Mind The Language Gap

15th March 2017

 -By Steven Duckworth-

Mind the Language Gap

Last week, amid fallout from the budget speech and its political consequences, Jeremy Hunt addressed a Reform conference in central London. At the event, the Secretary of State delivered a speech that was perceptive, engaging and strong on detail, which will be utterly unsurprising to those who know the man and his interest in improving healthcare in Britain generally and the NHS in England specifically. Hunt didn’t – “I bet he didn’t”, I hear you cry – focus on funding or NHS operational issues, apart from a commitment to the A & E performance target. He did, however, drill down specifically and with precision on the importance of all healthcare providers making patient safety their one overriding mission.

The Secretary of State used the examples of failure that had led to the tragedies seen at Mid Staffs, Southern and Morecambe Bay NHS Trusts and the pain this had caused to patients and their families. He made the compelling case, clinically, economically and morally for making the improvement in patient safety the NHS’s driving focus, using the examples of patient safety campaigners and leaders such as Julie Bailey and James Titcombe – among others – to make his point.

In short, Hunt talked about people.

In contrast to the Hunt speech was an interview the shadow education secretary Angela Rayner had given to the Today program a couple of days before. Rayner was on the program to respond to the much trailed leak that the chancellor was going to earmark £500m pounds for education spending in the budget. Apart from the fact that Rayner was at times aggressive and difficult it’s harsh to blame her much for this. John Humphrys’ interview style would drive most to distraction, although she should probably learn to deal with it.

The striking element of the interview was the language she used, describing increased education funding as “a vanity project” and “ideological dogma”. An absolutely awful way to respond to a rise in school spending. There are many sound arguments opposing selection in schools and some against the creation of Free Schools, but the shadow secretary could not get beyond her leftist based rhetoric to make these points.

In short, Rayner talked about politics.

It would be unfair to single out Rayner, partly because the interview format is more challenging than a prepared speech but also because she is only following the course set by her leader and followed by many of her front bench colleagues. In fact she is one of the better members of Labour’s senior team and given time to find her feet could turn into an effective politician. Her interview is an example of how Labour is developing a way of engagement that is becoming ever more closed and inward focused, throwing rhetorical red meat to its more extreme supporters while at the same time turning off most voters.

A cycle is now in motion where every poor opinion poll is met by an increased infusion of hard sloganeering and protest, which in turn leads to more public distrust. None of this is to say that the government are getting public policy right, they are most certainly not, but that Labour’s response to it is becoming staid and predictable and even confirmed Labour supporters are switching off.

So how does Labour break the cycle?

Quite simply, Labour must start talking to people about issues that matter to them, which in relation to public services usually revolves around ease of access and quality of service, in language that is accessible and, to be blunt, vaguely normal. Most voters are put off by talk of fight and struggle, just as they find it odd to see politicians on marches and protests – especially when they appear to be surrounded by Socialist Worker placards – and they become frustrated at an opposition that constantly decries government policy but doesn’t appear to want to offer alternatives beyond slogans and platitudes.

The share of the vote at recent by elections suggest that people are not listening to Labour any more and that the party is drifting down a political cul-de-sac. They seem also to have concluded that there is one party pushing “ideological dogma” and it isn’t the Conservatives.

By Steven Duckworth

@FoxHedgehog


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“Facts All Come With Points of View…”

13th March 2017

By Keith Nieland-

“Facts All Come With Points of View. Facts Don’t Do What I Want Them To”

 By Jay McInerney, Bright Lights, Big City

Sadly, I am nearer to 70 than 60 so I’ve been around the block a few times including living through 18 general elections and I can remember them all vividly with the exception of the first 3.

My first recollection is of the 1959 election when I sat with my Labour voting parents in front of our newly acquired flickering black and white television with me filling in the results in a very handy pullout section from the Radio Times. I remember my mother complaining that Hugh Gaitskell had conceded defeat too early.

Watching all those elections into the small hours of the morning, even when my beloved Labour Party was doomed to defeat, has let me into a secret – the secret of winning general elections.

Do You Want to Know a Secret?

I do not need sophisticated opinion polls or university professors who specialise in politics, or TV pundits come to that. The secret of success is obvious and has been there to see in all those 18 general elections and it only has two parts.

The first is that party leaders must look like a prime minister in waiting. They need to look and dress the part, present as authoritative, articulate and in control whilst at the same time calm and sympathetic with a listening ear. They need to appear as being able to stare Putin down whilst at the same time being kind to dogs and willing to kiss any passing baby.

