Brexit and Political Parties: Challenges and Opportunities

Danny Rye, Lecturer in Politics, Liverpool Hope University ryed@hope.ac.uk

As a result of the vote to leave the European Union, party politics as usual, if there ever was such a thing, has been shaken. The referendum itself and the ensuing debate about Brexit has exposed the instabilities, contingencies and fragilities at the heart of the main parliamentary parties. We do not yet know what the effect of this will be, but British political parties face key challenges and opportunities as a result, and how they respond to them could have major implications for them and for the shape of the party system.

A glance back at British political history tells us that the structure and configuration of political parties has been periodically subject to this kind of flux and instability at times of social and economic change, leading to sometimes significant reconfigurations or reorganisations of the party system. In 1832, for instance, an organised Tory party first emerged out of the process of resistance to and the aftermath of the Great Reform Act, establishing what we would recognise as a two party system, with a government opposed by a ‘loyal opposition’. The ensuing need for competitive appeal to voters and the emergence of ‘Liberal’ and ‘Conservative’ labels brought the party system into the modern age. Following the First World War and the ‘confusion’ of parties that emerged from it, the changing social and political landscape, including the emergence of class and the decline of religion as key political dividing lines and the extension of the franchise saw in the 1920s the decline of the Liberals and the rise of Labour as the main alternative to the Conservatives, a rise interrupted by a split in the party over its handling of depression and economic crisis in 1929-31 and the formation of the National Coalition. The collapse of the post 1945 consensus, following the failures of Wilson, Callaghan and Heath governments in the 1970s to address Britain’s economic and industrial problems led to the emergence of Thatcherism, a split in the Labour Party and the formation of the SDP, as well as the emergence of the Scottish and Welsh nationalist parties and the Liberal revival in the 70s, giving shape to the politics of the last thirty years.

What each of these developments have in common is that in the face of major political or economic crises, the existing party configurations, allegiances, alliances, positions proved inadequate and some kind of realignment, if not inevitable, became necessary. It is tempting in such circumstance to imagine that the hand of history is at play and that there is little that can be done to arrest the inevitable consequence of it. However, history is not something that is done to us, but something in which we participate. The political world just like our social environment is in ‘constant process and transformation’ a process of ‘perpetual motion’ and history is ‘a series of specific events’ in which we are ‘consciously involved and … can consciously influence’[1]. Thus, outcomes that seem inevitable in retrospect, like the emergence of the two party system in the first place, like the decline of the Liberal Party and the rise of the Labour Party are not necessarily so.  Crucially, the contingencies, the avoidable errors and unexpected successes can be at least as important. The response to such events therefore is crucial to the effects that they have. Thus the political virtuosity with which political leaders and politicians respond to the Fortuna of events can have profound consequences.

For British political parties, then, the aftermath of the referendum may be one of these moments. Brexit presents challenging issues and potential opportunities for parties’ stability and success. It has presented challenges for party leadership and management by exposing or sharpening existing divisions and creating new ones, opening questions about future direction.In this short article, I will briefly outline some of these issues and what they might mean for the parties.

Conservative Issues, Challenges and Opportunities

The first challenge that the Conservative Party faces is trying to find ways to bridge its continuing divisions in the party over Europe. Tensions over Europe in the party are deep and persistent and it was David Cameron’s attempt to do just this that gave rise to the referendum in the first place. The increasingly Eurosceptic make-up of the Parliamentary Conservative Party meant that whilst those who could be called ‘Europhiles’ had greatly diminished in number, the most significant division in the party now emerging was between ‘soft’ Eurosceptics, who supported membership but argued that integration should go no further, and an increasingly vocal band of ‘hard’ Eurosceptics, who advocated withdrawal altogether[2]. Cameron’s attempts to appeal to this arguably stoked the problem rather than healed it. His 2005 leadership campaign promise to withdraw from the centre-right European People’s Party in the European Parliament was fulfilled (after some prevarication), but the pledge of a referendum on the Lisbon Treaty was deemed irrelevant following its ratification in 2009. In January 2013, Cameron was effectively forced into conceding a referendum (dependent on a Conservative majority) after 81 MPs defied the party whip to vote in favour of one following a Backbench debate in the House of Commons. It was clear that Cameron’s move had failed abjectly to dampen the growing Eurosceptic revolt when in May, 116 Conservative MPs rebelled on the Queen’s Speech, by voting for an amendment ‘regretting’ the absence of a referendum bill from the government’s legislative programme. Party leaders were forced to allow backbenchers a free vote and even ministers were permitted to abstain.

When Cameron won his unexpected majority in 2015, he had to deliver on his referendum promise. However, the effect was to galvanise Eurosceptic MPs by providing both a unifying focus for an otherwise unorganised group with differing aims and motivations[3], and leadership, which it had lacked up to this point. The decision of both Michael Gove and Boris Johnson to support the Leave campaign, brought high profile, mainstream ‘big hitters’ with a strong public appeal and significant communications skills to the Leave side. This was made easier, moreover, by Cameron’s insistence during the referendum campaign that he would not engage in ‘blue on blue’ attacks, a source of frustration for some on the Remain campaign team, as Craig Oliver’s recent memoir on the referendum campaign attests. Nevertheless, much of the media coverage seemed fixated on the divisions in the Conservative Party anyway, a substantial amount of it through the prism of whether Cameron was likely to Remain leader or not afterwards[4]. Thus, whilst the referendum did not create new divisions in the party, it focused, sharpened and exposed them.

Although the party’s claim to be the ‘natural’ party of government is not as strong as it was, the Conservatives were able to find a unity of purpose in its desire and instinct to govern. In the immediate aftermath of the referendum, it looked as if the party might have lost sight of this, but in the end it was able to settle the leadership relatively quickly following Cameron’s resignation after the referendum defeat. Conservative leadership election rules give party members a choice between two potential leaders whittled down by MPs. Given the Eurosceptic bent of the party’s relatively small membership of around 150,000, the post-Brexit leadership contest held potential to reinforce a grass-roots revolt by presenting members with the possibility of voting for a vocal supporter of ‘Hard Brexit’. In the end, however, the inheritors would not be the architects of the Leave campaign. Michael Gove’s ‘knifing’ of Boris Johnson ended his candidacy before it even began but it did Gove no good either who was eliminated, just as Liam Fox and Steven Crabb had been in earlier rounds. Members were therefore left with a choice between Theresa May, Home Secretary since 2010 and a Remain supporter, albeit a relatively reticent one (as Craig Oliver’s account of the campaign attests), and Andrea Leadsom who had come to prominence as a high profile and effective advocate for the Leave campaign. Given the orientation of the membership, there was every possibility that Leadsom might win, a potential result that could have put the parliamentary party and the party in the country at loggerheads. However, it was never put to the vote. Leadsom withdrew from the contest stating that she could not justify going to the membership ballot with support from only 25% of MPs. Theresa May, was installed quickly as the new party leader and prime minister on 13 July just a few days after the contest officially began, displaying the strong instinct for survival that characterises the Conservative Party’s staying power and success.

The Conservative Party, therefore, in sorting out the leadership swiftly demonstrated that it had not lost touch with what it has seen as its historic purpose above all, to govern. Leadsom standing down meant, first of all, that the party was spared the possibility of a ‘revolt’ by members which may have created further crises; secondly, that leadership and therefore some direction on Brexit could be established quickly – curtailing the possibility of continued political limbo and uncertainty over the summer period; thirdly, it meant that an impression of strong leadership could be given to contrast with the divisions in the Labour party that had exploded into public view in the aftermath of the referendum and used to the party’s advantage.

May, moreover, came through looking like a reassuring, mature, statesmanlike figure. She won appearing to be above the fray, without apparently getting her hands dirty, by sitting back and allowing her rivals to self-destruct. She was perhaps not so much the winner as the last one standing when the firing stopped. She was also in many ways the ideal unity candidate.  She supported Remain, but took a cautious, low profile during the referendum campaign, and on assuming the leadership insisted that ‘Brexit means Brexit’, appointing prominent Eurosceptics to the key positions coordinating the process of exit. Thus, it seemed possible that divisions over Europe might finally have been put to rest in the Conservative Party. Perhaps the party would finally stop ‘banging on about Europe’ (as Cameron had always wanted) and begin to show some unity of purpose behind a new leader with a clear sense of direction. Now that this issue of EU membership had been resolved, the party could come together in the interests of the nation.

However, despite the initial truce, there is, as yet, no sign of the divisions coming to an end. Post-referendum, the distinction between hard Eurosceptics and supporters of membership have transmogrified into an emerging division between supporters of ‘hard’ and ‘soft’ Brexit which has created some further party management issues for the new Prime Minister. Analysis of recent parliamentary debates[5] reveals that Hard Brexiters have made a range of different arguments, some taking an economically liberal line, based on global free trade and a competitive open economy based on low-tax and low-regulationwhilst others take a more ‘nationalistic’ position more directly resonant with the ‘taking control’ mantra of the Leave campaign, interpreting the referendum result as a vote for control over borders (against free movement), finances (against paying fees) and law (against the European Court of Justice) which rules out remaining in the single market under any terms since it would represent a ‘betrayal’ of what the British people had voted for. ‘Soft Brexit’ supporters on the other hand disagree. The strongest line is taken by ‘single marketeers’ whose arguments are oriented around the economic importance of being part of such a major free market, including a defence of the free movement of labour. Others are more pragmatic, expressing concerns about the impacts that the UK extricating itself from key arrangements and institutions like the single market might have on specific sectors, businesses, and industries, seeking assurances that their needs are fully understood. Thus the referendum has clearly not put the issue of Europe to rest in the Conservative Party and, if anything, the divisions between ‘Hard’ and ‘Soft’ Brexiters have become fiercer and hardened by the constitutional dimensions about the role of parliament that are emerging as part of this debate. Hard Brexiters have tended to argue that the referendum result is a clear instruction for complete withdrawal (i.e. ‘Hard Brexit’) and does not require any further interpretation or debate in Parliament,which has in any case delegated its sovereignty to the people in this matter. The latter, on the other hand, have argued that Parliament must play role in providing a mandate to the government as demanded by established constitutional practice and to provide the public with confidence in the integrity of the process. The divisions in the party are only strengthened by these more procedural dimensions and – as contributions to Parliamentary debates show – underlined by mistrust. ‘Soft Brexiters’ are accused of using arguments about parliamentary sovereignty to frustrate the process and undermine the will of the British peoplewhilst ‘Hard Brexiters’ are, in turn, are accused of seeking to bypass Parliament’s ‘historic’ and constitutional role as a sovereign body because it is unlikely to come up with an answer that they would like.

