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Do MPs have a “greater mandate”?

Tony Blair poster 1983. He knew a thing or two about ignoring party members

Tony Blair poster 1983. He knew a thing or two about ignoring party members

Constitutional specialist Vernon Bogdanor wrote recently in the New Statesman

The Labour Party is composed of three main elements – the Parliamentary Labour Party, the trade unions and the members. But the PLP is the most important, given that it represents the nine million people who voted Labour in 2015, and any future Labour government will be responsible to MPs. A government is not, ought not, and cannot be constitutionally responsible to the few hundred thousand party members outside parliament, who represent nobody but themselves and who are, in Labour’s case, apparently, three times more likely to be well-off urban professionals than the population as a whole. (Emphasis added)

This sums up the view of most in the anti-Corbyn camp. It effectively rejects the idea of national political parties as anything but an appendage to the parties in Parliament. This view is repeated over and over again. On the Save the Labour website are told that “… Labour MPs have the mandate of the 9 million ordinary voters who elected them in 2015”. Laura Kuenssberg, the BBC political journalist, tweeted that Labour MPs “… point out they have [the] mandate of 9 million voters …”.

The YouGov psephologist Peter Kellner (writing in the same issue of the New Statesman as Bogdanor above) asked if Corbyn has a “mandate to impose his views”. He answered

Emphatically not. Together, Labour MPs won 9.3 million votes last May. Just 250,000 people voted for Corbyn to be party leader. Their mandate is much greater than his.

The Daily Telegraph was already singing the same song on 1st December 2015: “The Labour leader keeps boasting about his mandate from over 250,000 party members. But MPs represent more than ten times that number”. It continued:

In short, they have mandates of their own, from the electorate who voted to keep them in Parliament for another five years.

The common theme from these diverse voices is that each MP can appeal to the authority of his/her electors to overrule any commitment to the authority of the party on the ticket of which they were elected to Parliament. This idea is repeated so often that in the minds of many it has taken on the force of the blindingly obvious (never a good guide in politics). It may therefore be useful to consider how best to respond.

1. The argument is neither credible nor consistent. The argument that the voters provide a greater mandate is an attempt to by-pass the views of the members. It is certainly not a positive commitment to carry out the voters’ wishes. Those presently using that argument didn’t do so during the lead up to the Iraq war. All the MPs voting for war knew full well that this was opposed by both a majority of Labour members and the electorate. So much for “mandates”. They didn’t protest when the leadership under Miliband chose to ignore conference decisions, supported by the general public, to take the railways and the Royal Mail back into public ownership. The “greater mandate” argument has therefore no other purposed than to justify ignoring policies determined by members when MPs don’t like them.

2. Do MPs consult the wider public about changes in party policy? The Labour Party has changed from an austerity-lite party at the time of the last general election to an anti-austerity party. That wasn’t the basis on which MPs were elected in 2015 (except for the minority who openly opposed the Miliband/Balls auterity cave-in). Do MPs consider themselves tied to the views of the “greater mandate” of 2015? Do they even know what the views of their constituents are on the matter? How would they know? Have they gone back to the constituents to see if they can win support for the change of policy? These questions only have to be asked in order to realise how completely vacuous the claims of the “greater mandate” are.

3. Voters vote overwhelmingly for parties and not individuals. The fundamental hypocrisy of the “greater mandate” argument is located in the fact that the MPs using it stand on a Labour Party ticket and would not (at least in the overwhelming majority of cases) stand any chance of being elected without that ticket and without the electoral support that it brings. Not only that but even though traditional party loyalties are clearly breaking down, most people still vote on the basis of party, even if not always the same one. The support for the individuals who become MPs is support given to the party for which they stand. To claim after being elected that their policy mandate comes from the wider public and not from the party is therefore to turn what everyone knows is the reality completely on its head. The party goes to the country on the basis of its policies and its general standing and respect for its way of working. It therefore mediates between the voting public and Parliament. The pretence that there is no such essential mediation is a pretence that MPs have a relationship of some kind of direct democracy with their constituents. No one really believes that, least of all those using the “greater mandate” argument. It has no substance.

4. What is the point of party programmes and policies if MPs are not answerable to the party? The mediating role of the party between the public and government is due to the fact that it spends time and resources to develop policies which do not arise spontaneously out of the heads of separate individuals. Parties present the public with views and policies that it has developed. The general public then chooses the views and policies with which it agrees most. The MPs’ mandate therefore comes through the party and not by some direct relationship with individual members of the electorate in their tens of thousands.

5. The “greater mandate” argument treats the PLP as a party within a party. If a group of individuals within the party claim that their first loyalties are not to the policies decided collectively within the party but to people outside of it who have allegedly given them a separate mandate then they constitute a party within a party. The “greater mandate” advocates believe that MPs have a right to operate as such a party within a party. There is no basis within Labour’s rules and this needs to be acknowledged. MPs have as much right as any other party member to fight for changes to party policies but no more and no less than that (just as they have the right to use the considerable advantages they enjoy a MPs). We should also note that the Standing Orders of the PLP require approval by Labour’s National Executive Committee. Maybe it is time to consider changes to it to clarify the situation.