The second factor relates to how we feel a leader will manage the economy – more precisely each of our personal economies. Voters need to be assured their wallet or purse is safe in the hands of the chosen Prime Minister. Let me be precise here – not the national economy but our personal financial affairs. Voters don’t fret about the GDP, the difference between national debt and the deficit or the RPI but they are concerned about things that directly affect them. Watching those pre-Budget TV vox pop interviews reveals people worrying about their personal finances – tax credits, help with child care, pensions, etc. They do not demand major change but instead look to be better off at the margin. I suspect this is because voters rarely believe politicians who promise major change suspecting it will never happen and/or will be at the cost of increasing their taxes.

Down Memory Lane

So let’s apply my 2-part theory to those elections that kept me up all night. Macmillan won in 1959 because he said “most of our people have never had it so good” and that was how people felt. Gaitskell never had a chance as voters were harvesting the benefit of the post Second World War boom.

Come 1964 and the boot was very much on the other foot. Sir Alec Douglas-Home looked like a relic from the 19th century as Harold Wilson mocked him for doing economics with match sticks and spoke of “the white heat of technology”. Wilson looked like a PM in waiting and voters turned to him (narrowly) but even more convincingly in 1966.

By 1970 it was a turnaround again with voters doubting Labour’s ability to run the economy as inflation began to rise. The June general election brought Edward Heath’s Conservative Party to power with a surprise majority of 30 seats. I recall lots of TV advertisements rubbing home the fear of inflation and what it would do to families’ incomes. Never had the price of a loaf of bread been so hotly debated; but it meant a lot to voters.

1974 saw two elections with Wilson winning narrowly on both occasions (the first without an overall majority) as voters again turned to Wilson’s experience to resolve the industrial disputes damaging the economy. 1979 saw Callaghan soundly defeated by his inability to resolve “the winter of discontent” (a phrase that was to haunt Labour for years to come) and in strode the Prime Ministerial Margaret Thatcher.

In the eyes of some she may have been the “Marmite” PM, but a combination of an authoritative stance and an economy that served most people quite well, meant that she swept all before her through the 1980s. She may have overseen the decline of the UK as a manufacturing power but did it in such a way as to keep sufficient voters onside to ensure election victory after election victory. When she departed John Major looked sufficiently Prime Ministerial with an economy ticking along nicely to deliver a victory in 1992. 1997 saw the arrival of Tony Blair who knew full well the importance of both looking the part and not frightening the horses when it came to voters’ wallets and purses and this was followed by two further big election victories.

The crash of 2008 saw Gordon Brown given the unwanted label of incompetence when it came to managing the economy which delivered David Cameron into Downing Street in 2010 and 2015. Cameron knew enough about Blair’s route to power to recognise the dual importance of personal and economic credibility.

The 2020 Crystal Ball

So what does 2020 look like through the prism of personal and economic credibility? It looks like a battle between May and Corbyn but there is an outside possibility that the choppy waters of Brexit and Corbyn’s travails within the Labour Party might change the runners and riders.

In the spring of 2020 voters will ask themselves those two crucial questions again. Some will have made their minds up already, some during the campaign and some in the voting booth with pencil poised over the ballot paper. Even though, apart from in two constituencies, May’s and Corbyn’s names will not be on the ballot paper they will be very much in voters’ minds.

  • Which looks most Prime Ministerial and as if 10 Downing Street is their natural home?
  • Which will represent the UK’s best interests when at meetings in the White House, the Kremlin or Brussels (yes, Brussels still)?
  • Who do they trust most to guarantee the nation’s security including against terrorism?
  • Who will keep inflation low, deliver marginal increases in their income, and not raise their taxes?
  • Most importantly: to which of those two do the voters trust stewardship of their wallet or purse?

So when it comes to personal and economic credibility will voters turn to May or Corbyn? The opinion polls suggest a clear answer with May’s Tory party around 18 points ahead of Labour and Corbyn’s credibility at rock bottom.

It is suggested in some quarters that Corbyn’s problems are because voters tell opinion pollsters what they want they to hear and that there is an establishment/media plot against Corbyn. I think we should give voters more credit and be less dismissive of the view they have come to about Corbyn. Labour would be best served, in the interests of wider democracy and those who need a Labour government to deliver their potential, if it were to focus on the skills of their leader and his offer to the wallets and purses of the UK.