The party leadership has attempted to navigate these continuing divisions by maintaining a reticence on the detail of how it wishes to proceed with Brexit and what the outcome should be. The Government has been accused therefore of having no discernible plan, whilst claiming that revealing its negotiating hand to parliament will weaken its position.  This may be so, but there are also likely to be important party management reasons for this reticence too.  Revealing the government’s position is bound to incur the wrath of one side or another in the debate and may yet precipitate further splits and even endanger her own position as leader. After Thatcher and Major, the issue of Europe has dispensed with a third Conservative Prime Minister. There is, as yet, no guarantee that it will not dispense with a fourth.

Labour Issues, Challenges and Opportunities

An important advantage that the Conservatives have, however, is that the opposition is also divided on at least three levels. Firstly, there are and have been growing divisions within the party between the mainstream majority of the parliamentary party and the party membership which has been most clearly exposed by the election and re-election of Jeremy Corbyn as the party’s leader. He was not even expected to get on the ballot but a campaign by constituency activists to persuade enough MPs to nominate him (he needed 35) in order to ‘widen the debate’ worked.  That he went on to win illuminated the fact that many members and supporters, old and new, profoundly disagreed with the direction of the party and rejected the implied prescription of other ‘mainstream’ leadership candidates that the Labour Party had lost in 2015 because they had, under Ed Miliband, been too strongly associated with an anti-austerity position. Indeed, it appeared that the majority of the party’s electorate felt the opposite and thanks to rule changes made by Miliband, MPs (and trade unions too) lost the weighted votes that the old electoral college system gave them and could now more easily have a leader they did not want imposed upon them.

That this happened means there is now also a stark division, secondly, between much of the Parliamentary Labour Party – whose ideological positions range from a small group of so-called ‘Blairite’ reformists, to mainstream ‘soft left’ MPs – and the leadership, which now is effectively in the hands of key members of the left-wing Campaign Group. Any attempts to paper over this division fell apart spectacularly in the aftermath of the Referendum.  Corbyn’s support for the Remain campaign during the referendum was regarded by many party moderates as somewhat lacklustre and equivocal at best and his reported initial response to the result that Article 50 should be triggered ‘immediately’ was greeted with incredulity by a number of Labour MPs who supported the Remain campaign. This division was exposed most destructively in the resignation of over 60 MPs from the front bench and a vote of no confidence by the Parliamentary Labour Party in the leader which took place immediately after the EU Referendum in June 2016. This attempt to force him out failed. Corbyn refused to go and thus a leadership challenge followed in which Owen Smith, although claiming the support of the vast majority of the parliamentary party, went down to defeat by 62% to 38%.

Since then, an uneasy peace has settled over the party in parliament, but divisions are not far beneath the surface and have emerged over the party’s response to Brexit, albeit without the same degree of publicly expressed rancour. Labour has started to shape a more directed response to the government on Brexit, steered by Keir Starmer, which has met with some success in pressing the government to reveal its plans, but Labour’s somewhat nuanced position seems to be hiding some deeper divisions, some of these between the PLP and party leaders (in reported tensions between Starmer and the Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell for instance), but also between MPs representing Remain supporting, cosmopolitan constituencies and those in Leave supporting ones.

This exposes a further important division, thirdly, which is the dislocation between the party generally and substantial parts of its ‘traditional’ working class support, especially in the North of England. Labour MPs were overwhelmingly Remain supporters during the referendum (just ten MPs out of 232 supported the Leave campaign), and so were most party supporters, but many of its so-called ‘traditional’ heartlands voted to overwhelmingly leave: although more than two thirds of party supporters voted Remain, seven out of ten Labour held seats voted Leave[6].  Thus, contributions to parliamentary debates[7] indicate that whilst most Labour MPs are inclined to take a Soft Brexit position, emphasising the importance of access to the single market in particular and clarity and reassurance for key businesses and employers, some Remain-supporting Labour MPs have in response begun to adjust their position. Ending free movement for them has become, post-Brexit, a ‘red line’and despite ‘proven economic benefits’ Steven Kinnock argued in a recent Fabian publication that it ‘is not socially and politically sustainable’. Failure to address it, wrote Rachel Reeves in the same publication, would be tantamount to ‘holding the voters in contempt[8] However, at the same time key party leadership figures have argued a different line. Diane Abbot, for instance, in a November 26 interview in The Guardian argued that Labour needs to hold its nerve and maintain its support for free movement and defend immigration, reflecting views expressed by Corbyn himself that immigration is not in itself the issue so much as the resources communities have to cope with it. [9]   

The trick that the Labour Party has to perform is to hold on to its old heartlands in the face of the challenges of Brexit, whilst seeking to build new constituencies of support. Corbyn seems to have made great strides in the latter. His leadership has clearly galvanised a large number of people and membership now stands at over 500,000 (it was 200,000 in 2015) bucking the general trend of decline in party membership across western Europe. This might indicate it seems a strength of appeal in leadership that many political parties lack. However, polls have suggested his appeal amongst the electorate is low and, furthermore, his approach has also raised questions about Labour’s function and focus. Is it an electoral party that seeks office through maximising votes, or is it a mass membership movement that seeks to mobilise opposition to the existing political consensus? A successful political party needs in some sense to be both but in a political system which is heavily centred on the sovereignty of parliament and is likely to get more so in some respects (because of leaving the EU), it is difficult to see how a genuine political breakthrough can be made without control of the parliamentary arena.

Liberal Democrats

Another party in desperate need of a breakthrough is the Liberal Democrats. The first challenge the party faces is their weak parliamentary position and, thus, relatively low levels of influence. They were almost destroyed as a parliamentary force at the 2015 general election. They lost large number of voters, not least because having been part of the Coalition government with the Conservatives from 2010-15, the party could no longer rely on being a repository of protest votes. However, they gained no reward from elsewhere either, least of all their coalition partners. Indeed, they lost all 15 seats in their South West ‘heartland’, almost all of them to the Conservatives who ruthlessly targeted their seats. Overall, the result of that election was catastrophic, being reduced from a total of 57 MPs to just eight. Despite being the most Euro-enthusiastic party of all, and not long out of government, the Liberal Democrats were, due to their much diminished status, largely absent from the referendum campaign, and there were a distinct lack of significant roles for the party leader, Tim Farron, in key debates or on Remain platforms.

However, in the post-referendum landscape, their clear pro-European position has presented them with an opportunity, especially in the face of division or lack of clarity coming from the two main parties. They have cultivated and emphasised this pro-European voice in Parliament and their decision to oppose the (amended) Opposition Day motion in Parliament on 7th December which set a date for triggering Article 50 has set them apart as taking a strong anti-Brexit, or at least anti-Hard Brexit line on which it shares common ground with the Greens, Nationalists and a small number of Labour MPs. They have also sought to emphasise democratic credentials by developing this into a campaign for a further referendum on the outcome of negotiations. This is a distinctive line of argument taken by the remaining Liberal Democrats and their leader, Tim Farron, underlining their emergence as a clear, pro-Remain voice in the current political landscape.  This appears to be attracting significant new membership (the party currently claims around 80,000 members) and growing support which has culminated in a stunning by-election success at the Richmond Park by-election on 1st December. Thus although severed at the head in 2015, the Liberal Democrats appear to be growing back at the roots.

UKIP

UKIP was founded for the express purpose of agitating for, and winning, a referendum on membership of the European Union, and its unity of purpose in this respect at least was not in doubt. Despite only having one MP, UKIP has, in terms of setting the agenda, framing the debate and achieving political goals, been just about the most successful and effective political party of recent times. Both the staging and the outcome of the referendum represents the fulfilment of its founding purpose, which is something not all parties can claim, and underlines the perceived and real threat they have posed to both main parties. It is therefore an unequivocal success for UKIP as party and its members and leaders could be forgiven for basking in its success.

Leadership has clearly been vital to UKIP’s success. The achievement of its goal is in no small measure down to the skill and astuteness of Nigel Farage as a political operator and communicator. The pressure that the party’s success under his leadership has put on the main parties is what led to the promise of a referendum in the first place and the sharpening of the divide between Labour and its once taken-for-granted Northern heartlands. What he and UKIP have successfully done is, first, frame the impacts of the financial crisis as a problem of immigration and, second, linked the question of immigration to the European Union. Europe had for a long time been low down on the priorities of voters, but immigration and the economy were both high. To link all of these together in a way that exploited the political and economic fallout for the purposes of achieving a specific long-held ambition was a skilful piece of political campaigning

At the same time, despite their low parliamentary representation they attracted almost four million votes (12.6%) at the last election which has put them in a strong position electorally, too. They were remarkably consistent in their level of support across the country (except for London) meaning that overall it achieved 120 second places: 44 to Labour and 75 to the Conservatives (the other being the Speaker’s seat).  At the same time, the collapse of the Liberal Democrat vote, particularly in the South West of England means that it is UKIP which arguably provides the most potent threat to the established parties, competing with Labour in much of the North, and the Conservatives in much of the South.

