The commentariat and blogosphere are serving up a surprising number of contorted, post-election ways in which Labour might well hang on.  Which just goes to reinforce the message I had in my CiF piece: an indecent, unhealthy interest in power no matter for what purpose, and no matter what people want.  Neither liberal, nor democratic.

To a dullard like me, it seems obvious: a Prime Minister whom the public knows very well, who is not even particularly well liked in his own party,who then in an election gets substantially less of the vote than his predecessor or 1-2 competing parties:  in what weird world could he think “the people need me as Prime Minister”?   ThoughCowardsFlinch think it is ‘strange’ for commentators to like the popular vote.  No, it is not.  I am in a constituency where the LibDems come third.  I don’t want a Tory MP, but I am NOT going to vote Labour, because I want my vote to be a signal – “I don’t want you governing any more”.   That is how a lot of people see their votes: it is what they think the whole point of voting comes down to.

So when they say:

My main point here is that, while electoral form may be desirable, Labour winning more seats with potentially the third most number of votes is not something for Labour to be ashamed of; it’s simply evidence that we’ve done well where it mattered under the current system.

the answer is NO.  You have done well because the consitutencies where you are strong are smaller than those where the Tories are strong.  Well done on that.   Unless you are showing off about some past act of gerrymandering, this is not really a Labour achievement.  I haven’t done the research, but it probably reflects how poor (i.e. Labour voting) contituencies have seen a gradual exodus over the years.  Done well?

And this is despicable: “In other words, Labour has organised successfully, so it may win; the Lib Dems have not, so they’re more likely to lose. ”  No – the LibDems have wider and broader support, less concentrated into convenient special interest groups.

Other inelegant attempts to keep Labour in power:

LabourList has ‘Hanging on till the queen’s speech

But if it does, let’s hope that the Prime Minister will stick to his guns right up to the vote on his government’s Queen’s Speech. If he does, he will maximise the chances, against all the odds, of emerging with a de facto alliance of convenience with the Lib Dems that will democratically reflect the overall majority in the election, both in votes and in seats, for the centre-left.’

No, it will confirm a lot of suspicions that Brown needs to be prised from power with a crowbar, even if 70+% of the voters vote against him.  And confirm unfair suspicions that a vote for Clegg – who reputedly hates Brown -is a vote for the status quo.

If Labour wonder how they could ever become more unpopular than they are now, the scenario sketched out by the writer above is a fair stab at it.  Stuart White – who linked to that piece – puts it best:

Labour is lower in the polls at the moment than it has been since the 1983 general election. But I dread to think how low the poll ratings would go if Labour attempted to cling on to office in the way that Barder describes.

But he seems to reach a very similar end point – Labour-Libdem coalition – on the hope that the Tories would be nervous about precipitating a second election.   Sunny reaches this point too – a Labour LibDem coalition.

Jonathan Freedland also calls for a Labour-LibDem coalition, and asks voters to vote tactically to help achieve one.

Finally, I find it extremely interesting that the Conservatives condemn minority governments for their back room dealings.  In this case, presumeably LibDem Conservative dealings.   This has always been a rubbish criticism.  All politics involves dealings.  The Labour majority of 100+ has simply meant backroom dealings without manifestos or recognised leaders – between factions within the parties, for example.  For the Conservatives, too – what do they think John Major’s 1995 leadership challenge was all about?  It was an attempt to bring the behind-the-scenes rowing into the open, democratically.  The Conservatives CONTINUE to be a coalition between their Europhile and Eurosceptic wing, for example.

But the Conservatives are clearly not particularly sincere on this one, if this story has any credence.  Instead of dealing with just the LibDems, they would rather go into the back room with the socialist SNP, the Unionists, Welsh Nationalists …  Again, power at all costs, principles come later …


20 thoughts on “Not knowing when to leave ….

  1. I agree with this completely.

    if Labour loses the election, then we should not be in power, seeking to hang on or doing any deals which involve begging for Lib Dem support or installing Nick Clegg as Prime minister. Quite apart from the fact that it is right in principle for Labour not to be in government if we lose, if Labour tries to cling on to power, then people will reasonably conclude that we obviously didn’t get the message and they need to vote against us in even greater numbers next time.

    The probable consequence of this will be some kind of Tory/Lib Dem deal, which will annoy some of the Lib and Tory grassroots, as well as a bunch of the people who voted Lib Dem thinking that it would be a way of keeping the Tories out, but so be it.

  2. “You have done well because the consitutencies where you are strong are smaller than those where the Tories are strong. ”

    The turnout is as important, and there’s nothing (compulsory voting aside) that can be done about that.

