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The Beckett report, polls and the Left

Margaret BeckettOn two related issues, the Beckett Report and Labour’s overall level of support, there has not been a sufficiently robust response from the left.

On Beckett there would appear to be general agreement that the failure to even attempt to dispel the myth that Labour was responsible for the 2008 crash because of over expenditure rather than bank ‘sub prime’ lending was a key factor. It should have been the key issue, as Michael Meacher consistently and rightly argued in Left Futures and elsewhere, and without substantial acceptance that Labour was not to blame it is doubtful whether the election could have been won, irrespective of more favourable approaches in other areas.

Beckett makes many other valid points, and dismisses the simple ‘too left’ or ‘too right’ arguments, so no particular policy or person (except poor old Ed) is singled out for criticism, which was partly the object of the exercise, but in seeking to avoid criticism the report is lacking in fundamental respects, simply because a number of what the left should surely regard as basic mistakes are not addressed.

There are three such areas.

The first is the effective capitulation to Tory cuts policy over the 2013 Spending Review. This meant that Labour now had a far more draconian policy than under Darling, and was locked into supporting continuous widespread cuts with no substantial addition to capital investment. Policies therefore to stimulate the economy through major housebuilding and green technology could not be advanced, so that in this crucial respect Labour was indistinguishable from the Tories. Much was made of the fall in living standards, (the squeezed middle) but as Michael Burke points out in one of the few decent critiques of Beckett, (After Beckett Report, Socialist Action 20 Jan) Labour did not, because its surrender to Tory cuts policy means it could not, put forward any meaningful or credible way in which this could be changed.

The second is the electoral strategy, in that it remained fixated on the centre ground. Under first –past-the-post the centre is of course more important than under proportional systems, but Labour laid too great a stress on the centre at the expense of its traditional supporters in the C2, D and E social groups, and the previous left part of the Lib –dem vote, where support from both groups could have been much greater with more left wing policies, probably without particularly affecting the Labour A/B vote which remained strong. The result was that a sizeable chunk of Labour’s traditional vote went to UKIP while much of it failed to vote, and many of the left ex Lib-Dems voted Green, probably costing Labour the five seats lost where the Green vote was greater than the margin of loss. The tragedy is that the same thing happened in 2010, at least as far as the traditional working class vote was concerned, but no lessons were learnt from this.

The third is Scotland, where it is clear that participation alongside the Tories in the ‘Better Together’ campaign prior to the referendum was a huge error, compounded by allowing the SNP to maintain a somewhat dishonest anti austerity policy, thus positioning itself to Labour’s left in Scotland and successfully attracting much of its vote. A separate Labour ‘Better Together’ campaign and a Labour anti austerity programme could have prevented the collapse that occurred and retained a sizeable number of Labour seats in Scotland.

It is frankly just not acceptable for any assessment of the election to ignore these areas, and perhaps others, and further work is needed to rectify this.

And so to the elections to come. In three months time there will be six sets of elections in mainland UK (Local government, mainly urban, London and three other Mayors, Greater London Authority, Scottish Parliament, Welsh Assembly and Police and Crime Commissioners) that will be more comprehensive than any other elections in the years leading up to 2020, and these should now become the priority for the left, on the fairly obvious grounds that the results will be seen by many members and supporters as a test of the Corbyn leadership, with good results strengthening it and vice versa. A minority on the left do not see this as an issue, thinking it more important to deselect Trident loving Labour MPs. The sensible majority know that it’s important, but many seem to have taken the predictions of many commentators of wipeout on 5 May too literally. What is the position?

According to current polls Labour is about six points behind the Tories, a position that has not altered much since the election and has not changed, for better or worse, since Corbyn’s advent as leader. (I am assuming here that pollsters have made adjustments to their sampling methods and that their figures are more accurate than those preceding the election which overstated the Labour vote.)

