Local Elections 2019: fudge, fluidity and fragmentation

Neal Lawson

Friday, 03 May 2019

The local election results that have come in show at least four things:

  1. That any idea that British politics has returned to a two party system was far too hasty.
  2. As a consequence politics is now more unpredictable than ever.
  3. That if you fudge you lose.
  4. And that hope comes from beyond party walls.

Let’s briefly unpack this.

Both Labour and the Tories look like they have done badly. Brexit is damaging both parties as Leave and Remain cut across the old class and voting tribes. Labour’s strategy has been to try to fudge the issue in the hope that the Tories implode before they do – and they might. But no one comes out of such an approach well. Indeed, chaos rarely benefits progressives.

Brexit is the most horrendously complex issue – for Compass as much as everyone. How do you square commitments to both internationalism and democracy? Well, you try – you jump into the complexity and talk about it, you listen, learn and adapt. It’s called doing politics. That’s why we have been advocating a Brexit Citizens’ Assembly and will continue to do so. What you don’t do, in the Labour leadership’s case, is really want Brexit to happen because you believe in socialism in one country (in the 21st century, really?) but fail to land any programme to show how it would be carried out – while stringing along Remainers and hoping they can be forever duped.

Three years have been wasted when real leadership would have focused on how to heal the nation not advance narrow party interest. Hence our Causes and Cures of Brexit. Nine years into the most incompetent Tory reign in living memory, Labour has to do better but shows few, if any, signs of learning, changing or developing. Fudging is not the same as healing.

In part, this all helps to explain the unexpectedly good results for the Liberal Democrats whose unambiguous Brexit message looks to have eventually paid off. And also the good results for the Greens – and their unambiguous commitment to the environment – in contrast to Labour who rightly back a Green New Deal and wrongly nod through a third runway at Heathrow. The aspiration is green but the practice is same old, same old. People see this.

One tragedy is that good councillors and councils lose out because national politics in Britain is so dominant that real localism finds it so tough to flourish. And the irony is that British politics is becoming more and more European despite Brexit, with party fragmentation, the rise of more independents and more councils in no overall control.

All this tells us just how fluid and febrile the political world is – and therefore how unpredictable. When people can shift and flow so much so quickly – just look at the way Change UK light up the sky for a week and how the Brexit Party can launch and go to 28% in the polls in a blink – we need a politics that can deal with this complexity and fluidity. Proportional representation is now just the bottom line entry point of the democratic revolution we need. And then it needs to go much deeper – to real deliberation and devolution.

But as ever, as we have been saying in 45° Change and everywhere – the real innovation and change is happening outside Westminster. Just look at the effect of Extinction Rebellion on the climate debate, the way cities and towns are flourishing despite the dominance of the centre, or how a new youthful European-wide party can spring into life. Everywhere you look people are negotiating the future in a world defined by ‘our inalienable right to participation’. 

Westminster will wake up and change or it will just become even more irrelevant. The upshot of that is either authoritarian populism or a democratic, social and cultural revolution made by the people for the people through a Progressive Alliance. We know what we want.

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  1. Posted by Robin Nuttall

    I live in West Somerset and for the first time in my life I couldn’t vote for a Labour candidate because there weren’t any. In the whole area there was only one Labour candidate, standing for Alcombe, which is not my ward. He came last. In another ward, Quantock Vale, the Tories fielded the only candidate so he got his seat without a single vote being cast.
    Democracy is dead.

    Reply
  2. Posted by Clem Alford

    Brexit is a good divide and rule tool. Both party governments have used the importation of free movement both of people and money to undermine the British working class and the British national identity.
    My father used to say that in order to be a good internationalist you had to have something national to be inter about! The only people enjoying the fruits of being in the EU are the globalist bosses, with cheap un-unionised labour and landlords and property speculators. I supported the late Tony Benn’s position on the EU. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dQY2CHx4d3U&t=32s
    I agree with Tony

    Reply
  3. Posted by Alexander Blackburn

    Both the 2 main parties deserve to lose loads of seats, however unfair that is to councillors who’ve been doing a frequently thankless task, in light of the uselessness of the leaderships of the Conservative and Labour parties.
    Labour should be opposing Brexit unequivocally, given that is a creature of the hard right, driven by lies and fraud. Instead, all we get is a two faced, cowardly fudge that is thankfully, not fooling us remainers.