6. There must always be room for dissent and the party must provide channels for it to be expressed. There will always be different views of the party’s goals and the strategies required to achieve them. Party policy must evolve and that requires open discussion. MPs have the same right to contribute to those changes as everyone else but this should not take the form of overt and public personal hostility to the party leader. If a Party leader is a poor organiser or incompetent then, given that he/she is chosen by all the party members the onus is clearly on those who believe that they have information to this effect to put it to the members of their constituency Labour Parties rather than to set themselves up as judge and jury on behalf of the party as a whole. They should take the debate to the ordinary members.

7. There can be no unity not based on policies. The present arguments in the Labour Party have taken the form of support for or opposition to a person (Jeremy Corbyn). Policy debates have rarely got beyond headline statements and this has encouraged personalisation of the issues. The failure to develop clear policies since the last leadership election has not helped. It is the paucity of policy development that has enabled Owen Smith to look as if he is making a policy offering by drawing up a list of 20 points on less than one side of A4. The response from the Corbyn camp has seemed reactive and equally short on details. For example it would be great to have some flesh put on the idea of a National Educational Service that Corbyn first proposed 10 months ago. and above all an explanation of how over the next year party members can be mobilised toparticipate in informed debates about contending viewpoints on the key issues.

The pretence of having policies by making grand promises for the leadership election does credit to neither candidate. What, for example, are we to make of the promise of “Full employment and an economy that works for all” (with an elaboration limited to 90 words) while global capital still dominates our economy?

Promises of membership involvement are not enough. We need to know how this will be achieved. Unity on the basis of policies must be the work of the whole party and cannot possibly be achieved by headline promises made during the remaining weeks of the leadership election. Far more important would be to tell us in some detail how the promise of making the party more democratic and of putting the members in charge of policy is to be realised in the period following the leadership election.


  1. jeffrey davies says:

    Labour MPs have the mandate of the 9 million ordinary voters who elected them in yet we dont get to vote them in they just parachuted into the valleys yet they want want want its the peoples who have the final say and if they not listened to deselection by the people

  2. Historyintime says:

    Labour MPs are definitely most accountable to their electorate.

    But parties have the right to choose who represents them. Unfortunately this aspect of the system has not been properly applied by the Labour Party.

    Hence the need, ant the case, for mandatory reselection.

  3. Tony says:

    Bogdanor, let us not forget, is on the advisory council of the neo-con warmonger organisation the Henry Jackson Society.

    Advisory Council:
    Academic Council members:

    Professor Vernon Bogdanor CBE
    Professor, Institute of Contemporary History, King’s College London.

    Worth bearing in mind.

    1. John P Reid says:

      Isn’t that a debating society?

  4. Verity says:

    I believe this to be a very important topic and will become increasing important amongst the Corbyn ‘Oppositionists ‘- across the whole of parliament.

    Accepting the above points, it also needs to be remembered that since the Labour Party (or most all parties, almost all of the time) only represent a minority of constituencies in the country (since they have < 50% of MPs). So it is difficult to say that they 'speak' for the country in any case – only those constituencies in which they have an MP. The effect of an alternative argument is that all is important is those constituencies in which an MP holds seat.

  5. John Penney says:

    The current enthusiasm of the Labour Right and mass media for the concept of a “personal constituency mandate” attached to each and every MP, above and beyond any mandate which might derive from the democratically agreed policy positions of the Party under which banner and with whose support most MP’s Constitutional theory, is entirely bogus – based on the Parliamentary era predating the modern political Party structure .

    In the 19th and 19th centuries of course, when this “individual local mandate” could be said to have actually existed, the franchise was so limited, and the prevalence of “Rotten Boroughs” in the pocket of local grandees, so common, that “democracy” only existed in a slightly superior way to that of the “democracies” of the slave owners in classical Greece and Rome.

    As soon as a significant number of MP’s holding to a radical Left programme potentially threatening the wealth and privileges of the capitalist class, win seats in any “democratic” country’s legislature, then mysteriously this “democratic mandate” deriving from the electorate in each constituency, or indeed from the democratic process itself, always evaporates. And more nebulous concepts such as “National Interest” come to the fore. As it will for those who currently embrace it as a weapon against the Left lurch of the current Labour Party.

    To quote that cynical old exponent of democratic politics as merely the securing of consent for the agenda of the (US) ruling class, Henry Kissinger:

    I don’t see why we need to stand by and watch a country go communist due to the irresponsibility of its own people. (Meeting of the “40 Committee” on covert action in Chile (27 June 1970) quoted in The CIA and the Cult of Intelligence (1974);).

  6. John Penney says:

    Oops, Bit of an editing muddle in first paragraph ! I meant to say ” …….. of the Party under which banner and with whose support most MP’s secure their seat, is entirely bogus – based on the Parliamentary era predating the modern political Party structure.”

  7. Verity says:

    It seems very likely to me that the argument about Labour MPs’ electoral mandate will form the basis of the next 4 years of continuing opposition following which will be another election challenge, if the opportunity does not present itself before (although I suspect this is quite likely even if it was to fail again but will continue to build up more ground on each challenge).

