Labour’s Problems

People critical of the current Labour leadership sometimes speak as though the reason for their dismal showing in the polls and string of poor results in by elections is solely the fault of Jeremy Corbyn. Change him out and talk about the NHS some more and we’ll have a winning combination, they say.

They are deluding themselves.

If Labour lose the two by-elections today and Corbyn takes this as his cue to leave (although he’s ignored every other cue to leave), the Labour Party will still be facing an existential threat.

Corbyn leaving will not suddenly make Scotland think “Hang on a tick, let’s give these social democrat types another shot.”

UKIP voters in the North and Midlands will not think “I know Corbyn and co didn’t understand us, but clearly this other bunch of public school boys in suits do.”

The Corbynistas will not pack up their pistachio coloured shirts, put the sandals back on the shelf and say “Oh well, turns out Third Way was the most electable option after all.”

Even granted that Corbyn goes quietly, and the membership somehow chose someone charismatic and charming, the party would still be in existential danger. The people who make up the ‘Labour coalition’ are just too disparate.

On the one hand there’s the metropolitan, liberal group who have done well out of the globalisation. The sorts of people who have the time and disposable income to buy lattes and think hard, yet do little, about social justice. They are relaxed about immigration and are not terribly interested in their identity as British or English; they are far too cosmopolitan to worry about that sort of thing.

On the other hand, there is Labour’s old heartland vote. The bedrock of loyal working people who followed the party through many tough years, but who have done less well out of globalisation. They’ve been struggling for a while and are resentful of the fact that politics doesn’t work for them. They are sceptical about immigration, and concerned by a lack of loyalty to Britishness and Englishness.

The problem is that these two groups are not only different, but they want mutually exclusive things. On immigration, social policy, and Brexit their priorities are simply incompatible. I fear that no amount of talking about the NHS and funding for education can create a bridge between these two groups.

Labour’s problems are made worse by having an unelectable leader, but those who think a new chief with a clean score-card and a charming smile will save the party are deluding themselves.

 

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Why is Clinton so unpopular?

I can see why Donald Trump is so unpopular. He’s rude, abnoxious, vulgar and many other dreadful things besides. But as someone observing from the other side of the Atlantic, I never could get my head a round why Hillary Clinton is such an unpopular candidate for president.

She currently has the lowest favourability ratings of any person to run for president in modern history, only surpassed by Donald Trump. But to a casual osbserver she is a centre of the road Democrat, maybe not the most charismatic person in the world, but she has heaps of experience and policy knowledge. You’d think would be just what the doctor ordered for the presidency.

In order to understand this wierd phenomenon, I think it helps to start with one basic question. What does Clinton  do for fun? We know that Obama enjoys a game of basketball, we know that Bush likes his golf and we have a little too good an idea what Trump does for fun.

But when it comes to Clinton people don’t know. They may have a sneaking suspicion that what she does in her spare time is to pour over policy papers and read brieing notes. I imagine they’re not actually too far wrong on that score.

They also suspect that the rest of her time is taken up in champagne receptions schmoozing with the elites and taking massive donations. In other words, being a typical politican.

In this year of political outsiders (see Sanders and Trump), however, it’s not too surprising that a quintisessential politican might have a hard time. Clinton has been in the game for a very long time, something that makes her superbly well-qualified to be president. It also means that a lot of the resentment that has built up against Washington and political elites can be projected onto her.

People talk about the email scandal and Clinton Foundation as big problems for her, but they are just symptoms of a broader ‘credibility problem’ that she has. She might have been careless when it came to the email server, but she did nothing criminal. She may have schmoozed closely to bring in money for the Clinton Foundation. But again, that’s what politics is like. It’s just rather unpleasant when we see the dirty laundry aired through some of the leaked emails.

Clinton has done nothing wrong beyond being a politican in an anti-politican year. Had the Republicans had a candidate able to exploit Clinton’s actual weaknesses, rather than fictionalised version of them, they would have had a good chance in this election. As it is, however, it looks as though the politican will win out. Just.