    Reply
  4. Posted by Tom Nicholls

    What is the point of leaving a comment , and that is the last you here of it. I realize you must be busy but at least you could delegate a voluntiire to acknowledge comments.

    Reply
  5. Posted by Sara

    Westminster in out of date, a party systems with one party in control is broken and the lords and parliament are a dinosaur of an age the rest of the population is no longer in. It needs a massive overhaul, it needs to catch up or get lost!

    Reply
  6. Posted by Crispin Avon

    Hi Neil, sorry I wasn’t able to attend the AGM. As you mentioned in the Annual Report, Compass gained a large amount of donations during the 2017 Progressive Alliance campaign. This was when I joined Compass. But the Progressive Alliance shouldn’t have just been a limited time scale campaign. It should be a stand alone part of Compass, with the job trying to actively form Progressive Alliances across parliamentary constituencies and boroughs. The Greens and Lib Dems have done well without help from a Compass organised Progressive Alliance in the Borough Council elections. Think how much better they would have done if we’d had a Progressive Alliance phone bank, persuading people to vote for these two progressive parties.While we’re still in the EU, I can call the UK free of charge from my UK mobile, so if Compass is going to support progressives at the EU parliamentary election, send me a list and I can make some calls! People want to see political parties working together. I think that having Progressive Alliance as a semi-independent organisation within Compass would attract a lot more support for Compass and encourage local progressive parties to form Progressive Alliances.

    Reply
  7. Posted by Julian Batsleer

    “Fudge” is far too loaded / tendentious. Why not start from the position that all those serious about beginning to create a good society from the fractured and contested polity which we currently have will have to learn low to live with and inhabit quite major conflicts / tensions / conradictions. The binary ‘leave / remain” thinking is exactly what we need to move beyond. That cannot, however, be done in some sort of idealised vacuum; we have to start from exploring and considering (and not leaping to demonisation) positions of possible compromise and negotation.

    So, in the current situation, the Labour Party’s official position of being both pro-Brexit and pro-Remain may not be tenable longer term, but is a not unrealistic place to start from. Taking Harold Wilson’s original position in 1974, for instance, it is not an entirely stupid position for the current Labour Party to support some sort of customs deal (along the lines developed, inter alia, by Nic Boles, Lucy Powell and Stephen Kinnock) and at the same time to accept that such an eventual position needs to be endorsed by a confirmatory vote (preferably general election) and that the party will neither whip its MPs and members one way or the other.

    One of the weaknesses of ‘getting off the fence’ and aligning with The People’s Vote campaign is that PV does not seek to build support from those in favour of Brexit. Moreover, given the fractured context in which any such vote will take place, some thought needs to be given to what constitutues a democratic outcome. Another simple majority of those who vote will merely compound and deepen conflicts and the wnaing of support for democratic forms. Even 65% in favour of an outcome will not be acceptable if that 65% is not more than %1% of the total electorate.

    So, please Compass, in your attempt to develop a new politics and avoid tribalism through the long, laborous process of creating Citizen’s Assemblies and other forms of participation in public decision-making, do not join the increasingly ‘populist’ / uncritical lambasting of the Labour Party’s attempts (albeit very cackhanded) to inhabit some of the ineluctabe conflicts and contradictions faced by the UK. Creative ambiguity is ot necessarily an untenable position to hold in the midst of swirling uncertainties.

    Reply
  8. Posted by Dr. David Peat

    How can parties of the Centre-Left learn to be more co-operative at
    election times? Should Compass start a campaign to encourage
    this, and find possible well-known figures to give support?

