‘Theresa May announces dramatic re-think on “dementia tax”‘, 22 May 2017

In a hastily-scheduled (and totally-hypothetical) media appearance, Mrs May said the following:

‘Governing is about making hard choices but it’s also about listening and, wherever possible, about building a national consensus.

In the last few days it’s become clear to me that people all over the country are worried about the policy floated in the Conservative manifesto on social care.

I believe I have a duty, as a responsible and responsive Prime Minister, to listen and to reflect those concerns.

If that means re-thinking a policy floated in a manifesto, then I think it’s important that a politician – especially one running for the top job in British politics – should be big enough to do that.

After all, no-one should think they have a monopoly on wisdom – especially not on a question as vital to all of us as social care.

That’s why today I’m announcing that, if I am fortunate enough to be re-elected as your Prime Minister, that I will call for a Royal Commission on Social Care so that we can achieve a genuine, cross-party, practical and affordable solution to one of the toughest issues facing every single family in the UK – now and in the future.

I realise that, in doing this, I will be accused of a U-turn, of having made a mistake. My reply to that is that it is always better in politics, as in life, to pause for thought rather than plough on regardless, heedless of genuine concern on the part of the people and the country which I aspire to lead.

Yes, governing is about choosing.  But it’s also about listening.  And that’s what, on social care and how we pay for it as a nation, I, as your Prime Minister, have decided to do.’

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Theresa May’s offer on ‘workers’ rights’: how does it stack up against past Tory governments?

Most Conservative governments in the 20th century couldn’t really be said to have positively increased workers’ rights.  Indeed, some of them actually eroded them – most obviously the Thatcher government but also, one could argue, the Baldwin government (with its post- General Strike 1927 Trades Disputes Act) and the Heath government (with its 1971 Industrial Relations Act actually provoking resistance that saw a handful of trade unionists sent to prison).

This couldn’t be said, though, of Tory governments of 1951 to 1964, which much to the irritation of the party’s free-market right, were renowned not so much for increasing workers’ rights but for (i) refusing to bow to demands to roll back the Attlee government’s pro-trade union legislation, (ii) interfering in pay disputes in order to facilitate compromise, and (iii) moving towards corporatist-style tripartite structures aimed at bringing management, unions and the state together to help plan the economy.

If you want to go back before then – and for the Tory government that probably did more than any other to positively promote workers’ rights (not least because it was competing with the Liberal Party for the votes of newly enfranchised working men, of course) – you’d have to go for Disraeli’s second government.

Dizzy’s administration passed, for instance, the Factory Acts in 1874 and 1878, which declared, among other things, that no child under ten could be employed, that 10-14 year olds could only work half-days, and that there would be a limit (albeit a very high one) on the working week for women. It also passed the 1875 Conspiracy, and Protection of Property Act 1875 which legalised peaceful picketing, as well as the 1875 Employers and Workmen Act which meant that workers could sue employers for breach of contract.

It’s worth remembering, however, that we’re comparing what past Tory governments actually did with what Mrs May says she is going to do.  The proof of the pudding will, as always, be in the eating!

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‘Lights, camera, discussion? The role of televised debates in modern elections’, Centre for Public Impact, 26 April 2017

Theresa May, it would appear, has poured water on the idea of televised leader’s debates during the ‘snap’ UK general election she’s just called.  Depending on your point of view, this means either that she is ‘running scared of the voters’ or is focusing on ‘getting on with the job’ and ‘meeting voters all around the country on the campaign trail’.

But, in an era in which so many citizens are supposedly feeling disconnected from the so-called ‘political class’, is she passing up a valuable opportunity to engage people in a process which, after all, is supposed to be at the very heart of a democracy – the chance to choose who governs us over the next few years?

Some would say no, not least because such debates have considerable downsides.  For one thing, the media’s obsession with them crowds out so much else. For another, they skew the conversation away from parties and their platforms and towards a handful of men and women who have been chosen (often by a highly unrepresentative bunch of people, be they grassroots members or their colleagues) to lead them.

Taking firmer root?

In the UK, we live in a parliamentary democracy, not a presidential system. Elections in democracies like ours are not supposed to be gladiatorial contests between individuals.  Yet more and more (though by no means all) of those democracies now seem to be going in for televised candidate debates.

