Monday, 12 June 2017

Life in Remainville: Episode 3, A New Hope

So it turns out the method of counting window posters is scientific, with Jeff Smith crushing all before him:

+/- %
Jeff Smith
John Leech
Liberal Democrat
Sarah Heald
Laura Bannister
Sally Carr
Women’s Equality

Far from being a marginal, Withington must now be one of the safest seats in the country. The Lib Dems remain in second place but will surely now turn their attention to more winnable targets. The Greens' collapse mirrors their poor performance nationally, while the Tories have benefitted only marginally from the disappearance of UKIP.

What a turnaround we've seen since the start of the campaign, and even the local elections, when it seemed like Big Andy would be the only Labour politician left standing by June. Perhaps in fact it was those local elections that made all the difference. As Sr. Spielbergo noted on that day, the poor result for Labour could have had a positive psychological effect by bringing home the scale of the defeat they faced if they didn't start pulling together, while conversely the Tories started to believe in the inevitability of their landslide. The manifestos that emerged shortly afterwards reflected this: a well-crafted effort from Labour that was both bold and could be embraced by the whole party, while the Tory manifesto was filled with bizarre hobby horses and dripping with hubris.

The local elections also severely hobbled the Lib Dems, who threw away the momentum they had carefully build up over the course of many by-elections with a disastrous start to their campaign, and actually managed to lose seats on May 4th. By the time Labour had successfully established the election battleground on the economic axis, there was no way in for a Brexit-oriented interloper. The transformation is most obvious in next door Gorton, which the Lib Dems had a good chance of winning in the original by-election but in the general election faded back into fourth. The final result nationally was actually not too bad for them, and perhaps their time will come when Brexit actually happens, but for now it's all too soon.

When I've looked back at my 2015 piece on Corbyn written just before he became leader, I've mostly been struck by how optimistic I was, even so soon after the terrible and unexpected disaster of the general election. That optimism has, to put it mildly, been tested by the events since, and looking for hopeful signs was a forlorn exercise right up until 11 May when the manifesto was leaked. By 26 May, YouGov was indicating a hung parliament. Now I'm struck by how close we've got to scenario #1 in such an astonishingly short period of time. Perhaps that long-hoped-for, never-to-arrive Progressive Moment brought on by the financial crisis is finally upon us.

It's also interesting how closely the general election has mirrored Corbyn's first leadership campaign. To political insiders too familiar with his long history as a fringe politician and champion of lost causes, he was a no-hoper. But to the ordinary voter, he's a fresh face with a sensible and inspiring platform. And all the feared attacks from the right wing press reminding us of the skeletons in his closet really did just bounce off him. Perhaps finally their power is broken.

(It's remarkable too how Scotland has yet again played a decisive role in proceedings: this time through electing enough new Tory MPs to keep them in government.)

Before getting carried away, I remain thoroughly suspicious about Labour's approach to Brexit in general (reaffirmed by John McDonnell yesterday), and angry in particular at their manifesto commitment to end free movement, but I've never been under any illusion that my views are popular and perhaps Labour's cunning fudge of the issue will continue to be acceptable to both pro-European voters and a sizeable chunk of former UKippers for as long as they need it to be. One thing is for sure, with a hung parliament the prospects for a non-catastrophic Brexit now look rosier that at any time since the referendum.

That is a concern for another day anyway. For now the most important thing for us humble voters is to sit back and enjoy the beautiful and unexpected spectacle of Tory disarray. A toast to optimism, and a mission accomplished.

Wednesday, 7 June 2017

Life in Remainville: Smith vs Leech revisited

In case you were thinking the main contenders had gone quiet, I can assure you that our hallway carpet continues to be submerged in red and yellow leaflets. We've received a CV from John Leech, a personal letter from Jeff Smith, an even more personal psuedo-handwritten letter from the Manchester Mum of the Year describing how Leech helped her child get medical treatment, two reminders to vote on Thursday, and more besides. But rather than attempt to scan all that lot in I'll just share the two which best summarise their respective campaigns.

