the 19th century. Despite the recent coalition, and the last by-election, the chances that they will ever regain their former prominence is zero.

Your point also assumes that there will be a UK, as we understand that phrase (i.e. including Wales, Northern Ireland, and Scotland) in 30 years. Maybe not.

Taking the last point first, you’re wrong there. I’m not assuming no territorial changes to the UK, and that’s not a fair interpretation, as you demonstrate yourself when you refer to the Liberals who dominated the nineteenth-century UK. The UK then included the whole of Ireland; the UK now doesn’t; they both still count as the UK. If Scotland also secedes from the UK, as it might, it will still be the same country (even if they change to a different name, which I’d guess they wouldn’t).

Working backwards, yes, I’m aware of the Liberals (UK), PASOK (Greece), and Labour (Israel), and what’s more I can add to the list: the Federalists and the Whigs (US), the Radicals (France), DC and PCI (Italy), Pangu (Papua New Guinea). So don’t think I’m basing my estimate on the idea that these things don’t change. On the contrary, I’m well aware that everything changes. None of the parties that exist today will last forever, and none of the countries, either. The question isn’t whether the Labour Party will wither away, but when. If I placed my bet that there will be another Labour Prime Minister in the next thirty years, I would think of it as a gamble, not a certainty. I am prepared to commit myself to the estimate that it’s a gamble with good odds, which, and this is the point of my comment, means that I’ve got a kind of skin in the game that you’re apparently not prepared to risk. Admittedly, my hypothetical bet might have to wait thirty years to be settled, but at the end of that time I could be proved wrong. Your latest comment hints at a lamentable tendency to set up qualifications to forestall falsification. If thirty years go by and there’s no Labour Prime Minister, I’ve got nowhere to hide. But if, as I estimate is likely, there is another Labour Prime Minister, apparently you’ll be prepared to weasel out of acknowledging the outcome of the hypothetical bet: ‘Oh, it’s a radically different Labour Party, so it doesn’t count.’ As soon as you start hedging like that, with provisos that defy verifiable testing, the substantive content of your assertions disappears in a fog of rhetoric.

18

J-D 12.04.16 at 11:20 am

Which means: a person who advances stupid arguments must be stupid, and a person who advances ignorant arguments must be ignorant, even if they’re advancing the arguments in bad faith.

[Again: there are no political problems, only mental-health ones.]

A binary division of people into those who are stupid and do stupid things and those who are not and don’t isn’t tenable; likewise, a binary division of people into those who are ignorant and those who aren’t. People who are well-informed on some subjects are ignorant in other areas; everybody behaves stupidly some of the time, although they vary a good deal in how often, how stupid, and what kind of stupidity.

So I would say: people who advance stupid arguments are doing so stupidly, exhibiting some particular variety stupidity, but that is compatible (at least in some case) with their being clever people by some general measure (if there is one); and people who advance ignorant arguments are exhibiting their ignorance in that particular area, which is compatible with their being very well-informed in others.

Also, neither ignorance nor stupidity is in itself a mental-health problem.

19

Igor Belanov 12.04.16 at 11:22 am

How on earth people can try and generalise about British politics from one by-election result that has been massively influenced by local conditions is beyond me. The result is not sensational by any means, nor is Labour’s share of the vote. Richmond Park was a Lib Dem constituency from 1997 to 2010, and Goldsmith’s majority was only so high in 2015 because of the Lib Dem’s tarnished reputation from the coalition period. Labour has never polled highly in the constituency. Goldsmith’s gesture backfired because all the contesting parties shared his opposition to Heathrow expansion and because London is heavily pro-EU.

UK politics is in uncharted territory and I pity the hubris of anyone who dares to suggest that they know the most politically-successful course of action at the present time. In places like Richmond Park Europe might be the main issue for the majority of constituents, but elsewhere in the country this is not the case (unless politicians make sure it achieves the greatest prominence). The Lib Dems are likely to continue to recover some support because their insignificance and return to opposition have seen them return to the opportunism that has been their main strategy for some time. The argument that some kind of ‘progressive alliance’ is needed is misconceived. The Lib Dems are not a ‘progressive’ party, as their support for austerity while in the coalition proved, and some sort of ‘unpopular front’ arrangement would in fact be for very conservative purposes and unlikely to offer the change that much of the working-class and/or the left want.