And yet, despite – or perhaps because of – this success, UKIP finds itself at a crossroads and a moment of introspection. Farage’s leadership is arguably what held the party together and stepping down leaves a gap that could be hard to fill. The infighting (literally in the case of two MEPs: leadership hopeful Steven Woolfe and Mike Hookem) and squabbling that followed the referendum and the debacle of Diane James’ short-lived leadership exposed this to a great extent. Indeed, even the Referendum itself exposed divisions in the party over the campaign, which may contain some clues about the lines of debate opening up as to its future as a political party. The more optimistic, relatively liberal side, represented by people like Douglas Carswell (the party’s only MP) and Suzanne Evans were aligned with the mainstream Vote Leave campaign, whilst Nigel Farage represented a populist, more explicitly anti-immigration campaign through Leave.EU, including the notorious ‘Breaking Point’ poster.  Paul Nuttall’s election as leader provides UKIP with an opportunity to find a new, post-Brexit path. In his acceptance speech, he set UKIP the aim of replacing Labour as a patriotic working class voice. It remains to be seen if he can pull this off, but Labour MP Frank Field described his election as a ‘game changer’ for Labour.[10]

Scottish National Party

Sixty-two per cent of Scotland’s voters supported Remain in the referendum which has provided opportunities for the Scottish National Party to further its campaign for independence. The party are in a strong position to do so and this is down to a number of factors.  Firstly, strong, effective leadership which was on display in the immediate aftermath of the referendum. In contrast to other politicians who appeared in a state of shock at the result (including some of the winners), Sturgeon decisively pressed Scotland’s case. This is combined with the party’s straightforward clarity of purpose on the issue of independence, its large, motivated membership and its stunning electoral success in 2015 (when it gained 56 out of 59 Scottish seats). Thus its parliamentary position as the third largest party, which gives it rights in terms of asking questions, organising debates and populating committees, has enabled it to bring its own distinctive arguments to the Brexit debate. It has enabled it to press for a central role for the devolved administrations in negotiations as well as to push another constitutional dimension to the debate in the form of the argument that Brexit requires consent from Holyrood.Ultimately, much of this should be interpreted through the prism of the SNP’s campaign for independence, which underpins arguments that Scottish voters are sovereign and the vote for Remain needs to be ‘respected’. [11]

Although the huge difference in support for European Union membership in Scotland might appear to make another referendum on independence inevitable, it is notable that the party has been reticent about committing to this and a key question for the SNP is the extent to which Scottish voters would be willing to sacrifice a 300-year-old union with England and Wales for a European one. The SNP, in short are in a delicate position between the electorate and its membership and so the ‘threat’ of a second referendum is a weapon that has to be handled carefully.  Support for independence does not seem to have grown dramatically, if at all, since the referendum, and the party will not want to initiate one if it is unlikely to win. Furthermore, polling suggests that most Scots would prefer not to have a second referendum for now at least.[12] At the same time, however, those who identify as SNP voters are overwhelmingly in favour of independence and need to be kept happy too. So far, the SNP has proved adept at maintaining the balance between these two and continuing to get the balance right is likely deliver continued and sustainable success for the SNP.

Conclusion

Brexit and the aftermath of the referendum presents a number of challenges threats and opportunities for the political parties and how they respond to them may have a significant impact on the party system and its configuration for some time to come.  In order to maintain its unity, the Conservative Party leadership faces the significant challenge of overcoming the divisions between supporters of ‘Hard’ and ‘Soft’ variations of Brexit, which appear to be increasingly entrenched, whilst at the same time providing a positive way forward for negotiating a settlement with the European Union which satisfies both sides. Labour, meanwhile, needs to find ways of bridging significant gaps between its MPs, its leaders, its members and its voters and faces the difficulty of maintaining a coherent response to Brexit whilst seeking to rebuild a potential election winning coalition. For both main parties, these divisions are reflected in their responses to Brexit which are strongly influenced by party management concerns.  The Conservative leadership retains an air of ambiguity and secrecy so as not to antagonise the fragile relations between ‘hard’ and ‘soft’ Brexiters. The Labour Party, although ostensibly more sympathetic to ‘soft Brexit’ takes a somewhat nuanced position which masks the divided response the party has to it. Should they fail, however, to meet these challenges, other parties will be waiting to exploit the opportunities it offers them. The relative strength of UKIP as a voice for hard Brexit under their new leadership and their capacity to attract votes from Labour and the Conservatives is likely to have an important effect on how those parties’ overall positions develop. The same applies on the other side of the issue. The Liberal Democrats are emerging as a clear, pro-Remain voice in the current political situation and their recent success in Richmond Park has opened questions as to whether Conservatives are under threat from pro-European voters if they continue to take a relatively ‘Hard Brexit’ position. The SNP are also unequivocally pro-EU as a party and, given Scotland voted to Remain by a substantial margin, have carved out a clear role to defend Scotland’s interests, seek to influence the process and possibly use it to leverage further support for independence.


[1] Carr, E.H. (2001) What is History? (Basingstoke: Palgrave), 129

[2] Heppell , T. (2013) ‘Cameron and Liberal Conservatism: Attitudes within the Parliamentary Conservative Party and Conservative Ministers’ in British Journal of Politics and International Relations Vol 15, 340-361.

[3] Lynch, P. and Whitaker, R. (2013) ‘Where There is Discord, Can They Bring Harmony? Managing Intra-Party Dissent on European Integration in the Conservative Party’ in British Journal of Politics and International Relations Vol 15 317-339, 335

[4]For example, see: Philip Johnston ‘The Conservative Party may be destroyed by this European madness’ The Telegraph www.telegraph.co.uk Accessed 30 November 2016; George Parker ‘Conservative party infighting on Europe referendum escalates’ Financial Times May 23 2016;

[5] Hansard Online https://hansard.parliament.uk/ [HC Deb 11 July 2016 Vol 613 cc 23-35; HC Deb 5 September 2016 Vol 614 cc 38-74; HC Deb 10 October 2016 Vol 615 cc 40-69; HC Deb 10 October 2016  Vol 615 cc 70-71; HC Deb 12 October 2016  Vol 615 cc 314-415].

[6] Chris Hanretty, ‘Most Labour MPs represent a constituency that voted Leave’. Available online: https://medium.com/@chrishanretty/most-labour-mps-represent-a-constituency-that-voted-leave- 36f13210f5c6#.fu9zvch6u (accessed 2 December 2016).

[7] Hansard Online https://hansard.parliament.uk/ [HC Deb 21 July 2016 Vol 613 cc 428-454 WH ; HC Deb 5 September 2016 Vol 614 cc 38-74; HC Deb 10 October 2016 Vol 615 cc 40-69]

[8] Facing the Unknown: Building a Progressive Response to Brexit Fabian Society Policy Report, 13, 17

[9] ‘Labour will not win a general election as Ukip-lite, says Diane Abbott’ The Guardian Saturday 26 November; ‘Jeremy Corbyn: I will not put a limit on immigration’ Politics Home 24 September 2016Online at: https://www.politicshome.com Accessed 1 December 2016.

[10] ‘Ukip leader Paul Nuttall is ‘game changer’ for Labour, says Frank Field’ The Guardian 30 November 2016

[11] Hansard Online https://hansard.parliament.uk/  [HC Deb 21 July 2016 Vol 613 cc 428-454 WH; HC Deb 10 October 2016 Vol 615 cc 40-69; HC Deb 12 October 2016 Vol 615 cc 314-414]

[12] ‘Scots don’t support a second independence referendum’ You Gov 1 September 2016 Online: https://yougov.co.uk/news/2016/09/01/davidson-now-more-popular-sturgeon-scotland/ Accessed 28 November 2016.

Labour Divided: Corbyn versus the Parliamentary Labour Party

by Danny Rye, Lecturer in Politics, Liverpool Hope University

It has almost become a cliché to say that we have entered unchartered waters following the decision to leave the European Union. Leadership and direction is sorely lacking. The Prime Minister has resigned and the Conservative Party is about to become fixated on who succeeds him. At the same time, many of the main players on the Leave side of the argument appear to have absented themselves from the scene, or else are busy explaining how those who supported them are unlikely to get much of what they want, whilst millions have signed a petition demanding a second referendum. The country is in a state of shock after the result, even – it seems – the winners. Prime opportunity, you might think, for the Opposition to step into the breach, provide the leadership the country sorely needs and start to articulate a way out of this mess, a golden opportunity perhaps to shape the agenda and set a way forward.  Instead, we have – at the time of writing – approaching sixty resignations from the front bench and an emphatic vote of no confidence in the party leader, Jeremy Corbyn, who was elected only nine months ago by a large majority of members. Why – many have reasonably asked – do this now?