For my sins, I write a comparative introduction to European politics that covers the whole continent but contains tables and figures which often focus on eleven of its countries (and before you ask, yes, the UK is – and always will be – one of them!).  The new edition is just about to come out and, among other things, asks how many of those eleven effectively always stage such debates during elections.

The answer is six, although, given France held them again this year (and what marathons they were!), we should probably say seven.  Only one (Hungary, if you’re interested) doesn’t, while Spain and Italy challenge a widely-held assumption, namely that staging televised debates at one general election means that such debates are bound be held at the next.

In fact, there is no such guarantee.  The agreement of parties and their leaders to debates cannot be taken for granted from one election to the next, mainly because their participation owes little or nothing to their concerns about legitimacy and public engagement and everything to their perceived self-interest.

Opposition parties, especially if they are small and spend most of the time denied the oxygen of publicity by the media, see them as a chance to right that wrong and level the playing field.  Governing parties, especially if they think they are going to win an election (and, after all, that consideration often determines whether or not they call an election in the first place), may well prefer to avoid them, primarily because they provide unwelcome exposure for their opponents and because they represent an unnecessary risk.

This self-interested logic, rather than the spirit of Demosthenes, is what is driving calls by the Liberal Democrats, Labour and the rest for televised debates during this campaign. And it is clearly driving Mrs May’s decision to turn them down.

In the spotlight

It is worthwhile noting that May’s refusal to get involved may only be an opening gambit: she will almost certainly agree to something less than a full debate – perhaps a show in which leaders, separately, are grilled some combination of an interviewer and a studio audience. That way she can claim to have done her democratic duty.

But in some ways, the absence of fully-fledged debates will be a pity.  They do pull in big audiences.  The first to be held in the UK, the Brown-Cameron-Clegg debate in 2010, attracted 9.4 million viewers and an audience share of 37% – greater than soaps like Coronation Street and Eastenders attracted at the time.  In 2015, the seven-way leaders’ debate was watched by 7 million – a 31% share.

Of course, many of those citizens were the sort of people who normally take at least a passing interest.  But research suggests that at least some of them were people who might previously have paid no attention to the campaign.  Debates have their downsides but if they can pique the curiosity of citizens who otherwise wouldn’t engage in political discussion, then maybe those downsides are a price worth paying.

Originally published at https://www.centreforpublicimpact.org/lights-camera-action/

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‘Corbynism might not actually end – even if Labour loses the election’ (with David Jeffery), The Conversation, 26 April 2017

Because the general election looks set to produce an impressive win for the Conservatives, its main interest lies not in the result itself but in the result of that result. The House of Commons will look very different on June 9, and the implications of that could turn out to be very big indeed. That’s especially true for the opposition.

For Labour, heading for what many of its own people fear will be a very big defeat, it’s all about who comes after Jeremy Corbyn. True, he may not step down immediately. But he is unlikely to stay for long after the party’s first post-election conference in September. There, Corbynistas hope to make a change to party rules that would make it much easier to get a left-wing successor into the contest to replace him. The aim is to require just 5% of MPs and MEPs to nominate candidates for leadership, instead of the current 15%. That would significantly shift the balance of power in these contests from parliament to party members.

There is also a possibility that those urging Corbyn to stay on would allow him to step down straight away if they could find a successor capable of getting 15% of MPs and MEPs to nominate them prior to any rule change, thereby triggering yet another summer leadership contest.

Second-guessing the composition of the post-election Parliamentary Labour Party, then, is more than just a parlour game. Indeed, it’s no exaggeration to say that the question is an existential one.

If Labour’s grassroots members are given the opportunity, and then take that opportunity, to elect a Corbyn clone, the bulk of the PLP might declare independence and set up a new party. They may then claim – perfectly legitimately, according to parliamentary convention – the role of Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition.

Parliamentary arithmetic

There has already been some speculation about what the PLP will look like after the election, most notably by one of Blair’s biographers, John Rentoul.

John makes a number of characteristically shrewd observations, not the least of which is to point out:

If Labour is heavily defeated on June 8, the number of MPs needed to reach the 15% threshold would fall. If the number of Labour MPs, 232 at the last election, fell to 150, any candidate would need the support of 26 MPs and MEPs to stand (because there are, until 2019, 20 Labour MEPs). In other words, precisely the number who supported Corbyn in his second leadership campaign.