    Reply
  9. Posted by NEAL

    Thanks Crispin – we are thinking about this and what we do if Labour refuses to reciprocate – which they have – how do we beat first past the p[ost to change first past the post?

    and Julian you are right – we need to be careful with language

    Reply
  10. Posted by Alan calder

    Corbyn to step down,Starmer to replace him and Labour to adopt Remain as their policy. Result? Landslide for Labour at next election. No more fudge no matter how sweet it tastes.

    Reply
  11. Posted by Richard Bell

    One way to make a ‘progressive’ agenda more manifest and influential in society would be to begin drafting a constitution, subject to permanent, genuine, democratic negotiation, The diverse, adherent political parties would have the freedom and discretion to propose alternative policies, but always be constrained to reconcile divergent views in line with the core values represented by that constitution, in a spirit of critical but positive universal communication.

    Reply
  12. Posted by Len Roberts

    Surely the real first priority should be real and lasting devolution.
    And a return to a proper system of local taxation. Almost everyone is interested in their local roads, their schools, their local health services, local planning and so on. Real involvement in very concrete things. That is the real meaning of democracy and participation. What people are tired of is endless generalisation and talk which is inevitable the higher the level of discourse – and in that you could include People’s Assemblies.

    Call it subsidiarity.

    Why not go for the jugular?

    Len

    PS. The smallness of the window hardly encourages ” having your say”

    Reply
  13. Posted by Gawaine Parker

    Labour and the Tories promised they would abide by the result of the referendum and they didn’t. They betrayed the voters and betrayed democracy and now they are reaping what they sowed. The EU is not Europe, its just a crooked institution and our politicians have shown their true colours. This is a great day, Brexit, I’m loving it more and more.

    Reply
  14. Posted by Jane Hamilton

    So long as we have the First Past the Post system, we need a joined up alternative to Labour and Conservatives, who are both broken. We need the Lib Dems, the Greens and Change UK to find the common ground, join together and become a force to be reckoned with. None of them can realistically challenge the status quo on their own in these critical times.

    Reply
  15. Posted by lynne ismail

    I think that we are living through a political transition. That people are fed up with duplicitous politicians. It is turning them off, hence the unpredictability and the split in the votes. This situation is perhaps a precursor for the demise of our present political system to pave the way for a radical new one and more progressive one.

    Reply
  16. Posted by Eileen Davies

    I would like more emphasis on making sure we get one person one vote stop using only initials there are lots of people to whom the initials mean nothing. and if not politically oriented they in fact are just turned off.
    in this country the system allows the rich tax breaks and the poorer on low incomes pay a hefty share of taxes. it is time for some revolutionary thinking I believe we are one of the few democracies that never had a revolution Since Norman times our rights seem to have been constantly degraded except when unions came into play but now they seem to be totally ineffective. sorry to be so longwinded but I do try to educate without turning people off entirely

    Reply
  17. Posted by Jasper Tomlinson

    Democracy – how to fix it

    In ancient Greece it was accepted that voting your representatives into office was the high road to tyranny. The philosophers set this out clearly. The people assented.

    Our lauded ‘representative democracy’ system today embraces 40 countries and more. A few already have their own dictator installed. Several may be on the waiting list. Hitler is firmly in my memory (I am 89). Mugabe, is one from a substantial number of others and from another part of the world. All of them were created in the embrace of ‘representative democracy’.

    For the UK today it is time to cut to the chase:
    – Eliminate elected politicians from our House of Commons by random selection of parliamentarians from local electoral registers, without making any other changes.
    – Otherwise let everything else remain in place, including committee structures, the clerks’ office, the Speaker, even Black Rod.
    – Civil servants – after some strengthening – continue running the country, the job they are paid to do.
    And so forth…

    A.C. Grayling when asked to comment – in professorial mode – told me this was called Sortition. Yes, interesting. More to the point, he declared the outcome would almost certainly be better than what we have got – but how do we persuade a conservative and tribal British people to go along with it?

    How, indeed?

    Jasper Tomlinson, MA(Oxon) CEnv

    Reply