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On Sleaford and North Hykeham

sleaford_north_hykeham_by_electionOnly two things have come out of Sleaford. Those mods (well, their name anyway) and predictions of imminent doom for the Labour Party. Yes, at the Sleaford and North Hykeham by-election, Labour failed to turn in a creditable performance. It dropped seven points, the Tories and kippers lost a couple apiece, and the LibDems surged past from nowhere and claimed the number three spot.

I don’t see cataclysm written in the by-election results. It’s hardly a place Labour should expect to do well, but it does condense two problems the party has. The first is with the former LibDem voters. The 35 per cent strategy so-labelled by Dan Hodges claimed that Ed Miliband’s Labour was content with building an electoral coalition from existing Labour voters and those fleeing the LibDems during the time of their coalition with the Tories. That, apparently, would be enough to carry a general election. Unfortunately, there was some substance to this as the data sent back to canvassing teams screened out Tories and had us knocking on doors of voters with Labour and LibDem affiliations, don’t knows, and no previous data. I digress. The problem Labour has is these folks are going back to the yellow party. This is powering their excellent showing in local council by-elections, and the upset in Richmond.

This is not unrelated to the second problem: Labour’s incoherence over Brexit. The LibDems are the party of in. UKIP remain the party of out. The Tories are managing the process and routinely cloak their cluelessness in babble like the infamous objective of a “red, white and blue Brexit”. And Labour? Um.

This paralysis is simply not good enough. The official position of the leader’s office is the acceptance of June’s calamitous result, but that is where clarity ends. A simple critical Brexit position is all that needs taking up, one putting the interest of our people first. Let’s call it what it should be: a class position. From here flows the rest – the holding out for a Brexit that isn’t paid for by our class, that retains the environmental and workplace protections guaranteed by EU legislation, that doesn’t shell out free money to some of Britain’s biggest companies under the guise of tariff protection. Yet what do we see? The shadow chancellor borrowing May’s rhetoric about making “a success of it”, next to nothing from the leader except at Prime Minister’s Questions, and too many Labour MPs who think shouting about the “need” for immigration controls will connect with our voters.

Brexit isn’t going away and until the party pursues a clear, Brexit-critical line explicitly aligned with the interests of our people, more miserable results await.


  1. James Martin says:

    I agree, the paralysis at the top has been shocking on this, criminal even. Corbyn and McDonnell have offered no leadership at all.

    But I don’t think it is as simple as just offering a class position as that needs to be understood properly. The key two interlinked questions on Brexit relate to the single market and free movement. The leadership have supported both, and there lays the reasons for the current car crash. Is the class position of free movement within the EU one that benefits workers, or drives down wages and undermines trade union organisation? Clearly it is the latter, and yet far too many socialists on the left of Labour Party they have adopted a non-class and non-socialist position on this (often it appears to me due to a very laughable middle class worry of not wanting to appear ‘racist’), and this allows the ukips to be able to expose free movement for what it actually is (although in their case this is often linked to racism).

    So we have the dreadful sight of Diane Abbott essentially selling the biggest bag o’ shite on free movement on the weekend telly which she may get away with in London but it just doesn’t wash up here and allows the jibes of out of touch metropolitan Labour to stick.

  2. John Penney says:

    Fraid so , James. All too tragically true.
    as an example of the current Left “policy deathwish” on “Unlimited Freedom of Movement” . I put up two proposal on the Momentum MxV policy proposal/discussion forum the other day, One proposed that Momentum/the Labour Party simply needs to develop a Comprehensive Radical Left Economic Strategy, as a 21st century more detailed development of the 1980’s Bennite Alternative Economic Strategy. Supporters ? Twenty Four !

    I then proposed Momentum , as a radical Left movement, should reject the “Four Freedoms” of the neoliberal EU, ie, free movement of Capital, Goods , services, and labour , In favour of state-led radical Left Economic Planning. Supporters ? NONE.

    Sadly almost all the factions of the self identifying “Left” today are actually merely “radical liberals” politically – with the vital role of state-led economic Planning , as a route out of the trap of the domination of the Market, pretty much forgotten.

    The Far Left may vaguely remember this core socialist principle , but the desire to posture about “unlimited movement of people as an unambiguously “progressive” phenomenum” to attract support from the middle class liberal “Left” leads even the likes of the , nominally pro “Left Brexit” SWP to simultaneously embrace one of the core neoliberal drivers of the EU, in totally unlimited labour supply !

    There is a looming political/electoral “train crash” for Labour and the Left generally coming down the electoral track here, with the utterly empty, utterly impossible within a neoliberal economic “business model” , “end or massively reduce immigration now” promises of both UKIP, and the Tory Brexit Right, on track to wipe Labour out come the next General Election in key heartland areas. And also of course there is the utterly contradictory pro EU and pro neoliberalism, “we need to look at immigration again” policy-empty opportunist posturing cynicism of the Labour Right, which is very unlikely to fool very many Labour voters.