If the present leader cannot establish his personal and economic credibility he needs to be replaced before there is a catastrophic collision with voters.

By Keith Nieland


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Theresa May Be For Or Against Anything

28th February 2017

By Barnabus Howard-

Theresa May Be For Or Against Anything

Theresa May hasn’t really done any leading yet. She was after all the recipient of what must be a world record for the number of withdrawals from a leadership election. She barely got to define her plans or her vision, and ‘pop!’ – Prime Minister. I’m not going to ask you to feel sorry for her, but she is in what must be the most bizarre premiership this country has ever seen.

What happens when you become leader? Well, you assemble your cabinet or shadow cabinet from those who agree with you, those who you can work with on a particular issue, and a few rivals that you cannot ignore and/or you don’t want pissing on you from the outside. The backbenchers are therefore by definition either not influential enough, or too extreme for your tastes in one form or another.

You then have a government or opposition to face. You use the opposition as the electoral stick to keep your own backbenchers in place, “it’s not that I disagree with you [Mr or Ms Lunatic MP – even though I do] but if I take your advice the opposition will fillet us at the ballot box”. In turn you, if PM, use that fragile loyalty to avoid the opposition ever turning you over.

Of course, the longer you are leader the less well it works; eventually you face a backbench rebellion. In time this either ends in electoral defeat, a leadership election or alternatively the “fear” of electoral defeat. Now, if it is either of the two former options then likely you are no longer leader and cease to care. But should it be the latter then that is often enough to reset the clock for a year or so and on you go.

But back to Theresa; her backbenchers are no different from any others, more shrill and extreme than she is (I think you’ll find that a mere three minutes listening to John Redwood, IDS or Phillip Davies will bear me out – as mad as a box of frogs), but they have no credible fear of electoral defeat. It doesn’t seem to matter whether Mrs May does something good, something bad or even anything at all… her lead in the polls remains massive.

Having not had the time or leadership contest to define herself, I can’t imagine that she is in any place to shake off her backbenchers. I have no issue with an “unelected prime minister”, that is just a part of the First Past The Post system. But in this instance not even the Tories elected her. She is, until she wins a general (or leadership) election, Schrödinger’s cat. Both alive and dead at once.

Two recent issues, the scheduled Business Rates hike, and the changes to the insurer payout formula, seem to suggest some incompetence on the part of her team. Sajid Javid was even accused of misleading his own MPs for crying out loud!

Both may seem like pretty niche issues for the man or woman in the street, but are actually important. Rebecca Long-Bailey made a good effort to point out some issues with the business rates hike, but not enough of an effort. The current Labour Party leadership seems unable to articulate any position that both makes sense to voters AND could fix the issue.

Being a very financially literate chap, I was somewhat dismayed to find no real substantive response by the Labour Party, and instead find John McDonnell spending his time pontificating on “unity”. Unity in what I ask?

I specifically did not mention by-elections or Brexit in this post because I think they form a convenient smoke screen for the lack of ministerial-type activity or focus from the Labour Party leadership. If I’ve gone looking for it and can’t find it, what chance does your average voter stand?

Meanwhile, May can spend her time mulling over what she may become after 2020.

By Barnabus Howard

Middle Vision


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If not Blair, then Who?

24th February 2017

By Keith Nieland-

If Not Blair… then Who?

The earth began to move and slowly part. A bony, emaciated hand grasped at the dank, putrid air. This was followed by a swivel-eyed, scab ridden head. Mothers held their firstborn close, the Daily Mail closed the window blinds in fear, Boris went hunting for stakes while Nigel ran in panic through the streets seeking a sledge hammer. Yes! Tony Blair had risen!blair-martin-rowson-guardian

The Hammer House of Brexit

The response in some quarters to Tony Blair’s Bloomberg Brexit speech was more akin to a horror film script than a continuing political dialogue that, despite the wishes of some, will be with us for years to come. The immediate reaction was to play the man with little attempt to respond to the real issues he raised so well, summarised in Steven Duckworth’s post. Blair was irrelevant, speaking out on an issue already settled, he was yesterday’s man forever blighted by the Iraq war.

The usual suspects, many of whom would have agreed with his every word just a few short months ago, ran for the nearest microphone and TV camera to do their bit to stick the knife in (or perhaps the stake!) Jeremy Corbyn went all pious saying the decision of the people should be respected.