We agree: there is an obvious arithmetical relationship between the size of the PLP and the number of MPs (and MEPs) needed to nominate a putative successor. So in the event of a Tory landslide, the Corbynistas will require fewer warm bodies on the green benches to get one of their number onto the ballot.

But what we’re most interested in is John’s follow-up point, namely that a truly woeful performance by Labour on June 8 will paradoxically help the PLP’s left-wingers. It’s an argument predicated on the assumption that, as he puts it, “naturally, Corbynites tend to be in safe Labour seats, so a catastrophic defeat for the party won’t affect most of them”.

Back in the autumn, we had a look at this for The Guardian. We found, first, that the majorities of MPs who were judged in a leaked email to be supportive by Corbyn’s inner circle weren’t much safer than those of their sworn enemies. Second, we saw that when we plugged in the opinion poll standings of the parties, the ideological composition of the PLP didn’t really change very much from what it was then: absolute numbers fell, but the proportions belonging to the pro-, anti-, and Corbyn-neutral MPs identified in the leaked email were very similar, if not identical.

Now the election has been called, we’ve run the exercise again – using today’s polling average. And the song remains pretty much the same.

Who’s with Corbyn and who isn’t? David Jeffery and Tim Bale

We can also move on from the leaked list of pro- and anti-Corbyn MPs and take a look at the average majority of the 23 MPs who, by our reckoning, backed Corbyn in last summer’s contest – a figure, incidentally, that does not include Clive Lewis, who since seems to have departed the fold, and Steve Rotheram who we assume will leave the Commons after being elected Mayor of Liverpool City Region. If we compare it to the average majority of all Labour MPs, we can see that Corbyn’s backers in that contest do, just as John asserted, enjoy, on average, larger majorities, although whether the difference will automatically be big enough to save all of them is anyone’s guess.

Who has a bigger majority? David Jeffery and Tim Bale

Finally, we can explore what would happen in what we’ll call “the catastrophe scenario”, which sees Labour reduced to around 150 seats – essentially the result that is emerging from polling by YouGov and The Sunday Times.

Again, the overall balance of power within the PLP isn’t really changed. Corbyn-loyalists, opponents, and those termed “neutral” would still make up roughly one third of the PLP each. Electoral annihilation, in other words, will not remove the Corbyn loyalist base in the PLP but nor will it significantly strengthen it.

PLP balance of power if reduced to 150 seats. David Jeffery and Tim Bale

Returning finally to the 23 MPs who supported Corbyn in 2016, we would expect only Cat Smith to lose her seat. That leaves 22 Corbynite MPs in the post-catastrophe Commons. Crucially, however, even if his previous supporters in the European Parliament come back on board, they will almost certainly fall just short of the required 15% threshold to get another Corbynista on the ballot paper.

This does indeed mean that literally a handful of new MPs could determine who leads the Labour Party after the election – either by lending the left sufficient numbers to nominate one of their own under the existing 15% threshold or, in refusing to do so, by making it essential that Corbyn cling on and the left achieve a reduction in that threshold.

Hence the manoeuvring now going on to parachute preferred candidates into supposedly safe seats. And hence why we should all be watching who makes it onto the Labour benches after June 8 very carefully indeed.

Originally published at: https://theconversation.com/corbynism-might-not-actually-end-even-if-labour-loses-the-election-76724

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‘Theresa May is surfing a wave before tide finally goes out’, Sunday Business Post (Ireland), 23 April 2017

Let’s not over-complicate things. Prime ministers only call an early election if they need to or because they’re sure they’re going to win. In Theresa May’s case, both things apply – and in spades.

May could probably have made it through the Brexit negotiation process with the relatively small parliamentary majority she currently enjoys. It’s just that “enjoys” is hardly the right word.

The Conservative parliamentary party contains dozens of Eurosceptic ultras who have been campaigning for years, even decades, to leave the EU – and they want a Brexit that is as total as it is final. Whereas most Tories will regard the trade-offs that a relatively pragmatic PM is bound to want to make as sensible compromises, the Eurosceptics will see them as betrayals.

Obviously, a bit of sound and fury from May’s backbenches might occasionally come in handy. Other heads of government know all too well that, ultimately, any deal a politician hopes to bring home from Brussels has to be one that they can get through their own party and parliament.

