Week in Review: Will the last person in Corbyn's office turn out the lights?

Who will Jeremy Corbyn's team blame now? They can't blame the Blairites. The moderate wing of the Labour party stopped agitating against the leader when Owen Smith was defeated. They can't really blame the media because the media too has gotten bored of Corbyn not doing anything. A news feature based on him would be like watching a nature programme about lions napping. There is no action shot, no adventure. The truth is no-one really cares what Labour does anymore. It's the worst kind of insult.

Who is left to blame? Last night Labour lost to the Conservatives in Copeland. It wasn't narrow either. They got a proper spanking – down five points, with the Tories up eight. The Lib Dem vote was up four, while Ukip fell by nine. It's tempting to put together a Brexit-flavoured explanation for that – Ukip to Tories, Labour to Lib Dems – but there were plenty of other things going on, including the crucial nuclear issue. Regardless, the result suggests that current opinion polls – themselves unspeakably bad for the opposition – might still be underestimating Tory support, as they did in 2015.

Do not underestimate the extent of this loss. Labour lost against the governing party. In a by-election. Yes, the Tories replaced their leader so they are enjoying a brief upswing in popularity, as Gordon Brown did  - although for far less time – and John Major before him. But regardless, a meat-and-potatoes opposition heading for defeat would still expect a healthy swing in its favour during a byelection. Corbyn lost votes . Labour figures now call Copeland a marginal. So a safe Labour seat for eight decades is now a marginal. That's where we are.

Who can they blame? John McDonnell blamed Tony Blair for his speech on Brexit last week. Corbyn himself blamed "the political establishment". It is not a convincing analysis. People rejecting the political establishment generally do not vote for the governing Tory party.

The truth is there is no-one else to blame. Their internal opponents have left them to it. The media have left them to it. Even the Tories have started ignoring them, since Labour promised away their ability to delay the Article 50 bill. This is Corbyn's failure and he owns it, completely.

So what happens now? The so-called Labour moderates have not just been silenced by the Owen Smith contest. They are also petrified by Brexit and the witch hunt against anyone who tries to 'thwart the will of the people'. Theresa May's steely gaze in the Lords this week, as peers debated amendments to the Article 50 bill, looks upon MPs as well, daring them to stand up and oppose her plans and be branded traitors to the country by her cabal of rabid newspaper supporters and parliamentarians. The only thing that unites the right and left of the Labour party is terror over Brexit and Brexit is the only political subject which matters.

There are quite a few people out there – some of them relatively influential – who want Labour to split and are prepared to dedicate money and time to making it happen. Some see it as a necessary precursor to a general realignment in British politics towards a new open/closed binary opposition. Under this theory, a Labour split might precipitate a Tory split later on in negotiations, if the economic side of things looks particularly dire.

That's still possible but intuitively it feels like if the Labour party was ever going to split it would have done so last autumn. Most MPs are too cautious for that sort of big decision. It can leave you out in the cold, friendless in parliament, foolish in the media and lost in your constituency.

And anyway most Labour MPs remain tied to the Brexit mast as the ship careers towards the storm. Corbyn's opponents in the PLP have no better ideas about how to deal with the party's predicament than their leader. You only need to see the unimaginative nature of interventions by people like Stephen Kinnock and Dan Jarvis to recognise that. They pursue a strategy for the one third of Labour voters who backed Brexit, but nothing for the rest. Corbyn supplies a strategy for no-one. In that sense they would be an improvement. A third is better than nothing, but it is not the basis for a successful leadership campaign.

There's just not much going on. Corbyn offers no hope. His opponents offer no hope. Labour does not appear prepared to split or to select a new leader. Instead it is just slumped on the floor, occasionally twitching, although even that sometimes seems too much for it now. The fact it can even win a by-election in Stoke is actually impressive. It shows the resilience of the Labour brand despite the utter poverty of those who represent it in parliament.

Ian Dunt is the editor of Politics.co.uk. His book - Brexit: What The Hell Happens Now? - is available now from Canbury Press.

The opinions in politics.co.uk's Comment and Analysis section are those of the author and are no reflection of the views of the website or its owners.