The trouble with all the responses were that they were based on what his political foes had wished he’d said rather than what he did say. He was simply saying that while he fully respected the referendum outcome, and that there was little appetite for revisiting it, the great British public might just want to have a rethink once the fine details of the EU divorce become clear.

So, what exactly is wrong with that? It might happen automatically without any prompting if the exit negotiations do not go well and/or speedily. It all rather begged the question “why the excitable reaction?”

“Don’t Panic, Mr Mainwaring!”

Perhaps the real reason for the hysterical response was those at the front of the rush for the EU exit door – May, Corbyn, Farage, BoJo, Davis, Fox, etc do not want an articulate, clever, analytical figure with considerable gravitas – who still enjoys respect amongst sections of the electorate and commands media attention, from looking too closely at what they plan. They want everything neatly under their control, with limited information for Parliament, no public briefings on the exit negotiations and, above all, not to be held accountable for the Leave campaign promises.

The last thing May’s control freakery wants is to find Tony Blair smiling back at her as he dissects her every EU exit move. The Prime Minister wants the status quo – an anti-EU Tory backbench and a lukewarm EU fan leading the opposition.

I would suggest the driver for control of the process is those dodgy Leave promises sitting uneasily on the notion of the settled will of the public.

We All Loved Ratners Once

It’s an unwritten, unarticulated human right – the right to change our minds.

The deal was simple – if you do not want an EU army, the country invaded by Turks coming for our jobs, Europeans turning up when they want but would welcome a cut in VAT and an extra £350m each week for the NHS then vote Leave.

So what happens if and when these promises evaporate and issues never mentioned in the referendum campaign come to the fore? Voters might just feel let down, as if the whole thing was not worth it and, as bad as it was, that perhaps things were better inside the EU.

So how are we doing on the promises just eight months on? Well, there are no plans for an EU army, Turkey will not be joining the EU any time soon (or ever given the current state of the country) and, surprise, surprise David Davis tells us the free movement of labour will have to last until… well nobody knows! The VAT cut has never been mentioned again and the extra NHS funds have been spray painted over and dumped somewhere on the M1.

Davis, Fox and Boris have yet to sit in front of the EU negotiating team but already we know that, far from there being an exit financial bonus, there will be an exit bill, a sizeable one: fifty to sixty million Euros appears to be the opening figure. After all, not unreasonably, the EU will want us to cough up for developments we have already agreed to over the coming planning period.

Nobody mentioned that during the campaign and, if they did, it would have no doubt been branded as part of Project Fear.

Will the EU team want the exit bill issue settled before they are willing to discuss any other matters? Well, what do you do think?

It is still too early to say what the impact on the economy will be but we have to accept that leaving the world’s biggest free trade area cannot be achieved without any negative effect. It’s a bit like leaving the golf club and then demanding all the benefits of membership without paying a subscription. If the UK wants access to all, or selected parts, of the EU free trade zone there will be a cost. It is delusional to think we can abandon up to 45% of our trade and somehow replace it with deals elsewhere in the world.

IoD members are not full of confidence. The impact of Brexit on our vital banking and car manufacturing sectors will be watched with keen interest. It just needs bad news in one of these key areas, particularly car manufacturing, for the public to go sore on the whole Brexit idea.

The public mood could easily change – after all we once loved Ratners and would hear no word of dissent.

What the Opposition Should Be Doing

The Labour Opposition has a big problem – a very big problem.

It has a leader who is indifferent to the EU, who chose to go on holiday during the country’s most important referendum campaign in over 40 years, who gave the EU 7 marks out of 10 in a TV interview, whose support for his own party’s campaign was criticised by the campaign’s leader and who called for Article 50 to be enacted the morning after the result. 60% of Labour voters wanted to Remain as did 48% of total voters, the Party’s official policy is to support membership and to give every opportunity for voters to have a say once the conditions of Brexit are known. The Leader is out of step with many, and perhaps a majority, of Labour voters, members and MPs.

I would suggest that Corbyn’s lacklustre EU campaign and disinterest since runs the real risk of his party getting none of the credit should Brexit go well and some of the blame should it not. While others make the running, Labour has become an invisible player in the EU exit debate. Corbyn three line whipping his MPs through the lobby to support Brexit at any cost could well come back to haunt him and his party. How can Corbyn suggest that is not the case given his party’s failure to at least abstain in the final vote once it became clear the Government were not willing to compromise on any of the assurances being sought?