But there are limits. Given May’s current majority, Tory troublemakers could have the whip hand, exercising an influence – even a veto – that goes way beyond the number of voters they actually represent. True, 52 per cent of British people opted to leave the EU. But only a minority of them were voting for the hardest of hard Brexits. Why, then, should the majority of Conservative MPs, who reflect the “have our cake and eat it” views of most Leavers (border controls, but free trade and movement too), be held to ransom by their fanatical colleagues?

By calling an election that looks set to result in a larger majority, May will bag herself a crop of first-time Tory MPs who, whatever their views on Europe, will owe a debt of loyalty to her (at least while they still have hopes of preferment and promotion). If and when things get sticky, she should be able to rely on these newcomers to see her through, irrespective of any resistance put up by the old-school ultras.

None of this means, incidentally, that Britain isn’t heading for a hard Brexit in the sense of leaving the single market (and, indeed, the customs union) because of May’s opposition to freedom of movement and the European Court of Justice. But, on balance, that hard Brexit may well be softer than it might otherwise have been – a deal mitigated by complex derogations, multiple side-deals, and extended transition periods.

None of this, of course, can be guaranteed. A multi-governmental, multi-level process might fly apart for a million and one reasons that no one can yet foresee. What we can predict with some confidence, however, is that, barring May shooting a puppy or drowning a kitten on live TV, the Conservatives are going to win a thumping great victory on June 8.

Labour’s membership elected a throwback to the 1970s who voters cannot take seriously and who struggles to get his message across, and to get it straight

It’s not just the Tories’ 20-point-plus lead over Labour in a whole host of recent opinion polls that leads inexorably to that conclusion. It’s the numbers behind those numbers.

Britain, like many other advanced democracies, has left behind the era of position politics, where tribal voters clashed over big ideas and sharply contrasting collective interests. It has moved into an era of valence politics, where what matters to most people is whether the parties competing for their support can run the country competently, as well as handle anything unexpected that may come up in the future. Not surprisingly, given this, and the fact that most people don’t have the time and the inclination to pay too much attention to policy detail, leadership matters – a lot.

Dig deeper into the polling and it becomes clear that the Conservatives have huge leads on “best party to handle” virtually every issue bar health (always a bit of an Achilles heel for them). Moreover, they are far more trusted on the economy and public finances than their Labour counterparts. On top of that, Theresa May is way ahead of Labour’s leader, not just on “preferred prime minister” but on a whole series of character traits associated with being able to do that job. With these kinds of numbers, it’s not just that May can’t lose; it’s that she can’t fail to win big.

Just as importantly, right now is about as good as it will ever get for her. Public confidence in a low-wage, low-productivity, import-dependent economy currently ticking along mainly on the back of a world-class financial services sector, largely debt-fuelled private consumption and a drastic fall in the exchange rate is only going to last so long, especially if inflation begins to kick in.

Likewise, the British public’s patience with a badly underfunded health service and a care system in crisis will eventually run out . And sooner or later, of course, at least some Leave voters will wake up to the fact that Brexit can’t possibly deliver all the goodies they were promised during last summer’s referendum: free trade deals with the rest of the world will be a long time coming, if they come at all; additional millions for the NHS won’t magically materialise; and immigration won’t fall to anything like the levels hoped for.

So May is surfing a wave before the tide goes out. The Labour Party, meanwhile, is drowning. It’s not all Jeremy Corbyn’s fault. Under Ed Miliband, the party found itself badly torn between apologising for “failing to fix the roof when the sun was shining” (as George Osborne – remember him? – used to put it) and defending New Labour’s otherwise impressive record.

Its ambivalence and embarrassment about its own rightward shift on both welfare and immigration also prevented it from communicating that shift to voters who were increasingly concerned about cultural as much as economic issues.

But if things were bad before Corbyn took over as leader, he has made them much worse – and not just by shifting Labour’s stance back to the progressive liberalism that alienates so many of the party’s potential voters and makes it such a tempting target for Britain’s overwhelmingly right-wing print media.

After its second defeat on the trot in 2015, Labour needed a forward-thinking, attractive and competent leader to take on the Tories and help win the EU referendum. Instead, its membership elected a throwback to the 1970s who voters cannot take seriously and who struggles not just to get his message across but to get it straight in the first place. No wonder the Liberal Democrats, who at least know where they stand on Brexit, seem set to make something of a comeback. And no wonder the SNP expects to hold the vast majority of the sweeping gains it made in 2015.