The problems of the Labour Party

The Labour Party in the UK is facing an existential threat. They have lost Scotland to the SNP, they are in danger of losing the North to UKIP and they have only a few seats left in the south outside of London. The party has been taken over by the far left and their leader seems unable to attract support outside his core base of lefty enthusiasts.

To many the crisis facing the Labour Party could be changed if only they got a new leader; someone who at least could appear prime ministerial. That was the idea behind the leadership challenge this summer. More of the same left-wing policies, but with an electable leader.

I don’t think the problems of the Labour Party would be much different with an electable leader. They are facing a much larger, philosophical problem. There have been two elements of the Labour Party for a long time and now the incompatibility between them is becoming increasingly apparent.

On the one hand there’s the metropolitan, liberal group who have done well out of the globalisation. The sorts of people who have the time and disposable income to buy lattes and think hard (but do alarmingly little) about social justice. They are relaxed about immigration and are not terribly interested in their identity as British or English, they are far too cosmopolitan for that sort of thing.

On the other hand, there is Labour’s heartland vote. The bedrock of loyal working people who followed the party through many tough years, but who have done far less well out of globalisation. They have been struggling for a while and are resentful of the fact that politics doesn’t seem to work for them. They are sceptical about immigration, worried that it suppresses wages and concerned by a lack of loyalty to Britishness and Englishness.

The fundamental philosophical problem for Labour goes far beyond who the leader is, it is rather that these two groups have too little in common for it to make sense that they are in the same party. It’s just very hard to see how to bridge the gaps between these two voter groups. Labour’s problems are made worse by the fact that their leader is unelectable, but I’m afraid to say that their problems run much deeper than just that.

The Socialists (Sosialistisk Venstreparti)

The leaders in the Socialist Party like to think that their membership is made up of the proletariat: decent hard-working people hewing the wood and all that. In actual fact the Socialists consist of a motley crew of tired academics in cardigans and young postgraduates working in coffee shops.

This odd mix of dishevelled 68ers and young types leafing through the latest charity shop to open in the trendier parts of Oslo, love nothing better than discussing the plight of the working class while sipping a fine Bordeaux or looking up the next charity shop on their smart phone.

Currently around 4% on opinion polls, they could play this party important role in the next election. Having said they won’t necessarily sit in a government with the Labour Party, they have potential to grow as disillusioned Labourites are scared away due to Labour’s hard-line immigration rhetoric. Then again they could become completely invisible because Labour is more interested in courting the centrist Christians, than in worrying about what a bunch of not-so-trendy lefties think.

A year to go to election day!

There’s now less than a year left until parliamentary elections in Norway (I know, I’m excited too!) The Philososloth will be covering all the leisurely twist and turns of the election as we gear up towards the big day.

In order to kick things off, I will open with a series explaining who the main parties are and what they stand for. Then I will explain some of the various coalitions that could be formed after the next election, maybe even touching on an in-depth explanation of the D’Hondt system of proportional representation.

In other words it’s going to be a wild ride. Buckle up!

Why Brexit?

On the 23rd of June this year the Brits rather upset political pundits, betting markets and our international allies by voting to leave the EU. I will save the reasons for this decision for another post (/rant), but I thought I’d start this jolly (and not at all bitter) series by laying out why Britian decided to hold a referendum in the first place.

In the heady and blissful days of 2013, the Conservatives were in a coalition government with the Lib Dems. The Lib Dems are pretty relaxed about the EU, but the Conservatives have always been rather divided on the issue of Europe, to put it mildly.

The Conservatives were facing an electoral challange from a smaller anti-EU party called UKIP. In fact, in 2013 it seemed like the Labour Party’s best chance to win an election would be the Conservatives losing votes to UKIP and pro-EU Labour coming through the middle.