If Parliament is to have further opportunities to influence the exit deal, when and how will that happen?

I doubt the electorate know what Labour’s Brexit position is and, indeed, care much given the Party’s, and Corbyn’s, dire poll rankings.

Blair has a Blueprint

Is it possible the old class-based dividing lines that defined the core Labour and Conservative votes are fading to be replaced with a nation of Remainers and Leavers? Only time will tell, but I suggest it is a possibility. Labour runs the risk of being discarded into history because it failed to adopt a clear position on Brexit.

As the main opposition party, it has a duty to oppose May’s form of Brexit – what Blair would describe as “Brexit at any cost” – for two reasons. It is what oppositions do, but more importantly, given the Party’s beliefs and values, it is the right thing to do.

Labour should be saying that while Article 50 may well be triggered shortly, the Government has no blank cheque and the Party will resist a Brexit for Brexit’s sake. What the Government proposes will be crawled all over and the public will be advised of the consequences for them. The Party should be painting a picture of the post-Brexit UK which it believes is in the best interests of all its citizens but in particular, those sections that have traditionally looked to it for leadership.

The Party’s position on the Customs Union, the Single Market, EU citizens living, working and studying here and UK citizens doing likewise in Europe should be made clear and articulated. Labour should be highlighting the many, many issues that need a negotiated solution. It should be putting pressure on May to explain regularly where we are on new trade deals, on what they cover, who they are with and how long negotiations are scheduled.

Most importantly, if Labour believes what May and her team are doing is not in the wider national interest, they should be nudging voters to have a change of mind.

Regrettably Labour has put all its lifejackets in the Leave lifeboat, but the situation is not beyond recovery. If we put aside Corbyn’s poor personal poll ratings the Party can get back into the Brexit debate by following Blair’s lead because the Party will be clearly saying May has no blank cheque, we will watch and analyse her every step, she will be held to account and, if we believe the direction of travel not to be in the wider UK interests, then we shall urge voters to think again.

Blair pointed a way forward and Labour should follow it.

By Keith Nieland


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Why Tony Blair is right about Brexit and why Labour must ignore him

22nd February 2017

 -By Steven Duckworth-

Why Tony Blair is right about Brexit and why Labour must ignore him

I like to think of myself as fairly non-partisan on politics. Extremists aside, I believe most people get involved in politics because they generally want to improve society for all of its members.

Having said that, I am a supporter and member of the Labour Party, not because I’m a socialist but because I believe Labour is still the party that is best able to deliver and sustain a prosperous and fair society. It shouldn’t need saying that Labour needs to actually get into government before it can deliver anything, but in these febrile times for the party, it’s always a point worth making.

Bearing this in mind, it was with some pride and a great deal of sadness at Labour’s current plight that I watched Tony Blair’s Blooomberg/Open Britain speech last week.

Labour’s most successful leader riffed across many different, but connected, themes intelligently and effectively. His delivery was impeccable and he talked directly to the people his speech was aimed at, the 48% of the population who had voted to remain in the EU. Only a masochist would want to compare him with the Labour Party’s current leadership team, but compare I did and it left me in a state of despair.

In terms of detail, Blair was spot on too. I also believe that people believed that leaving the EU would help finance the NHS, cut down on all immigration and return sovereignty to Westminster. All of these assertions by the Leave campaign were demonstrably false and I do believe that Blair is right when he predicts that leaving the EU and the Single Market would have a highly negative impact on our prosperity and standing in the world. Blair also showed his political instincts and craft when he accused Theresa May of being the purveyor of “the mantle of patriotism abused”. Oh, how that would sound coming across the dispatch box on a Wednesday lunchtime.

So where does Mr Blair’s intervention leave us when we think about the politics of Brexit specifically? I tend to think it offers nothing much at all.

Theresa May has decided – for reasons of clarity and political expediency – that a hard Brexit is what she will pursue. Tim Farron has concluded the opposite, but for much the same reasons. The SNP are similar to Farron, but they think this all may well provide a tilt at another Scottish independence vote.

Which leaves the Labour party; of all the parties it needs to face both ways on Brexit. Jeremy Corbyn had no realistic choice but to back the government over triggering Article 50. I think it is disingenuous to pretend otherwise.

Blair may want a politically realigned movement that energises and engages Remain voters – as a Remainer I’m glad someone is making the case – but Labour has to get on with the task of running a party at Westminster and fighting elections and that means trying to straddle the Brexit divide.