One “minor party”, however, isn’t looking forward to an early election. Since she became prime minister last July, almost everything Theresa May has said and done – on Brexit, on grammar schools, on immigration – has been done with one eye on bursting Ukip’s bubble. It has worked. On Thursday, Ukip’s former leader Nigel Farage announced that he would not even be standing in this election.

Whether, though, May’s embrace of right-wing populism will do her, her party, or indeed the country any good in the long term, who can tell? As the ancient Greek historian Polybius once observed: “There are far more people who know how to win than know how to make proper use of their victories.”

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‘Friends with benefits? Nine things worth knowing about the links between centre-left parties and trade unions’, LSE EUROPP blog, 21 April 2017


Before Theresa May decided to go to the country, the election result many observers of UK politics were most looking forward to was the outcome of ‘super-union’ Unite’s bitter leadership contest between the incumbent, Len McCluskey, and his challenger, Gerard Coyne – a contest which, rightly or wrongly, had been viewed through the prism of its potential impact on the Labour Party.

Drawing on a newly published cross-national study of the relationship between left of centre parties and trade unions, it is possible to cast a little comparative light on what Lewis Minkin famously termed ‘the contentious alliance’. Here are nine things worth knowing about the links between centre-left parties like Labour and trade unions.

  1. Links between centre-left parties and unions remain strong in some places

The British Labour Party has always been intimately bound up with trade unions: after all, as Ernie Bevin famously put it, the party ‘grew out of the bowels of the Trade Union Congress’ back at the beginning of the twentieth century. But it’s important to realise that it’s by no means unique. There are centre-left parties all over the world whose traditional ties to their respective labour movements remain pretty strong – in Australia, in the Nordic countries, in Austria and in Switzerland, for instance. What’s unusual about Labour, notwithstanding Bevin’s remark, is that the party’s relationship with the Labour movement is, formally anyway, only with individual unions rather than with an overarching congress which encompasses many constituent unions.

  1. It is unusual for union leaders to become political leaders

Bevin, together with Alan Johnson, is unusual in having made the transition from powerful union leader to big-beast Labour politician. Others have tried it – most notably Frank Cousins of Unite’s forerunner, the TGWU, back in the sixties – but failed miserably, since when British union leaders have generally preferred to stick to exercising influence in the party indirectly, using their money, their guaranteed places on various party bodies, and votes on policy and candidates to push Labour in their direction.

That’s generally been the case, too, in other countries. True, Bob Hawke, who was Labour prime minister of Australia between 1983 and 1991, had also been president of the country’s Council of Trade Unions. But he was another exception proving the rule. Even in Sweden, where the relationship between the social democratic SAP and the main union congress, the LO, has traditionally been strong, the current prime minister, Stefan Löfven, is very unusual in having led a trade union before taking charge of the Social Democrats back in 2012.

  1. MPs with a strong union background are in the minority – often a small one

Like Löfven, Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn dropped out of university, even if, unlike Löfven, he grew up in a middle class (indeed, some would say upper-middle class) family so can hardly claim to be a horny-handed son of toil. He can claim, however, to have a pukka union background, working as an organiser for forerunners of UNISON and Amicus in the seventies before becoming an MP. In that sense (if not in many others) he’s not alone, although there has almost certainly been a decline in the number of people in the Parliamentary Labour Party with a union background.

And most of those who have such a background will have been, say, researchers rather than the working class, former elected officials who, back in the fifties, sixties and seventies, provided much of the ballast on the Labour benches. These days, Shadow Secretary of State for Education, Angela Rayner, having left school at sixteen and working in social care before being elected to serve her union UNISON full-time, stands out from the crowd. Still, Labour isn’t so unusual in this respect: countries like Finland and especially Switzerland, where a fair few MPs from the main centre-left parties still have union backgrounds, are probably outliers, and even there, we’re only talking between a fifth and a quarter of them.

  1. Labour’s highly-institutionalised relationship with unions is not the norm

Labour is unusual among its international counterparts in there being an organisation, TULO (The Trade Union & Labour Party Liaison Organisation), whose job it is to help coordinate and manage the link between the party and the 14 unions (with over 3 million members between them) currently affiliated to it. Moreover, outside Australia, the system of collective affiliation, seen as the norm in the UK, has either never been replicated or else has long since been abandoned in other countries.