    ‘Labour Tomorrow’ co – founded by Nicola Murphy (possibly partially acting as proxy for the currently very quite (but inactive?), Chris Leslie (her husband). This organisation has support of some key donors amongst its current £1/4m fund and will no doubt build upon anti semitism charges among other created issues to gain more financial support. Financial rewards being handed to groups of ‘moderates’ (MPs amongst others) operating on policy areas and especially on on – line challenges to Momentum – with almost almost negligible on – line presence this will not be difficult.

    The finance for ‘centrist’ political bloggers, activists and campaigners will fill the gap that emerges in those areas where the Left has failed to build upon its opportunities, The mutual reinforcement of the mandate legitimacy argument and organisation and rewarding of opposing activities will be something Momentum can stand back from and admire in its simplicity. When it gets its next chance in 30 years at least the lessons will have been learned.

  8. John Penney says:

    Your point 7 comments on Policy , and lack of it, is a vital issue for us on the Labour Left, going forward from what is certain now to be another decisive victory for Jeremy in this Leadership Election (excepting the remaining possibility of gerrymandering on a truly heroic scale).

    I too was intrigued by the now clear promise on Jeremy’s website to pursue “Full Employment”. Presumably of UK citizens – rather than the entire world ? This is of course an absolutely vital commitment today for a radical Left Party to make. But it is also completely impossible without renouncing the still in place liberal commitment to completely open borders and , hence, a completely unlimited labour supply.

    Committing a future Labour Government to manage UK Labour Supply as part of a comprehensive National Economic Plan has to be the unifying core proposal linking all of Jeremy’s promises. Without that , they are essentially no different to Cameron’s bogus promise to “reduce net migration to the tens of thousands” , ie, “an ambition”.

    Whilst it is undoubtedly a task of the utmost priority for the Labour Party to swiftly put meat on the very sketchy bones of emerging Left Policy (and Momentum could be a vital contributory forum for this policy development if it actually acquired a democratic internal life), great Plans alone wont be enough to actually implement a Left agenda for national recovery.

    As an example , In 1981 Francoise Mitterrand, as President, formed the first (Socialist Party/Communist Party alliance) Left government in France for 23 years. Full of initial confidence and ambition the first term was marked by a comprehensive, well researched, viable, left-wing economic policy based on the “110 Propositions for France” and the 1972 “Common Programme” between the SP and CP and the Left Radical Party – promising several nationalisations, increases in the minimum wage, better holidays, a shorter working week, higher taxation of the rich, better social security benefits , improved workers’ rights, improved rights for women, better pensions, better housing, an improved education system and a boosting of general economic demand.

    As we now know, within two years the inherently politically slippery, Mitterrand, had surrendered utterly to the pressure of the Market (and the straightjacket of the then European Monetary System), and all these Left Plans were abandoned for Austerity and economic orthodoxy.

    1. David Pavett says:

      I agree with your points. The grand commitment to full employment is heartbreakingly trite given that it comes with no economic analysis or policy. What about, for example, capital controls?

      When writing the piece I checked the Momentum website to see what policy materials it had. Almost nothing. Two liners on Trident and bombing Syria, defendbthe NHS. Nothing on the economy. It must have taken all of ten minutes to put together. It is this lack of attention to policy that allows Momentum to look like a Corbyn fan club. That is not what left-wing politics should look like.

    2. Paul Dias says:

      “I too was intrigued by the now clear promise on Jeremy’s website to pursue “Full Employment”. Presumably of UK citizens – rather than the entire world ? This is of course an absolutely vital commitment today for a radical Left Party to make. But it is also completely impossible without renouncing the still in place liberal commitment to completely open borders and , hence, a completely unlimited labour supply.”

      I find it puzzling that you insist on portraying migrants (or “unlimited labour supply” as you chillingly put it) as an obstacle to full employment, when in reality the regions which attract the most migrants (London, South East and East)…

      …are also the ones with the lowest levels of unemployment, and falling (South East, East and London)…

      … and viceversa (ie the North East is the region with fewer migrants and the highest unemplyment rate). Shouldn’t the opposite be true?

      Food for thought, friend.

      1. John Penney says:

        Paul Dias, There are a number of dire impacts on the labour market from a worker’s viewpoint arising from an essentially unlimited labour supply within the EU Single Market. Not just total employment numbers.

        Basic demand and supply economics in an open capitalist economy should inform you why an unlimited labour supply, combined with a legally shackled trades union movement, makes it extremely hard for citizen workers (particularly in low or semi skilled jobs) in both the UK and Western Europe generally, to push up their wage rates above the legal minimum, and get organised to oppose the increasingly casualised, zero hour contract, labour market of the neoliberal enforcement machine of the EU.

        In the economically super buoyant London area in particular “Uberisation” of the labour market for deliveries and taxi services, and a myriad of service industry jobs, because of unlimited labour supply, has made it increasingly difficult for any worker ( including the Black Cab workers), to lift their wages above poverty levels, with a total lack of workers rights and holiday or sick pay.

        UK workers unwilling to work at the pay rates and poor conditions that an unlimited labour supply gives employers the power to enforce across the UK in unskilled work in particular, has led to huge numbers of UK workers to prefer either the dole, or the insecurity of tax credit subsidised poverty wage “self employment” rather than compete with workers from the impoverished economies of eastern Europe. In other words the unlimited labour supply of the EU is a new version of the “Reserve Army of the Unemployed” , in its competitive impact on wages and conditions.