At the heart of this are a series of divides that run through the party and that may prove very hard to reconcile.  First, it exposes a huge divide between the Parliamentary Labour Party (PLP) and the membership, especially those that have joined or re-joined because of Corbyn. Much was made of the £3 Registered Supporters and the role they played in getting him elected, but Corbyn also won the vote amongst longer-standing members and it seems likely that, if put to the vote, he would win again unless those who oppose him can get new members and registered supporters in to vote for an alternative candidate.  There is a caveat to this, however, since many of his supporters, younger ones especially, were also Remain supporters, if there is evidence that he somehow scuppered the Remain campaign, as has been suggested, then enough of them might turn against him. Secondly, it exposes a key divide which concerns many of those in the PLP, that between core, ‘traditional’ Labour voters – especially working class voters in the formal industrial parts of the North of England and Wales – who are relatively socially conservative and economically dislocated, and many of the more cosmopolitan, urban and left-wing ‘new’ membership who support Corbyn. The fear that many Labour MPs have is that those voters simply will not vote for the party whilst someone like Corbyn is the leader, thus damaging the party’s capacity to achieve anything on their behalf. However, and thirdly, it exposes at the same time a divide between the pro-European majority of Labour MPs and those very same voters.  One of the triggers – but by no means the only one – for many in the PLP has been Corbyn’s apparently lacklustre support for the Remain campaign.  And yet those key Labour areas voted overwhelmingly for Leave.  Regardless of the current struggle, the Labour Party is in a very deep crisis, in danger of haemorrhaging support to UKIP in the North of England, making no headway in Scotland, and virtually non-existent in most of the South of England.  This crisis is not new by any means, but it underlines a conflict about the party’s future, what kind of party it is, and where it should be building its support.

Some have tried to characterise this as some kind of ‘Blairite’ ‘coup’, perhaps with an eye on the forthcoming Chilcot report, but this is patent nonsense. None (perhaps bar one) of the Shadow cabinet members who resigned could reasonably described as ‘Blairites’ – they represent a broad spectrum of political opinion in the party – and very few of them were even around when the decisions under investigation by Chilcot were made.  Even though Corbyn won his leadership election with very little support from the PLP, many were prepared to go along with it for what they saw as the good of the party, and perhaps even in the hope that Corbyn might be able to reverse their decline in some of these areas. That MPs are doing this now is a sign that they do not believe this to be the case and, with the possibility of an election later this year, it was a case of move now or face electoral annihilation. It is also worth remembering that most MPs are in regular touch with their constituents, and if they thought that Corbyn was winning support, they would back him. It is evident that they do not believe this to be the case and, indeed, so much so that they are prepared to take such a risk at such a time. There is no doubt that it is an act of desperation on the part of MPs, and it is difficult to see how this will end well for the party.  If Corbyn stands again (and party rules are ambiguous over whether he has the automatic right to do so) and wins, then it is difficult to see how the party can hold together afterwards.  Indeed, even if he does not win, it is still difficult to see how this can end well. Labour, it seems, is more emphatically than ever, (at least) two parties. As one insider suggested yesterday, unless Corbyn gives way, a split between them is almost inevitable and it looks as if it might simply come down to a fight over which side keeps the party name and brand.

Election Reflections: Who Should Be Most Satisfied?

By Dr Danny Rye

On May 5th 2016, UK political parties were subjected to the biggest electoral test since the general election last year.  Local council elections in England, devolved assembly elections in Scotland and Wales as well as Mayoral elections in London have provided an opportunity to assess the state of the parties and their prospects. What did we learn?  Some have suggested that there is something for everyone.  All parties can point to good news and highlight bad news for others, but overall, it should probably be the Conservative Party who are most satisfied with the results.

The Labour Party did not make the gains that an opposition arguably needs to make at this stage of the so-called ‘electoral cycle’ but neither was it subject to the level of meltdown that many were (gleefully in some cases) predicting.  They lost a net of 11 seats in total, held on to key councils including important bellweathers like Crawley and Nuneaton (the symbolic scene of Labour’s failure to reach into the middle ground in 2015) as well as winning back the mayoralty of London by a significant margin and in Bristol for the first time (where they also took control over the council). However, at a time when the Conservatives appear to be having yet another collective breakdown over Europe, and major policy intiatives are being dropped by the government under pressure from its own backbenchers, it has been widely suggested – not least by the Labour leader himself – that this is not good enough.

Labour failed to significantly eat into the Conservative vote – who made a net loss of one council and 49 seats – and were able to keep things relatively steady despite the distractions of Europe and significant tensions in the party over key policies, including a row over George Osborne’s flagship policy on academies announced only a few weeks ago (uncermoniously dropped the day after the polls closed). At best, then, the two main parties are electorally marking time in England, which is better news for the Conservatives than Labour.

Despite the continuing hegemony of the Scottish National Party (SNP), standing still is certainly not the order of the day in Scotland, where Labour have not only slipped behind the Conservatives, a position they have not been in since the 1950s, but in doing so found themselves in third place , which has not been the case since 1910 (before universal adult suffrage). The Scottish Conservatives, under their undoubtedly charismatic and appealing leader Ruth Davidson, have carved out a clear identity for themselves, in opposition to the SNP’s brand of moderately leftist nationalism they are becoming the clear go-to party for middle class voters who retain a unionist outlook. In doing so, they have made a chink in the hitherto impenetrable armour of the SNP, perhaps pointing to further interesting shifts in the political landscape north of the border. It may be that the Conservative ‘brand’ is finally being detoxified. Devolution has provided the party with the opportunity to shape a more specifically Scottish unionist identity which they have finally been able to take advantage of. This spells great danger for Scottish Labour who at times give the impression of being unable to decide which side of the fence they are on. Doubtless this rise in Conservative fortunes has much to do with their leader, an exceptionally talented politician by any standards,  something that the Scottish Conservatives (and Scottish Labour) may have lacked up to now, but it is ekeing out political space and contributing to shaping a political landscape that Labour may find itself squeezed out of.

In Wales, Labour continues to dominate despite losing Rhondda to Leanne Wood, the leader of Plaid Cymru.  It is a significant breakthrough for Plaid, although Leanne Wood’s claim that it represents ‘a new dawn’ may be stretching it a bit.  For the time being Labour in Wales remain one of the most successful and formidable election machines in the country. Meanwhile the Liberal Democrats in Wales have slide further into insignificance, retaining only one seat, whilst UKIP has replaced them as the fourth party in the assembly, coming from nowhere to gain seven list seats, which will provide them with a significant voice in the assembly. The Liberal Democrats in general will hope that their fortunes are bottoming out.  Elsewhere, they made a few modest gains in England (around 30 councillors), where they also successfully defended three councils and even gained one and held their seats in Scotland, where they slipped into fifth place behind the Green Party. They have only one remaining London assembly member and came a distant fourth in the mayoral election there.

So whilst Labour can argue, as its leadership has been doing so quite forcefully, that this represents a solid basis on which to make progress, and the leadership must be somewhat relieved that they have not been significantly pounded in England, there is little – as most analysts have argued – to suggest that Labour is ‘on course’ to win in 2020. Arguably, it has stabilised Jeremy Corbyn’s position as leader for now, but further obstacles no doubt lay ahead and there are plenty of people waiting for him to stumble.  London remains a bright spot, but it is a place that seems increasingly out of tune with the rest of the United Kingdom (as the General Election results demonstrated).  Moreover, the party should be very concerned that its diminishing electoral relevance in Scotland makes the imperative to improve performance in England even greater. It is the Conservatives who are probably most relieved and have most cause to be satisfied.  Despite the government’s significant problems, even disarray at times, they have not been significantly damaged. They also will be celebrating the return of the party as a significant force in Scotland. Whilst this may not translate into seats at the next general election thanks to the vagaries of First Past the Post, it lays a foundation on which they can build and, significantly, gives them a more legitimate voice in Scottish affairs as the official opposition. This can only benefit the party.

There is one major blot on their copy-book, however.  That they were so resoundingly defeated in London is put down in part to Zac Goldsmith’s (or rather Lynton Crosby’s) somewhat racially tinged campaign, attempting to link the Labour candidate (and eventual winner) Sadiq Khan, a liberal Muslim, with ‘radicals’ and ‘terrorists’ and other unsavoury elements . It has attracted severe criticism amongst senior figures in the party and may more seriously have damaged the party’s standing amongst minority communities both in London and the rest of the country for some considerable time to come.  Given the importance the party has placed in recent years on attracting minority votes and attempting (often successfully) to overcome their Powellite legacy, this is a major failure and perhaps the one piece of bad news on an otherwise relatively good day for the Conservatives.

This post was originally published on Liverpool Hope University’s Expert Comment Page

Labour’s Registered Supporters Scheme Should be Seen as a Success

by Dr Danny Rye

Since the 2015 election defeat the Labour Party has attracted many thousands of new members  and supporters, largely it seems as a result of the enthusiasm generated by the current leadership contest. What initially promised to be a very dull contest of triangulating centrists was electrified by the unexpected explosion in support for Jeremy Corbyn. As a result around half a million people or more will be eligible to participate in the contest to lead the party. On the face of it, this seems to buck a trend to which nearly all political parties in the Western World have been subject, that of disengagement and declining participation and membership. House of Commons Library figures suggest that in 2013 all significant parties in the UK – Labour, Conservative, Liberal Democrat, Greens, UKIP and the SNP – had collectively less members than those now taking part in the Labour leadership contest.

What has made this possible, of course, is a key reform to the party’s internal election process put in place under Ed Miliband which were a response to bad publicity over the Falkirk selection process (involving Unite apparently recruiting members en masse in order to ensure the adoption of their favoured candidate). The outcome of the ensuing Collins Review was the abolition of the party’s electoral college and its replacement with a system of one member one vote, including individual trade unionists who signed up as ‘Affiliated Supporters’ and enhanced with the enfranchisement of a new category of Registered Supporters, allowing individuals who registered by signing a declaration of support and paid a small fee to participate in the ballot for leader. This, the report said, meant ‘the final realisation of the … process that was begun by John Smith thirty years ago’ towards One Member One Vote in leadership contests.