Here's Smith's effort, complete with endorsement from Big Andy and a number of references to police cuts (a growing theme in the Labour material):

 (Top prize for misleading stat there with the 93% line)

And here is Leech, no longer featuring photos of Corbyn but abstract references to infighting instead.

(I'm still trying to understand the logic of the "more spending, more taxes, no plan to pay for it" critique)

The truth is my view hasn't really changed since 2015 that either candidate would be a good MP, as both have now proved. But Brexit of course is a new dividing line. I'm still very suspicious of Labour's approach, even if their obfuscation has clearly been very good for them electorally. I'm especially dismayed by their rightwards shift on immigration in the manifesto. I hope the line about free movement ending is some kind of clever lawyer-worded cheat that still allows for a soft brexit, but a big leap of faith is required here.

Having said that, I think Smith has done enough for me to believe that he will fight for the interests of Remain voters just as hard as Leech would, against his own party if necessary. And perhaps his voice of sanity within Labour will have a greater influence overall than one more Lib Dem could have.

So as far as these two are concerned the Brexit issue is a neutral one, and leaving that aside the Labour manifesto is excellent. While the Lib Dems are certainly much improved since 2015, they aren't in the same league as Labour on the non-Brexit issues, and their wrong-headed attacks on Labour's financial acumen still put me off. I'm sticking with Jeff.

Tuesday, 6 June 2017

Life in Remainville: attack of the nasty old also-rans

Pantomime villain Sarah Heald finally appears in leaflet form:

One of the most content-free leaflets I've ever seen, though don't worry because Team May is here to explain all...

I guess this leaflet was produced back when standing with Theresa May was considered to be an advantage, maybe not so much now. Everything else about it has a distinctly phoned-in quality, not least that the designer couldn't even be bothered to replace "MY CANDIDATE" with the actual name of the candidate.

Even if the Tories do end up with a 100+ majority after all, I will at least take solace that Her Candidate is not going to Westminster.

Life in Remainville: a teachable moment

That must have been a particularly engaged art class...

Thursday, 1 June 2017

Life in Remainville: at the Hustings

To St Clements, scene of the 2015 hustings, for a re-run. With the Big Two back again with much the same views I didn't learn a whole lot that would sway my vote, although Jeff Smith's vow to keep fighting for the interests of pro-Europeans was welcome. He had a neat line on a second referendum, being sympathetic to one but noting the necessity of a change in public opinion first, which he predicted would happen. Smith's vote against Article 50 has indeed innoculated him against a clear line of attack from John Leech, and Brexit was far from the dominant theme of the evening, putting a question mark over the very name of this blog series.

Much more focus was on questions of tax and spending, which is exactly where Labour needs the debate to be and very bad news for the Lib Dems. Leech's other main attack was that a vote for Smith is a vote for Corbyn Chaos, but the lack of reaction confirmed my feeling that Withington is not the most receptive area in the country to this argument. I can understand the need for Leech to try to make this the dividing line when they agree on so much else, but it feels like he's playing a weak hand (particularly of course with a newly resurgent Corbyn).

With UKIP absent, the pantomime villain role went to Sarah Heald of the Conservatives, particularly when she came out in favour of grammar schools and accused other party manifestos of being poorly costed. It fell to Laura Bannister of the Greens to point out just how hypocritical this is coming from the party with the completely uncosted manifesto. Heald was keen to make crime the issue of the day but amusingly the crime questions on the list didn't make the cut. She also claims to have polls showing her to be the main opposition to Smith in this seat; I guess we'll find out soon enough.

Best line of the night went to Sally Carr for noting that white goods purchases come with a cooling off period and therefore so should Brexit. The Women's Equality Party were out in force in the audience and Carr certainly highlighted/crowbarred their agenda into virtually every question, so perhaps it was worth setting the party up in the first place after all. I'm suspicious of any party that describes itself as "non-partisan" however.

Overall nothing that would give Jeff Smith any cause for worry, and I remain convinced he'll win big next week despite the ongoing Lib Dem leaflet assault (two more this week).