        Your supposed “killer point” about the high levels of employment in the largely parasitic superheated London bubble economy of the financial sector and property development and loot warehousing for the crooked oligarchs of the globe, entirely ignores the crappy “precariat” low wage nature of the bulk of the working class jobs outside of the rapacious banking and financial sectors.

        The job of a socialist government is surely to pursue as a first priority the maximisation of employment, housing, training, and welfare opportunities of its own citizens .This is in no way to exclude major access to our labour market by other workers, or to preclude a generous approach to refugees. However the job of a Left government is not simply content to go along with the neoliberal consensus , on either free movement of capital, or unlimited free movement of labour, – but is to develop detail Plans and strategies to anticipate future labour supply/skills needs , and via education, training/apprenticeship programmes , to enable UK citizens first crack at the high pay, high skill, jobs – before importing labour supplies.

        That you don’t grasp these points, (and indeed perhaps a majority of the activist radical Left seem to have forgotten the basic socialist objective of a planned economy to produce Full Employment in rewarding, well paid, jobs,) in favour of all sorts of liberal wishy ,washy, idealism, including “totally open borders” , says a lot about the decline of socialist theory amongst the largely comfortably off middle class radical Left during the long 30 year hegemony of neoliberalism.

  9. C MacMackin says:

    I agree with all of this, but with one caveat. Things do become difficult when a party was elected on one program but then adopts quite a different one. Of course, parties do this all the time in government, and we rightly criticize them for it. This is less of a serious issue when the party is in opposition, but it is still a bit of a dilemma in that the party was allocated its current number of MPs based on a different vision than it now espouses.

    This is a different argument than that which MPs are making, of course, and you are right to point out the hypocrisy and inconsistency of this argument. I don’t really see a way to resolve the problem I pointed out until there is another election, either, so I guess we might as well just plow on ahead and ignore it.

  10. C MacMackin says:

    Oh, another point which I had forgotten about. A few weeks ago I was discussing politics with a few other scientists (ranging from grad students to professors) over drinks at a conference. In particular we were talking about the EU referendum (with the usual comments being made that the rabble are idiots, that this is the end of the world, etc.) and eventually the conversation turned towards Corbyn. The attitude was generally very negative about him. To the extent that there was a reason at all it was the feeling that he had lost them the EU referendum. But what I found interesting was that the other participants in the conversation clearly hadn’t even considered the idea that party members should play a role in the running of the party and choosing its leader. While not explicitly stated, there seemed to be the belief that the leader should be chosen by and be responsible solely to the MPs. The closest they could come to grasping the case for membership control was that members expected something back for there fees and door-knocking. Only anecdotal evidence, of course, but clearly we have a lot of work to do in changing the liberal intelligentsia’s conception of politics, seeing as they do form an important component of the left-leaning vote.

    1. David Pavett says:

      I don’t see your first point as a major problem if the party makes its case clearly on the basis of analysis of the major social problems it seeks to solve. Then the specific commitments can be seen in that light. If circumstances change sufficiently then so must the specific policies required to solve the social problems identified.

      I think your second point shows how far large numbers of social science academics are from a critical understanding of the norms of our current democracy and what needs to be done to transform it (i.e. give it a different class content). I am not surprised by the views you report from academia.

      1. C MacMackin says:

        Except that circumstances didn’t change between the general election and Corbyn getting elected. Obviously, I think that the policies Corbyn espouses (or, given the lack of policies, the general direction he espouses) are the more appropriate response to the situation we’re in and that the previous general election should have been fought on that basis. Of course, post-referendum, we can rightly be said to be in a new situation. I don’t really know why I’m arguing this, mind, since it has no impact on what I think should be done. This is one case where Peter Willsman could accuse me of debating angels on the head of a pin.

        Just to note, I’m actually a physicist working in glaciology, so the academics I was talking to were physical scientists (physicists, geographers, oceanographers) and a mathematician. It’s even more predictable, I suppose, that they hadn’t thought about these things. More concerning, the issue wasn’t so much a lack of understanding of what needs to be transformed, but an unstated belief that government had best be left to the experts and the general public need not get involved. This is an attitude I’ve found extremely common in Oxford (not surprising, I suppose). However, in this case at least, I think there is a relatively simple way to win votes (if not hearts and minds): make sure to provide plenty of funding to science, ensure that Britain remains involved in European research programs, and make it easy for international researchers to work in the UK.

        1. David Pavett says:

          Your point about electoral commitments and subsequent was made in general terms and I replied similarly. I don’t see a significant difference between us.

          Sorry for my false assumption about you working in social science. As you say comment from physical scientists on current politics is even less likely to be on an informed basis.

          What are the post-Brexit possibilities for remaining in European research programmes?

          Interesting that the cult of the “expert” in social and political matters is strong among experts in physical science. For me this raises the issue of the way we teach science. Brecht’s Galileo says “Science strives to make sceptics of us all”. I wish that were the case with school science but it isn’t. Labour could show a passion for science, and for education generally, by initiating informed debate about such issues. The reality is that Labour debate, on all sides, is entirely primitive and never gets further than the idea that education is a good thing so even more of it would be better. There is an important debate to be had on a critique of education but on present showing it seems that the chance of it being initiated by Labour is about the same as the chance of snowflake surviving in hell.

