‘Just who are these Labour Party members who will be choosing the new leader?’ (with Paul Webb), Independent, 23 July 2015

Most of the coverage of Labour’s leadership contest has focused on the candidates. But what about the people who will be choosing between Corbyn, Burnham, Cooper and Kendall? In May 2015, we surveyed 1,180 Labour Party members as part of a wider research project into party membership in the UK funded by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC). Here’s some of what we found.

1 They don’t necessarily live where Labour support is strongest

True, getting on for a fifth of Labour Party members live in its London stronghold, but nearly a third of them live in southern England outside the capital.

2 Men outnumber women – but not by much

The ratio – six men for every four women – is exactly the same as it is in the Parliamentary Labour Party.

3 There aren’t many horny-handed sons (or daughters) of toil among them

Just over two-thirds of Labour Party members can be categorised as ABC1, with just under a third being what marketers call C2DEs. Well over half of them (56%) are graduates. Some 44% of Labour members work in the public sector – over twice as many as in the electorate as a whole.

4 Ethnic minorities are slightly underrepresented at the grassroots

Around 13% of the UK population is from an ethnic minority – compared 9% of Labour Party members.

5 Younger people tend to support the Labour Party but its members are by no means all spring chickens

The average Labour Party member is 51 years old – only a little younger than the average Tory member, incidentally – with only 14% of the membership younger than thirty. The average member has been in the party for 18 years.

6 A sizable minority of members don’t do anything for the party other than pay their subs

Around a third of members fall into this category, and even during the five weeks of the election campaign around a quarter of Labour’s grassroots did nothing other than, presumably, cheer it on from the side-lines. Even those who did make the effort tended to prefer the less demanding stuff: just over half displayed posters or liked things on Facebook, whereas only a third claimed to have done any phone or face-to-face canvassing.

7 On balance, Labour’s grassroots are pretty positive about their experience of membership

True, around a third of members feel the leadership doesn’t pay them much attention and a quarter even go so far as to say that it doesn’t respect them. Around a third confess that doing stuff for the party can be pretty boring at times and over half worry about it taking time away from family. But nearly nine out of ten members think that working together with other party members can make a real difference, and two-thirds see membership as a good way of meeting interesting people. And three-quarters of members say that membership has lived up to their expectations.

8 Labour Party members are really pretty left wing

When we asked grassroots members to place themselves on a left-right spectrum running from zero (“very left wing”) to ten (“very right wing”), the average score was 2.39 – interestingly, slightly to the left of the average SNP member and only just to the right of the average member of the Greens; Lib Dem members placed themselves considerably closer towards the centre. On specific issues, just over 90% of Labour members think cuts to public spending have gone too far. About the same proportion want to see government redistributing income from the better-off to the less well-off. Just over 80% think that management will always try to get the better of employees if it gets the chance. So, although only two out of our 1200 Labour Party members wrote down Jeremy Corbyn’s name when we asked them to tell us who should replace Ed Miliband, no-one should be too surprised if he attracts more support than some in the Party hoped would be the case.

9 Labour Party members are, by and large, liberal cosmopolitans

Only one in 10 would countenance the death penalty and only one in five think we need to censor films and magazines to preserve this country’s morals. On Europe, 85 per cent of Labour Party members intend to vote to stay in the EU irrespective of the package Cameron renegotiates with other member states prior to the referendum. Eight out of ten think that immigration is good for the economy, with the same number believing that it enriches Britain’s cultural life.

10 And finally…Labour isn’t the only organisation they belong to

Trade union leaders reckon they’ve persuaded lots of their members to join the Party since the election in the hope of influencing its choice of leader. When we surveyed Party members, however, only four out of ten of them belonged to a union. Still, that’s a higher proportion than in the UK as a whole, where just one in four employees now belongs to a union – 14% in the private sector and 55% in the public sector. And Labour Party members are much more likely to belong to unions than any other organisation. Just one in five said they belonged to the National Trust – and even that was twice as many as said they belonged to English Heritage and the RSPB respectively. Only one per cent of Labour members, incidentally, said they belonged to Weight Watchers – precisely the same proportion who are in the WI.

Originally published here.