As Hidari suggests, a ‘progressive alliance’ would mark the nail in the coffin of the Labour Party and of what remains of mainstream class politics. It has to be avoided like the plague. The Conservative Party may be bigoted and stupid, but it is not fascist. We should not pretend we are in the 1930s and in a position where we need to offer support to a ‘lesser evil’ that has got us into this mess in the first place.

20

engels 12.04.16 at 1:12 pm

Again: there are no political problems, only mental-health ones.

Again! And again. And again.

21

harry b 12.04.16 at 3:52 pm

Its obvious that the Labour vote collapsed completely because people wanted to punch the Tories (and may be Mr. Goldsmith in particular) in the nose, and no-one can, or should, generalise from this. And whereas you can make by-elections about a single issue, and flood the constituency with LDs (the LDs are VERY good at by-elections), general elections are about loads of things and you can’t flood all the constituencies at once. Still, it was a considerable achievement to have the imagination, leadership and nous to make this about Brexit, when the candidate and the press had said it was about the 3rd runway (which, I suppose, most of the constituency opposes) and then to win. Nobody is proposing a single electoral front of Labour, the LDs, the Greens and whoever; just making the boundaries of loyalty and political exchange between those parties more porous, and facilitating anti-Tory, anti-UKIP victories where possible and appropriate. On Sunday in Westminster Hour Rachel Reeves implied that the LDs are no different from the Tories and sounded as if she was genuinely indifferent about whether a Tory right wing multi-millionaire (by inheritance) old Etonian anti-European who ran a racist Islamophobic campaign for mayor would be spectacularly beaten in full public view by the Lib Dems. Of course, it is a small thing in the grand scheme, and of course it doesn’t signify much, but actually being indifferent just seems bizarre. She sounded like a moron (I’m only picking on her because she was actually there — I imagine that all but 10 or so of the 231 Labour MPs would have sounded as silly).

22

William Burns 12.04.16 at 3:54 pm

Igor Belanov: “UK politics is in uncharted territory”

I’m an American, and when it comes to uncharted territory, I’ll swap our politics for the UK’s any day.

23

Stephen 12.04.16 at 9:10 pm

harry b: the independent candidate hoped it would all be about the third runway. All other major candidates agreed with him that they were against the third runway. So, no particular imagination was needed to make it about something else.

Incidentally, did you notice that British Airways who have been vociferously in favour of Heathrow expansion have now looked at a map and realised the third runway will go straight through their own very expensive headquarters, and BA will have to pay for most of their own demolition costs?

24

John Quiggin 12.04.16 at 9:52 pm

Labour is stuck on how to respond, as Hidari says, but the situation will change radically once the government’s Brexit plan becomes known. While predictions are bound to be inaccurate, it seems to me that the most likely possibilities are
* An immediate commitment to hard Brexit, which Labour (or at least lots of Labour people) have said they will oppose.
* A failed attempt at “have our cake and eat it”, followed by a hard Brexit. Labour can both oppose the deal and blame it on government incompetence.
* A Brexit so soft that the EU will accept it, meaning only marginal restrictions on migration, continued budget contributions, adherence to rules from Brussels and so on. The Tories could easily split over this, with UKIP resurgent

I have no idea how this will play out and it’s quite likely that Labour will mess it up. But I do remember lots of people predicting, in 2015, that Cameron would be PM for another decade if he wanted to stay that long.

25

J-D 12.05.16 at 8:29 pm

More generally, it is overwhelmingly likely that whatever role Brexit plays as an issue at the time of the next general election will be different from the role it plays as an issue now, because one way or another events will move on.

26

Faustusnotes 12.05.16 at 11:56 pm

My guess is that this brexit is going to be handled in a completely incompetent way by May and colleagues. Labours best bet is to consistently hammer that and take advantage of the fallout of the horrendous exit process. They can promise to clean up the mess may leaves. This means day can avoid the issue of northern brexiters and avoid appearing opposed to the will of (52% of 48%) the people. They’ll be inheriting an economic and cultural wasteland that no one wants to rule, but maybe ey can get the Tories out for a generation…

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