At this point in the last parliament Labour had begun to draw ahead of the Tories, so that for the Scottish and Welsh elections in 2011 it was about four points ahead, and for the London and local government elections in 2012 about eight points ahead. This means that it is now a total of about 10 and 14 points respectively (-6 to +4, -6 to +8) behind, which seems a huge amount and is the basis of the gloomier predictions. However, there are a number of countervailing factors.

There is the Oldham West by-election, the enormous success of which for Labour no-one has satisfactorily explained, but which is likely to reflect three things, namely the increase in and strength of the Labour vote in last year’s election in predominantly Labour areas where a much higher proportion of the voting will take place for the local government and London contests than if this voting covered the whole country, the return to Labour of many who had switched to UKIP last year, and Labour’s ability, unlike other parties, to put large numbers of canvassers onto the streets.

The polls for London are much more favourable than for the country as a whole and it is where Labour has its highest membership density. It is also where the most high profile contest of all the elections will be fought, that for London Mayor.

Things do not look good in Scotland, but a poor result here cannot in the main be blamed on Corbyn. In Wales it is likely that Labour will retain its leading position in government, either through a coalition with Plaid or the Lib-Dems (if there are any left), or as a minority government, as the only alternative is likely to be a coalition including UKIP which would be unacceptable to Plaid.

So there is everything to fight for, and a reasonable expectation that Labour can achieve a credible result, but campaigning for it must be the priority for the next three months.


  1. John Penney says:

    It is undoubtedly true that Labour failed to counter the continuously repeated “Big Lie” of the Tory key theme in the 2015 General election that it was Labour “overspending” Labour also , of course signally failed to explain the actual core role of the systematically deregulated financial sector in the UK, and globally for the 2008 Crash. But how could Labour “fess up” to this reality – given that it was the Blair/Brown Labour governments , with total willing participation by the two Eds and every other senior Party figure, in precisely this disastrous “brown nose the banks and cream off some taxes from their resulting temporary super profits to improve public services, and encourage an unsustainable consumer debt and property bubble” choice of an economic strategy ?

    The Tories were and are wrong that Labour crashed the UK economy by 2008 through excessive Welfare spending. ie, by being too “Left”. But Labour did indeed crash the UK economy by 2008 – by single mindedly pursuing an extraordinarily short-termist, unsustainable neoliberal economic strategy. This strategy (if such a term is justified for such a suicidally incompetent management of the economy) was solely concerned with short term electoral success from unsustainable debt, property and speculation bubbles. it was no different in actual overall direction from the similarly short-termist, unsustainable property and consumer debt bubble and free rein for the buccaneering trickery of the financial sector of the current Osborne , singularly inaptly described “long term economic Plan”.

    Labours woeful economic management under Blair/Brown signally failed to reverse our disastrously over financialised economy – indeed it accelerated it. Labour made all the key modifications to the NHS and our state education system that now gives the Tories the platform for the final privatisation of this vital area public sector provision.

    Beckett and her entire PLP neoliberal cabal simply cannot face up to the disaster that neoliberal Blairite Labour has inflicted on the UK economy. Which makes it very awkward for Jeremy Corbyn to really go to town on Cameron and Osborne’s constant nonsense mantra that the UK economy is in fine fettle – and will at present growth rates “overtake Germany in 20 years” . Because Jeremy really needs to admit that the entire Blair/Brown Labour government period is actually , minus the current Austerity Offensive (which of course the Blairites have no real objection to), identical, in its neoliberal content and objectives, one of complete continuity with the current Tory strategy. Difficult to admit that , and declare the complete radical Left policy shift required to actually save the UK economy and protect the mass of UK citizens, when behind him are the massed ranks of the guilty men and women” , the neoliberal PLP majority, who drove the UK economy over the cliff in 2008, and now see nothing amiss in mimicking the pro Austerity “make the working class pay for the bankers crisis”, strategy of the Tories in all but the pace of the destruction of the Welfare State and workers conditions and pay.

