Labour isn’t Europe’s biggest party

By Paul Canning

Reproduced by kind permission from the author’s original posting on his blog.

It is one of those little things that illustrates something bigger. For some time I have seen Twitter posts on Labour’s membership numbers claiming it is now the biggest political party in Europe.

labour europe

The oldest tweet saying this which I could find came from a nasty antisemitic account in January:

Some of these tweets, most notably from Momentum’s James Schnider, have described it as ‘biggest left of centre party’. Others have described it as ‘biggest party in Western Europe. But now this has progressed to a meme and I’ve had enough.


This is not true, on several levels.

Wrong, spin, ignorant

The biggest political party in Europe is United Russia**, the ruling party in the Russian Federation, set up by Vladimir Putin in 2001. It’s membership (2013 figures) is over two million.

It is spin because in a first past the post (FPTP) system almost all left members of political parties are in one party, rather than in several. In the rest of Europe, the spectrum of views represented in UK Labour are covered by more than one party because they have various forms of proportional representation.  So the Social Democratic Party of Germany has around 450k members and Die Linke 60k and Alliance ’90/The Greens another 60k. Plus there are other smaller left parties.

I am not suggesting that all those members of other parties than Germany’s Social Democrats would join them under FPTP but that those numbers point to another problem with the ‘Europe’s largest party’ claim: the UK is coming off a very low base; proportionally most other European countries have higher memberships in general of political parties.

These are the most recent figures I could find (from 2013)*. As you can see, even with Labour’s membership growth the UK still has much lower numbers than most other countries.

Figure1Biezen ()

I could not find membership numbers for parties such as Greece’s Syriza but this graph suggests it would be high. Parties of the left in Italy have a membership total over half a million. Spain’s Podemos has around 450k members in a country 70% the size of the UK. Proportionally Podemos is as big as UK Labour and there are another 190,000 Social Democrats.

The election for UK’s Labour’s Leader also has a paltry participation rate compared to elsewhere. In the 2011 French Socialist Party presidential primary around 2,700,000 voters participated in the first round, and 2,900,000 voters in the second – a fact which beggars the question what the outcome would be if a similar democratic event were to happen in UK Labour.

Wake up call

What these facts highlight the most – and this is how a little thing can illustrate something bigger – is the con job behind this spin from Corbyn supporters, led by Momentum. Namely that even if you are ‘Europe’s biggest party’ it does not matter how many members your party has, what matters is how many people will vote for you. The experience of other European parties tells us this. As they dare cite Europe they simultaneously ignore Europe.

One could add (because rally size is often cited alongside membership by Corbyn supporters) that it does not matter how many people you get to your rallies either – have you seen the scale of some of the rallies for European left wing parties?

This is a rally of tens of thousands for Spain’s Podemos two months ago. They went on to lose the election to Spain’s conservatives and got 21% of the vote.

podemos-rally-madrid ()

*Another paper showing figures up to 2008 from across Europe.

** It has been pointed out to me (cheers Roger McCarthy) that Turkey is also in Europe, including a huge amount of its largest city, Istanbul.  As of May 2008, the Justice and Development Party (AKP) reportedly had 3,688,761 members.


Editor’s postscript: Since Paul published his article Jeremy Corbyn seems to have stopped making his false claim. Let us know if you know otherwise.

Corbyn’s past will destroy Labour’s future

By John Rogan

This is an edited version of the author’s original post on Medium, kindly reproduced with his permission.

The Socialist Workers Party are right about one thing at least – the Labour Party is indeed imbued with “electoralism”. Labour Party members believe that Labour needs to be in Government to change things for the better. The big split is that while the PLP believe Corbyn is the main obstacle to power, many of his supporters believe it to be the PLP.

I believe the 80% of the PLP who have no confidence in Corbyn winning to be absolutely correct. Why? One issue. Northern Ireland.

Jeremy Corbyn, along with John McDonnell, was among those on the Left who gave critical support to the Provisional IRA “against British Imperialism”. He may, in the leftist parlance of the time, not have agreed with some of their methods but they were deserving of solidarity. Now this is being dishonestly dressed up as Corbyn being ahead of his time and helping to bring about the peace process by talking to the Republicans. This refusal to face what Corbyn’s views actually were could be a major factor in destroying the Labour vote in many parts of the country (e.g. Birmingham and Warrington to take the obvious examples).

For those who are willing to take the time, I suggest you read the articles in the Daily Telegraph and the Spectator. To summarise, Jeremy Corbyn was on the editorial board of “London Labour Briefing” (LLB) in the 1980s. After the Brighton bombing in 1984, LLB ran an editorial condemning it. Cue an angry reaction from readers and the next editorial ran an apology for the condemnation and reemphasised its support for Sinn Fein and the IRA.

Briefing 1984

If any Sinn Fein members or supporters happen to be reading this, you should put your feelings of nostalgia and gratitude towards Jeremy Corbyn’s support for the Republican Movement to one side for the moment and look at the following.

Jeremy Corbyn is a founder member of the Labour Representation Committee (LRC) as is John McDonnell (it’s Chair for many years). At the LRC AGM 2012 on November 12, the following motion, moved by Gerry Downing’s Socialist Fight grouping, was passed:

LRC 2012

report in “Weekly Worker” stated the following:


Police officer David Black was killed by “dissident Republicans” on November 1st 2012. Caitriona Ruane, Sinn Fein MLA, called his killing a “pointless murder” and Martin McGuinness even expressed a willingness to go to his funeral . In fact McGuinness went as far as issuing a joint statement with then First Minister David Robinson to appeal for help to catch the killers, saying that an attack on any member of the Northern Ireland Prison Service was “an attack on all of us”.