    I don’t really see a problem with one party having fewer votes than another but more seats which is anything additional to one party having 60% of the seats on 40% of the votes, ie what has happened many times. There’s no reason why the FPTP system should show any good relationship between seat share and vote share (in fact the default position is really 100% of the seats on any plurality % of the vote).

    This is not to say its a good system, it’s not, nor is it to say Gordon Brown should stay, he shouldn’t and he won’t.

  3. I’ve just received a communication regarding tactical voting from Compass, the Labour-derived activist grouping.

    I was initially sympathetic with the principle behind asking people to vote tactically, which can be boiled down to ‘vote whichever way keeps those evil Tories from winning your seat.’ But the missive then descends into a more tribal call for keeping Labour in power no matter what – not for any principle other than to keep out those nasty Tories (they’re posh y’know, and hate your children…). It includes an astonishing graph from Left Foot Forward (email prateek dot buch at gmail dot com if you’d like a look…) which lumps Labour and Lib Dem poll ratings together from the last few weeks – going upwards – and compares this with the downward Tory ratings, using this to justify that support for ‘a progressive alliance’ – completely ignoring the hidden collapse for Labour support that Cleggmania has masked…

    Polly Toynbee’s recent output strikes me as being similarly determined to show just how Labour could still remain in power – the emphasis being on the how, not the why.

    The bizarre possibility of the 3rd placed party forming a government is just too much – I went to a Rory Bremner show last night which had a Q & A session with Phillipe Sands QC and Andrew Gilligan, where the latter said this outcome would lead to a revolution – some suggestion from a Torygraph columnist 🙂

  4. “In other words, Labour has organised successfully, so it may win; the Lib Dems have not, so they’re more likely to lose.“

    Even leaving aside your point that Labour support is concentrated in certain areas by tradition rather than design, this is an extremely strange thing for him to say. LDs are known for targetting. That’s why LD seats have always gone up faster than LD vote share. The need for targetting was the great lesson of 1983. I’m amazed there are people left in local politics who haven’t noticed this. Unless when he says “organised” he means “have got sacks of cash out of the unions”.

  5. Giles

    I’ll be as brief as I can in my defence. Paul Sagar has been very sage in suggesting there’ll be a few fallouts before election day.

    ‘Despicable’ is a bit strong for a description of a position which I set out simply as a counterpoint to what I suggest is becoming the dominant anti-Labour narrative about the popular vote. You don’t refer to the fact that I balance this by setting out what i think may be the Lib Dem position on the matter, and which I in fact draw from the academic paper I refer to:

    “An inefficient distribution has long been a problem for the Liberal Democrats and their predecessors; at most contests they have been strong in just a few places, where they were able to target campaigning resources and had substantial numbers of activists willing to participate in long-term campaigns (Cutts, 2006). That strategy allowed them to increase their share of the seats in 1997 although their vote share declined. In 2001 and 2005 they spread their effort across a wider range of constituencies, to provide a firmer foundation for later campaigns.”

    If that spreading of your effort across the constituencies is now bearing fruit for you, in that you can now work up your ‘popular vote is more important than seats won’ narrative, then good luck to you – irrespective of whether or not this was an intentional strategy, as the paper suggests, or not.

    The development of this narrative, used primarily against Labour rather than, say, to question the legitimacy of a Tory government based on a % of the vote LESS than it gained in 2005, is understandable enough. But it is also perfectly reasonable of me to point out that Labour has been pursuing a ‘vote efficiency’ strategy in line with the current FPTP system, and like the Tories, and that the actual vote may not be a reflection of the popular will because of that.

    This does not mean I think FPTP is the right system, as it wastes votes like yours, and I say in my piece that I am in favour of electoral reform (bar the typo which makes it ‘form’!). It is merely to suggest – and here my sports analogy comes in – that the media narrative is effectively seeking to change the rules of ‘legitimate’ engagement at the end of the contest, not at the start (i.e you don’t take Rafael cup away again, but it’s ok to change to rules for later matches). This is not an attack on the LibDems, who have been on about PR for some time, but on those who couldn’t give a monkey’s about your wasted vote, or the concept of the popular vote, until it suited them.

    As for your suggestion that the Labour bias is caused by smaller constituencies, I’m not expecting you to do the research, which is why I linked to it. Yes, there is some bias in the size of constituencies under the politically neutral Electoral Commission, but the report is quite clear that the main imbalance comes from the way parties do their thing:

    “In sum, except for variations in constituency size, the workings of the FPTP system cannot be ‘blamed’ for delivering two landslide victories to Labour with less than 45 per cent of the votes in 1997 and 2001 and a third in 2005 when a 25 percentage points lead in seats over its main opponent emerged despite only a 3-point lead in vote share. Geography is key to those biases, but not the geography of constituency definition. Rather it is a combination of the geographies of party support, turnout and party campaigning within that geography which produces most of the bias, currently favouring Labour because of where its supporters live, where they turn out, and where it campaigns for their support. The geography of constituencies (i.e. the ‘system’) provides the template for this, but it is how voters and parties act within that template which generates the disproportionality” and bias.”

