Notes from the front – of 27/5/2016

Under Corbyn Labour support is rising, whilst the Tories and UKIP are going down

The Labour Party was the overall winner of the 5 May elections in England. It increased its support from the previous year and beat the Tories into second place. Right-wing commentators obviously want to obscure this situation, but these are indisputable facts.

The vote shares (National Equivalent Vote) in the English local elections put Labour at the top, on 33 per cent (3 points up on 2015). The Tories were on 32 per cent (5 points down), Lib Dems 14 per cent (6 points up) and UKIP 12 per cent (1 point down).

The National Equivalent Vote (NEV) shares are calculated by Colin Rallings and Michael Thrasher and published by the House of Commons Library.

So Labour went from 7 per cent behind the Tories in 2015 to one per cent ahead in 2016 – a relative advance of 8 per cent.

The NEV estimates confirm the trends revealed by the BBC’s Projected National Share figures referred to in an earlier article on this website.

What these results also point to is that the right (Tories and UKIP) were driven backwards, whilst the left (Labour) and centre (Lib Dems) advanced.

This pattern was also the case in Labour’s target parliamentary seats. Whilst the Fabian Society’s pamphlet is largely a factional polemic lacking serious analysis, the electoral statistics it presents are useful.

Change in vote share between the 2015 general election and the 2016 local elections for marginal seats in the regions (not the whole regions)

(Figures from, and calculations based on: The-message-from-the-marginals)

The main features of the elections in the marginal seats were that the right of British politics (Tories and UKIP) was driven back and the left (Labour and Green) and centre (Lib Dems) advanced.

Labour advanced by 3.3% in the South and 2.2% in Midlands. Only in the Northern marginals did Labour fail to advance, with the Greens and Lib Dems instead benefitting from the Tory and UKIP decline.

Labour’s challenge in the marginals across all three regions is not a resurgent right, but from another left party (Greens) and the rehabilitation of the Lib Dems.

The recently published report of the inquiry chaired by Jon Cruddas and the book edited by Tristram Hunt both suffer because they fail to deal with this electoral reality. The former makes wild claims that Labour is irrelevant, becoming toxic and losing out to UKIP; whilst the Tories won in 2015 because they promised public spending cuts. The latter calls on Labour to adopt English nationalism.

The May 2016 elections confirmed again that there is nothing for Labour to gain from a pro-austerity, little Englander, agenda. The right wing of British politics, which is based on this framework, is currently in retreat. Labour needs to take advantage of this situation and position itself as the clear alternative to the Tories with progressive policies to raise living standards.

Labour’s economic policy conference

Hundreds of activists packed into the recent State of the Economy conference hosted by Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell on 21 May. The conference was a success, bringing together Labour policy makers and front bench spokespeople with progressive and left economists as well Labour militants keen to engage with economic policy.

The foundations for economic policy development  have been firmly laid. The entire conference theme was on the need for increased investment. McDonnell and Corbyn’s fiscal rules, borrowing only for investment, demonstrate a clear break with the failures British post-World War II economic mismanagement and decline and set the tone for the conference.  Of course, further policy development will take place. No-one argues that  Labour’s economic policy is the finished article. But the broad and militant engagement with these ideas and the policy framework show that a good beginning has been made.

Israeli government moves right

The appointment of Avigidor Lieberman to the Israeli Defence Ministry, and the agreement with his party, Yisrael Beiteinu, has stabilised the parliamentary position of Netanyahu’s government. Having had a majority of one, Netanyahu has secured a further five seats. What Lieberman brings in policy terms was illustrated by his unsuccessful attempt in negotiations to have the death penalty reintroduced in military courts, a measure that would only have applied to ‘non-Jews’. In the words of rightest newspaper Maariv, Israel now has the ‘most right wing and most extremist government since the founding of the state’.

The background to this has been the growth of tensions between the new settler supportive politicians and more traditional sections of the state. Deputy Chief of Staff, Major General Yair Golan told a Holocaust Memorial Day event, in central Israel, ‘It’s scary to see horrifying developments that took place in Europe begin to unfold here. … If there’s something that frightens me about Holocaust remembrance it’s the recognition of the revolting processes that occurred in Europe in general, and particularly in Germany, back then -70, 80 and 90 years ago – at finding signs of them here among us today in 2016’. Other senior members of the Israeli Defence Forces have been voicing concerns. In February, Lieutenant General Gadi Eisenkot warned young soldiers not to use excessive force in subduing suspected Palestinian assailants. Army top brass strongly condemned Elor Azari, a soldier standing trial for shooting dead a prone and wounded Palestinian. Each of these provoked a fierce rebuttal from the right.

According to Michel Warschawski, of the Alternative Information Centre, ‘The heads of the military-security apparatus are genuinely fearful for Israel’s future. They think the right is driving Israel into a wall. Golan and others understand that Netanyahu has already lost global public opinion and now they see that in time the right will drive away Western states. Eventually Israel will be left in total isolation’.

The outgoing Defence Minister, Moshe Ya’alon had disagreed with Netanyahu on what stance to take with the military. He said that senior officers should be encouraged to ‘speak their mind’. After his resignation, he stated that ‘extremist and dangerous elements have taken over Israel and the Likud Party’. Former Prime Minister, Ehud Barak, weighed in, saying that ‘Israel has been infected by the seeds of fascism’.

The highly charged nature of the conflict points to deep seated antagonisms within Israeli society. Meran Rapoport, an award winning Israeli journalist wrote: ‘The process that led to the events was a long one. Tomer Persico, an expert on religion and a keen observer of Israeli society, defined it as “people standing against the state”, putting ethnocentric (Jewish) values above all other.

‘Ethnic belonging and not citizenship has become the essence of being an Israeli. The old elites in the public sector or in the press or cultural circles, seen as custodians of the outdated republican-like ideas such as the rule of law or human rights, have been under constant attack.’

The appointment of Lieberman is also a check to a new peace initiative from the Egyptian government. For months, Netanyahu has been in negotiations with Isaac Herzog, the leader of the Labour Party. Herzog had been tipped to be foreign minister in a new coalition. General Sisi made a speech offering to assist in restoring the Israel/Palestine peace process. Sisi’s speech was the result of efforts made by the Quartet’s representative, Tony Blair, with the support of US Secretary of State, John Kerry.

Despite this check, sections of the Israeli state are looking for a new initiative. On 22 May former Mossad chief, Etraim Halevy, called for the Israeli government to speak to Hamas, as he believes they are ready to accept a temporary settlement, based on a provisional Palestinian state in the 1967 borders. In a situation where, since October, 205 Palestinians and 28 Israelis have been killed, a new initiative is overdue.