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‘The UK general election, 2015: Surprise! Or maybe not….’, Report for German-Southeast Asian Center of Excellence for Public Policy and Good Governance (CPG), July 2015

One  does  not  need  to  be  a  political  scientist,  let  alone  a  rocket scientist,  to  know  why,  broadly  speaking,  the opposition  Labour  Party  lost  the election and why its rival, the Conservative Party, won a second term in office –this time without having to govern alongside the Liberal Democrats, with whom it governed the country in coalition between 2010 and 2015.

Opinion  polls  failed  to  predict  the  fact  that  the  Conservatives  would emerge not just as the largest contingent at Westminster but end up with a slim overall  majority  of  twelve  seats  (based  on  37%  of  the  national  vote)  in  a parliament  of  650.    As  a  result pollsters  and  the  newspapers  which  so  eagerly commissioned their work have been the subject of much criticism since May 7th.  However,  a  handful  of  surveys  taken  of  the  electorate  in  the  immediate aftermath  probably  give  us  enough  to  go  on  in  order  to  hazard  an  educated guess as to what happened.

The Conservatives clearly benefited from the fact that a sizable majority of  voters  was  persuaded  that  the  economy  was  at  last  going  great  guns.  The same polls suggested that the Tories’ relentless trashing of Labour’s record in office prior to 2010 had hit home. Partly as a result, and partly because Labour’s leader,  Ed  Miliband, and  its  main  economic  and  finance  spokesman,  Ed  Balls, failed  to  come  up  with  a  convincing  counter-narrative,  voters  simply  did  not trust them to not to spend and borrow too  much. As a result, the Conservative managed  to  build  up  a  huge  (and  in  the  event  unassailable)  lead  as  the  party rated best able to handle the issue.

This  lead  on  the  economy  helped  the  Conservatives  neutralise  Labour’s strongest trump card, namely the idea that they couldn’t be trusted with the nation’s  National  Health  Service  (the  NHS) –the  free-at-the-point-of-need system  funded  by  general  taxation  which  has  been  hugely  popular  (and, according to myriad studies, very good value for money) since its establishment back in 1948. By promising not just to protect it but to provide it with additional funding,  the  Conservatives  could  then  turn  the  argument  back  toward  which party  was  must  trusted  to  achieve  the  economic  growth  to  generate  the necessary extra revenue. The Tories were probably helped, too, by the fact that a concerned public was in the end prepared to give the benefit of the doubt on the  NHS  to  David  Cameron,  who  has  always  made  a  great  deal  of  his  own family’s use of the service and his personal commitment to it.

The  benefit  of  the  doubt  was  not  something  which  many  voters  were prepared  to  extend  to  his  main  challenger,  Ed  Miliband.  Indeed,  given  what some  argue  is  the  increasing  importance  of  leadership evaluations  in  deciding elections,  the  Labour  leader’s  woefully  low  ratings  may  well  have  been  a significant  influence  on  the  eventual  result.  Not only did he come across  to focus group participants as ‘weak’ and ‘weird’, he clearly failed to convince people more generally that he was up to the top job in British politics.

This  is  not  always  an  impediment  to  victory:  it  is  easy  to  forget,  for instance,  that  Margaret  Thatcher  failed  to  impress  large  numbers  of  voters before she became prime minister for eleven years.  However, the low opinion in  which  the  leader  of  the  opposition  was  widely  held  was  even  more  of  a problem  this  time  round.  This  was  because  it  was  evident  to  everybody  that Labour’s only realistic chance of forming a government relied on being granted permission  to  do  so  by  the  Scottish  Nationalist  Party  (SNP)  who  polls  were predicting  (quite  rightly  it  turned  out)  were  going  to  take  almost  all  the  seats north  of  the  border –most of them at Labour’s expense. Had the party had a more credible leader, voters may have been prepared to discount Conservative accusations  that  such  an  arrangement  would  cause  chaos  and  see  English interests sacrificed to keep the Scots on board.  As it turned out, they were not.  Large  numbers  of  voters  in  marginal  seats  south  of  the  border  seem  to  have voted Tory to deny Scotland’s first minister, the highly-able SNP leader, Nicola Sturgeon, any say in the government of the UK.