          1. C MacMackin says:

            I’m no expert on European science policy, but I think remaining involved should be doable. I believe Switzerland is involved with quite a lot of them, for example, and they’re not even in the EEA. Some of these programs (for example, the European Centre for Mid-range Weather Forecasting, which many of my colleagues collaborate with) are not even associated with the EU, as they predate it. In terms of specific projects and collaborations I think it should be straightforward. We should hurry up and try to come to an agreement on this with Europe, too, as currently British scientists are being dropped from or passed-over for some projects.

            Funding is a bit trickier, though; the EU provides lots of grants (my supervisor has one) and I doubt we’d be eligible for them. These could of course be replaced by increased funding from the research councils, although it will still be a raw deal as Britain tends to get a disproportionate amount of the EU funding.

            The UK should really do something to reduce the difficulty involved with students and researchers coming here to study or work. I know from first hand experience what a massive frig it is, and I gather it’s not much fun for university administration either. Research is unlike most occupations in that no two researchers are the same and, as such, immigration does not exert the same sort of pressures on the labour market. Most countries recognise this and make it easier for academics to get a visa because of that.

            You are right on education and the lack of debate around it. Incidentally, since nothing came of our previous attempt to get a website running for debating theory and policy, I’m going to see if I can get something simple (which I can build on later) up this weekend.

            Anyway, that was massively off-topic. Best stop now.

  11. John P Reid says:

    If after we get anhialated at the election, and a moderate tries to replace the new momentum leader(McDonnell?) then the hard left can say we’ve got the support of the 4 million who voted for us

    1. David Pavett says:

      If you have a point about anything in my article then please make it.

      1. John P Reid says:

        THe quote. From current mps they have a mandate to speak because they got 9 million votes, is silly, as after 2020′ if moderates want us back in the centre ground ,the hard left don’t want it, they can say ,they’ve got a mandate for us to be hard left from the millions who’ll vote labour in 2020 for corbyn

  12. Chris says:

    Their mandate has nothing to do with internal Labour Party matters.

  13. Bazza says:

    They won on a Labour ticket after being selected by Labour members.
    Smith once again rants on about a second referendum on the EC – not accepting democracy and the will of the British people.
    He then says he is there to represent his constituents but 56% in Pontypridd voted Out! Smith says we need to win and then alienates at a stroke 17.4m Out voters, 5m peace protesters by his declaration that he would press the the nuclear button.
    Then this ‘socialist’ abstains on the Welfare Bill and deserts the poor, cowering from public opinion when socialists would have the courage to fight to shape public opinion.
    As Owen Smith pretends to be more radical by the day and changes his policy on so-called IS by the day he shows himself as a complete political lightweight, way out of his depth.

  14. Barry Rodin says:

    I think the article ‘Do MPs have a greater mandate’ also helps to explain the trend towards the Labour Party losing its identity among the population it is trying to attract at elections.

    Without true democratic control, including policy formulation, the previous leaderships and generally careerist MPs have positioned the Labour Party more and more to the centre ground (which in fact has shifted increasingly to the Right in the neo-liberal economic world of past 40 years).

    This is in the belief that echoing the Tories, with a more human face, will win elections!

    The current radical leadership is providing an opportunity to reconnect with the Labour Party traditional working and middle class supporters but at the same time reach out to new potential supporters in a changing world (e.g. those in the emerging communication and IT technologies and industries).

    However, I agree with the important point made of the need to put some practical ‘flesh on the bones’ of policy commitments to give the whole process credibility in a world where financial capital is still globalised and largely uncontrollable.

  15. Bazza says:

    I hope JC wins and will be voting for him.
    But post-Conference I would argue Momentum groups around the country should run Saturday conferences taking JCs 10 brief policy statements.
    In the morning we each in small groups look at one policy area to try to add detail.
    In the plenary we hear all 10 policies as added to and further additions could then be made.
    This model could then be followed by CLPs and affiliates – just food for thought for post-Conference but the priority now is to re-elect JC!

    1. C MacMackin says:

      A good proposal, at least as a starting point. Along a similar vein, I’m hoping this weekend to get a small website set up which will allow for policy discussion (if people get involved, of course). The first thing I intend to do is take each of the 10 policy statements and add some questions which would be addressed. I would then open this up to comments and (although this would likely take a bit longer to get working) allow people to collaboratively (Wikipedia-like) write a response.

      1. David Pavett says:

        Yes, I also think Bazza’s idea is a good one as are your Internet projects.

        My concerns would be that (1) experience so far shows a very limited appetite for such discussion (so expect to be disappointed) and (2) it is not enough to be willing to discuss, participants need good quality information about alternative approaches.

        On point (2) I wonder how you would handle arguments about the pledge to bring about full employment in a capitalist context. What do participants need to know in terms of Keynes, post-Keynes, Modern Monetary Theory, Marxism (various sorts), New-classical approaches, critiques of the various theories. It really seems difficult to me to know how to proceed – so my question is genuine and not rhetorical.

        1. C MacMackin says:

          Both important points. In terms of my own project, as a first step it would be good if we could just get some of the Left Futures crowd talking in more concrete terms about policy. If we could build on that and start pulling in the minority (even 1%) of Momentum/Labour members who are interested then we’d have a potentially solid starting point. The sorts of mechanisms I’m thinking of would probably have difficulty scaling to be party-wide anyway, at least not without some modification.