One might think that the fact that the effect this scheme has had on participation levels would be something for those concerned with the state of participatory democracy to celebrate. However, there has been a growing strand of commentary in the British press and media (now thankfully being countered by some such as Tom Baldwin) which suggests that somehow the groundswell of supporters and members that have signed up to Labour since the election defeat in May should be seen as a disaster and that they are ‘killing the party’. Whilst the scheme is not perfect, this kind of response strikes me as overdramatic. Political parties have been struggling for decades to identify ways in which they can attract new supporters and members, largely without significant or sustained success. Although some ‘insurgent’ political parties have in recent months had some impact in terms of membership – UKIP claim well over 40,000 members, the Greens over 60,000, whilst the SNP claims over 100,000 – these (with the exception of the SNP in its specific national context) represent small numbers compared with the large memberships the main parties claimed in the past (3 to 4 million between them by some estimates), which have been in inexorable decline. Political parties seem to have been at a loss of what do about it. The Conservative Party, seemingly giving up on the idea of membership altogether, have even experimented with open primaries, allowing anyone to participate in selecting candidates for Parliament  which involve making no commitment to the party at all (although the resulting selection in Totnes of an independent-minded MP in Sarah Wollaston may have given them cause to think again).

Labour’s experiment with the registered supporters scheme in conjunction with a high profile leadership contest has been in many respects, therefore, a potential breakthrough. There has been much hype and hysteria about so-called infiltrators or ‘entryists’ from either the hard left or the right, including a Tory MP, and clearly the party might need to think about how it polices its borders, but a certain amount of ambiguity is going to be inevitable if parties are to be genuinely more open and engaged with the public beyond the usual, and dwindling, band of activists. In its favour, the scheme provides a simple and easy way in which people can indicate their support for a political party and their willingness to get involved on some level. It is thus a pool of potential new members, activists and donors. The fact that they have to sign up and pay a small fee to join up gives the party the opportunity, by widening support, to then deepen it.  Certainly not all of these supporters will make the leap into membership, perhaps even a majority will not, but the most important question for Labour is whether – whoever actually wins the leadership election – the party can hold on to enough of these new members and supporters and convert them into activists and participants.

It would be a mistake therefore to unravel the scheme completely, although some adjustment, for example to guard against systematic infiltration by hostile groups or individuals, may be necessary.  However, handled correctly, it could be a positive boon for the future of the Labour Party, firstly by bringing a wider range of voices into debates about the party’s direction and, secondly, by harnessing greater potential for electoral mobilisation and the growth of more committed members and activists, which was the point of the Registered Supporters scheme in the first place.  It might even be a model that other parties would consider emulating in order to arrest the decline in participation.

As I have suggested elsewhere, for the Labour Party in particular, the opportunity is to finally have a proper debate about what its response to so-called ‘austerity’ should be and to engage a wider movement of participants in that process can only be a positive thing.  A wider range of voices and participants in this debate, then, is surely welcome. Together, and with the involvement of many thousands of new supporters, members and activists, they might be able to produce a coherent, genuine and realistic response to austerity with popular appeal that is rooted in centre-left ideas and has the backing of enthusiastic grass-roots supporters across the Labour family. If so, this will be in no small part due to the life that the Registered Supporters scheme has injected into the party. That should be celebrated on every wing of the party and perhaps be watched closely by officials and analysts of political parties in general.

This post was originally published on the Political Studies Association website here

A victory for Jeremy Corbyn in the Labour leadership race could bring about a realignment of British politics

Jeremy Corbyn looks set to win the Labour leadership election, despite initially being pegged as a no-hope also-ran. The conservative right are cheering him on, seeing the Islington North MP as ushering in a period of Conservative Party hegemony. But is he being underestimated? Danny Rye argues that a Corbyn-led party could see a realignment of not just the Labour Party, but British politics, in a way which brings the traditional left back into the mainstream. 

The unexpected ascendancy of Jeremy Corbyn in the Labour leadership campaign has clearly been a boon for the press, the commentariat and academics. What was looking like a dull and predictable contest has been electrified, and many column inches have been filled with speculation on what it all means for the left, the Labour Party and British politics. With some notable exceptions, much of what has been written suggests bad news for the party: stories about ‘entryism’, warnings of internal strife and electoral catastrophe echo the travails of the 1980s. However, I may be a hopeless optimist, but this is not the 1980s and it is possible to take a more positive view without buying wholesale into the Corbyn phenomenon.

Whether he wins or loses, an opportunity exists to revitalise and reinvigorate the centre-left, by reconnecting the Labour Party with the left more broadly and challenging it to refresh its ideas. There are three aspects to this: the effect of this development on the broader democratic left, the effect on the Labour Party in particular and its impact on the key lines of debate in British politics.

Firstly, it could mean a revitalised left wing voice in mainstream British politics. The Corbyn campaign has clearly galvanised activists both inside and outside the party, and has the potential to reconnect the broader democratic left to the political mainstream. This appears to be made up of two elements: those on the left in the Labour Party and those on the broader democratic left outside it. The former – many of whom are the most active, engaged and loyal members who regularly attend meetings and are out on the doorstep making the party’s case – have become revivified and are less willing to moderate their views in the electoral interests of the party, as they had been during the New Labour era.

This may explain why Corbyn has done so well in terms of constituency nominations. In those nomination meetings, the sound of yearning for a Labour Party more true to itself and its members has been heard quite clearly. The latter, including former members and activists who had given up hope that it would ever provide a home for them again, are increasingly enthused that they might actually have some kind of voice in political debate and have thus rejoined, or signed up as Affiliated or Registered Supporters in order to vote for Corbyn. Added to that are, it appears, some who may never have voted Labour before (perhaps supporting other left-wing parties at previous elections, or who have not voted at all), but who would be willing to engage in a party they felt to be more clearly distinguished from the Conservatives and more robust in its opposition to austerity.

Secondly, the consequences for the Labour Party might be that it finally has the debate that it badly needs to have. During its dark days of electoral failure and internal conflict in the 1980s, Keith Waterhouse pointed out that, however bad things looked, there was too much life left in the party for its decline to be terminal. Indeed, the conflict between left and right, between power and principle has been part of what seems to give the party energy as much as disables it. The catastrophic rift with MacDonald in the 1930s, the battles with Bevanites in the 1950s, and those with Bennites in the 1980s were all desperately damaging to the party and yet presaged significant electoral and political successes. However, in recent years, it appeared that with New Labour, the right’s ascendancy within the party was so complete that there was no longer any serious debate left to be had. Ed Miliband’s defeat only strengthened the argument that any move towards the left, however small, would be electoral suicide.

But the problem for the right was that their very ascendancy has arguably made them complacent and devoid of new ideas. Thus, despite much talk about the party needing to have a ‘debate’, the mainstream candidates singularly failed to engage in one. Rather than addressing the question of what actually had gone wrong for Labour Party in any meaningful way or addressing the question of what the Labour Party is actually for, the response appeared to be simply that the party’s platform was not ‘right wing’ or ‘centrist’ enough, a response at least as simplistic as one which says it was not ‘left wing’ enough. Some MPs lent Corbyn their nominations despite not supporting him in order to promote ‘debate’ and they have perhaps got more than they bargained for. Nevertheless, the party badly needs to have it and, for good or ill, perhaps that debate might finally begin. It is heartening that there does still appear to be life in the party and that there are enough people who still care on both sides of the debate to get involved. Thus, what was consequently looking like a routine and very dull exercise in choosing who might be the least offensive candidate to Conservative swing-voters, now looks like something much more important, or at least more interesting.

If this debate is to be productive, however, it needs to be inclusive of both the left and right of the party. Name calling and making personalised accusations will not produce anything other than bitterness. The left, revitalised by the campaign, can no longer be ignored in the party, whatever the result. But it will need to draw in new ideas, energy and expertise if it is to produce a more broadly appealing vision and maintain momentum beyond its most enthusiastic supporters. Although some of the more closed-minded elements of the left might not welcome it, something that will help this process is the somewhat belated recognition by party centrists of their own failures. Hence, Tristram Hunt and Chuka Umunna’s recent call for the right and the ‘soft left’ in the party to cooperate on ‘Labour for the Common Good’, with the aim of articulating a coherent political vision for a moderate, electorally oriented Labour Party.

Suddenly the future of social democracy and the centre left is up for grabs and there is an opportunity to both produce new ideas and galvanise enthusiasm and engagement amongst activists of all stripes in the Labour movement. The danger is that this energy will be wasted on bitter infighting. The opportunity is that the creative energy this generates could be galvanised and turned into something that can respond in innovative ways to the Conservatives and their ideologically driven ‘austerity’ agenda.

The great risk is that a prolonged period of internal debate means that the Labour Party will be out of power for an extended period of time. The consequences of this could be a repeat of the 1980s and 1990s in which Labour was locked out of government and a long Conservative hegemony ensured that any version of the left’s agenda would not be implemented. This, indeed, is the fear of many mainstream Labour members and leaders. From this point of view, the ascendancy of Corbyn could be seen as a boost for the Conservative Party and its political strategy. However, and this is my third point, the opportunity is that, rather than simply attempting to navigate a landscape fashioned by its political enemies, the Labour Party can seek to reshape the terms of debate. Out of the clash of ideas, perhaps a fresh, distinctive response to austerity can be fashioned, backed up by a new generation of activists which reconnect it with the broader democratic left in British Politics. This might have the additional positive effect of helping to stem at least some of the decline in political engagement and participation.