Labour wasn’t the only party to suffer in this respect.  What turned out to be  widespread  concern  about  the  Scottish  tail  wagging  the  English  dog  may well  have  helped  turn  an  inevitable  defeat  for  the  self-styled  centrists,  the Liberal  Democrats, into  an  absolute disaster,  ensuring they  were  reduced from 57 seats in 2010 to just eight in 2015. That said, the party’s fate was probably already  sealed  from  the  moment  its  leader  Nick  Clegg,  after  fighting  the  2010  election on a platform which seemed much closer to Labour’s than the Tories’, decided on a counter-intuitive coalition with the Conservatives. Some Lib Dem voters  turned  away  (and  to  Labour  and  the  Greens)  in  disgust.  Others simply couldn’t see the point of Clegg and his colleagues anymore and switched to the Conservatives,   who   were   more   than   happy   to   cannibalise   their   coalition partner’s vote.  Meanwhile,  the  fact  that  some  Labour  voters  who  had  voted tactically for the Lib Dems in 2010 refused to do so in 2015 may have helped the Tories in a few Lib-Con marginals. Labour also suffered at the hands of the radical right-wing populist party, UKIP   and   its   anti-immigration,   anti-‘political  correctness’,  and  anti-EU platform which seems to appeal so strongly to older voters with little education and  highly  traditional  views  who  feel  left  behind  by  the  modern,  globalised, multicultural world. In Labour’s northern heartlands this was unsettling (UKIP achieved large numbers of second places) but not catastrophic. But in marginal seats in the Midlands and in the South of England the fact that some potential Labour  voters  switched  to  UKIP  may  have  helped the  Conservative  candidate win contests they otherwise might have lost.

The eventual result, then, came as a surprise –but only because so many pundits [and academic observers like me!] had allowed themselves to become bewitched by polls which pointed to another ‘hung parliament’ and by a  campaign  which  appeared  at  times  to  be going better for Ed Miliband than it did for David Cameron. In fact, most of the fundamentals had been in place for a Conservative victory for some time. The only  reason  perhaps  that  the  margin  of  that  victory,  at least  in  parliamentary terms,  turned  out  to  be  so  slim  was  that  the  Tories  have  still  not  managed  to convince  the  public  that  their  supposed  competence  is  balanced  by  sufficient compassion and a sense they are on the side of ordinary people rather than those who are doing spectacularly well.

If David Cameron decides to use his victory wisely, he may be able to fix this  ongoing  problem,  especially  while  Labour  is  so  obviously  struggling  to come up with a convincing alternative (and a convincing leader). Certainly, the electoral  arithmetic  looks  favourable –and  will  be  made  more  favourable  still by  changes  in  parliamentary boundaries  and  the  franchise. However,  Cameron may  find  it  harder  to  complete  the  decontamination  of  the  Conservative  brand than many ‘modernisers’ hope. Many  of  his  colleagues  remain  determined  to slash  spending –particularly  welfare  spending –on  a  scale  which  is  bound  to call into question their assurances that ‘we are all in this together’. And then, of course, there is the upcoming referendum on the UK’s membership of the EU. If the early signs mean anything, Cameron’s party looks like it may go back to the  future  by  descending  into  the  internal  faction-fighting  that  helped  alienate voters back in the 1990s, ushering in thirteen years of Labour government.

Originally published here

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‘Who will win the Labour leadership election? It’s a little early to tell’ (with Paul Webb) New Statesman, 22 June 2015

It’s doubtful that voters are paying that much attention to Labour’s leadership contest, but that hasn’t prevented pollsters from beginning to ask them who they think the party should pick. First out of the traps was Ipsos MORI.  Its poll last week suggested that no-one has yet established themselves as the clear favourite in the eyes of the public, with Andy Burnham on 15 per cent, Yvette Cooper on 14 per cent, Liz Kendall on 11 per cent and Jeremy Corbyn on 5 per cent.  Some 18 per cent of respondents claimed not to like any of the choices on offer and 34 per cent said they didn’t know.

Labour supporters, according to the same poll, were rather more likely to have an opinion – and less likely to be negative about the whole thing: although 24 per cent of them still don’t know, only 7 per cent said they didn’t like any of those standing.  Among those expressing a preference, Andy Burnham once again had a narrow 23 per cent-20 per cent lead over Yvette Cooper, with Liz Kendall on 11 per cent and token leftie, Jeremy Corbyn not far behind her on 9 per cent.