    Unfortunately “shouting about immigration controls ” DOES “connect with our voters , Phil BC ! But coming from the pro EU neoliberals of the Labour Right , it is pure racism-accepting , empty, political posturing, There is a principled socialist alternative to the Tory version of Brexit, AND the entirely neoliberalism reinforcing principles of unlimited labour supply. But this actually requires the re-embrace of socialist politics.

  3. Mike says:

    Commentators here need a reality check. If Britain wants access to the single market, it will have to accept freedom of movement. That’s not a political suggestion, that’s what EU negotiators are saying loud and clear.

    So you have a choice: no access, no freedom of movement – the UKIP position. Quite a lot of Tories want this too, not least because in the ensuing economic meltdown, there will be sufficient disorientation to drive up the rate of exploitation.

    Or a soft Brexit, where to retain access to the market, concession have to be made on free movement. The task for Labour, and socialists generally, is to manage this, so free movement doesn’t impact adversely on pay, conditions and public services. So we need policies on these issues that protect existing rights and reassure those who feel free movement undermines them. Of course there will always be some who oppose free movement on racist grounds. Our job is to isolate those, not pander to them.

    1. James MARTIN says:

      But that’s the point Mike, we *don’t* want access to the single market! I bet you probably also big up NAFTA and all the other capitalist trade agreements designed to stuff workers too, or is it only British workers and their trade unions that you want to undermine?

    2. John Penney says:

      Mike, hundreds of countries have access to the Single market, without being a signed up part of it. Many countries, like South Korea , even have tariff free access to it, for commodities like cars. It is simply a scaremongering posture by both the neoliberal Remainers and the EU bureaucracy that the UK has to be a full part of the Single Market and all its structures in order to “have access” to the trading area of the EU. Given that basic problem with your entire premise, you argument has no credibility.

  4. Peter Rowlands says:

    PBC is wrong. Labour’s line is fairly clear – retain employment rights, respect the decision to leave, stay in the single market and curb migration.As I said in my piece on the Richmond by-election it is Corbyn and Abbott who are not in line by continuing to promote free movement. James Martin is quite right on this. But the reason the Lib-Dem line of a second referendum is taking votes fron Labour is that it is a line that convinced remainers can be more passionate about than Labour’s line, which is principled and more likely to prevent votes seeping away to UKIP, but which can only mean a Norway/EEA type solution.
    An aspect of Sleaford which PBC doesn’t mention is that although the Lib-Dems clearly increased their vote at Labour’s expense, there was no indication of a Labour shift to UKIP, as their vote share was down.
    Labour’s is the only unifying line, as Starmer has said, and will in time I think show results, but in the short run at least we have a problem with the Lib-Dems.

    1. Karl Stewart says:

      I think there’s something to be said for a strategy that counsels patience here.

      Personally, I’m not convinced that the EEA option is the best one, but, without a robust AEPS-type programme (and we’re a long way from that unfortunately) leaving the EEA would risk handing the political and economic initiative to the right.

      In the circumstances – and we do need to work on the basis of actual concrete reality – it could be that the more patient approach outlined by PeteR above may well be the best option.

      Let’s be honest, the ‘Sulky-Remoaner’ position set out by the LibDems doesn’t have any long-term staying power does it? I can see how this kind of self-indulgent expression of defiance can attract by-election protest votes, but there’s no way it can be part of a serious programme for government.

      If, at the next general election, Labour has a firm position based on clearly accepting the referendum, while staunchly defending workers’ rights, jobs, opposing austerity etc, then one can see it being a strong basis to be able to argue that Labour’s Brexit plan meets the aspirations of the highest number of people.

    2. John Penney says:

      Unfortunately , Peter, the “line” you claim for Labour as the “unifying line” is actually the entirely bogus line of the utterly unreformed neoliberal RIGHT in the Labour Party ! The Right would really like to remaining the EU, as is, never mind just in the Single Market. But being aware of the depth and breadth of anti “Unlimited Freedom of Movement ” (unlimited labour supply, that’s the critical point), in key Labour heartlands , the Right are prepared to mouth empty promises about “controlling immigration” , whilst really just being utterly determined to stay in the Single Market and its neoliberal strictures.

      The Labour Right , eg, Starmer’s current posture, are utterly hypocritical on this issue . The Labour right know full well that the entire current UK “business model” is entirely based on unlimited labour supply, and without a hugely state-interventionist commitment to a massive programme of free training/retraining/ long term high skill apprenticeships by large and medium sized firms, , re-empowering the trades unions, sectoral restructuring away from our ever-growing low skill-low wage sectors, the neoliberal economic model they all totally support would run out of steam pretty quickly.

      The current Labour Right verbiage (and a few “Left” – with that laughable “they can come in if they are trade unionists” nonsense) on “controls/fairness on immigration” is pure bunk. That is no surprise, cynical “triangulation” posturing on policy they have no intention of carrying out , is the Right’s way. The tragedy is that the Labour “Left” are trapped in a liberal moralist dreamworld , in which global, never mind EU-wide, freedom of movement/labour supply appears to be their fondest hope ! A reflection of the utter isolation within a liberal “Left ” bubble that prevents Corbyn and co from embracing the only strategy which could provide a way forward – the adoption of a comprehensive Left economic strategy. But that would involve actually taking on the dominant Labour Right in the PLP and local government. Corbyn and co are now clearly prisoners of the Right and simply wont do it.