Thus, an optimistic view might be to see this as an opportunity for all strands of thought in the Labour Party – left, right and centre – to respond to the austerity agenda, not by chasing the tail of Conservative political strategy but by actually developing a coherent critique and appealing alternatives of its own. In other words, challenging orthodoxy rather than simply moderating it, producing distinctive ideas, rooted in centre-left thinking and traditions, rather than moderating right wing thinking with the odd left-ish idea.

It is possible, therefore, that this could represent an important moment for the left in Britain – a realignment of sorts which brings the broader left back into the political and Parliamentary mainstream by providing it with a legitimate voice within a mainstream political party. One which forces the Labour Party to reassess what and who it is for and stimulates ‘moderate’ voices on the left into more imaginative responses that engage with a broader spectrum of left-wing ideas and traditions whilst maintaining the potential for a broad appeal.

Or it may be that I am just a hopeless optimist.

This post originally appeared on the Democratic Audit blog here

In Defence of the Party

Reflections on ‘After the Party’ seminar held on 24 April 2014 at Birkbeck University of London , Centre for the Study of British Politics and Public Life.

Political parties are still our best hope for articulating public desires and demands and providing for the representation of communities, but they need renewal.

By Dr Danny Rye

Lecturer in Politics, Birkbeck University of London

It is almost a truism to say that political parties are in decline. Their memberships have dwindled away to historically low numbers, and although they are still effective vehicles for recruiting candidates and political elites and organising government and opposition, their capacity to fulfil their democratic roles of articulating and aggregating interests, mobilising and integrating populations, facilitating popular choice and control are seriously in doubt. Thus, if this is the case and the party is dead or dying, what comes after the party?

There were two broad strands of opinion on the panel. The first, represented by Neal Lawson of Compass and Liam Barrington-Bush (from More Like People), was that parties as we know them are all but finished as bridges between the electorate and the state and urgently need to be replaced by something more relevant and effective.

Lawson argued that social media facilitates a flattening process which reduces the cost of organisation and makes a more egalitarian, cooperative politics possible, or at least easier. This, he says, can support the development of a kind of politics where we solve problems ourselves rather than ‘waiting for heroes’ to do so for us. The future of political organisation needs to be more like an ‘open tribe’, pluralistic, adaptive and relational. For Barrington-Bush self-organisation is the key. Institutions like parties are based on a lack of trust in people and empowers an enlightened elite over ordinary people. People are far better at self-organising than they are given credit for and we don’t need top down strategies or elites to tell us what to do. What is needed is more autonomy: the kinds of networks that have emerged out of the Occupy movement, which have provided practical solutions to problems of everything from housing and finance to participative decision-making show us what can be done when people are free to organise themselves.

The second broad line of argument, represented by Nick Anstead of the LSE and James Dennis – a research student at Royal Holloway – was that parties are by no means dead but need to adapt to survive.

Anstead argued that parties have become distant and elitist, vacating the social arenas and become subsumed into an elitist, state-centred vehicle for winning power. Part of this has been motivated by the desire of political leaders to wrest control of their parties from a dwindling band of ideological activists who alienated the mainstream electorate (New Labour springs to mind). In doing so, however, political elites have themselves alienated the public by eroding the ‘bridge’ between them. The possibility that technology offers is material with which to rebuild that bridge, creating space for participation, dialogue and pluralism. Dennis pointed out that organisations like 38 Degrees are increasingly acting as that bridge. Most famous for mobilising large-scale single issue campaigns via the web and social media, they are increasingly focusing energy on building capacity, providing people and communities with the tools they need to organise their own campaigns through the use of web tools and templates. Crucial to this model is not by-passing political parties, but communicating and working with them as articulators of public interest.

The common theme that emerges from these arguments is that mainstream political parties have a problem in that they simply haven’t adapted to the changing social and political landscape. Their structures and organisation are products of a bygone age when they were not only political machines but the centre of social life in many communities (Conservative Clubs and Working Men’s Clubs for example), and – especially in Labour’s case –working lives too. As this social role has diminished so has the articulation of distinctive class interests, and thus their ability to mobilise. The world has changed and so has the way people relate to each other, socialise and organise. People are less inclined to join and submit to the disciplines of ‘traditional’ party life. They are less deferent, more articulate about their rights and opinions and, with the help of social media, more able to organise and express themselves. If they are to survive – and I would argue that it is important that they do – parties need to recognise and embrace this.

All of this points towards possibilities for the renewal of political participation facilitated in part by the possibilities that social media provides. This is not an idea which is exclusive to the left either nor one that mainstream parties have ignored: from the right, Douglas Carswell amongst others, are enthusiastic about the possibilities that the web offers for refreshing political participation and activism. Peter Hain, a former Labour cabinet minister has argued that their respective parties’ fortunes can be revived by redefining the relationship between supporters, members and party elites, an idea which is being taken very seriously within the Labour Party. Indeed, the signs are that parties are increasingly seeking to blur the distinction between ‘formal’ members and less formal supporters in the hope of reviving participation. The way in which the Obama campaigns in 2008 and 2012 harnessed activism through technology has been held up as something of a model to learn from.

However, these kinds of approaches are still somewhat elite driven and although perhaps it goes some way to addressing problems of participation, it does not go far enough. Too often the problem of political engagement, why aren’t people joining, campaigning and voting for them is framed as a problem that political parties need to solve by making a better product, or by marketing it better. This misses the point and indeed perhaps says something about what theproblem is in the first place. It is not a case so much of parties ‘listening’ or ‘responding’ to potential voters, so much as to open up and let other voices in. To survive, in other words, parties need to let go.

Nonetheless, we cannot reject parties out of hand. Parties also provide a continuity of organisation and an access to political power at a national level that flatter, more transient forms of self-organisation cannot so easily do. As Barbara Zollner of Birkbeck pointed out, although social media and spontaneous forms of grass-roots organisation have played crucial roles in recent revolutions in the Middle East in particular, the failure of more traditional forms of organisation like parties, has perhaps gone some way to undoing them in places like Egypt especially. The powerful elites in society (like the Egyptian army) are well-organised and disciplined and therefore those that seek to challenge them must be also.

Thus parties may have isolated and distanced themselves in recent years, but they are still our best hope of providing a channel through which the electorate’s voice can be heard in the halls of government, articulating public desires and demands and providing for the representation of communities. These roles are vital to democratic health and to provide them, parties need to re-imagine themselves. They need to understand themselves as part of wider movements and thus be much more open, much more willing to allow a plurality of voices to find articulation, much less concerned with command and control. This is vital to the renewed relevance and flourishing of organisations which at their best can provide some form of linkage, however filtered or indirect, between the political elite and the ordinary voter.

But the rest of us too must recognise that although politics can be understood as many things – the pursuit of the ‘good-life’ or the good society, the pursuit of power –it is also in part the art of compromise. The way in which we organise ourselves can enhance the autonomy of individuals and communities and maximise political empowerment, but that does not mean that we can always get what we want. It does, however, mean that we might have more chance of getting heard.

Why Study the Concept of Power?

A proper theoretical and applicable understanding of power can help in identifying new ways of organising and new political structures that, as far as possible, empower and free up people and their communities.

My key academic research interest at the present time is oriented towards questions about the concept of power, specifically in a political context:  how should it be defined, how can it be analysed and, crucially, how can we make use of it?  The problem with the concept of power, however, is that it is, as Steven Lukes has argued, an ‘essentially contested’ concept on which there is much disagreement as to its nature and character.[1]  Is it a capacity possessed by an individual, as behaviouralists would argue?  Is it rather a collective attribute of societies and groups as theorists like Hannah Arendt and Talcott Parsons have contended?  Is power only a product of conscious agency or can it be attributed to impersonal structures and organisations too?

Controversy and debate about power rages on in a small corner of the academic world, but why bother with such an esoteric pursuit?  Why is it important to spend so much time engaged in such theoretical controversies?  The answer is simply because power is (perhaps self-evidently) an important and fundamental aspect of the analysis of politics:  all politics is in some sense a manifestation of power struggles and as Max Weber long ago argued in Politics as a Vocation the importance of politics is that it strives to share power or influence its distribution within and between states.[2]

There are many reasons, but, here, I want to focus on two reasons for engaging in debates about power.  Firstly, it can provide an important perspective on human society and the political institutions which form a part of it. Seeking to understand them in terms of power brings a particular perspective on social relations, human behaviour and organisation, especially the question of what it is that makes people conform to certain behaviours, what makes them obey consciously or unconsciously certain social conventions and practices, what is it that predisposes some to accept the authority of others and obey them?  And what is that makes others seek to resist these?  Secondly, and perhaps the most important reason for undertaking an analysis of power, is that the empowerment of human beings as effective political actors and citizens is dependent on a clear understanding of power relations and power’s structure, dimensions and modalities in different settings (such as a particular institution or organisation).

If this latter purpose is to be realised, it follows that a key distinction needs to be made between what it is that empowers people and what it is that disempowers them. We need to be able to identify who is empowered and disempowered as a result of these relations and structures.  This requires us to separate analytically two key types of power:  firstly, power over something or someone, sometimes referred to as ‘domination’ and power to do or achieve something or other, or ‘empowerment’.  Thus, power is not just a term that signifies the ability of one person or a group of people to control or command others (although it is part of it), but also one which signifies the capacities individuals or groups have to realise their full potential as human beings.  Having some means of evaluating how, in different ways, groups or individuals are empowered or dominated (and hence disempowered) in certain settings (such as political parties or interest groups), we can identify ways in which their situation can be improved in the direction of greater empowerment and liberty.  In other words, in order to understand how people can best be fulfilled, to be able to reach their full potential as human beings, we have to understand both what it is that prevents them from doing so and what might enable them to do so.