So in darkened smoke-filled room the Conservative elite figured out an ingenious strategy: They would promise to hold a referendum on EU membership if they won the 2015 election. If you wanted to leave the EU, they argued, you shouldn’t vote for the anti-EU party, but for the Conservatives, because then you would get the referendum you so badly craved, and if Labour won there would be no referendum.

The then Prime Minister could tell older provincial people that he had their back while telling financiers, who were reasonably worried about planting a bomb under the UK economy “No worries, we’ll win the referendum, unite the party, cut your taxes and reach for the champagne.” Nudge nudge, wink wink. All good so far.

It also seemed likely in 2013 that the Conservatives would need the support of the Lib Dems to stay in power after the 2015 election. The Lib Dems would never support a referendum on EU membership, because they’re imminently sensible and don’t have a wing of xenophobes harking back to the days of empire. (Comes with the liberal turf, I suppose).

It seemed, then, that this was a great, low risk strategy to win voters. However, it turned out the plan worked a little too well. Partly as a result of their carefully designed message, the Conservatives won the election, had to hold the referendum and managed to lose it!

That is briefly how we came to have a referendum. In coming posts I will explore more deep-seated reasons for why the UK, usually so content with following authority sent a massive two fingers up to Conservatives and their crew of high financiers and political elite.

 

Where were you when…?

I will start my posts, updates and occasional rants about post-Brexit Britain, by saying where the Philososloth was at the time of the referendum six weeks ago. Being a supposedly savvy latte-sipping, middle class, London-living political pundit I was sitting in the bar of the Marriott Hotel, confidently expressing to anyone who would listen that Remain would win and win comfortably. “Probably 55 to 45” I was telling my friends, suavly sipping at my not-so-suave Dark and Stormy. In the background Big Ben chimed merrily, as I expanded on my theory. “Could be even more of a blow out. 58 to 42, maybe” privately delighted at my mathematical dexterity of numbers adding up to 100.

On the bus home I was listening to the news, becoming more and more sure of myself as I heard talk of the markets going up, confident Remainers and Brexiters already scrabbling around for some good excuses. I went to bed early and set my alarm to 2 15 in the morning. I couldn’t miss a moment of this exciting and decive victory for common sense.

My alarm went off at 2 15 and I groggily got out of bed and put the kettle on. To my consternation the internet wasn’t working and after some swearing and banging the machine I finally got IPlayer up and running and found to my disbelief…. that Remain were 200,000 votes ahead.

Now that might sound like a comfortable lead, but, as the harrowed-looking political commentators were telling me, this lead was nowhere near large enough. The votes already in had been from places predicted to vote Remain in far larger numbers. Only problem was, they hadn’t, Remain was ahead by a whisker in the grand scheme of things and solidly Leave voting parts of the country were still to declare.

My disbelief turned to consternation as the votes came in. I was shocked. How could I have gotten it so wrong? Surely Twitter hadn’t been lying to me. All my Londonite friends had been banging on about how awful Leave was and how everyone they knew would vote Remain.

The results, when they finally came in, showed me why I had been so mistaken. I was living in a Remain bubble! Pretty much only London and Scotland had voted to Remain, along with a few other trendy university cities. I was horrified. Not only because of the win for Leave or the fact that I had been so badly mistaken in my predictions, but because Britain was a different country to the one I thought it was.

My upbringing of occasional visits to the Home Counties with cream teas at stately homes was a far cry from the disillusionment so many people felt with the country’s direction. Areas that had been left behind by the benefits of immigration and increased gloabalisation had voted heavily to Leave the EU. They had attached, it seemed to me, any grievance with modern Britain to the EU.

In the coming posts I will explore this sense of being left behind. I think it maps neatly onto Brexit, the Labour Party’s existential crisis and, across the pond, why Trump is doing so well in the States. So buckle up and prepare for some Moderate-Lefty rants about the state of the world.