Meanwhile, eleven days after the murder of David Black, the LRC (Chair John McDonnell, founder member Jeremy Corbyn) supported a motion not only calling this killing “political” but also for the freeing of the perpetrators. In other words, an act of political solidarity with those, (the Continuity IRA, the Real IRA etc.), who would wish Northern Ireland to return to the worst days of the “troubles”.

Perhaps one day, the Chair of the LRC, John McDonnell MP will offer an explanation for that organisation’s political solidarity with “dissident Republicans”. Perhaps, one day, a founder member of the LRC, the Leader of Her Majesty’s Most Loyal Opposition, Jeremy Corbyn, might offer his view on the LRC’s political solidarity with the killers of David Black.

Did either Jeremy Corbyn or John McDonnell vote for Motion 4? I’ve no idea. Maybe that question will come up in the General Election too.

I’ll try to be charitable and say the LRC, alongside Corbyn and McDonnell, are perfect examples of ultra-left, student union politicians. An “anti-imperialist” motion like this would have been voted for without thinking of any consequences. It’s not as if it would really have any effect on the Northern Ireland peace process. After all, it’s not as if Jeremy Corbyn or John McDonnell were holding leading positions in the Labour Party then.

They do now though.

John McDonnell said in 1998, in an interview with An Phoblacht (the Sinn Fein newspaper), “An assembly is not what people have laid down their lives for over thirty years. We want peace, but the settlement must be just and the settlement must be for an agreed and united Ireland.” Reading this, I, for one, am glad John McDonnell was not a Sinn Fein leader during the negotiations which lead to the Good Friday Agreement.

In May 1987, the Sunday Express ran a front page story where it said Jeremy Corbyn stood for a minute’s silence for eight IRA members who had been killed by the British Army in Ireland.

Corbyn IRA 87

Afterwards he was quoted as saying, “I’m happy to commemorate all those who died fighting for an independent Ireland.” The meeting had been organised by the “Wolfe Tone Society” which was set up in London in 1984 to support Sinn Fein and its policies, including support for the IRA.

How might all this play out in a General election though?

Here’s how I picture that might look on a Conservative Party billboard in a General Election campaign:

Corbyn Tory election

Imagine that billboard in Birmingham or in Warrington during a General Election campaign. Imagine it throughout the whole of the United Kingdom. In Glasgow, where I come from, sectarian and political tensions would be dangerously stoked up. And, if Corbyn supporters believe all this talk of supporting the IRA is a “smear”, let’s wait until a General Election debate between Jeremy Corbyn and Theresa May — “Were you or were you not at the Wolfe Tone Society meeting where you stood for a minute’s silence for IRA terrorists, Mr Corbyn? Were you or were you not a member of the editorial board of London Labour Briefing who supported the IRA bombing of the Conservative Party conference in 1984, Mr Corbyn?”

Would the Conservative Party be at fault for publishing such a poster?

In my opinion, it would not. Conservatives want power, they want to win and they are perfectly entitled to use all legitimate political means to achieve that end. Highlighting Jeremy Corbyn’s backing for the IRA would be part of that.

The blame for such a poster being published would lie entirely with Jeremy Corbyn and all of those of his supporters who know his views and history regarding the IRA and back him for Labour leader. I would also blame those prominent supporters (particularly Trade Union leaders) who have heard these accusations but either don’t want to investigate the truth of the matter or know the truth and want a quiet life.

They would all be responsible for Jeremy Corbyn leading Labour to a devastating, catastrophic rout at a General Election.

If Jeremy Corbyn wins the Labour leadership (again), I would paraphrase George Orwell and say, if you want a vision of the future, imagine the Tories laughing in Labour’s face again and again for the next ten, fifteen, twenty years (at least).

May HoC

Iraq and a Labour Foreign Policy future: Stand tall, be brave, send help

When you think of the state of our world, Labour’s troubles can seem very small, almost irrelevant. But they’re not. They’re important, because Britain is important, and because the Labour Party is important to Britain. We have lost our capacity to become the government,we have lost our intellectual credibility in the eyes of the country and the world, and – maybe most tragically of all – we have lost our instinctive sense of morality. To recover on any count means facing down some powerful, by now almost endemic, beliefs on the Left, and none more so than those embodied in the Stop the War Coalition, and Jeremy Corbyn’s ‘foreign policy.’ Their dominance for a decade and more over what constitutes moral internationalism has eroded away Labour’s belief in the robust defence of human rights in the world, and this is wrong.

The most profound damage they have done is in shaping Labour’s understanding of the consequences of the intervention in Iraq. They argue perpetually that the world’s current ills started at the removal of Saddam in 2003. Kobani, Sinjar, Yezidis, Paris, Nice, Orlando, Aleppo? Iraq, always Iraq. Nothing before that point is ever relevant, and to bring it up triggers incredulity on the Left. But what went before is of course relevant to understanding the world that came after. Long before the Iraq war the Taliban were already meting out Islamist enslavement of women and girls, Iran’s Islamist government had been burying women alive for adultery and hanging gay men from lampposts for decades, and Al Queda had already carried out mass murder in America on 9/11. What links them (and these are but the tiniest number of possible examples) is the political ideology of Islamism, a deep rooted, incredibly contagious, violent philosophy whose proponents have been killing and oppressing for decades. Imagine what the world could be like had Saddam’s sadistic regime been here to give Islamism financial, political and military support. No, it is good that he is gone, and we need to stop apologising for thinking that. Long before the Iraq war, Islamism was already a deeply oppressive force for those with the misfortune to live within it, and it had already become the ideology of contemporary international terrorism. It’s not about us, it never has been.