    We need to remember that in Oldham, despite the uber Blairite actual political credentials of the winning Labour candidate, as Council leader, the campaign was actually fought on a very anti Austerity, build social housing, etc . posiotively “Corbynist” , policy offer. That is a simple fact the Blairites and Press are totally unwilling to acknowledge – and Beckett and co, with their obsession with simply tailing the prejudices of the billionaire owned mass media, (on petty English nationalism, obsession with migrants, scapegoating those on Welfare, etc) will never realise is the key to regaining Scotland for Labour – and actually winning back our working class lost voter base from UKIP and abstention.

    We have nothing to fear, and everything to gain, from a radical Let Keynsian, anti austerity policy offer in all the electoral contests of the next for years. Only the “bought body and soul by Big Business” PLP majority has everything to fear from such a radical policy shift – through the withdrawal of all those post political career juicy personal pay offs . (if anyone challenges this “personal pay off” reality – I challenge you to look at the post cabinet careers of almost anyone from the entire Blair/Brown era. It is a shocking demonstration of the cynical “thanks for favours” payback system, which has destroyed Labour as a Party of the Left – until the Corbyn Surge victory of 2015).

    1. John P Reid says:

      But we should have still cut quicker when it went wrong in 2008 and Blair was long gone by then

      1. John Penney says:

        “We should have cut quicker when it went wrong in 2008”. Or more accurately , you are advocating that “we should have wilfully deepened the post 2008 economic recession through daft unnecessary cuts in Public expenditure – instead of the actual sensible Brown/Balls recession alleviating short-lived neo-Keynsian demand supporting measures undertaken to great effect” !

        Osborne’s post 2010 entirely ideologically motivated deep cuts in public expenditure and specifically investment actually delayed the UK’s recovery from the post 2008 Crash recession by years. Forget the Bourgeois press lies, John, that’s what happened.

        The “Balanced Budget” obsession of the press and the Tories is a pure ideological construct to justify the Austerity Offensive to destroy our welfare state – with nothing to do with building a thriving economy.

        Your understanding of economics is on a par with your politics, John P Reid, ie, right wing nonsense. It’s as if J. M. Keynes had never lived . You and the other pro Austerity enthusiasts in the Labour Party really do need to set aside your misguided understanding of economic management derived from the Daily Mail and Financial Times, and try reading a bit of Keynes , and the more recent Left neo-Keynsian economists.

        Why do you post your endless Blairite nonsense on this site , John ? Pure Trollery.

      2. If John Reid believes that a repeat of 1931 was the answer he is out of touch with reality. Had labour gone for cuts in 2008 they would have made it impossible to nail the lie that it was responsible for the crisis, which is only believed in this backward country, and is becoming as deeply rooted at UKIP propaganda about the EU.

        There is a Hollywood film showing the reality of the sub prime crisis, starring Brad Pitt, Ryan Gosling and CHristian Bale – all A listers in a very successful project. There is an audience in the US for the message that it was the bankers who created the crisis. the title is THE BIG SHORT.

        In the UK New Labour colluded with the lie that it was Brown who created it and aided by the 4 month suicide selection process, which they repeated in 2015, got it set in stone.

        There is much that needs to be sorted where the soft left can work with the hard left, notably Scotland where New Labour lost the initiative once Blair said it would only have the powers of a parish council, but the big lie technique used over who was responsible for 2008 is key.

        Watch the film and weep over New Labour’s failure to use this as a way to start a debate over the Tory big lie technique

        it is showing in cinemas now and I saw it Saturday. One final question for members of the New Labour Right. Are you aware that Brown solved the crisis which he did not create, in ways that left the problems unresolved (the film is very good on this… and the crisis may recur) or are you simply unaware that the Tory version of events is a lie and he was carried along by developments which were international in nature and had roots in Wall Street

        Trevor Fisher

  2. I generally agree with this analysis but the point about working with the tories and lib dems on better together was not a huge error. It was inevitable once the issue was a yes no national poll. If the different parties who believe in the union could not work together, what credibility did it have?