In the end, though, it’s not voters, or even that part of the electorate which reckons it will vote Labour, who will decide the contest.  And this time round it won’t be MPs or trade unionists either.  Yes, they’ll have a vote but, in contrast to 2010, it won’t be worth any more than that of any other ordinary member or affiliated supporter of the party.  So while it’s fascinating to see which MPs are declaring for which candidate it’s only by moving away from Westminster and asking grassroots members what they think that we can say anything worthwhile about the state of play at this stage.

And that’s exactly what we’ve done.  As part of a study into the demographics, motivations, opinions and activities of ordinary members funded by the Economic and Social Research Council, some of the fieldwork for which is being conducted by YouGov, we asked nearly 1200 Labour Party members in May who they’d like to see as their next leader.  Since we didn’t know at the time who would make it on to the ballot, and since we didn’t want to restrict their choices in case there were any dark horses out there that no one had noticed, we asked members to write in who they wanted rather than present them with a pre-cooked list of possible runners and riders.  Their answers suggest that there is, indeed, all to play for.

True, Andy Burnham was – yet again – the front-runner.  But he was only the choice of 18 per cent of members – not that far ahead of Chuka Umunna (who hadn’t yet dropped out when we started surveying) on 12 per cent.  Next came Yvette Cooper on 8.5 per cent (ahead of Dan Jarvis, who hadn’t yet ruled himself out when we began) on 5 per cent.  Liz Kendall, almost certainly because she was far less well-known, even by Labour Party members, than most of the others, was named by just 2 per cent – the same figure, incidentally, as the much better-known prince across the pond, David Miliband.  Jeremy Corbyn, by the way, was put forward by just two respondents.*

Still, the most striking thing was that nearly four out of ten grassroots members (37.5 per cent to be precise) said they didn’t yet know who they wanted to succeed Ed Miliband. Add that to the 34 per cent who named somebody outside of the four candidates who eventually made it onto the ballot, and it’s obvious that an awful of a lot of ordinary members’ votes  are still very much up for grabs.

We didn’t, though, just stop at asking the grassroots who they’d like to see leading the party.  We also asked them – and indeed the members of other parties – to rank the qualities they most valued in a leader.  Labour members, it turned out, were much less likely than Tory members to rank strength and authority number one, and much more likely to put having strong beliefs first.  Interestingly, less than 10 per cent of Labour’s grassroots put the ability to unite the party top of their list.  Indeed, being able to unite the nation, being in touch with ordinary people, being a good communicator and appealing to the average voter all came higher, each of them being ranked first by around 15 per cent of members.

Food for thought for all the candidates in a contest that, clearly, is still wide open.  Whatever the pundits or the bookies say, nobody has this thing sewn up – not yet at least.  It could be an interesting summer after all.

* In the original post, we said Mr Corbyn’s name hadn’t been suggested as a replacement for Ed Miliband by any of the 1180 Labour members we surveyed.  We have since recounted the datafile and found two people had named him. Apologies for the error.

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‘Only 15 per cent of Conservative party members would vote to leave the EU’ (with Paul Webb) Telegraph, 15 June 2015

Europe is already impinging, if only indirectly on Labour’s leadership contest. Andy Burnham in particular has suggested the party needs to be careful it doesn’t ‘do a Scotland’ by associating itself so closely with an all-party campaign that it ruins whatever’s left of its reputation with voters who want to leave the EU.

Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition, however, has rather less to worry about than her Government when it comes to the immediate party management problems thrown up by an issue that is likely to hog the headlines between now and whenever the Prime Minister judges it best to hold his in-out referendum.

Last week’s row over whether Tory frontbenchers should be expected to toe the government line during the official campaign was a swift reminder to David Cameron that the political capital he won as a result of his unexpected general election victory is a rapidly wasting asset, at least at Westminster. The fact that fifty of his MPs have already moved to set up Conservatives for Britain only reinforces the message that the next year or so could be a very rough ride indeed.

But the Conservative Party isn’t simply composed of those who sit behind Cameron on the green benches at Westminster. It is also, for all the talk of dwindling and ageing membership, a grassroots organisation – one that will have its own take on whether the UK should stay or leave the EU.