A terrible effect of the Left’s determination to blame the ongoing violence in the Middle East and beyond on the Iraq war is that Labour has focused on our own military intervention as the main cause of Islamist terrorism, when it should have been relentlessly trying to understand and find ways to counter Islamism itself. This is a political ideology with its own internal propulsion, it’s supporters may use our own actions as propaganda but the roots of Islamism have nothing to do with the Iraq war. Labour has spent a decade and more apologising for something we did not create, and – as Jeremy Corbyn did again last night in the Leaders debate – damning initiatives, such as Prevent, designed explicitly to protect children from Islamist propaganda. Labour should have been contributing to finding solutions, to making Prevent better, using our links within communities to help bridge divides. We should have been relentlessly constructive, but instead – beleaguered by an activist Left full of misplaced certainty and anti-Western theory – we have too often used our voice to condemn those who have been trying to help.

Labour is an internationalist party that has always believed that the strong should help the weak yet by the time parliament voted on whether to join the fight against Assad we voted against sending military help. We watched carnage being inflicted and we walked away. Thanks to the Tory government, Hilary Benn and many Labour MPs, we have now intervened against ISIS, but in the meantime the world has witnessed pure horror in Syria and the situation has deteriorated, possibly beyond repair. One day I hope to see a Public Inquiry into the reasons and the consequences of that initial inaction in Syria, (called for here by the Director of the All Party Parliamentary Group on the Kurdistan region in Iraq), which should include an assessment of the role and agenda of the Stop the War Coalition and its member MPs. For now, Labour must start to remember that without a strong military,  and the international will to enforce, ‘Human Rights’ is not a foreign policy, it’s just some words on poster.

The world can be a terrible, messy and infinitely complex place. That the Iraq war could be ‘blamed’ for every Islamist atrocity that subsequently occurred is by now as ludicrous as blaming it for every atrocity that went beforehand. We can’t continue to damn our politicians for failing to achieve a world peace that transparently cannot exist. It is fantasy. What we can do is ask them to make honest decisions, based on the facts in front of them, and on solid understandings of what they are dealing with. For those of us who believe in the principle of humanitarian military intervention, and for those of us who believe removing Saddam was right and necessary, that means being prepared to force the truth on to the table within the Labour Party. It also means accepting that there are no perfect answers in foreign policy and that leadership demands making choices, sometimes extremely difficult choices. Finally, if Labour is to stand tall again and make our rightful contribution to a the world, we must remember that the rise of Islamism is not about us, and it never has been.

Sex, Drugs and Suffering Bodies

The dark side of globalisation

By Jay

Human trafficking is the most visibly subversive of all forms of illicit trade. It is certainly the most emotive in terms of language and the imagery used in reports and anti-trafficking campaigns, and it has become a highly politicised part of the global agenda. Driven by demand and powered by the energy of globalisation, the trafficking in people is the second most lucrative crime in the world, second only to narcotics, and it is estimated that it generates an annual profit of over $150 billion. The trade in people often carries major advantages over the trafficking of narcotics for transnational crime groups, because unlike drugs, people can be sold repeatedly and the profits go straight to the individual criminals.

The problem of human trafficking is directly linked to the tensions, inequalities and changing economic factors associated with globalisation and often precipitated by international and political transformation. Human trafficking conjures up a lurid tapestry of slavery, scandal and suffering bodies. It is often described as the dark side of globalisation. But these claims do not always hold up to rigorous scientific scrutiny. The literature is often anecdotal or sensationalised and the limited research tends to espouse unsupported claims that have become entrenched in the narrative as accepted dogma. While the numbers associated with human trafficking as well as other transnational crime activities (such as the illegal arms trade) have become politicised and often used to subvert broader systemic issues, it is still very much a serious problem however and merits careful analysis and intervention.

While global illicit trade is an activity that dates back to ancient times and the reality of a thieves’ market, some commercial crimes have been overlooked while others embellished in an attempt to sway other agendas. It seems that smuggling and trafficking are often conflated in news reports. So what’s the difference between the two? Perhaps the most significant one is not about the actual work, but rather the coercion involved in the process. While human trafficking always contains elements of force or coercion, those who are smuggled are generally cooperating and complicit in the crime. Additionally, smuggling always involves international border-crossing while trafficking does not. Smuggled people are not necessarily victims, though they may become victims depending on the circumstances in which they were smuggled. According to international law, trafficked humans are still considered victims of trafficking even if exploitation has not yet taken place.

The trafficking of humans is often described as the worst violation of human rights. It evokes historical parallels with the transatlantic slave trade and the language used by governments and NGOs often feeds into this narrative. But slave markets are not a thing of the past, and auctions of young women trafficked for sexual slavery in Britain have taken place in open and highly policed locations such as Gatwick airport. Are these women hapless victims of a carefully machinated scheme of exploitation, or are they aware of the dangers?

We know that women trafficked from former Soviet states are offered jobs under the ruse of working in the service industry as waitresses or hostesses in bars and casinos. Their exploiters guarantee well-paid work and often take care of the bureaucracy and expenses involved in the production of visas and other travel documents. They will often take the passports from the women in order to obtain these documents. After arriving in the capitals of Western Europe and North America, the trafficked women are then faced with the reality of their circumstances and put to immediate work with little recourse. If they refuse, they are beaten and told that they need to pay back the debt incurred by the manufacture of their visas. The debt is often an arbitrary and changing number invented by their traffickers.