          As for your second point, I’m even more lost than you are. As we’ve established, I’m a physicist and thus have only a fragmented knowledge of economics which I’ve picked up from reading about politics. While I don’t doubt that your list of things to learn would be useful, it is also completely overwhelming to me. Between my studies/research, open source software projects I work on, social life, and time to just turn off my brain, I don’t know how I’d find time to assimilate all of that. That’s one of the reasons why, though exciting and important, I find policy development intimidating–I’m acutely aware of the limits of my own knowledge.

      2. John Penney says:

        I know we’ve discussed this before, but raise it again, because it is a waste of time to start from “Square One” every time – when there are perfectly good “starter proposals” out there for a comprehensive Economic Plan for the UK already, which could at least serve as a basis for development.

        As I have said many times, I actually think that the recently published document “Building An Economy For The People: An alternative economic and political strategy for 21st century Britain” by a group of radical Left economists in the orbit of the Communist Party of Britain (with which I have no political connection , or even general political sympathy, whatsoever I can assure you ) viewable at has already created an excellent benchmark model for just such a radical, reformist, Left Keynsian, transformative, strategy for the UK .

        It strikes me that Jeremy’s extremely sketchy “10 policy statements” would fit into this overall framework. The contradictions in policy objectives like “Full Employment” and a continued commitment to ” completely open borders” for labour supply – obviously would require a lot more discussion on the Left – which is generally today too often trapped with a number of ideas absorbed from liberalism and elsewhere ,rather than socialism.

        The point is that at present the radical Left seems to be trapped within either a semi religious veneration of the Marxist texts (ie, the tiny UK revolutionary Left) , or has so lost confidence in comprehensive Left advance since the heady Bennite years of “Alternative Economic Plans”, that piecemeal ad hoc simplistic policy demand responses to current hot political campaigning issues, is what passes for a ” political programme” and policy development on the Labour Left. I’m afraid the “Corbynite policy offer” bears this feature in spades – after over a year to flesh out the detail.

        It need hardly be said that any Left government taking office without a detailed strategy to deal with the absolutely inevitable hostile reaction of the Market, would fare no better than the 1981 Mitterrand government. Never mind the savaging a casually un-worked out Left Labour offer in a General Election would receive. Just recall the ease with which the capitalist press destroyed the contradictory and incoherent Green Party policy offer in the last General Election .

        1. David Pavett says:

          I agree that the wheel cannot be reinvented at each stage (I will get the book you recommend). I like the saying “Those who begin where Adam began must expect to get no further than Adam”.

          On the other hand there is the problem of the variety of “wheels” on offer. Some will break as soon as they touch the ground and others will give a ride so bumpy that passengers will become sick and still others would prove to be impossible to control properly. So there must be a preliminary stage of “which wheel?” I really think that is a major problem. Sure we can jump in an test wheels at random but is that really the best approach? (Genuine question.)

          1. John Penney says:

            I can’t help thinking that if only John McDonnell hadn’t essentially wasted valuable months with his “bourgeois celebrity economists UK Roadshow” ( an utter waste of time – and utterly predictably many of these distinctly non socialist, and not in most cases even “Left Keynsian” , “experts” have now denounced Corbyn, and “Corbynism” , and embraced the blatantly cynical pseudo anti Austerity candidate, Owen Smith !), we could be well on the way to developing a genuine Left Economic Strategy by now !

            What was, and still is needed, is for Jeremy and John to pull together a small working group of (non revolutionary) radical Left economists from academia, Left pressure groups like 38 degrees (who are already doing something along these lines) and the trades union movement, some of whom will already be Momentum members , to get a first draft together.

            Then this draft needs to be the subject of the widest possible discussion and debate across the Labour Party Left , trades union movement, Momentum, and well beyond. Hence the actual Plan construction process becomes itself a mass mobilising and propaganda tool against the neoliberal narrative. After about a year of wide debate and consultation hopefully Labour would have a comprehensive Economic Plan with not only intellectual coherence and weight, but a mass mandate of widespread acceptance and popular “buy-in”. Hopefully by then Labour’s own byzantine policy development processes would have been transformed ,such as to allow for the Plan to be adopted as Labour Policy.

            For such a process to happen however, requires the Corbyn Team to move beyond their , painful to watch, current small clique mindset (arising from their 30 year isolation on the tiny Labour radical Left) and related internally undemocratic “top-down” methodologies.

            In fact anyone dispassionately comparing the material produced to support Jeremy’s policy proposals for his Leadership bid in 2015 can only be surprised at how inferior the “supporting material” for his 2016 bid is in comparison, ie, practically non existent – and vital aspects like controlling the banks, and taking the utilities into public ownership , are now simply missing.

            All of this can be done – but not without a willingness by the Corbyn inner circle to initiate it and support it wholeheartedly.

          2. David Pavett says:

            John, sadly, I agree with your points. Just one proviso. McDonnall’s economics road show, for all its limitations, could have been an opener to a broader discussion of economic options. That opportunity was missed. To facilitate such a debate I offered to put all the talks into a booklet so that the issues could be discussed throughout the LP. I got no response (just like old times!).