The conventional wisdom – very handy if you’re a Eurosceptic Tory MP – is that Conservative Party members out there in the constituencies can’t wait to cast their no votes. Indeed, one of the reasons that the better-off-outers grab so much of the media’s and the PM’s attention is that they’re often assumed to be more representative than he is of what a Tory Andy Burnham would surely refer to as the party’s ‘beating heart.’

Turns out, however, that that’s not the case, at least if a brand new survey of more than five thousand British party members – including twelve hundred grassroots Tories – is anything to go by.

As part of a study into demographics, motivations, opinions and activities of ordinary members funded by the Economic and Social Research Council, some of the fieldwork for which is being conducted by YouGov, we asked whether them a question on the referendum. Their answers throw up a number of interesting points. But two stand out in particular.


First, as we can see from the graph above, Labour’s grassroots members seem to be overwhelmingly in favour of the UK remaining in the EU. On the one hand, this is a surely a good thing in party management terms in that exactly the same can be said of the PLP, whose sceptics – particularly of the “hard” rather than the “soft” variety – can be counted on the fingers of one or two hands. On the other hand, it suggests that the party as a whole is considerably less ambivalent about Europe than many of those people who vote for it – let alone those that it desperately needs switch sides if it is to stand any chance of making up ground on the Tories between now and the next general election.

Given this, and the fact that Labour suffered far more seriously than it had hoped at the hands of UKIP this time around, it needs to be very careful that it doesn’t allow too big a gap to open up between its positive stance and the Euroscepticism of those whose votes it will be seeking in 2020. Just because Andy Burnham – supposedly the left-of-centre continuity candidate – is the contender who happens to be making that argument most strongly, doesn’t mean that by definition it’s a silly one.

chart (1)

But perhaps the most interesting finding is summarised in this second graph, which should challenge the idea that the better-off-outers on the Tory benches in the Commons are merely the visible tip of a much bigger iceberg that could sink David Cameron’s dream of uniting his party around a renegotiation package he could sell to the wider electorate.

In fact, fewer than two out of ten of ordinary Conservative party members would vote for the UK to leave the EU regardless of whatever reforms Prime Minister David Cameron manages to obtain in the run-up to a referendum. In marked contrast, nearly two-thirds of them say that their vote depends on the outcome of negotiations, while one in five say they would vote to stay in the EU no matter what.

True, Cameron’s got some work to do in order to convince the majority who can still be convinced. And further number crunching reveals that the more active a Conservative party member is, the more likely he or she is to support getting out come what may. But that has to be qualified by the fact that very, very few grassroots Tories actually do much for their party other than help fund it, especially outside of election campaigns.

The main point, then, still holds. David Cameron – perhaps because his standing in the Conservative Party in the country is almost certainly higher than it is in the Commons, where ideological obsession and/or perceived personal sleights all-too-often trump political gratitude – shouldn’t be too spooked by his sceptics. They’re not going away. But it looks like they’re nowhere near as typical of the average Tory as we, and they, like to think.

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‘Fight or flight: On rationality and resilience in the Labour Party’, IPPR, 1 June 2015

‘Nobody knows anything … Not one person in the entire … field knows for a certainty what’s going to work. Every time out it’s a guess and, if you’re lucky, an educated one.’ So wrote the acclaimed screenwriter, William Goldman, about the movie business. Politics is probably not that different.

No one can be sure why Labour lost the general election as badly as it did – not yet anyway. The much-trumpeted exit poll certainly helped make what would otherwise been a few hours of dead television time more exciting than they would have been otherwise. But that poll didn’t include questions that would help us to guess who voted for whom and why. The British Election Study will eventually yield a few clues, but pretty much all we’ve got to go on until then are a couple of post-election surveys for Lord Ashcroft and the TUC, plus a reworking of its pre-election polling by Ipsos MORI.

That said, the message coming out of that research seems pretty clear. Labour had a big lead on the NHS and was generally thought of as more in touch with ordinary people than the Conservatives, who still aren’t completely trusted on the health service and remain, in the eyes of many voters, the party of the rich. But that, in the end, was no barrier to a Tory win for two main reasons: first, David Cameron was seen as a plausible prime minister and Ed Miliband wasn’t; and second, because most people thought the economy was beginning to turn around and didn’t think Labour, given what they thought was its poor track record in government, could be trusted to run it.