    Finally, you suggest that Labour has in fact failed because it has lower turnout in its core areas. This brings us back to my main point above that it can be argued that, in a FPTP system, Labour has simply operated rationally. As importantly though, there is the point set out in the paper I refer to that one of the reasons for lower turnout is the deindustrialisation policies of Thatcher, alongside anti-union legislation, which meant that a the key part of the Labour movment which had ‘got the vote out’ was dismantled in many areas. You may not wish to do so, but I regard the Labour party and trade union movement as a legitimate whole.

    Yes, you can argue that Labour should have coped better with this transformation of our ‘core constituencies’, when voting en masse became less of an explict act of solidarity (though this still happens, perversely, in Tory farming stronghold communities which a government has not sought actively to destroy).

    In short, there is much more to do with the hidden paces of power (Steven Lukes) about the ‘popular vote’ than your liberal stance allows you to perceive. Why do struggling single mums in council flats (to use Harris’ favourite object of social hate) tend not to vote? Christ, you don’t even have to use Lukes. Use Maslowe’s hierarchy of needs. Or Brecht: Erst kommt das Fressen, dann kommt die Moral.”

    Finally finally: one liberal’s “convenient special interest groups” is one socialist’s “working class”.

    Mmm, not that brief.

    1. Paul

      thanks for a reply that clearly had more thought and reading than my original one. Look, I appreciate the point that parties can only play by the rules that exist at the time. So it’s a bit like Bodyline; not banned, you have to win, do it, but allow the rules to be changed. As you say, acting rationally.

      I would caution, however, against the idea that because labour have campaigned under FPTP then they would have perhaps have done better in national vote share if that was the system instead. If every vote counted, what do you think the popular voting patterns would be? After all, if this rather spectacular reslt about how many WOULD vote LD were true, where would that extra 20% come from?

      My personal view is that Tories have this 30% bedrock of, well, capitalists (yes, I ought to be one). But Labour?

    2. “This brings us back to my main point above that it can be argued that, in a FPTP system, Labour has simply operated rationally”

      Rationally in their self-interest maybe. If they were acting rationally in the voters’ interests, they would’ve enacted electoral reform in 1997, when it was in their manifesto.

  6. Yes, the problem I have with pigeon holing you, which I’m very keen to do, is that you SHOULD be a capitalist, but you’re not. You’re a sort of modern say Sidney Webb, emotionally drawn to the defence of the well off, but too tied to the neatly observable empirical to really get to grips with the fact that you also are part of the systematic use of power to keep the working class in their place. Oh yeah. Fabian dude, that’s you.

    On the substantive matter you raise, I agree that that is what might happen in terms of current voting %s, but it’s the same side of the coin to argue that limited PR/STV/AV whatever (I’m against lists for obvious reasons) will at least to some extent draw forth the current non-voting Labour vote. Ask yourself why the presidential turnout in France in 2008 was 80%. The non-voters voted because they felt it counted that time around (got the ‘wrong’ answer, but more because the left failed nationally). PR may well make voting % soar, but if the left get the hang of it quickly, then they are likely to benefit at least as much as the LibDems (note non-tribal terminology).

    1. A good point on turnout. Let’s face it, there are too many variables to nail the counterfactual down*

      Hey, I AM emotionally drawn to the well-off. I am probably more a Whig Paternalist than anything. Have you read Marquand’s book? But I do dispute the term ‘working class’. Here is a point: the most potent attack on LD tax policy from the left is that the 10k band does not help the people who really count – the bottom 10-20%. And why? Because they don’t work. I’m not having a go at them – not their fault, mostly. But the Left and Labour in general is as much about defending those who are NOT making the surplus as the workers. If our economy goes as I hope it might, the ‘workers’ will be mostly flitting around knowledge types, real individualists, the sort it would be sheer hell to try to get into a union ….

      *my most economisticy sentence of the day. So far.

    2. “but too tied to the neatly observable empirical”

      As opposed to those who aren’t tied to the empirical?

      And here was me thinking that Marxism was supposed to be a scientific theory.

      (And I think that Giles WAS a capitalist of a sort in his past life)

      1. Not to worry.

        I am probably more a capitalist now than I was before. Before I was a dealer/manager/jack of all trades at a derivatives company/spreadbetting/all sorts. A capitalist running dog? Not sure what the correct terminology is.

  7. Giles

    I tend to use the term ‘working class’ in the way commonly used by socialist to describe people earning a way (surplus labour and all that) AND ‘the surplus army of labour’

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