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Monday, 12 June 2017

Can Andrew Little and Labour NZ make hay out of Corbyn and Labours win in the UK?

Short answer to this question is no. 

Different countries, different political systems (FPP vs MMP) and different political cultures and histories all add up to no direct correlation between there and here.

The mid to long term answer is “yes, but…” as the global mood across much of the democratic west has been one of angry populism and punishment for establishment politicians for a while now.

So the question needs to focus less on the yes and more on the “but” to find an answer.

The Numbers

And it would help if we look at how things actually turned out in the UK to see if we can translate what was in effect a “shock outcome”*.

Labour                     Seats      262                 Increase/Decrease       +32     
Conservatives          Seats      318                 Increase/Decrease      -13
Scot Nat Party         Seats      35                    Increase/Decrease      -19
Lib Dems                 Seats      12                   Increase/Decrease      +3
Others                      Seats      23                   Increase/Decrease       -3

And under a FPP system it’s the seats that count so alone the Conservatives are well ahead of Labour but when you add in all the other parties, especially the SNP which is not fond of the Conservatives in the wake of the previous failed Scottish Secession vote, it’s a lot closer and the margin shrinks to less 25 seats. Add in the Lib Dems and its even less.

This gives us, under the mechanics of FPP in the UK, a hung parliament but more on that later.

What’s even more revealing is the vote share and change from the previous election which is as follows:

CON     42.4%                Change +5.5%
LAB     40.0%                 Change + 9.5%
LD        7.4%                  Change -0.5%
SNP      3.0%                  Change -1.7%
UKIP     1.8%                 Change -10.8%
GRN     1.6%                  Change – 2.1%

Also interesting are the turnout figures which 68.7% which was a 2% increase on 2015 and the fact that vote share for the two main parties was the highest since 1970s.

Finally the geographic vote spread which saw three very clear areas for voters in the UK, with London being firmly Labour, the South of England being firmly Tory and the North being for the Scottish National Party and Labour.

All the data used for these numbers can be found here on the BBC website.

The Analysis

So what do these numbers show if we step back a bit from the raw metrics?

The first and most obvious is the large swing towards the left with Labour getting an extra 9.5% of the vote and 32 extra seats. It also shows that while the Conservatives increased vote share (at +5.5%) they lost seats which indicates more people leaving them than coming in seats which they lost.

And that swing happened due to the fact that parties like UKIP lost 10.8% of the vote (and its one seat) so while many of those voters would have gone back to vote Tory the Tories were losing even more voters to Labour as many punters were simply “passing through” on the way to vote for Corbyn and Labour.

Thus for every extra voter that Theresa May and the Conservatives got Labour got almost double and the biggest shift was from the far Right towards the Left.

Also as many minor parties were either wiped out or severely reduced we can see that it was not a case of votes bleeding out to minor parties but instead voters coalescing around the two main parties.

then with the increased turnout and the consolidation of votes into the big two we see a polarization of opinions into two binary choices and the erosion of certain “middle ground” or fringe opinions and the related destruction or reduction of various small parties which were born out of those opinions.

In short the death of small parties, goodbye middle ground and the return to the two party politics of the past**.

But as the UK has a FPP system these results are skewed somewhat by the mechanics particular to FPP rather than how things would be under MMP which would see the Conservatives beaten by a Labour/Lib Dem/SNP coalition.

Therefore who (or what) gets to decide who is the next government? Under FPP the crown of being kingmaker has fallen on the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) which has the 10 seats to push May and the Conservatives over the line into a majority of seats in the house and thus secure power.

And the DUP being more conservative than the Conservatives means that those 10 seats are locked in and Labour and Corbyn are piped at the post.

What a difference an electoral system makes.

The Bigger Picture

But lets take a further step back and ask why was there such a major and unexpected shift to the Left.

On the negative side Theresa May and the Conservatives judged badly, that, in the wake of Brexit, the mood of the electorate would be calm enough to stand another critical vote of confidence. Seems it was not but given that Brexit went against expectations I am not sure what the logic (if any) was.

Also with the recent terror attacks where it was revealed that most of the suspects were already on watch lists, had been repeatedly reported by members of their own communities to the authorities as being concerns and that May herself was responsible for major cutbacks in Police numbers (as head of the Home Office) under the ever popular "austerity" measures and things did not look good when it became clear that the police were simply too stretched to do anything about it.