As an example of this, power is often experienced by those subject to it as a form of constraint, but not all ‘constraints’ should be seen as negative or disempowering.  For example, training and education can be understood as constraints on the one hand, but on the other, they might be understood as ways of investing people (through instruction) with the capacities and resources to act effectively in political contexts.  Organisations too, governed by rules, structures and hierarchies, might be understood from one point of view as restraints on the ability of individuals to act freely, but from a different perspective could be seen as providing avenues for using diverse skills and abilities effectively and means of making actors more effective through collective action.

Too often, these kinds of things are seen in black and white terms.  Almost a century ago Robert Michels, in his analysis of the German Social Democratic Party, argued that oligarchy was an inevitable outcome of organisation despite its necessity as a tool of empowering ordinary people.  The organisation therefore subverts its original purpose to liberate by becoming a tool of domination by elites.  This gloomy prognosis has become part of the canon of the study of political parties, but though important it is incomplete because of a failure to take a properly multi-faceted view of power which not only looks at its operation on different levels, but understands it in terms of empowerment as well as disempowerment.  Rather than simply accepting the notion that ‘who says organisation says oligarchy’[3] we need to ask what kind of organisation do we need to ensure that democracy – in terms of empowerment of ordinary members – flourishes and oligarchy or domination by elites is as far as possible resisted.  Rather than giving up on political organisations as Robert Michels did (eventually despairing of democratic politics altogether) we need to identify new ways of organising and new political structures that, as far as possible, empower and free up people and their communities to make their own decisions, take power over their lives where it really matters and keep in check the ability of elites to reform and capture that space.

Political analysts need tools to help in the task of evaluating and making judgements about this.  What is needed, in other words, is a means by which a) organisations with political and social goals can be evaluated in terms of how they empower and disempower those whom they are intended to serve and b) judgements made as to what appropriate changes might need to be made to ensure maximum empowerment.  To support this, a series of questions with which to interrogate these issues need to be developed which are fully applicable to organisations with social and political goals.  This is my task going forward and I hope to report back on my progress via this blog in the near future.


[1] Steven Lukes (1974) Power: A Radical View

[2] In H.H. Gerth and C. Wright Mills (eds) From Max Weber (London: Routledge Kegan Paul, 1948), 78.

[3] Robert Michels (1968 [1915]) Political Parties (New York: Free Press), 365

Reforming the Labour Party: is Miliband Redistributing Power?

The true test of Ed Miliband’s proposals for reform of the Labour Party’s relationship with trade unions and candidate selection will be the extent to which they empower or disempower ordinary members and supporters.

By Dr Danny Rye, Lecturer in Politics, Birkbeck College

It may have been an immediate crisis that forced Ed Miliband’s hand but the consensus appears to be that, in his speech on 9 July setting out his response to the news that the trade union Unite had been manipulating the candidate selection process in Falkirk, the Labour Leader has been bold in proclaiming an end to the ‘politics of the machine’ that was, in his words, rightly ‘hated’.  His proposals to reform the Labour Party’s link with the Trade Unions and the means by which candidates for office are selected are potentially far-reaching.  Henceforth, members of affiliated trade unions will have to directly opt-in if they want to support the Labour Party (currently they are automatically enrolled unless they opt-out) and Labour will begin using primaries, in which all registered supporters can participate, as a means of selecting candidates, beginning with the selection for the London mayoral candidate in 2016.  There will be strict spending limits and a code of conduct for candidates to go with this.

If the point of Miliband’s proposed reforms, as he has suggested, is to ‘open up our politics’ then the test has to be the extent to which it empowers voters, ordinary members and activists.  On the face of it, requiring individuals to directly choose  to affiliate to the Labour Party as individuals would seem to be a blow in favour of empowering ordinary union members as political activists and against the dominance of elites (in the form of union leaders) making decisions on their behalf.  Furthermore, the proposal to select candidates by means of primaries (initially in London) in which registered supporters can participate, along with ‘strict’ spending limits and a code of conduct, would appear to spread power (in this case the power to select candidates) more widely than before. 

However, in order to make a proper judgement about this, we need a means by which proposals like this can be assessed for whether they are likely to be empowering or disempowering (and for whom). By lucky coincidence, this is precisely what I have been thinking about recently.  The following is an initial sketch of how this might be done. 

This kind of assessment can be made by thinking more carefully about organisations with political or social goals in the context of theories about and approaches to power.  In order to do this, it is important initially to make a distinction between two basic kinds of power:  a ‘negative’, constraining form – sometimes called ‘domination’ but which I will refer to henceforth as ‘disempowerment’ – and a positive, enabling form of power which can be understood as ‘empowerment’.  Whilst the first of these indicates means by which groups or individuals have had their power diminished in different ways (because they are prevented from acting, lack capacities to or are denied opportunities to do so), the latter is concerned with who have had their power enhanced and by what means.

These two key kinds of power can be examined in five different dimensions which in my assessment relate to the key dimensions of power operating in organisations with social or political goals. 

Each of these different dimensions of power directs attention towards different aspects of an organisation and serves as a means of identifying questions designed to illuminate how power operates within it.  Using these questions, analysts and students of organisations will be able to make their own judgements about the extent to which organisations of different kinds empower or disempower those who are participants in it, including their members, supporters, leaders, administrators and so on. 

The first dimension, which I call Individualistic Power, focuses on how people use the resources they have (money, information, connections and so on) to realise goals, aims and preferences they might have.  An individual has power to the extent that they are equipped to achieve these goals. The question is which (if any) individuals will be more likely than before to achieve their goals – such as becoming a candidate, or ensuring the selection of another –  as a result of these reforms, for example because they are provided with resources that help them garner the appropriate support or that others are denied the ability to ‘out-resource’ them.  Thus, it would be possible to argue that strict spending limits for candidates seeking a nomination and for the organisations supporting them could potentially open up the field of possible candidates and make it more likely that a candidate not supported by a big pressure group or union could break through.  In other words, it makes certain kinds of ‘machine politics’ less viable and thereby empowers individuals at the expense of organised internal interests.

Of course, the capacity for those individuals to achieve selection assumes that they have access to the appropriate arenas in the first place.  This is a point that the second dimension, Strategic Power, focuses on.  Someone may have a wealth of talent and experience to become a candidate and yet fail because they are denied access to the process in the first place.  Conversely, knowledge of the rules and the capacity to manipulate them in one’s favour confers on some the ability to circumvent barriers in one’s own favour and block opponents, in other words to exercise Strategic Power.  The question, therefore, is whether reform proposals will make it easier or harder for (positionally powerful) individuals to block or frustrate others from accessing the process (or further change).  It would appear that these proposed reforms make it less likely that well-organised interests like trade unions within the Labour Party can manipulate the selection process.  On the other hand, it does not necessarily diminish the capacity of the party’s leadership and executive to interfere with, manipulate or take control of selection processes.  This will really depend on how the new rules are designed.  It is one of the benefits of this approach that it provides relatively simple tools with which such potential outcomes can be identified.

Shifting focus from individuals, the third dimension of power, Bureaucratic Control, is one in which organisation itself can be understood as powerful:  potential candidates can be disempowered by bureaucratic routine and organisational imperative (like having to complete lots of paperwork or the requirement for certain qualifications or experience) or hierarchies may deny those lower down the freedom to act as independent political agents (by for example controlling the selection process from the centre).  More positively, organisation empowers individuals to act politically and act in concert because it generates capacities and provides organisational back-up that makes them more effective than they would be alone.  The questions that arise here are, firstly, whether reform will therefore free activists or members from organisational constraints and allow them to express and realise their political goals, and secondly, the extent to which reforms remove power from the hierarchy and redistribute it amongst ordinary members, activists and supporters.  Once again, this will depend a great deal on how the reforms are designed and implemented.  Certainly it appears that allowing trade union members a direct relationship with the party and bringing potentially more people into selection processes, both as electors and, through primaries, as potential candidates could achieve both these things.  Once again, however, the knock-on effects are currently unknown. 

One of the key sources of power in political organisations is the ability to make and influence policy.  This was emphatically not the subject of Miliband’s speech on 9 July and is unlikely to be so for the time being.  Some years ago Robert Katz and Peter Mair argued that party hierarchies and members were involved in a trade off in which the latter would be given more power over candidate selection in return for relinquishing their say in policy to the centre.  This arguably has already happened with the restructuring of the party’s decision-making structures during the early years of Tony Blair’s leadership, but what Miliband’s new proposals may also mean is a devolution of that power of selection away from members to a category of ‘registered supporters’.  Thus members have lost one power to the centre and another to the political periphery.  It is a version of what the leader’s brother, David, once described as ‘double devolution’.

With the fourth of these dimensions of power I move away from the formal party structures, rules and processes and towards aspects of party life that might often be overlooked in an analysis of power.  Constitutive Power is concerned with the culture of party life, and the everyday practices that go with it.  The everyday behaviour and customs that are usually taken for granted – like the conventions of language and speech that people follow – are important in shaping and producing the ‘practical consciousness’ of agents which are the basis of their everyday instinctive behaviour.  This kind of power, embedded in day-to-day practices, has a deep effect on the capacity of individuals to be effective political agents and is the means by which existing structures of domination are reproduced and accepted by those subject to it.  At the same time, however, actors can become conscious of these everyday practices through critical reflection, which means structures of domination can be challenged and recast in ways that invest in them capacities for their realisation as political agents.  The key question here, therefore, is to what extent will reforms affect party culture so as to facilitate the capacity for political (self) realisation i.e. does it invest members with useful political capacities?  The extent to which this question can be answered at this stage is moot.  However, a test for the success of these reforms will doubtless be the extent to which not just the rules change, but the culture and practices of the party’s internal politics which Falkirk has exposed.