In the US, the Democrats and the unions have never enjoyed anything like the sort of institutionalised relationship seen in the UK. And the same can be said of France and Italy, although there the absence of a stand-out, single party on the centre-left had a lot to do with it. In other places – Israel and the Netherlands, for instance – what was a fairly close relationship has all but completely collapsed or is a shadow of its former self. In Germany, where the SPD suddenly seems back in contention electorally now that Martin Schulz has become its candidate for Chancellor, things are nowhere near so bad, even if ties aren’t what they are in, say, Scandinavia or, even closer to home if you’re in Berlin, Austria and Switzerland.

  1. It’s not all about money

In the UK, the unions, despite Ed Miliband abolishing the electoral college which gave them a special say in electing Labour’s leader, are still organisationally-speaking, effectively part and parcel of the party.  That means that, outside Australia, they retain more influence over it than their counterparts in other countries exercise over their traditional political ally.

Clearly, the fact that UK unions, even if they gave up sponsoring individual MPs in the mid-1990s, still play a major part in bankrolling the party also makes a difference. However, we need to be careful not to assume that ties between centre-left parties and trade unions ultimately come down to cold hard cash. Organisational ties continue to persist in many countries where unions are not a significant source of finance for social democratic parties, although they do tend to be weaker in countries where state subsidies to parties are generous and in countries that heavily regulate party finance.

  1. History matters – but so do the benefits

This is not to say, of course, that continuing close ties between centre-left parties and trade unions are merely a matter of sentiment. True, looking around the world it is clear, as is the case in the UK, that historical legacies matter: those parties and union movements that had the strongest links with each other in the decades following the end of World War Two still tend to have the strongest links today, both formally and informally, and whether we look at the parliamentary or the extra-parliamentary party (which in many countries outside the UK is where power lies and where the links are strongest). But that does not mean that the relationships they enjoy right now are unaffected by a belief that each partner gets something useful out of them.

  1. Membership of trade unions is falling in many countries, but relationships with parties persist

This raises the question of precisely what benefits parties like Labour, as well as the unions to which they’re linked, derive from those links, beyond (for some of them anyway) financial support. Certainly, they’re not as obvious as they once were – for either side. Centre-left parties cannot fail to have noticed that trade unions’ ability to persuade their members to vote for them at elections, while it hasn’t disappeared altogether, seems to have declined, especially as cultural issues like immigration have become as (or even more) important as the economy as drivers of electoral behaviour. But even if that were not the case, unions’ ability to deliver their members as voters would be worth less to Labour since not only has the blue-collar working class declined precipitously over the decades (as it has everywhere) but far fewer people now belong to unions than they used to.

Trade union density in the UK has declined from a post-war high of just over 50% in 1979 to around 25% now. This isn’t bad compared to some countries: in Germany the figure is just under 20%, in the US just over 10%, and in France well under that.  But it’s nowhere near as high as in, say, Sweden, where because unions still seem to be able to recruit pretty well in the private as well as the public sector, two-thirds of employees belong to one. Indeed, countries where more people are trade union members, as well as where the trade union movement is more concentrated, do seem to see stronger party-union links. That said, density isn’t destiny: links persist in some places despite some sizable drops in the number of people joining unions.

  1. Parties often seem to benefit more than unions…

What then do trade unions get out of Labour and parties like it – and how much does that determine the closeness of the relationship between the two sides? ‘Not very much’ seems to be the answer on both counts. You don’t have to swallow the radical orthodoxy that the centre-left has somehow prostrated itself before the gods of neo-liberalism to recognise that, as well as finding it more difficult of late to get itself elected to power, it doesn’t like to intervene as much in the economy or spend as freely on welfare as it used to when it does get there.


Nor is it the case, anyway, that the more left-wing, the larger, or the more likely a social democratic party is to be in government or to recommend its members join a union, the more likely it is to enjoy strong links with the unions. It is therefore difficult to avoid the conclusion that the relationship is a little lop-sided: in as much as that relationship is transactional and based on an exchange of resources, neither side gets as much out of it as it used to; but centre-left parties probably do a little better out of the deal, especially if finance and/or election volunteers are part of it, than do the unions.

  1. …but the alternative for unions could be worse

But there’s a but – and one that will be familiar to anyone familiar with the UK since 2010. Comparative analysis suggests that when centre-left parties are in power, unions with weaker links to them find it harder (though, as France and Italy show, not impossible) to stop those parties trying to push through liberal reforms. On the other hand, it also suggests that the strongest of organisational links are no guarantee that social democratic governments will deliver whatever unions want.

