Saturday 5 December 2015

Politics post Oldham

Even our supposedly neutral BBC seems determined to distort the true state of our politics.  Labour had "retained their set at the Oldham by-election, but with a reduced majority," we were told yesterday bulletin after bulletin.  Only as though as an afterthought did they add "but with an increased share of the vote."

What a different impression it would have created if they'd put it the other way round.  "Labour has won the Oldham by-election with an increased share of the vote."  Much more upbeat.

There seems to be a law to downgrade any success of the progressive side of politics, and upgrade any little local difficulties, of which there have been many, some of them not so little.

Even in the supposed centre-left Guardian Marin Kettle, writing before the result was known, spoke of real politics having to deal with " a big commons vote, a shabby reselection campaign in Walthamstow, a lousy byelecion result in Oldham."

Well, it wasn't  lousy at all: it was a resounding triumph for Labour under Corbyn's leadership.  Of course the majority was reduced (from 17 209 to 10 722) but that was because the turnout was only two thirds of that of the previous (general) election.  The all-important share of the vote was up from  54.8% to 62.1%, an increase of 7.1 percentage points, or, if you want to describe it even more favourably (but still accurately) an increased share of 13.3%.

So much for Labour under Corbyn being unelectable.

This confirms my view that Corbyn is a "wind for change."  It is a vote of confidence  in progressive politics not just from the Labour party's supposedly hard left members, or their enthusiastic but naive newcomers, but from the electorate as a whole.

Two groups need to learn the lesson.

First is Labour's "New Labour old guard," if that's not too oxymoronic a description, who need to realise that it is their kind of politics: Tory-lite, on message, spouting platitudes, sealed in their own establishment, afraid to think out of the no-liberal box for fear of frightening the horses, that has disillusioned those of us hoping for a better and fairer and more honest future.

Second is our Liberal Democrat Commons rump, of whom two thirds shamefully voted for the Tory policy of  adding to the demonstrably unproductive bombing of Syria. They and other leading members  need to realise that Corbyn has been successful in unleashing the demand  fore more honest politics which Nick Clegg recognised, and briefly excited, in 2010, but on which we sadly failed to deliver.  So rather than joining the campaign to denigrate Corbyn, our party needs to concentrate on those goals on which we agree (from fairer taxation to justice for the Chagos Islanders) rather than joining in the sniping.

That does not mean that Liberal Democrats should leave and join Labour.  Labour's methods are very different from ours.  They are top-down, authoritarian, careless of civil liberties,  and, most dangerously of all,  believe they have a monopoly of wisdom on how things should be and others (ie us and the Greens, plus the SNP for the moment) should get off their territory.  We are bottom up, genuine devolvers, more tolerant of variety and more trusting of people.

But as C P Scott, great editor of the (then Manchester) Guardian pointed out nearly 100 years ago, Labour and Liberals are "two divisions of the party of progress" and warned against the possibility that "while Liberalism and Labour are snapping and snarling away at each other the Conservative dog may run away with the bone."

Sadly the Tories have the bone for the next four and a half  years. Our strategy in that time must be that when 2020 comes we have worked together to create a rainbow alliance ready and willing to undo the damage they have done and continue to do, and build the decent, civilised, dynamic and sharing  society which we crave.


  1. It was certainly a very good result for the Conservatives: for a moment it was looking like Corbyn could be ousted as leader (even though nobody's quite sure of the mechanism by which it could happen), but this solidifies his hold on power until next May at least.

  2. Well the Conservative vote was cut by half, which is encouraging for the rest of us.