Stoke by-election: Ukip are finished, it's time to put them to sleep

It's not really Paul Nuttall's fault. Ukip were finished long ago, in early October, when Theresa May made her speech at the Conservative party conference confirming hard Brexit. Once that was done, it was clear that the Conservative party was going to adopt the Ukip programme wholesale. There was simply no reason for them to exist anymore.

He could have admittedly done a better job. Nuttall has for years been portrayed as the great threat to Labour, for no real reason other than his accent. That's how complete the take-over of identity politics is on both left and right in British politics. When it finally came time to put this theory to the test, it turned out that an accent is not enough.

His campaign was one for the history books. First he pretended he lived in Stoke when the home he had designated in the constituency was empty. Then he had a toe-curling encounter with Michael Crick in which he tried to dismiss it. 

So far, so typical. Just like Tristram Hunt, the Labour MP who came before him, he had been parachuted in. He'd hoped that the standard Brexit rhetoric on immigration and control would see him through, given Stoke's high Leave vote. It was the same arrogance and lofty disdain as that shown by the mainstream politicians Nuttall claims to hate so much.

But the rest of his errors were of a different quality altogether. The false claim that he had lost friends in Hillsborough was not a standard political story. It was the type of thing which grabs the attention and forces you to start psychologically assessing the candidate and his team. That's generally not a good place for a campaign to be. Soon afterwards, Nuttall's website shut down for 'scheduled maintenance'.

By this point something very dangerous happened to Nuttall. He had become a joke. People put out doctored images of him at historic events, like the moon landing or at a Beatles gig. He was a punchline in the John Terry style – capable of being superimposed on any image.

But for all his personal failures, there was a bigger strategic one Nuttall had committed: he had believed the media narrative on Brexit. This narrative has been constructed almost entirely on the basis of Leave supporting MPs and newspapers. It is their echo chamber. It says that Brexit was a triumph of the left-behinds against the establishment. Like all really convincing lies, there is truth in it. Many voters were trying to give the establishment a kicking and many do feel left behind. Generally, the less well off and less well educated were more likely to vote Leave. And yes, nearly two-thirds of Labour seats - and four-fifths of their seats in the Midlands and the North - backed Leave.

But this account of the referendum is grossly simplified. It has become the only story in town for the simple reason that it flatters the Brexiters to pretend they are fighting some sort of crusade for the disadvantaged. Peel it back and you remember that nothing is quite as it seems. Across the country, nearly two thirds of Labour voters backed Remain. And yes, they did so in the Midlands and the North, not just in London and the major southern cities. Labour voters in the Midlands and the North rejected Brexit by 58%.

That left Nuttall trying to squeeze the Labour vote on Brexit when there really wasn't that much to be gained by doing so. Turns out it only gets you another couple of points. Meanwhile, the Conservatives, who only really started campaigning the other day, actually increased their share of the vote. And so did the Lib Dems, with their resolutely anti-Brexit platform, presumably at the expense of Labour, who despite their victory lost five points. In Copeland, which also held a by-election yesterday, Ukip lost nine points.

How do you squeeze a Tory vote when it has already moved to your position? You can't. There is simply nowhere for Ukip to go. Even Nigel Farage doesn't seem that interested. Most of his reactions to the prime minister's speeches merely involve him stating how happy he is with everything she's doing.

Ukip are in power, in every form that counts. And they are therefore further away from power than they have ever been. They can't target Conservative votes, because they are them. And there's no point looking leftward, because if they can't win Labour votes in Leave-supporting Stoke they can't win them anywhere. What are they going to do? Target the Lib Dems? They're finished.

If Ukip continues to have any success at all it'll be as a meme, which is really the only kind of success it ever had anyway. In terms of electoral victory, it's time to put to bed the idea that they are a viable political party in Westminster.

Ian Dunt is the editor of Politics.co.uk. His book - Brexit: What The Hell Happens Now? - is available now from Canbury Press.

The opinions in politics.co.uk's Comment and Analysis section are those of the author and are no reflection of the views of the website or its owners.

The reduction in migration numbers is a British tragedy

The migration numbers are coming down. Everyone is seemingly very happy about it. Anti-immigration figures are happy about it. The people who privately support immigration but feel they have to 'respect the views on the doorstep' are happy about it. The prime minister, who prioritises the reduction of immigration above all other concerns, is happy about it. In a profoundly divided country, you would be hard pushed to find an issue on which everyone is so united. Immigration figures must come down.