Fifth, and finally, Disciplinary Control is focused on the minutely detailed techniques of control that are applied in areas of party life that are frequently overlooked in these contexts.  Often mundane, these are aspects of party life that nonetheless have an important role in how political agents are shaped and produced.  This, for example, includes the organisation of individuals into tasks and roles during election campaigns where the activity of individual canvassers and candidates is often carefully circumscribed, even down to the words used, at what time and in what place as well as the means by which activity is recorded, measured and assessed.  Discipline is also internalised through the imperatives of marketing and public relations which are so important to modern party politics. The appearance, gestures, words and looks of individual politicians and candidates in particular are carefully monitored, adjusted and corrected in line with expected norms.  But as well as being a clear source of domination this can also be understood as empowering and productive in the sense that it produces agents with the capacities to be effective actors in the current political milieu.  In modern politics, candidates will generally fail to advance or be elected if they are not in some sense ‘media friendly’ and conform to clearly accepted norms and expectations (such as certain kinds of clothes and hairstyles).  In other words it produces individuals with the right capacities – right down to gestures and voices – to succeed in politics.  To translate this into practical questions means having to ask two things about potential reforms: to what extent do they advance or set back mechanisms of control?  Does it mean more or less detailed organisation  and does it means more or less external scrutiny of individuals and, in particular, their bodies.  In this case, since primaries – even so-called ‘closed’ primaries – are likely to be more open to scrutiny, perhaps more likely to be covered in newspapers, blogs, social media and websites, it can only further expose candidates to the kind of surveillance and discipline to which professional politicians are already subject.  In this respect, it will perhaps be good training.  It is more than possible, however, that this will have an effect on the kinds of individuals that get selected in the first place and perhaps have the additional effect, therefore, of disempowering further those activists and members who are not appropriately attuned, whilst strengthening the influence of media, commentators and professionals.

In summary, therefore, as ‘brave’ and ‘radical’ as Ed Miliband’s reforms have been claimed to be across the political spectrum, the real test of whether they are truly empowering (and for whom) will depend on how the reforms are designed and implemented and how they work in practice.  It is vital to a meaningful assessment of these reforms that analysts are able to employ the right kinds of tools with which to examine them.  What I have set out here is my contribution to the development of such tools.

 

This post was originally published on 12 July 2013 by Birkbeck College’s Centre for the Study of British Politics and Public Life (www.csbppl.com).

Halting Progress?

Rather than tackling political enemies head-on over clear ideological dividing lines, sometimes it can be more effective to tackle them indirectly through the application of ‘bureaucratic’ procedures.

By Dr Danny Rye, Writer and Associate Lecturer at Birkbeck College

In a speech to the GMB union conference recently, leader Paul Kenny threatened to ‘outlaw’ Labour Party pressure group Progress, accusing it of acting as ‘a party within a party, funded by external interests’.  In a motion to the same conference Progress is compared directly with the Militant Tendency, accused of briefing against the party’s leader and undermining the its London mayoral campaign.

Progress, a self-proclaimed ‘New Labour’ pressure group funded largely by Lord (David) Sainsbury, is not a natural ally of left-wing union leaders but does that justify such talk from Kenny?  Pressure groups are hardly unusual in political parties and Labour has traditionally been home to many groups peddling differing brands of left-wing and liberal politics (although the Blair years were unusually quiet on the faction front).  The direct comparison with Militant presents Progress, however, as something more sinister than a mere pressure group: a clandestine alien presence, a foreign body seeking to subvert the Labour Party to its own ends.

This comparison is overstated.  Quite apart from the vast ideological chasm between the two, there are obvious differences between Progress and Militant:  firstly, Progress (unlike Militant) does not deny being an organisation and is relatively open about its aims and membership; secondly, Progress though not directly affiliated to the Labour Party works within it openly whereas Militant was an ‘entryist’ group dedicated to covert colonisation from within.

We should take this seriously because it is symptomatic of a power struggle between two competing sets of interests in the party looking to influence the party’s future direction.  Indeed, this is clear from the wording of the GMB motion which points out disapprovingly that ‘Progress advances the strategy of accepting Tory arguments for public spending cuts’.  This may be politically reprehensible from a left-wing point-of-view but hardly an offence deserving of expulsion.  Perhaps more seriously, it accuses the group of conducting ‘factional campaigns to undermine Labour candidates’, most notably in relation to the London Mayoral election.  However, given that the evidence presented is an issue of Progress in November 2011 ‘casting doubt’ on Ken Livingstone’s suitability as a candidate, it hardly amounts to a systematic campaign to undermine left-wing candidates.

Nonetheless, if Union leaders like Kenny really wanted to draw lessons from the Militant episode they should take note of how the party eventually dealt with them successfully after years of neglect and failure.  The key, it turns out, is to be less political and more bureaucratic.

Political scientists are interested in struggles like this because of what they say about power and one of the lessons of the party’s struggle with Militant in the 1980s is that sometimes the most effective exercise power is the less obvious one.  Rather than meet political enemies head-on over clear ideological dividing lines it might be more effective to tackle them indirectly through the application of the right kinds of bureaucratic procedures.  Attempts to confront Militant in the Labour Party of the early-1980s, simply entangled the party in protracted procedural and legal wrangling, often with no discernable outcome except public embarrassment and bad publicity for the party, leaving it looking both divided and weak.

The eventual solution was one both more indirect and effective.  Responsibility for discipline of members was removed from the party’s main political body and transferred to a new independent committee bound by clear rules and procedures that were legally water-tight.   The process of party discipline was thereby effectively depoliticised, becoming more bureaucratic and rule-based.  Contrary to popular opinion about bureaucracy, this immediately made discipline more effective and efficient.

This new regime was not (ostensibly at least) concerned with individual actions, ideas or beliefs but, as Larry Whitty the party’s General Secretary put it at the time ‘a sustained period of conduct’ such as standing against an official party candidate[1] and ‘bringing the party into disrepute’ which specifically included membership of organisations deemed ‘incompatible’ because of the way they or their activities were structured.

The result of this legalistic, rule-based approach was to actually achieve the political objectives the party leadership sought and had expressed in Neil Kinnock’s 1985 conference speech.  However, it was precisely successful because members of Militant could now be explicitly and clearly pursued for breaking party rules rather than than for their political beliefs.  It also made the expulsions more acceptable to those on the emerging ‘soft-left’, such as Clare Short, who had previously harboured doubts about so-called ‘witch-hunts’ of left-wingers but was soon at the forefront of their prosecution.  In the years immediately following the rule change 119 members were charged with Militant membership, of which 112 were expelled.

Greater clarity of organisational (as opposed to ideological) rules and the establishment of clear procedure enabled the party to purge itself of organised groups hostile to the leadership (including the Militant Tendency) much more efficiently. Furthermore, it meant that now there was a permanent process in which cases such as these could be heard and resolved relatively quickly and efficiently.

The lesson therefore is that the investigation and punishment of those who break rules is made simpler by a) the establishment and enforcement of new and existing rules and b) clear procedures for investigation and the application of sanctions.   Discipline in other words becomes depersonalised, procedural and concerns the efficacy of the party’s ability to effectively pursue broadly electoral goals rather than specific political or ideological ones.

By ‘letting go’ of the process of discipline and passing it over to a new bureaucratic, rule-based committee, party leaders actually got more of what they wanted.  Discipline became a process by which certain kinds of organised voices were excluded and ruled out of the political arena.  It remains that such rule changes may initially require an explicit power-struggle.  However, once implemented, these rules and processes take on a life of their own.  Thus, this case illuminates how power can be more effective when it works more subtly through the routine procedures and functioning of party organisation to discipline members.  Punishments and exclusions for specifically ideological reasons look too much like the ‘witch-hunts’ of the 1950s in reverse, and it was an understanding of this, rather than sabre-rattling, that was crucial to the successful expulsion of Militant in the 1980s.

Perhaps it is a recognistion of this that lays behind ASLEF’s recent submission to the Labour Party’s National Executive Committee (NEC).   The train driver’s union is reported to have submitted major rule changes with the apparent aim of keeping groups like Progress under control.  The proposals would require all non-affiliated organisations engaging in internal activity to notify the national party of all legally reportable donations received and to transfer 50% of all donations received beyond the first £25,000 per annum to the Labour Party nationally.  Furthermore, it would also require incorporated organisations that engage in internal activity to provide all legal and financial documentation to the NEC on request in order to ensure that organisations ‘meet acceptable standards of democracy, governance and transparency’.  Progress have responded by promising to institute greater transparency, including greater disclosure of donors and sponsors and a more democratic governance structure.  As well they might.  Should ASLEF’s proposed changes become incorporated into party rules, Kenny and his supporters may get their way with or without a formal ban.  Progress may simply find itself crushed under the wheels of the party’s bureaucratic rules, rendering any moves to ‘outlaw’ it unnecessary.

THIS POST WAS ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED ON 9 JULY 2012 by the Centre for the Study of British Politics and Public Life, Birkbeck College University of London


[1] Labour Party Annual Conference Report 1986