            More voices are being raised to trying and shake Corbyn and his inner circle to engage in the democratic politics that so many of us voted for (rather than the person of Jeremy Corbyn). I am waiting for a sign of recognition of these points from Corbyn and his team. If they continue to allow this to be a political beauty contest then it will all end in tears even if Corbyn is re-elected. Democratic political engagement cannot survive on a diet of personality politics and policy headlines.

          3. John Penney says:

            Very true, David. Yes, I agree, the celebrity economists Roadshow could indeed , and should, have led somewhere useful, if used as a starter for an in depth debate across the Labour Left and beyond on economic policy.

            I think (or at least hope) it unlikely that the now 12,000 strong Momentum will be constrained for much longer as a tame “stage army” for leafletting and running phone banks, and attending rallies. Momentum will either evaporate – or demand a real democratic internal life – of which real policy development must surely be a key component.

            Although at first sight there would appear to be no similarity; as an ancient old ex-Trot (35 years ago) IS/SWP member (expelled of course), the inability of the close circle around Jeremy and John to really embrace the mass movement that has , utterly unexpectedly, spontaneously emerged around the “Corbyn Insurgency” as the UK component of the Europe-wide Anti austerity movement, really does remind me of the tragedy of the IS/SWP in the late 1970’s. By this I refer to the inability of the then leadership of the SWP (almost entirely based on the family and long term close associates of its founder , Tony Cliff) to handle the potential for growth presented to that Trot sect arising from its significant growth in the late 1970’s, particularly its surprising growth in factory-based membership, and around the huge Anti Nazi League mobilizations. Faced with this growth potential Tony Cliff and his tight “Leninist” circle simply couldn’t handle a membership growth which was producing a new potential leadership beyond the family and friendship claque Cliff could accommodate in his front room. It might seem silly to equate the all too common failure of yet another tiny Trot group (Gerry Healy’s uber sectarian SLL being another exemplar), to embrace growth and real internal democracy, with the behaviour of the circle around Jeremy and John – but to my recollection and analysis – it is very similar – in each case deriving from a mindset, politics, and operational practice , based on the dire impact of decades of isolation from mass political struggle.

            If “Corbynism” in the Labour Party is to break from the small clique, “top-down” mentality of small sect politics, the full democratisation of Momentum has to be the essential next step – and an urgent one if the very likely “battle to the death” with the Labour Right following his re-election as Leader, isn’t to lead to utter chaos and even capitulation to the demands of the Right , in a tragic re-run of the Greek Syriza Bailout Referendum No vote “victory immediately followed by total Tsipras leadership capitulation” event.

    2. Verity says:

      I also think this is a very constructive and practical way forward. Some of us will no doubt which to maintain a focus across all ten points; others of will only be able to attain the appropriate depth by maintaining a focus on one area. Being dissatisfied with previous cursorily work, I will start to do work on item one only:

      “Full employment and an economy that works for all: based around a £500bn public investment via the planned national investment bank”.

      Any one single item has many intervening aspects so is a challenge enough in itself, especially for non – economists. As a starter I am re- reading Michael Meacher’s collection of essays in the book: ‘What the Three Main Parties are Not Telling You: A radical way out of stagnation and inequality.’ (2015)

      The book is very concise (200 pages for 16 separate but interrelate themes and in my opinion takes a novice to some depth in a range of related matters. These range from:

      Ch1 ‘A growth and jobs strategy as the alternative to cuts’ (Blanchflower)

      Ch2 ‘Only government investment can end the crisis’. (Burke)

      Ch3 ‘How and how not to cut government deficits’. (Mills)

      Ch4 “Kicking the Bucket of Austerity’, (Meacher)

      ……Ch7 ‘Restoring Public Ownership” (Hopkins).

      Ch 8 ‘End this privatisation dogma: public ownership is better.’ (Chang)

      Ch9 ‘Constructing a democratic economy’. (Cumbers)

      Ch 10 ‘Reform of the banks and the wider finance sector’ Sikka)

      ….Ch 13 ‘Tax avoidance and tax evasion: issues for social democrats’ (Murphy)

      Ch 14 Building the foundations of a more equal society. (Wilkinson & Pickett)

      …. Ch 16 Housing: the big build’, (Mitchell).

      We need to start somewhere. Happy to engage further on aspects arising out of these discussions gfor Corbyn’s item one.

  16. David Jameson says:

    I often wonder what a country run by the people on a website with sliding scales would look like. I imagine there’d be an epidemic of hanging, flogging and deportations at various points but that it would generally work quite well. Seeing as there is no such system in place I think we need to be more savvy and realistic about what will get us elected and what will not. We need people with greater oratory skills to persuade the electorate and most of all we need to engage the masses including those in middle England who currently hold sway. We need to fight for proportional representation and not be afraid of challenging each other. There’s a Westminster bubble and a controlling elite for sure but sometimes our own inward looking right on bubble can be our own worst enemy.