If the Labour party were a wholly rational actor, then the course it should take almost suggests itself.

  • It shouldn’t pay too much attention to what those vying for the leadership choose to say right now but should pick whichever of them looks best able to project competence, credibility, and authority.
  • Whatever policies it comes up with should be pitched at, or at least framed around, English middle-income earners and the mythical-but-must-have ‘centre-ground’. The emphasis should be on the concrete, the consensual, the deliverable over the visionary and the radical. Talk of tackling inequality should be replaced with a rhetoric of fairness, which stresses rewarding hard work and making sure that those who do don’t get ripped off by those who won’t.
  • As an opposition, Labour should attack the Tories for messing up, not for callousness, which is already priced into their reputation. And it shouldn’t devote any time, energy or even headspace to building some sort of progressive popular front with ‘wider Labour movement’ or the Greens or, for that matter, the Lib Dems: it would simply push the party into a left-libertarian electoral deadend. Likewise there’s probably (and very frustratingly) little point at this late stage in trying to rescue the reputation of Blair–Brown government.
  • As for Scotland, if it ever comes back to Labour, it will have to do so in its own good time – presumably after years of practical criticism help to erode the SNP’s claim to good governance – and even that might not help, since independence might come first anyway.

But whether Labour can do what it should do is far from certain. After all, it is no more a rational actor than any other political party. It is a living breathing thing – a complex organism capable of intelligent, adaptive behaviour, yet just as apt to rely on muscle-memory and to be blinded by emotion, not least the conviction that its main opponent, since it is so self-evidently morally suspect, can only win by getting its friends in the media to foster false consciousness in an electorate consequently unable to see where its best interests really lie. In a challenging environment – and the fact that it can’t win next time unless we see a swing of 1906 or 1945 proportions is surely a sign that precisely such an environment exists – it sometimes chooses to fight when flight is the better response, and vice versa. Labour is also an institution. It relies on routines, rules, and sources of funding which reduce its room for manoeuvre, making it all-too-liable to avoid doing what it needs to do even when it seems obvious to everyone else.

Still, if the past is any guide to the future then the pessimists shouldn’t have it all their own way. Lest we forget, people who knew everything wrote off Labour in 1935, in 1959 and in 1992. Sometimes sheer resilience counts just as much as rationality.

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‘Persuade the public, frighten the Tories and Labour could win again’, Observer, 24 May 2015

No one really knows who first declared that “insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results”. But somebody should tell the LabourParty – and quickly.

It is May 2010. Labour has just gone down to one of its worst-ever defeats. Its crestfallen leader has upped and gone, leaving a shell-shocked party to try to pick up the pieces, figure out what went wrong and choose his successor. The consensus is that the contest should be played long. In the meantime, Harriet Harman will supposedly see to it that the Tories don’t have things all their own way.

As for the candidates, those with a serious chance of winning would struggle to convince the average voter that they’d done much outside politics since graduating from Oxford or Cambridge. Worse, all are complicit in the catastrophe that has befallen the party: none appears to have voiced doubts about the previous leader and his strategy at the time, doubts that they now claim to have harboured all along.

Their takes on why the party lost and what it needs to do to put things right may vary slightly, at least to the cognoscenti, but only in ways that are too easily caricatured by their rivals as Blairite or Brownite, Blue Labour or New Labour or simply sucking up to the unions.

All of them, however, are agreed that the party badly needs to get back in touch with the British people, especially on the issues where it’s lost their confidence – the economy, welfare and immigration.

Sadly, none of the candidates seems to be quite the full package and there is a strong sense that a fair amount of their support comes from people keen to pick the winner so that they can land a plum job, many of whom aren’t altogether sure that their favoured candidate deserves the job, but reckon one of the others would be a disaster.

No one is happy with the system used to choose the winner, either. It affords too much power to the unions, although, given how dependent the party has become on their money, there’s arguably not that much that can be done about it. The system also manages to give Labour MPs too much say over who can stand, yet makes it possible that the winner won’t be able to claim the support of even a plurality, let alone a majority, of the PLP.

The only upside is that the Tories’ vote share was only six or seven percentage points above Labour’s. So if the party picks the right candidate, then it stands an outside chance at the next election, not least because David Cameron may not be around that long.