This method of operation is pervasive in the literature on trafficking from countries transitioning from communism and raises questions about the boundaries of consent and prior knowledge of these women, many of whom are educated, about the reality of their predicament. Their lived experiences are somewhat different to the reality of forced prostitution in the sex slums of India, Bangladesh and Thailand, where girls as young as 7 or 8 are often sold into slavery. If anything, this highlights the notion that trafficking presents many faces and the debate might benefit from a tiered hierarchy of victimhood where diverse realities of trafficking were given similarly diverse modes of analysis and methods of prevention. The problem is that these different realities, and by implication their unique factors and statistics, are often conflated and stacked into the same social and highly politicised narratives. This is especially the case with child trafficking. Research indicates that NGOs are often reluctant to indicate that figures for children trafficked into slavery are embellished because it might lead to a decline in funding and refusal to address what is nonetheless a very serious problem.

It is difficult to establish the boundaries of consent for adult women trafficked into sex slavery. The problem is exacerbated by factors such as pressure, coercion, manipulation, intimidation and physical violence, all of which have a direct bearing on the victim’s ability to articulate consent and none of which are easily determined or evidenced. Traffickers hone in on the vulnerabilities of their victims and manage to ensnare their confidence and loyalty, not only by threats but by the psychological tactics they employ. Ask yourself this: is it even possible to achieve categorical consent from a person who is being exploited?

While victims of trafficking may give their initial consent to be taken overseas and work in the sex industry, it is fair to assume that they do not know that they will be locked up during the day, have no control over their own bodies or the mandate to refuse to perform certain sex acts. It is also safe to say that they do not know they will be beaten, blackmailed, abused, raped, starved or forced to take drugs. But this is the depressing reality that often transpires when they arrive at their destination, and while they may have been willing participants and complicit in their illegal movement in the beginning, international law dictates that as soon as these women lose their freedom they become victims of trafficking. Once a victim is in a situation they want to get out of and cannot, their free will is lost and they become, for all intents and purposes, a slave.

The reality is that victims of sex trafficking seldom come forward and report their exploiters. The reasons for this vary from shame, intimidation by their traffickers, threats against the family and the reality of crippling debt bondage. It is clear that the trade in human flesh is a serious form of transnational crime worldwide, although reports on numbers and the scale of the problem vary significantly. But while sex trafficking tends to grab all the headlines and be the most visibly outraging aspect of the problem it is only one facet of a global phenomenon that includes diverse forms of exploitation. People are also trafficked for domestic slavery, begging, service as child soldiers, and for their organs.

The trail of trafficked humans often ends in the prosperous countries of the West, but it almost always begins in developing nations. So how does a discussion on human trafficking fit together with a debate on patterns of global mobility and international economic law?

The conditions of globalisation such as increased international trade and the freer movement of goods and services have widened the gap even more between rich and developing economies. Globalisation has changed the balance of power between countries and markets in favour of the latter. One of the legacies of colonialism is that developing nations are continuing to export raw materials to the West, where they are produced and exported again as ‘finished products’ (for instance, tea grown in Africa is often processed in Europe, then distributed back to its country of origin). It could be argued that the intention is to keep these nations backward, dependant and in a state of development. The accumulation of riches and resources by the colonial powers created a substantial imbalance of wealth in the world and a glaring North and South divide. The forced monocultures of the South allowed the North to develop its industries and create prosperous consumer societies while the countries of the South spiralled into dire straits as their natural economies were being devastated and replaced by a commodity economy. These economies are still devastated. They are often reliant on subsistence farming and become source countries for potential victims of human trafficking.

The classic power politics of the Cold War era have shifted and bear little consequence for issues such as regulating global capital markets. The world is affected by what Osterhammel and Petersson (2009) describe as ‘post-international multiculturalism’, where issues such as human rights, climate change and free trade are addressed in a framework of international regimes. The problem here is that partners to these discourses no longer include only governments or NGOs, but networks of organised crime.

It is unhelpful to consider international illicit trade as just another manifestation of criminal activity because this misses a broader systemic point. Global criminal activities are transforming the international system, changing the rules and creating new players. Transnational criminals have undoubtedly benefited from this globalisation because global economic circumstances have created a fertile ground for increased demand and supply of the trafficking in humans. This throws up questions about the uneasy relationship between transnational organised crime and illegal immigration, two concepts that are often lumped together and thrown into the same political discourse in a bid to subvert public opinion.

Another global factor to human trafficking is the double identification of these people as victims on one hand and illegal migrants and/or criminals on the other. This double identification feeds into a growing discourse about new perceived security threats that illegal migration, terrorism, transnational organised crime and human trafficking pose to the state. For women who have been trafficked into the sex industry the dilemma arises from their status as victims, illegal migrants and prostitutes, but there are plenty of other examples of this problem, such as children who have trafficked from South East Asia to work in cannabis factories, domestic slavery and even nail bars, which is a growing phenomenon in Britain. These children sometimes end up in prison on cannabis charges, underpinning the problem of their multiple identification as victims, illegal residents and drug offenders.

The problem for adult women who have been trafficked into sexual slavery is that they’re thrown into a kind of legal limbo where on one hand they are vulnerable victims and on the other complicit and active participants of crime. As such, they risk being victimised by the state and deported due to their status as illegal residents and involvement in prostitution and other illicit affairs. The question here is how a humanitarian discourse built around the suffering of women has been reconciled with the politicisation of security. Trafficked women appear to transform from suffering victims who should be pitied into risky and subversive creatures who pose a threat to the state and should be contained and disciplined. This results in what Aradau (2004) describes as a ‘politics of pity’, where emotive language and visceral anti-trafficking campaigns present images of suffering bodies in a bid to ensnare the sympathies and pity of a public who might otherwise be unresponsive to the problem. She describes the security regime as a ‘politics of risk’ because it seeks to govern the problem of trafficking by employing technologies of risk management.