So is there a way forward for Labour on Brexit? Well, there are no easy choices; the party will anger and ostracise many supporters whichever way it decides to go on the issue. But there are opportunities. Labour needs to be positive and start to describe what sort of Brexit the government should be pursuing: red lines on the Customs Union, what a fair immigration policy would look like and pushing for a settlement for those EU nationals already resident in the UK would all start to frame a different take compared to the other parties.

This is the right thing to do in itself, but it also lends Labour authority when – and I think it will – the government begins to flounder on its Brexit negotiations. An opportunity for a second referendum might even arise and Labour should support it, but from a position of a party that has tried to implement the referendum result rather than obstinately opposing it.

Labour faces a real Hobson’s choice on Brexit and will have many a difficult moment in the months ahead. There are no easy lines for a party that elected a Eurosceptic leader ahead of a momentous EU referendum. A different party under a different leader might well have been able to join a broad-based movement to oppose Brexit, but Labour’s tragedy is that it is in no position to take up Tony Blair’s rallying cry.

Massive mistakes over the past few years, particularly the last two, have meant that if it is to survive – and that is already in the balance – Labour will have to slowly and tentatively build its way out of the pit it finds itself in. There is no room for political quick fixes in that particular project.

By Steven Duckworth

@FoxHedgehog


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Charisma and Corbyn

20th February 2017

By Keith Nieland-

Charisma and Corbyn

Charisma! I love the word – it sounds a bit like Christmas and all those warm connotations of mulled wine, mince pies and open fires. My ever trusty Penguin English Dictionary defines the word as –

1. the special magnetic appeal, charm or power of an individual e.g. a political leader, that inspires popular loyalty and enthusiasm

2. an extraordinary power divinely given to a Christian.”

So the question of the day is does Jeremy Corbyn have charisma and does it matter?

The Populist Right

Those of us who like to describe ourselves as progressives despise the populist right. We reject their playbook of divide and rule. They promote the politics of hate and victimhood: it’s immigrants who take our jobs, suppress wages, jump the queue for housing and healthcare and live a life loafing on benefits (despite taking all our jobs at the same time!) They long for a never-never land like the 1950s when, apparently, all faces were white and Christian, we hung criminals, measured in feet and inches, weighed in ounces and pounds and bought things with shillings and pence. A Wagon Wheel was a foot wide, a Penguin bar weighed a pound and passports had a blue cover. Most importantly all foreigners began at Calais.

We reject all this partly because it is not evidence-based but more importantly it runs counter to the progressive dream of an inclusive, tolerant and sharing society where people are given opportunity and not judged by their skin colour or religion. Every year speeches at the Oscars and BAFTAs reinforce the progressive brand. This year’s Oscars should be good for a bit of Trump bashing.

So why is the populist right apparently in the ascendancy?

Trump, Le Pen, Farage et al

The answer to that question is complicated and will no doubt fill column inches and books for years to come. I would suggest, however, that one of the reasons is that the populist right is good at finding charismatic leaders who talk eloquently in a style that appeals to their audience.

They do indeed inspire loyalty and enthusiasm amongst their followers as they preach a sermon of blame and division. Many of us scoffed at Trump’s election campaign. His ignorance and limited vocabulary shone through as did his evidence-free policy platform. None of this mattered as he filled venues in a way Hilary Clinton could only dream of. He told his audience what they wanted to hear in a way they understood. None of their problems were of their own making and blame should be allocated to Mexicans, Muslims, the Washington elite (who for some reason live in a swamp) and the trade cheats China and Germany.

Whether we like it or not, folks like Donald Trump, Marine Le Pen, Nigel Farage etc can captivate an audience and inspire unyielding loyalty. Evidence that charisma is an important quality in the world of politics.

It begs the question where are the progressive charismatic leaders on the centre left? Macron in France perhaps, but who else? In the UK it begs an urgent question: does Jeremy Corbyn have the necessary charismatic qualities?

Charismatic Corbyn

So does Jeremy have that special magnetic appeal, charm and power as an individual to inspire popular loyalty and enthusiasm? That question alone will inspire guffaws of laughter in some quarters for clearly he does not – just look at the opinion polls.