    The issue is tribalism. The scots nats gained massively by saying the tories are the enemy, you are the enemy working with the tories. But the principle has to be my enemies enemy is my friend,

    in case this is seen as cynical the same principle will apply for the EU referendum and I would expect the pro EU voices to work together – including the SNP. If not, they are sectarian as well as being dishonest over austerity, where they and the greens are fooling the voters.

    While the tribalistic ethos is maintained, the reality of current politics will not be grasped – on different issues there will be different alliances. Only where fundamentally anti- democratic forces are involved does this not apply. On the EU, it will be both principled and sensible to work with pro-EU tories as this will split the party

    The current situation is not unlike the late 1930s, where anti fascists worked with Churchill and others. But not on defending the King in the abdication crisis

    trevor fisher

    1. John Penney says:

      Trevor, you seriously think that a genuine pro working class campaign in Scotland to fight for the continuation of a united UK had to uncritically unite with the Tories and Lib Dems ? And after this totally non-socialist content united Labour /Tory/Lib Dem campaign enabled the SNP and its petty Left nationalist bandwagon followers to project themselves successfully as a “anti austerity Left alternative “, such as to eventually destroy Labour electorally in Scotland, was still “not an error” ? What planet are you on , Trevor ?

      And now you want the Labour Party (and presumably its Labour Left too , as this is the “Left Alternatives” site) to repeat the Scottish Referendum disaster , and set aside the essential Left demands, if we are to remain in the EU, for very radical pro working class changes required of the EU if it is to be other than a neoliberal enforcement body, in favour of a common front with the Tories and Lib Dems. Again ? Thus allowing UKIP to don the bogus Left posturing, “anti establishment” mantle that served the SNP so well alongside its petty victimhood-laden bogus tartan nationalism.

      You obviously have no understanding of the need for independent working class organisation and projection of a distinct socialist set of criticism and demands in the EU Campaign. It should be impossible for any principled socialist to have any truck with the entirely bogus petty nationalist, anti migrant, anti working class labour rights , (that’s what Cameron’s code wording of ” Greater Competitiveness” means ,Trevor), negotiating agenda of the pro EU Tories (set by the Tory/UKIP Right’s obsessions). Our socialist critique and reform demands of the EU is utterly different. So even those socialists who want to stay in should have no truck with a common campaign. That you don’t grasp this, says a lot about your naïve politics, Trevor.

      1. the world does not work as socialists would like it to. In 1940 Labour united with the Tories under Churchill and the Liberals to fight Hitler.

        the communist party stood aside and became totally irrelevant.

        There is a concept called the United Front…. and another called the Popular Front…. both are legitimate in different circumstances, and both have been used by the left at different times.

        I am on planet earth. The ultra left do not live there. Try explaining where you would have been in May 1940

        Trevor Fisher

        1. John Penney says:

          You utterly fail to answer any of my points , Trevor. I think you are falling into the old debating trap of equating “apples with pears”. There is actually no direct similarity at all between the catastrophic situation for Great Britain (and its huge global empire) in 1940, and the current issue of whether the UK should stay in or leave the EU – or indeed any similarity with the Scottish Referendum either.

          You fail to recognise the disastrous consequences of the unprincipled “Popular Front” with the Tories and Lib Dems by Labour in the Scottish Referendum. All distinct pro working class, anti austerity, politics were thrown overboard by Labour – even though there are very powerful socialist arguments to be made for not splitting up the UK. Instead by going along with the lowest common denominator unionist arguments of the “Better Together” campaign, Labour not only left the SNP to posture very successfully on a distinctly Left independence ticket – but this successful outflanking on the Left by the SNP then totally destroyed Labour in the following 2015 General Election.