The creative tension between these conflicting identifications that seek to simultaneously support and penalise people who have been trafficked makes it difficult for the victims to come forward and collaborate with law enforcement. And indeed, many countries immediately deport illegal residents before they can be identified as trafficked victims.

Global factors form an integral part of the debate on human trafficking and often act as catalysts. In addition to the factors highlighted, another example is the immense growth of sex tourism in countries like Thailand, where it is estimated that a sex slave can earn her traffickers up to a $1,000 a day while costing them nothing. The trade in people is a crime where the commodity is paid for with their own overhead: their earnings pay for their accommodation, their sustenance, and even for the right to have the job, often trapping victims of trafficking in debt bondage. It is clear that whether driven by internal conflicts such as civil wars, migration and displaced people, these circumstances result in a kind of push and pull mechanism where people are ‘pushed out’ by conflict or ‘pulled in’ by the promise of better economic prospects, creating a fertile breeding ground for trafficking.

The debate around human trafficking involves a number of central and overlapping themes such as the legal and political interconnectedness of globalisation, the role that transnational crime syndicates play and patterns of migratory flows, all of which have their own unique factors and diverse frameworks that feed into the problem. The degree to which human trafficking owes it success to the current wave of intense globalisation is yet to be fully understood. One thing is clear however, the lived experiences of these victims and the circumstances in which they were bought, sold and treated like cattle vary tremendously. The problem is further compounded by the difficulty of definitions and whether human trafficking should be defined as a moral or illegal migrant issue. The trouble with these definitions is that they suggest a ‘crime and punishment’ approach to trafficking which runs the risk of not only stigmatising and penalising the victims, but also robbing them of future freedoms.

Nelson Mandela said that when a man is denied the right to freedom he has no choice but to become an outlaw. The criminalisation of trafficked victims can only lead to a social narrative where the victim is twice penalised, first by their traffickers, and secondly by the state, damning them to a cycle of unending and irredeemable victimhood.



The psychological limits of Corbyn’s moral authority

By Bill Blackwater

This is a cross-post from the Renewal blog – republished here with kind permission from the editors.

Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour leadership campaign was based on his moral authority, in turn said to be the key to renewing the party’s appeal in its traditional heartlands. But latest research on the psychological basis of morality, and its relationship to political views, suggests this was always misguided.

“The Labour Party is a moral crusade—or it is nothing.” Harold Wilson’s famous remarks, made at Labour’s Scottish Spring Conference in May 1964, still resonate in debates on the party’s direction. The journalist Tom Clark summed this up during last summer’s leadership contest, with reference to the decision of Labour’s front bench to abstain on a vote on welfare cuts. Taking up the options Wilson set out, he put it that the three mainstream candidates had “plumped for nothing”. Hence the appeal of Jeremy Corbyn: he was “filling [the] void”.

Corbyn’s unembarrassed articulation of moral purpose was clearly something Labour members had been waiting for. As James Bloodworth put it, there was a “smouldering resentment” among Labour members at some of the excessive “principle-rotting” compromises made during the New Labour years. For his core supporters, Corbyn was seen as having saved Labour from pasokification, the fate of centre-left parties in Greece and Spain, whose support has collapsed as a result of failing to articulate an alternative to austerity.

But there was always a problem: Corbyn’s startling unpopularity with the country at the large. He was the first person, on becoming opposition leader, to receive an initial approval rating that was negative (-8%). In April 2016, it is true, his approval climbed above David Cameron’s; and much was made of this. Less was made of the fact that Corbyn’s approval rating was still an eye-watering -22% (to Cameron’s -24%), and that Cameron still beat Corbyn in terms of how many people positively thought he was doing a good job.

In reviewing Labour’s future leadership and policy direction, the question all factions within the party should study is this: If Corbyn has such moral authority, why is he not more popular with the public? This may be key in potentially selecting a new leader who might be able to connect with voters in its heartland areas and marginal seats.

Drivers of moral judgements and political views

To answer this question it is useful to turn to the rapidly-developing field of psychological research into the basis for moral judgement, and its relationship with political beliefs. Selecting just a few key points from a number of recent papers (see note), we find:

  • There are five dimensions of morality:
    • Harm/care: Concerns for the suffering and well-being of others.
    • Fairness/reciprocity: Concerns about inequality, cheating, and
    • In-group/loyalty: Obligations of group membership – such as loyalty, self-sacrifice, and vigilance against betrayal.
    • Authority/respect: Concerns related to maintaining social order, including obligations between leaders and members of the group such as honour, respect, duty, and protection.
    • Purity/sanctity. Concerns about physical and spiritual pollution, including safeguarding things regarded as sacred, and control of desires.
  • The first two dimensions (harm and fairness) have been identified as more connected to left-wing views; the other three (associated with social cohesion and order) more to conservative views.
  • Interplaying with the five dimensions, morality comes in two forms: proscriptive (telling us what not to do, in order to avert harm to others), and prescriptive (telling us what we should do, to alleviate their suffering). Proscriptive morality translates into an emphasis on protecting society from harm (associated more with the right), with prescriptive morality translating into providing for society’s well-being (associated with the left).
  • In making moral judgements, people tend to resort to ‘moral typecasting’: perceiving people solely as an agent (either hero or villain) or a patient (beneficiary or victim).
  • Where political groups are defined by a moral vision, they tend to be defined at least as much by hatred towards those outside the group as love towards those inside.
  • Our emotional responses to others are shaped by our impressions of two factors: warmth and competence. Generally, the more competent we view someone, the less warmly we will feel towards them, and vice versa. Competence in a political candidate is the more decisive factor in winning support, but the greatest leaders are viewed as both warm and competent.