Then there was May’s decreasing popularity and the fact that she avoided public speaking and even one debate against Corbyn.

In short the Conservatives stumbled badly, read the mood incorrectly and did the classic tortoise and the hare scenario for the expected results. May won’t make alive it to the next election.

On the flip-side Corbyn and Labour made major capital of this election even if they did not win because despite his naysayers (which are now reduced even further and probably are a distinct minority now) he has solidified his leadership even further, battle tested it and the party, on the hustings and shown that a positive message of change for a better future can resonate with voters.

And it was as simple as that.

If conservatives (in all countries) get to corner the market on things like pragmatism and being “realistic” then liberals get exclusive rights talk about dreams and hopes all by themselves and if Labour had lost its way during the Blairite years it was because those ideas and concepts were given up in favor of a "middle ground" approach which was little more than the same message of realism/pragmatism that the Tories were shilling but with less credibility.

But Jeremy Corbyn killed that idea stone cold dead when he took over and started saying things about dreams, hopes and a better future once again.

Of course it would be unfair to say it’s all due to Corbyn but a lot of this outcome is. He held on in the face of multiple attempts to remove him and took his position to the public in the truest test there is and all the sour grapes in the UK (and there seem to be quite a lot of them) can’t change that. The results speak for themselves.

But what about NZ?

So finally we can ask ourselves about that “yes, but…” answer to our question we were discussing earlier.

Can Andrew Little and Labour do the same here?

To start they don’t have to worry about the FPP hurdle and that means that if they make up the kind of ground that Labour and Corbyn did in the last month of polling then they are home and hosed as UK polls had Labour 20 points behind and that is roughly the numbers that Labour NZ need to beat any combination of National and another party come September.

But because this is MMP there is unlikely to be such titanic shifts in vote share as the UK had simply because parties like the Lib Dems and UKIP picked up votes due to voter frustration with FPP mechanics and then angrily switched when their chosen party couldn't translate that vote share into power or do what the Lib Dems did and go into coalition with the one party they should not have (the Conservatives) when being handed the kingmaker crown on a silver platter***.

Therefore in NZ it’s unlikely that there will be any sudden shift of up to 20% in voters from one party to another as both the smaller parties like The Greens and NZF are locked in and able to translate those votes into some form of result (although that may be less the case for the Greens now as they wrestle with the tar-baby that is translating their 12-15% into genuine political power) and the stability of MMP offsets such FPP related outcomes.

Then there is the leadership question.

Andrew Little is no Jeremy Corbyn (see the links in my previous post) and as Labour NZ is still playing the middle ground/pragmatism card like it’s the 1990s or early 2000s and as such no message that Andrew or the party puts out will resonate like Corbyn and UK Labours did if they keep on that way.

And because I have bashed Andrew Little so much for his terrible leadership skills in the past I will say no more here and just encourage you to read any previous posts I have written about him.

Labour NZ has yet to deal with the horrid stain that is 1984, and as I have argued many times before, until they do, they remain stuck waiting for a big draw leader like Helen Clark (perhaps someone with the initials of J.A.) to enthuse voters over to their side because no message they send says “bright new future for all” when they are couching everything in the realpolitik market-speak which was outdated when it was coming out of Michael Cullen’s mouth.

So in the end the “yes” gets trumped by the “but” and we remain in thrall to whatever Winston Peters has planned for us****.

Which is a shame because if Labour was to make a genuine Mea Culpa for 84 we could see the “yes” trump the “but...”*5.

All it needs is a genuine leader willing to dream big and steer the party out of the doldrums it has been in for the last decade.

I wonder if Jeremy Corbyn has any relatives living in New Zealand?

*-Although when you consider the potential pitfalls of putting a vote to the public in the wake of the last “vote to the public” that lead to BREXIT you might want to consider the “wisdom” of such a view that such an outcome was a “shock”.
**-At least for now.
***-This is the dilemma that Winston and NZF face this election.
****-No matter how many times I twist my analysis on NZ politics it always keeps coming back to Winston, it’s frustrating as hell.
*5-No pun intended but now that I think about it…

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