If Labour makes the wrong choice, however, it only has itself to blame. If your favourite candidate doesn’t get the nod, then you’re entitled to sit on your hands, snipe from the sidelines and let whoever wins fail, instead of doing all you can to make them see sense, or else get rid of them.

You can then say “told you so” and insist they’ve “tested to destruction” the strategy you always knew was never going to work. Don’t bank on anyone listening, though, because, like most political parties, Labour is a deeply dysfunctional organisation in hock to powerful vested interests and struggling to come terms with accelerating economic, social and cultural change.

Sound eerily familiar? It should do. Because it’s happening all over again.

All too often, especially when their vanquished champions swiftly depart the scene – some for the Ovalothers for Ibiza – defeated parties fail to give themselves the time and space to conduct a proper post-mortem. As a result, a debate that, for a moment, looks like it might open up suddenly gets closed down. Or else it’s reduced to soundbites and magic bullet solutions involving this or that policy, this or that segment of the electorate, this or that region.

Telling the party that it has to win in “the south”, or make a comeback in Scotland, or see off Ukip in its “northern heartlands”, stressing that it must reconnect with “business”, “aspirational voters” or “the white working class”, or that salvation lies in persuading “lazy” Labour supporters to turn up on polling day, is at once simplistic and unnecessarily complicated.

It is simplistic because there is no way, only a couple of weeks after a process that involves millions of individuals making up their minds, that we can definitively understand what the hell just happened. The necessary research is going to take time and even then, because it relies mainly on a means of tapping into public opinion that got it badly wrong in the run-up to the election, it may be discounted or even summarily dismissed.

Moreover, Labour, unlike the Conservative party, lacks a mischievous millionaire prepared to pay to package up that research so swiftly and so arrestingly that it will practically demand a response from those contesting the leadership. That was what happened when David Cameron beat David Davis for the Tory equivalent back in 2005 – a contest overseen, it’s worth remembering, by a defeated leader (Michael Howard) who had the good grace to stick around while the party got its shit together and, at long last, elected not the candidate who best reflected the blinkered world-view of its activists but who most worried its main opponent.

Paradoxically, diagnoses and prescriptions that revolve around particular groups or geographical regions are misleadingly complicated. That’s because they risk leading Labour to do exactly what Jon Cruddas has suggested may have helped lose the party the election in the first place, namely attempting to assemble an electoral coalition by micro-targeting different types of voters, rather than nailing down a narrative that makes common sense to a more nebulous, but ultimately much bigger bunch of people.

As long as the public, and not just the party, sees at least one of the candidates as a credible story-teller, then all is not lost. It may sound cynical to say it, but as David Cameron himself has proved (by cutting taxes and welfare benefits, by “banging on about” Europe and immigration, and by getting rid of all the “green crap”), if the eventual winner looks and sounds the part – and is careful to keep talking about “change” and “the centre ground” – then what they do and say for the next three or four months doesn’t actually have to mean that much anyway.

That said, Peter Mandelson, for all that he, like so many of us, has rushed to judgment, is right to declare that, at the very least, that narrative has to weave together “leadership, economic competence and sense of fair play”. But given what happened last time around and what we’ve seen over the past fortnight, it seems highly unlikely that any of the current runners and riders is capable of going much beyond that formula before the result is announced on 12 September.

[Published online – with this title – at http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2015/may/24/frighten-the-tories-labour-could-win-again]

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‘As Nicola Sturgeon demands more powers, is a second Scottish independence vote inevitable? Yes.’, CityAM, 18 May 2015

The genie is out of the bottle, the toothpaste out of the tube. Pick whichever metaphor you like, but be sure of one thing: it’s a case of “when”, not “if”. The SNP is simply biding its time, waiting for its chance. As soon as Nicola Sturgeon thinks that she stands a decent chance of another crack at independence, she’ll go for it – especially if she can claim a mandate after elections to Holyrood next year. Obviously, it’s not totally up to her. Whoever is in Number Ten at the time will have to consent to it. What choice will they have? Scotland’s right to self-determination has already been established by David Cameron agreeing to hold last year’s referendum. Attempting to deny Scots a second bite at the cherry, or even just trying to delay things, would simply boost the Yes campaign when another vote is eventually held. It will happen – and maybe sooner rather than later.

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