Applying this framework to Labour politics

Concentrating here on just three key messages, this analysis suggests:

  1. The left does not have the monopoly on moral authority it likes to think. It only recognises two (harm and fairness) of the five dimensions of morality. Corbyn’s assertion of moral superiority thus provokes some resentment among those who don’t identify with him because he is implicitly viewed himself as being morally deficient in the three domains of in-group/loyalty, authority, and purity. This is seen most tellingly in his aversion to patriotism and the rituals of the nation-state.
  1. By its own standards, the left risks being guilty of moral failings – and the further to the left, the more pronounced these risks. The left’s acute sensitivity to harm and fairness means it is very prone to ‘moral typecasting’, dividing the world into wicked villains and suffering victims – the latter then becoming incapable of doing harm themselves. It is this which lies behind the kind of moral relativism well documented by Nick Cohen, with its apologetics for the most appalling regimes so long as these are seen as opponents of western imperialism. It is also what lies behind the mentality of class war, and the literal hatred of Tories – now extended to the Red Tories who are traitorously moderate, and seen at its worst in online abuse. The more that leftist groups are defined by their moral vision, the more they are defined by hatred towards the villains they see outside. This hatred – condemning people for what they are, not seeing them for who they are – contradicts the very moral principles (fairness, and avoiding harm) it springs from.
  1. By ignoring the three “conservative” dimensions of morality, as well as the protecting mode of morality, the left cedes them entirely to the right. The left emphasises the providing mode of morality. The problem comes when this is over-emphasised: at its extreme this becomes a boundless altruism which would leave us destitute, accompanied by a moral disapproval of anyone who would demur. This is also to over-emphasise one’s impressions of warmth, meaning it is psychologically near inescapable that one’s political opponents will be seen as more competent. Also it contradicts the protecting mode of morality whose chief concern is protecting the group, defending “our” interests. This protection mode is the main concern for the socially conservative and culturally insecure (Leave voters, in other words), those who believe “order is precious and at least a little fragile”, and are more likely to perceive social changes as threatening. By ignoring these aspects of moral judgements, the left enables the right to play on them in divisive ways.


Labour is a left-wing party. It is essential to its purpose and identity that it emphasises the “left-wing” moral dimensions of fairness and avoiding harm, and accent on providing for society’s well-being.

But it must guard against being defined as a purely moral movement – this will tend to foster an intolerant attitude towards those who are not sufficiently “with us”, and provoke resentment in return.

What Labour needs to understand is that morality has more dimensions than those traditionally associated with the left; that a progressive vision can and must be developed for all five moral dimensions; and that pragmatism, and seeking to respect and represent all members of society, can itself be seen as a moral virtue.


Bill Blackwater has written for a variety of publications, including Renewal, the Political Quarterly, and Left Foot Forward. A more detailed version of this article will appear in a forthcoming issue of the Renewal journal.



Papers drawn on in this post are all published behind a pay wall; references available by request, but including work by Ronnie Janoff-Bulman, Andres Luco, Jonathan Haidt, and Gray, Young, & Waytz.

Vote for Owen Smith

By Rob Francis

This is a cross post from the author’s Medium blog, reproduced with kind permission. This post is Part 3, the final part, of a series by the author.

In my previous post, I gave several reasons why I believe Jeremy Corbyn is completely unelectable. Quite a few people asked, not unreasonably, whether I thought differently about Owen Smith.

Could Owen Smith win a General Election? I’m sure we all have differing opinions on that one, but going by the benchmarks I measured Corbyn against last time, the answer is that we just can’t know. We have no by-election results, no local elections, no accounts of his record in the leader’s office. There is nothing to reasonably judge this by.

But I think we can say he will very likely perform better than Jeremy Corbyn.

Compared with the previous ten months of turmoil, Owen Smith would lead a united parliamentary party. His victory would give Labour MP’s currently on the backbenches an opportunity to step up and take the fight to the Tories; talented people such as Dan Jarvis, Stella Creasy, Yvette Cooper, Hilary Benn, Chuka Umunna and Angela Eagle could all serve in a significantly strengthened Shadow Cabinet.

Although we have no idea how Owen Smith’s office would operate, it is very difficult to imagine it being as horribly dysfunctional as it has been under Corbyn. Despite being relatively unknown, Smith leads Corbyn amongst the wider public. And, of course, Owen Smith has none of Jeremy Corbyn’s history, which, like it or not, would be used against the party during any election campaign.

I think we can be fairly certain that Owen Smith would outperform Jeremy Corbyn at a General Election. Those people pointing to big attendances at Corbyn rallies and claiming it signifies huge support in the country really need to read a bit about what happened in 1983.

But can Owen Smith win this leadership contest? Given the polls, and my experience of the membership, he is definitely the underdog. To have any chance, we need to win over people who voted Corbyn last time. This requires an understanding of why Jeremy Corbyn won last year, and why his support remains high.

Many Labour members felt that, last summer, Jeremy Corbyn was the only candidate offering anything positive. Andy Burnham flip-flopped chasing votes, Yvette Cooper’s campaign was weak and only really got going very late on, and Liz Kendall put many members off with her comments on welfare.