      Why you think a dyed in the wool neoliberal poseur like Starmer has any credibility with his utter policy contentless superficial posturing on “immigration control” , when he is determined to stay in the very Single Market that DOES indeed preclude abandoning Free Movement , I fail to understand, Peter.

      1. Peter Rowlands says:

        John P.While Labour’s current line, the logic of which is EEA, can be and is supported by the right, it is correct for two reasons.Firstly, it would avoid what is likely to be an economic disaster, secondly because there is little support within the Labour Party for Brexit – most of the Leavers were on the right ( of the LP).
        While I would agree with you that Labour’s economic policy remains undeveloped (why don’t you write an aticle on this) I think that JMcD’s claim that he has shifted the climate towards a left Keynesian approach is justified, and I just do not recognise the strong attachment to neo liberalism of most MPs that you assert is the case. Most of them, like many Tories and Lib-Dems, know that neoliberalism is a busted flush, but remain unconvinced as to the solution, but they are moving in the right direction..

        1. John Penney says:

          I have submitted an article on Labour’s need for a Comprehensive Economic Plan, using the online enquiry form ,Peter, probably far too long ,but I have had no feedback whatsoever.

          I simply do not recognise anything coming from the majority of the PLP , other than contentless rhetoric, that could be cited as concrete proof that there has been a political seachange away from support for a neoliberal agenda, Peter. The majority of the PLP are determined to stay within the Single Market, because that would continue to trap the UK within the EU structures, which intrinsically includes Free Movement. Your prediction of “economic disaster ” on leaving the Single Market, is frankly , complete panic-mongering nonsense. This is the perennial Achiles Heel of the Labour Left I’m afraid, ie, guaranteed retreat to the status quo whenever faced with the opportunity for radical change. The exact same argument would be used to justify retreat from a radical Left Keynsian economic programme by a Labour Government.

          1. Peter Rowlands says:

            We have both set out our views and the debate will continue. Someone will contact you about your article.

  5. Rob Green says:

    Corbyn’s Labour is getting sucked into the Corporate Capitalist Unpopular Front for Remain. It barely mentions socialism in any meaningful way and just bangs on about so-called Free of Movement and the European Single Market. If it does it will form a niche subsection of that front and end up wiped out electorally in England and Wales as it has been in Scotland.

    Time to say fuck the EU, fuck the ESM and put forward a radical programme for working class power and socialism in a post-Brexit Britain and for a New European Settlement that leaves the old neo-liberal imperialist club behind.

  6. Bazza says:

    Within the framework of a left wing democratic socialist society with state-led public investment, more democratic public ownership and serious taxes on the rich and corporations.
    Also with robotics and new technology we seriously also need to look at 20 hour working weeks (and working with global partners we need to close the 50 trillion dollar illicit offshore banking industry – perish the thought that the rich pay their full share for health, education, adult social care and to address poverty including child poverty etc – the real global scroungers) but re Europe et al we need to control capital supply, control labour supply, and then trade with who we wish so we say to the EC we wish to enter your free trade zone and gain joint R&D and higher educational initiatives as well as allowing your current EC citizens to remain in the UK and our migrants in Spain etc. to remain and if it means us chipping in £5b is it a Deal or No Deal?
    Oh I also go back (as well as showing compassion to refugees) to my triple lock on migration; say 10% of the adult working population, migration adjustment funds for councils, and trade unionise migrant workers and refugees.
    For what are these two groups but unorganised working human beings who like us all have to sell our labour to live.
    And we need left wing democratic socialist forces in every country to be fighting at the same time for similar things to give hope to working people globally in an increasingly depressing world.
    International solidarity!

  7. Giles Wynne says:

    I have lived in Sleaford & North Hykeham Constituency for 11 years and this Labour Candidate was a Remainer and elected by an Anti- Corbynite CLP. Everything about the By-Election was Brexit. Remain Tory Voters went to the Lib Dems and the UKIP candidate was anti immigration in a rural area where the field work is done by immigrants. So the picture was a local one. Even the impressive campaign to bring the NHS cuts to the fore failed, which should be noted when the General Election is held possibly as early as next May. The big problem then is that there will be Remoaners and Anti- Corbynites against the Hard & Soft Tory Brexiteers. Piggies in the middle will be the Lib Dims and Ukip. I am voting only for British Policies for Britain. That could be difficult for Labour, unless it gets it act together and quickly.
    Jeremy Corbyn’s achilles heel is that he switched sides after a lifetime as a brexiteer and cannot see the wood for the trees now. His 10 point plan is impressive but it wont top Brexit Britain.

  8. Andy F says:

    Paralysis is the right word. But it comes from the fact that two classes are represented in Labour now. The Blairites are probably the lost faithful representatives of British capital which did not, and does not, want Brexit at all. On the other hand there are those who represent the working class interest – of whom very few are MPs. Unfortunately the Corbyn/McDonnell leadership in seeking to conciliate the Blairites despite their own views, end up politically paralysed.

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