Despite the wishes of his band of merry followers not all the polls can be fake news as he lags behind the Tories by whatever means you choose to cut the electorate – by age, class or political loyalty. Not even Labour voters want him. The Tories hang around 40% in the polls while Labour slumps ever downwards towards 20% and perilously close to UKIP’s vote share. Amongst working class people they already prefer UKIP to Corbyn’s Labour.

His best opportunity to establish his charismatic qualities comes once a week at Prime Minister’s Questions. He can ask what he likes, he has the right to have six goes and May has no prior notice of his intentions. The press and TV await. The opportunity is laid before Corbyn for some charismatic sound bites to get the attention of evening and night time news watchers and listeners.

Open Goal to Bullet in the Foot

Jeremy Corbyn has plenty of material to chose from to establish his charismatic credentials. May’s disastrous management of the NHS and social care; her cavalier approach to the Brexit negotiations; the plight of the wider public sector and problems of the prison service. They lie before Corbyn like sweets in a sweetie jar but he is unable to register a hit partly because he lacks the personal charismatic qualities (he was just born without them) but partly because of a wall of his creation.

If Corbyn tries to pin May down on the NHS, her response is that Labour had 13 years to fix the NHS, and it did not but the Tories now are. He cannot counter this nonsense because admitting Blair and Brown actually did fix the NHS and all but eliminated waiting lists and times would be to surrender the Corbyn play book of hating all things Blairite.

One of the few things that glues his band of supporters together is the hatred of everything they consider Blairite.

If Corbyn tries to do likewise on social care back will come the same answer from May. He cannot claim Labour tried to get in place a new cross-party settlement on social care but the Tories rejected it because that would again require acknowledgement of those who names dare not be mentioned.

Defence is a no-go Corbyn area. Remember submarines going to sea without missiles or NATO being redundant or the “tragedy” of Bin Laden’s death? If you do not, May will be all too pleased to remind you.

The economy is just as bad as Corbyn has no coherent economic policy beyond a number of unfunded spending commitments (remember he got elected on a promise of abolishing tuition fees), vague calls for nationalisation and hints at tax rises. His contradictory desire for a closed shop economy with open borders is a hard sell at the best of times. I suspect that deep down he would like to return to the 1960s and call for nationalisation of the commanding heights of the economy and sweeping powers for the trades unions. Now that would get him onto the BBC 9 O’clock News but for all the wrong reasons.

What about Brexit? Sadly Corbyn and May are singing off the same song sheet now and that particular fox bolted last week when Corbyn tried to straddle the Leave/Remainer divide and fell down the gap in the middle.

For Jeremy PMQs is an open goal but sadly the ball is chained to his ankle.

Why Does Jeremy Hang On?

Given that most of his Parliamentary colleagues think he is useless, the electorate certainly does and he is lampooned in the media most days, why does he not just bow out gracefully and go back to his allotment? He would have plenty of time to return to what he does best, which is lurk on the backbenches with his few House of Commons pals whining about the next episode of socialist betrayal by the Party’s frontbench.

Cynics might suggest that Corbyn does not care tuppence about his unpopularity and total inability to create a narrative voters will listen to. There is an old management training saying about “only getting one opportunity to make a first impression”. Corbyn blew his as he was unprepared for those first testing radio and television interviews when he became leader. Everything he said and did from then on just serves as conformation bias. He is beyond recovery.

While the hard left is pretty hopeless at public politics it is pretty good at plotting and planning its way to success when it comes to party meetings and conferences. Perhaps all Corbyn really wants is to ensure the dreaded Blairites are banished to the margins of the party for good and preferably out of it. He could be just hanging on for a party conference rule change that will make it easier for a hard left MP to get on the leadership slate, who would then be swept into office by the only group in the country that has any faith in Corbyn – his loyal band of followers in the Labour party membership. It might make Labour unelectable for a generation but that is not the point.

Where Are the Charismatic Hiding?

If Jeremy Corbyn has all the charisma of a hearth brush, where are the potential charismatic leaders on Labour’s benches? Where are those who can hold an audience in the palm of their hand? Can preach a progressive message that resonates with people? Who are policy-sound, evidence-based but with magnetic personalities? Who are clear, articulate and can give a good sound bite off-the-cuff to a reporter in the street and not run away? Who can command the House of Commons and ask a short, succinct question without having to read it?

Will our charismatic potential leaders please step forward – your country needs you, Europe needs you and the world needs you to stand up to Trump and Putin. Most importantly I need you!