This is the first glimpse of success for the reduce-migration-at-all-costs campaign. Sure, a record number of Romanians and Bulgarians came. Sure, the figures overall are not statistically significant. But they do constitute, for the first time in four years, a decline in the annual numbers. The referendum appears to be an important factor. In the immediate wake of the decision, there was a 12,000 increase in Poles and other eastern Europeans going home compared to the year before. An extra 11,000 people from outside the EU also left. Fewer people chose to come here, including 41,000 international students, mostly from outside the EU.

It is perfectly likely that we are seeing the start of a decline in migration as a result of Brexit. Certainly that is what most people in the media and even government are saying. It is not an unreasonable conclusion to come to. What's unreasonable is their happiness over it.

TV viewers overseas saw the reports about racial and xenophobic abuse in Britain on the news. Many decided it was not the place they were told it was. It wasn't somewhere tolerant and peaceful and orderly, where you would not be judged for your race or your caste or your religion. It wasn't somewhere where you could work hard, struggling by on a pittance, but maybe eventually be able to buy a shop, be able to send your children to university and watch them become doctors or lawyers. Maybe it wasn't a country of opportunity at all. Maybe it was somewhere dangerous, where you would not be welcome, because of your accent, or the colour of your skin, or your religion.

The experience was more emotional for those who were already here. Most of the Europeans I know still burn with fury over what has happened: Poles, Czechs, Germans, French, Spanish, Italians. People who came and contributed and felt at home here. And now suddenly home is not home.

It is hardest for the eastern Europeans, of course. They know the British people are not angry about having too many German architects. They know that so much of this is targeted at them. People who came here and worked, who played by the rules, who were as similar to the English as you’re likely to get. Some saw the violence and abuse on the streets. Some did not but they heard about it.

Others avoided the more pernicious elements of what happened. They simply felt the rejection. Europeans who had lived here for decades, suddenly feeling unwanted in their home. People who had thought highly of the English, of the deep sense of fair play and stability that England provides, now suddenly uncertain of the nature of the country and their place in it. When they sent off applications for permanent residence, to which they were perfectly entitled, they often received a Home Office response suggesting they prepare to leave – something which happened regularly enough for it to look more like conspiracy than cock-up. Others were given impenetrable forms, running for dozens of pages, demanding they cite every holiday over years. Others were suddenly embroiled in rows about whether NHS use counted as health insurance.

The Home Office hadn't set up a system to help them, despite being perfectly aware of the tidal wave of requests which were likely to come their way. The inadequacy of the official response confirmed the sense that the authorities viewed them as a problem, not an asset. And at the top level, ministers played with their lives as if they were pieces on a chess board. Liam Fox called them one of our "main cards" in Brexit negotiations. Theresa May refused to offer them assurances.

So now the numbers are declining and we're supposed to be happy about it. Happy that people have seen violence and abuse on our streets and decided not to come, happy that people have felt uncomfortable and rejected by a country they have lived in for years.

I'm not happy about it. Those figures constitute workers who will not contribute to Britain's economy, who will not set up a company, or become a doctor, or oversee a research project, or take a risk on a shop, or open a restaurant, or fall in love here, or make friends here, or bring their food and music here – or, yes, work in labouring, or fruit picking, or social care, or many of the other seemingly menial jobs which allow them to start saving and send money home and do the jobs people need doing .

And this country won't be able to have an impact on them. It won't bring to their lives the unique things which Britain provides, the ways in which it makes people more restrained and more accepting, the liberating sense of stability it provides, the balance between social and individual rights, the engrained suspicion of the state, the wariness of absolute thought in politics or religion, the sense of irony, and privacy, and mutual respect. It will not be able to continue improving a world it has retreated from.

All these things will be lost, because we must reduce immigrant numbers at all costs. The great vision of Britain which had been growing for the last few decades, of a country which could show the world how to be open and successful, is fading away. And now the immigrant numbers are starting to come down. We are increasingly seen as hard and insular and prejudiced. And we're meant to celebrate it.

Ian Dunt is the editor of Politics.co.uk. His book - Brexit: What The Hell Happens Now? - is out now from Canbury Press.

The opinions in politics.co.uk's Comment and Analysis section are those of the author and are no reflection of the views of the website or its owners.

 

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