The moderate candidates seemed uninspiring; preaching pragmatism without any purpose, trying to sell an “eat your greens” message to members with no positive vision, triangulation as merely a muscle memory. There was none of the radicalism that Tony Blair offered as he swept to power twenty years ago.

Fast forward to this year. At my CLP nominations meeting last week, members spoke of feeling inspired by Corbyn, and about how happy they were that someone was standing up for what they saw as “real socialism”. They saw him as the only person willing to stand up for refugees, the homeless, and the poor.

I don’t agree with much of this, but we need to understand the sentiment in order to win.

Although the welfare bill abstention wasn’t proof that most Labour MP’s love austerity, members don’t want any equivocation on such topics. They don’t want to go back to immigration mugs, or splitting the difference on welfare.

Hence Owen Smith’s route to victory lies in speaking to the party’s heart. Most members aren’t hard left entryists, but part of the “soft left”, a grouping who want power, but also appreciate Corbyn’s opposition to austerity, war, and nuclear weapons. They will swing this election, and so it is these members that Smith needs to appeal to. He will need to convince them that a shift away from Jeremy Corbyn doesn’t mean a return to the funk the party found themselves in last year.

This is very much the campaign that Smith is running. He offers a package that is catnip for the soft left; infrastructure investment, more money for the NHS, schools, and libraries, a 50p top rate of tax, reversal of various Tory tax cuts, a huge house building programme, investment in efficient energy, and much, much more.

This would represent the most radical Labour policy platform in many years. It’s no good Jeremy Corbyn complaining that Smith has taken his policies; a vague mention in a speech or an idea that Corbyn once had doesn’t count as a policy. Owen Smith has a genuinely radical, inspiring vision that the party could unite behind; rather than just mouthing platitudes about cuts, Smith has a plan.

It is a plan that sits firmly within the best Labour traditions. As with Ramsay MacDonald and Clement Attlee, Smith seeks to fight for workers’ rights. Infrastructure investment and ambitious house building targets echo Harold Wilson’s government. Tony Blair significantly increased spending on schools and hospitals, as Smith pledges to do now.

These are a set of proposals that should enthuse Labour members; surely this is what we all want to achieve?

Owen Smith is by no means perfect. The New Statesman recently listed four occasions he has made misogynistic comments, a worrying pattern. Supporting Owen Smith does not mean we turn a blind eye to this; even if we want him to win, we must be able to criticise if we think he is wrong. Smith seeks to represent us, and we should demand better from him.

His previous employment at Pfizer will have also concerned members, although its worth noting that the criticism doesn’t get any further than “he worked for Pfizer”.

In any case, any worries about Pfizer rank some way behind Jeremy Corbyn’s opportunistic proposals to nationalise pharmaceutical companies, and to cuttax relief for private companies developing life-saving medicines.

Seemingly a policy designed purely to attack a political opponent, this episode displays Corbyn’s cynicism and utter naivety; not exactly very “new politics”. As a party, we deserve much better than that.

All Labour members should rightly be proud of our party’s history. The NHS. The welfare state. Sure Start. The Open University. The minimum wage.

We have achieved some great things.

We can be a party to be proud of again. We can make a difference again.

In Owen Smith, we have someone with a radical left-wing platform, properly costed, and who would at the very least make Labour a more coherent, effective opposition. From here, he offers us by far the best chance of getting rid of the Conservative government.

The road back to power is long. Labour will still have to answer many difficult questions. But it is clear that Jeremy Corbyn does not have the solutions.

A vote for Owen Smith will mean Labour’s recovery can begin.

The Unelectability of Corbyn

By Rob Francis

This is a cross post from the author’s Medium blog, reproduced with kind permission. This post is Part 2 of a series by the author.

Last week, I wrote about how the “Jeremy Corbyn is a decent guy” trope does not bear any real scrutiny, and that in fact his actions and beliefs should disqualify him from being Labour leader.

I’m going to put all of that to one side today, and instead try and answer a different question. Could Labour, under Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership, win a General Election?

To get an idea, we can start by looking at electoral performance over Corbyn’s ten months in charge to date. I will consider two examples; Labour’s performance in May’s local elections, and also the results of four parliamentary by-elections.

There has been much debate as to whether this year’s local elections represented a good or bad result for Labour. A lot of this comes from the fact that people are not using proper benchmarks by which to judge.

For example, following May’s results, both Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell claimed it as a positive that Labour had achieved a swing in the vote compared with the General Election a year previously.

It sounds reasonable. Labour lost by 6.5% in 2015, and the projected vote share at the local elections showed Labour beating the Tories by a point. So, a movement of 7.5%! Surely that’s good?

Let’s set our benchmarks properly. Oppositions always perform well in local elections. We can compare this movement of 7.5% to other outcomes of local elections held one year after a General:1-QSz1X0hEkO4wdwZhYsF14A

Oh dear. So the movement of 7.5% from Tory to Labour that was claimed as positive actually represents the second-worst performance by any opposition since the 1980’s. Only William Hague fared worse, a year into thirteen years of Labour government.

Claims that Corbyn “embarrassed his critics” by losing council seats are facile, even on their own terms; there was a 3% swing towards the Tories compared with when the seats were last fought, in 2012. Just because some pundits thought Labour might lose 200 seats, it doesn’t mean that “only” losing eighteen becomes a good result.