By Keith Nieland


Please note: articles and posts on ‘Middle Vision’ reflect the views of the individual authors and not of all involved in ‘Middle Vision’

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Democracy

1st February 2017

By Barnabus Howard-

Democracy

I am disgruntled. I am a disgruntled former Labour Party member, and I have a problem. As it stands, I am not represented, and that is the source of some rancour for me. I look at the arrayed political representatives and I cannot see a place where I’d feel comfortable. Brexit has and will continue to destroy the political scene as we know it; I am reduced to finding solace in some unusual and peripheral areas.

For me, politics is about governing; I don’t live for campaigning, and as sad as it is I like to think about government and legislation. So finding myself thinking about peripheral (and in some cases long dead) figures like Ken Clarke, Edmund Burke, Nick Clegg and Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. is a bit too much of throwback to my time at university. This does not feel like a place where I should be.

There was a moment during the debate for the second reading of the exiting the EU bill where Iain Duncan Smith briefly made sense, or so I thought. He was disputing the EU’s credentials for fostering piece in Europe since World War Two, and made a comment to the effect of it wasn’t the EU, it was the creation and support of strong democratic institutions in those countries that’d previously been at war.

I disagree with him, but he is right that strong democratic institutions are very important in creating stability. And this is my first real point, it feels to me that, since Brexit especially but also more broadly, that we (the people, the country, everybody) have forgotten what democracy is about.

Democracy is not just about voting, and it is not just about getting a majority. Democracy is hard to get right and although the involvement and engagement of the people is vital, it is exceedingly important that we have structures in place to ensure that the implied principles of democracy are observed. For example, freedom of speech and the rule of law.

The structures I refer to are of course the Supreme Court and Parliament’s oversight prerogative. I’d be inclined to give Duncan Smith some credit if he hadn’t been quite so lazily scathing in his comments about the Supreme Court’s recent judgement! A US Republican, Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr once said, “taxes are the price we pay for civilization”. I think the same could be said for Parliament and the Supreme Court’s scrutiny of the government.

My problem with our lazy view of the democratic structures we have, is that we choose to forget how this all works. Parliament’s job is to scrutinise government, and make sure that many views are heard. And that is why I have been thinking about Ken Clarke. His contribution to that debate was in a part a rambling rehash of the referendum discussions, but in parts he was very eloquent. He may well have said plenty to irritate government ministers with his slightly predictable remarks, but he managed to highlight quite cleverly the quandary and ineffectiveness that the Labour Party has brought upon itself. He mentioned that the Eurosceptic MPs had not given up on their cause over the last 20 or 30 years. The Labour Party’s position on Brexit may well be based on a determination not to be cast as out of touch and to be seen as based in democratic instincts, but in so doing it makes itself an irrelevance. Elections are not about the answer, but the questions that the electorate deem important. Ignoring the issue and waiting for somebody to want to talk about nuclear disarmament or nationalisation is simply negligent.

I’m a private citizen, so I can choose to accept the referendum result even though I thoroughly disagree with it. The Labour Party has no such freedom; even if you do not intend to stand in the way, saying so only serves to do half of government’s job for them.

Which brings me onto Ken Clarke’s précis of Edmund Burke’s famous quote, “Your representative owes you, not his industry only, but his judgment; and he betrays, instead of serving you, if he sacrifices it to your opinion”. I think this quote should be printed in big bold letters on every ballot paper. That aside, the point is that your MP should vote in such a way that represents your interests whether you see it that way or not. His constituents voted him out shortly thereafter, and perhaps the same would happen to MPs who chose not to accept the referendum result. But that is what is supposed to happen.

The Tories may have taken what seems like a risky position in accepting the will of the Leave voters lock, stock and barrel. I think they know that most of their Remain supporters are going to be more scared of a Corbyn government than they are of Brexit. I certainly won’t be voting for them, but equally Corbyn’s new approach of trying to appeal to everybody by taking no position on anything of consequence makes it impossible for me to consider the Labour Party should a general election be held tomorrow.

I strongly believe that most people sit a bit on the right, a bit on the left, and a bit in between. For me that means I want some sort of free society, a regulated capitalism, a society and a government that aim to meet people’s aspirations and look after those who are struggling or in need. Labour’s silent opposition can’t fulfil that, and neither can the Conservatives’ disregard for those who voted to Remain (as well as all the people they normally ignore).

That leaves me in limbo; and I’m not quite ready to join Nick Clegg on the periphery just yet!

Middle Vision


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