  17. Barry Hearth says:

    whichever way you cut it in any organisation there will be disputes, sometimes the top man takes the sword but more often someone else gets to.
    The Labour party is a democratic party and thus has to abide by the mores and values of the party, but that doesn’t mean that they are set in stone and never change, Blair taught us that.
    The overriding attitude then was “if you didn’t like it get out”, but there are two courses of action. Yes you can get out, or you can argue and work for change, and that’s exactly what Corbyn has always done, and his time has come.
    The ones who are opposed to him are determined to ensure that he;s out and their chosen one takes his place. But as Bernie Sanders reminded me today, without the scare tactics used by the Clinton campaign, opinion polls showed that he, Sanders could have beaten Trump, but the tactics worked and Clinton is now the only chance America have for avoiding catastrophe but it’s uncertain that she can do that.
    Sanders could and probably would have and he urged all Corbyn supporters to stand firm and believe that a Labour victory under Corbyn isn’t some pipe dream and can easily become a reality.
    The young people in the US are absolutely fed up with elite power politics that feeds big business while starving the poor and blaming them for the ills of the country. They won’t give up and if we truly believe in democracy, neither should we.

    1. Verity says:

      Those who say that Corbyn cannot win should note the British performance in the Olympic games. It would have been easier for Corbyn to win an election and to then to implemented a basic programme than for Britain to have driven up its medals tally over the last decade or so. to With smart priorities, good cohesion, clear focus, appropriate resourcing decisions and mass support, it is easier for Corbyn government victory than it was for Britain to have risen from the doldrums. Those who say it is impossible should reflect on what can be achieved when defeatism is sidestepped.

  18. Dave Levy says:

    The answer to your question, Do MPs have a “greater mandate”? is No!

    Firstly, The PLP only received 5m of the 9.3 votes. The other 4.3m were cast to support losing candidates and this is important because the PLP wish to claim their mandate supersedes any mandate from the party but they cannot represent the voters in those seats we lost and need to reclaim.

    You state that “Voters vote overwhelmingly for parties and not individuals.” It’s true and many MPs may have to face up to this truth in a considerably shorter time frame than they’d planned.

    You also ask “What is the point of party programmes and policies if MPs are not answerable to the party?” This is a question I’d like to hear the front bench answer, and it also brings my arithmetic above into focus. How do we represent the views of members in constituencies not represented by Labour MPs if we accept the ‘greater mandate’ argument? Last year, the most commonly asked question I had from new members was how to be heard about their ideas for change; I was Secretary of CLP with a Labour MP; it’s hard to answer if MPs and the front bench aren’t listening.

    Thank you for your other four points, I am sure I will repeat much of what you say.

    1. Verity says:

      Living in an area that is unlikely to see a Labour MP for some very considerable time, I am very conscious of the point you make about how the supposed mandate is to work for such Labour members/voters. But I do also recognise your point that whilst we may consist of a greater number of ‘seats’ the total nation-wide vote may be lower. I am not quite sure how I would respond to a counterargument that could be offered by some ‘electoral mandators’ who would use this as a supporting justification for an ‘alternative/preference’ voting system rather than as diminution of their ‘electoral mandate’ argument.

  19. Verity says:

    This ‘electoral mandate’ issue is important because not only does it ask questions about political legitimacy of both sides to the debate within Labour, it is more of a defining issue for Labour than for other parties. For those of us who see the Labour Party as being a coalition of (at least) Democratic Socialists and Social Democrats, then this issue may go to the heart of that distinction.

    Democratic Socialists may be characterised as Labour supporters (and some others) as those who have developed a programme and strategy for achieving Socialism and then seek parliamentary (electoral mandate) support for its implementation, securing mass and extra parliamentary measures as back up to ensure its successful enforcement against powerful vested (and establishment) interests both in, and out of parliament.

    Social Democrats on the other hand, may (?) have some similar views on some or many issues, but argue that the programme can and must, by necessity, be compromised with their own perceptions of what constitutes the prevailing ‘pubic attitudes’ on those issues. It is not essentially about “having’ a programme but having a ‘starter’ for negotiations. In their view this leads to an inevitable incremental and progressive advances, as followers and others come to see the wisdom of their (better informed and wiser) leaders. Social Democrats give great emphasis to this style of leadership role, hence Owen Smith’s pronouncements, “but we must gain power, Jeremy”.

    Aside from ethics, pragmatic responses Trade Union demands and democratic behavioural conduct, the electoral mandate issue is a defining one for Socialists.

    1. Karl Stewart says:

      “…the prevailing ‘pubic attitudes’…”

      Outside of fashion magazines, is that subject really relevant to a contemporary political debate Verity?

      1. Verity says:

        Is not pubic attitudes, e.g., electability of a leader, the very major argument used by Social Democrats not to support the current leader; to continue to build Trident; and to continue membership of NATO? I would suggest that current pubic attitudes is more than an argument, it is more like an obsession.

        1. Karl Stewart says:

          No, I was just saying…oh never mind…

  20. Bazza says:

    See timid, middle of the road London Mayor Kahn has come out for Smith blaming JC over the EC but Khan’s performance on TV in a live debate on the Referendum was useless.
    Perhaps next time they select a London Mayor candidate it should be a more democratic process and I would urge people not to support Khan.
    Tories Out! Corbyn In!

  21. Tony says:

    Khan cannot even get basic facts right with his claim that Smith opposed the invasion of Iraq!

    1. David Pavett says:

      Yes, I noticed that.

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