But not getting everything they want from the centre-left is still likely to be better, as far as most trade unions are concerned, than ceding power and the initiative to the centre-right. Faute de mieux may not be a particularly inspiring reason to maintain relationships with centre-left parties, but it may explain why trade unions – particularly perhaps in two party-systems like the UK where there are no other serious options on the left – continue to invest time, effort and, as in Labour’s case, money, in maintaining them.

Originally published at http://blogs.lse.ac.uk/europpblog/2017/04/21/friends-with-benefits-nine-things-centre-left-and-trade-unions/

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‘Snap election a win-win for Theresa May: she’ll crush Labour and make Brexit a little easier’, The Conversation, 18 April 2017

So Theresa May, it turns out, is only human. After months of denying she was going to do it, the British prime minister decided to call an early general election – first and foremost because she knows she’s going to win.

Indeed, she’s not just going to win; she’s going to win big. Contrary to common wisdom, bookies don’t necessarily know better than opinion pollsters when it comes to predicting political events, but they know a racing certainty when they see one. Within minutes of the PM’s announcement, one national chain was giving odds of 2/9 on an overall majority for the Conservatives, with Labour out on 14/1.

To those Corbynistas who think the public will warm to Jeremy and his policies once they see more of him: Not. Going. To. Happen. If the Labour leader and his team think they’ve had a raw deal from the media – and from the Tories – since he took over, they ain’t seen nothing yet. Even on a level playing field (and it won’t be one) they’d still stand no chance: they’re miles behind on the economy, serious difficulties in the NHS haven’t yet fed through electorally, and Labour is seen as neither trustworthy nor competent. Game over.

Everything, then, points to a thumping win for the Conservatives. It may be pushing it to predict their majority will run to three figures but it shouldn’t be ruled out – even without the changes to parliamentary boundaries that would have come in prior to an election in 2020.

Anyone arguing that the PM has somehow lied to the public by giving the distinct impression since July that she wasn’t going to call an early election should save their breath. The fact of the matter is this: people seem to like Theresa May – or at least respect her – but they see her as a politician not as some sort of saint. They know the game and they know she’s played it well – and that they’d probably have done the same in her position. I know I would.

True, there may be a bit more of a debate worth having on whether the public actually wants a general election so soon after the previous one and after the EU referendum. Indeed, I suspect they don’t and that that will mean a lower turnout – perhaps even lower than might be expected for a vote with such a certain outcome.

But turnout would really have to fall massively to substantially impact on the legitimacy of May’s new administration, and anyway any such deficit would doubtless be compensated for by her being able to claim the fabled “personal mandate” that all hitherto unelected prime ministers are said (with no good constitutional reason, mind you) to crave.

That, of course, isn’t the main reason she’s doing this. What this victory will give May (as well as the chance to crush Labour before it comes to its senses and gets itself a new leader) is a whole bunch of new Tory backbenchers who, whatever their views on Europe and other issues, will know full well that they owe their place on the green benches mainly to her. That almost certainly means that she will be less beholden to some of the ultra-eurosceptics on whom she would have otherwise have to have relied.

Obviously, there are so many factors involved in determining the eventual shape of that deal, but it seems fair to assume that we may be heading for a rather softer and transitional Brexit than might have been the case had the PM not decided to go sooner rather than later.

Absent an economic meltdown between now and 2019, what an early election will also do is dash once and for all the already fast-fading hopes of Remainers that Brexit might somehow be prevented. Although Leavers have forgotten it, the referendum result was tight. But the Lib Dems are the only party arguing that the UK should stay in the EU and they are likely to get around 15% in this election at best. That will reinforce the idea that leaving really is the “the will of the people” – on the subject of which, it will, incidentally, be fascinating to see how UKIP does without Nigel Farage as its leader.

Finally, for Labour this is the good news, bad news election. Good news, centrists hope, because a big defeat should ensure the party sees the back of Corbyn. Bad news because few parties recover from a big defeat in just one parliamentary term – and because they still have to find someone halfway decent to replace him.

Originally published at: https://theconversation.com/snap-election-a-win-win-for-theresa-may-shell-crush-labour-and-make-brexit-a-little-easier-76362

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