But what can we take from this? Can local election results tell us anything about General Election prospects? Well, yes they can, actually. Matt Singh has demonstrated the following relationship:1-naLS_cp1KFbSFp1MuUIZlA

That 1% Labour lead in May’s elections translates to the Conservatives having a 10–12% advantage at the next General Election.

May’s results were desperately poor. They point to an increased Conservative majority.

Away from the local elections, here’s Liam Young boasting that Corbyn’s Labour has won every parliamentary by-election. It’s true. Labour increased its share of the vote by 8.7% in Tooting, 7.5% in Oldham West and Royton, 5.9% in Sheffield Brightside and Hillsborough, and saw its share fall by 0.3% in Ogmore.

Obviously this is better than losing elections, but is this set of results good enough? Oppositions usually improve their vote share, after all. Again, let’s apply appropriate benchmarks at this point. We can compare these results with similar seats Ed Miliband’s Labour fought.

Between 2010 and 2015, under Miliband, Labour increased its vote share in Labour-held seats at by-elections by 16.4% (Manchester Central), 14.6% (Middlesbrough), 13.5% (Barnsley Central), 12.2% (Leicester South), 11.2% (Wythenshawe), 10.8% (Feltham & Heston), and 10.2% (Oldham East).

All of these easily outstrip Labour’s best performance in this parliament to date.

Overall, Corbyn’s performance is to increase Labour vote share in Labour held seats by an average of 5.4%. The comparable number for Miliband? 8.7%. And we all know how Ed’s reign ended.

We are clearly performing worse than under Ed Miliband.

Finally, before we move away from numbers, some recent polling from ICM showed the Tories with a ten point lead over Labour, which increased to fifteen points when people were asked how they would vote in a future General Election, assuming the same party leaders as now. The Independent found that a third of Labour voters think Theresa May would be a better Prime Minister than Jeremy Corbyn. Corbyn’s personal ratings have dropped to -41%.

Every light on the electoral dashboard is flashing.

If you continue to support Jeremy Corbyn, you therefore have to believe that, should he win the election, he will be able to improve significantly, head the party strongly and effectively, get the 81% of MP’s who voted no confidence back onside, and drive Labour to victory.

I don’t understand how anybody could possibly think that.

Stories abound of Corbyn’s incompetence, his lack of direction, lack of leadership ability, and his habit of undermining colleagues.

Richard Murphy, an economist who was initially very well disposed to the Corbyn project, has recently written a blog where he outlines his frustrations at not being able to make a difference; he criticises the leadership team’s lack of conviction, inclination to offer nothing more than vague words, inability to offer direction, and lack of vision. His piece is an extraordinary indictment of the leadership’s failings.

He’s not alone. Lilian Greenwood gave a speech about how Corbyn undermined her by discussing his inclination to drop support for HS2 in an interview, without asking or informing her, after she had put huge amounts of effort into working on that project. And he did this more than once.

Heidi Alexander, the former shadow health secretary, was cut out of secret NHS meetings set up by John McDonnell, and only found out by chance. She also had to stage a sit-in outside Corbyn’s office in order to get a steer from him in terms of the party’s health policy.

Whilst undergoing cancer treatment, Thangam Debonnaire was promoted to shadow arts and culture minister by Corbyn, before he sacked her a day later, without telling her on either occasion. Later, Debonnaire was reinstated, only to find it extremely difficult to get any time with him, nor decisions from him.

Danny Blanchflower, another former economics adviser, now complains thatCorbyn offers no policies, only empty words like “let’s stop austerity & lower inequality”. Easy to say the words, far harder to construct a set of policies to make that a reality.

These are all people who have tried hard to contribute to Corbyn’s Labour, and are now at the end of their tether.

It goes on. Sources in Corbyn’s office complain his team is good at nothing except paranoia. A Vice documentary showed Corbyn being unwilling to attack Cameron about Iain Duncan Smith’s resignation. Corbyn’s EU campaign was so lacklustre that many Labour voters did not even know which side he was on.

Even if you strip away his terrible views on foreign policy, even if you ignore the polling and the election results, he is clearly a poor, chaotic, disorganised, disinterested, demotivating, incompetent leader, who has upset many of his colleagues.

And if you’re at this point and still think Corbyn is the right choice for Labour, consider this.

I wrote last time about Corbyn’s Stop The War Coalition calling on jihadists to kill British soldiers in Iraq. If Jeremy Corbyn leads Labour into a General Election, you can guarantee that this will be brought up. Even if you regard this as a “smear” against Corbyn (it isn’t), he will be asked to defend his position on this. He will be asked to explain why he supported an organisation that made such a statement. And Labour will lose in a landslide.

Labour faces a struggle, whoever the leader is. Hugely difficult questions confront the party. How can we square the need to support the poorest with the need to convince the electorate that we can be fiscally responsible? How can we reconcile support for immigration in most of the party with a traditional support base that is significantly less in favour? What should we do in a post-Brexit world? How can we win back Scotland, and avoid losing Wales? Can we rebuild our “big tent”?

None of this is easy. But Corbyn hasn’t even tried. His anti-austerity politics is little more than rhetoric. He surrounds himself only with people who agree with him, running from rally to rally, rather than attempting to take his message to people that have turned away from our party. He is a protest politician, trapped in the body of a frontbencher.

He has been dealt a tough hand, and he has responded by simply chucking his cards in the bin.

This matters. A Labour government matters. And we are currently led by someone who is just not capable or willing to put in the hard work to get us into power.

I understand that many Labour members appreciate his vocal, uncompromising opposition to austerity.

But if the cost of that is a deeply immoral foreign policy, catastrophic leadership, and a massive Conservative majority, honestly, is it really worth it?