          Similarly, TODAY – not 1940 , facing imminent defeat by Nazi Germany, the Left, whether it thinks it tactically appropriate to stay in – OR, to leave (and I think we should leave – but recognise the validity of much of the Left arguments to stay), needs to try as hard as possible not to submerge into either the pro Big Business Stay campaign, or the racist, petty nationalist, campaign/s of the Leave sides. Indeed for the Left to seamlessly join the Stay Campaign of Big Business will simply allow UKIP et al to pose as the anti establishment “radical” side – as per the SNP. There is nothing to gain for the Left in submerging itself in either side . Whether we stay or go – the struggle for working class rights and against Austerity will go on. Unlike 1940, fascism isn’t going to be victorious in the UK because of the outcome of this Referendum.

          You need to address the tactical issues of today, Trevor – not hide behind ludicrously inappropriate historical analogies.

          1. there is nothing to answer. The principle is absolute, my enemies enemy is my friend. And those who do not understand the history are doomed to repeat it. The CPGB and the trots in 1940 dropped themselves into the dustbin of history by their position, which the CPGB then reclaimed when Churchill allied with Stalin.

            Cameron has not actually ordered troops to fire on workers as Churchill did, and the decision to work with him to defend the union was correct.

            Not to do so meant as now turning the referendum into Tories V Nats, and the Nats would have won that one. History will show Labour saved the union

            However lets not wait for History, lets give Labour credit for making the right decision

          2. John Penney says:

            Keep on ignoring the reality of the consequences for Labour of its unprincipled alliance with the Tories in Scotland during the Referendum Campaign , if you want, Trevor. And keep on thinking your utterly irrelevant “its 1940 all over again” trope is some sort of major historical insight.

            Even on its own ludicrously ahistorical terms, the “LEAVE” campaigners could just as easily cite Churchill in 1940 as an ally for their cause – in defending “UK National Sovereignty” – particularly in relation to the undoubted undemocratic, national sovereignty destroying TTIP deal. So your non sequitur analogy is not only irrelevant, but doesn’t even serve to support your argument !

            Hopefully Those with socialist politics will continue to ignore bogus Churchillian parallels, and put out a position on the EU , either for staying in – Or leaving – (for which positions there are valid socialist tactical arguments), which doesn’t simply tail the endemic petty nationalism, and racism , and total ignoring of TTIP, of BOTH the official, mainstream, “STAY” and “LEAVE” campaigns.

  3. David Ellis says:

    The more distance Corbyn’s Labour can put between it and the corrupt and criminal governments of Blair and Brown the better. In fact unless it does this you can forget 2020. New Labour may not have over spent compared to income but that income was based on the remarkable tax take from the bankers’ Ponzi Scam that has effectively bankrupted the nation for ever. Thatcher started it when she made the private finance sector responsible for money supply by taking it away from the politicians but Blair and Brown milked that cow so hard its teets fell off. When the banks when under their liabilities accumulated over only 30 short years were seven times the national debt which was accumulated over centuries. Brown’s boast to have ended boom and bust could not have been more spectacularly demolished. Now, via the bail out of the banks and their super rich creditors a state, a nation and the real economy are being liquidated in what is the greatest redistribution of wealth from poor to rich in human history.

  4. David Ellis says:

    As for saving the Norman Union that is not something worthy of boasting about and of course it got Labour wiped out in Scotland and bought the end of the Union even closer. Corbyn has failed to distance himself from Labour’s collaboration with Cameron during that referendum which is why his election has had no impact in Scotland and he is about to make the exact same error over the EU Referendum which could well see them obliterated in England and Wales too. What he should have stood for is a Federation of Sovereign Nations to replace the Union and of course he must lead a socialist Leave campaign for the EU referendum or lose all credibility as an anti-neo liberal, anti-austerian or even an anti-Cameron.

  5. swatantra says:

    May 2015 is now ancient history. The Report shows up our weaknesses; we should correct those deficiencies and work towards a win in 2025.
    I’m wondering what I’ll be doing in 10 years time if I’m still here.

    1. David Ellis says:

      Well thanks to Tory austerity a large number of working class people will not be here by 2025 and not because they died of natural causes.

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