Tendance Coatesy

Left Socialist Blog

The Future of a Delusion, “If our whole party had united behind Jeremy, Labour could have won in 2017 and saved tens of thousands of lives. “

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Election 2017 broadcast - Chinese for labour

 The 2017 election that might have been won, if it hadn’t been for a completely different result.

In his only novel, Zuleika Dobson; (1911) Max Beerbohm recounts the adventures of a femme fatale’s visit to Oxford. All the undergraduates fall in love with her. In a final proof of their passion they “leapt emulously headlong into the water”. and “plunged into the swirling stream”.

The  lees of such a homage were as nothing to the claims now being made in the afterglow of this article.

Jeremy Corbyn accuses Labour officials of sabotaging election campaign

Ardour for Jeremy Corbyn has led people to declare that Labour could have won in 2017, and “saved tens of thousands of lives”, if only……

There are good reasons to be outraged at the way that outgoing Party Officials are alleged to have treated the incoming Corbyn team.

On the material presented there is the strongest possible case, given in the newspapers, that “clear evidence of factional activity by senior paid employees of the party against the elected leadership of the time” exists.

We wholly sympathise with Joe Ryle on that.

But what has emerged is a far wider set of claims

They allege that in 2017 hostile officials set up a “shadow operation” in a Westminster office as part of efforts to plot their own election course, which included starving potential target seats of money and focusing resources on MPs not allied to Corbyn.

In the Independent this is stated,

The 13-page contribution, seen by The Independent, says: “Given that Labour was less than 2,500 votes in key seats away from forming a government, having won 40 per cent of the popular vote, it’s not impossible that Jeremy Corbyn might now be in his third year as a Labour prime minister were it not for the unauthorised, unilateral action taken by a handful of senior party officials in 2017.”

The messages detail at length senior staffers disappointed when Labour did better than expected in the election or polls, with some saying explicitly that they had been working against a good result for the party.

Reports  underline a “shadow operation”” aimed at “starving potential target seats of money” and factionalists giving vivid expressions of joy at Labour losing.

What kind of “shadow operation” was at work?

Were there people out there in the constituencies pouncing on party workers, thwarting their activities,  and garbling their messages?

This will come as news to those who campaigned in target seats, such as Ipswich, which was won by Labour by a highly competent well-resourced Labour team backed by members and supporters all over town.

The “separate operation” must have been so hidden in the shades, bound in the darkness, that we, in our stupid good-humoured way. failed to notice it.

Sandy Martin won this ‘target seat” for Labour in Ipswich.

Where was it during the 2019 European Elections, when Cobyn’s team was in charge?

That was a half-hearted campaign if ever there was one.

Where was this parallel wrecking centre in December 2019….?


 Anthony B. Masters, Royal Statistical Society Statistical Ambassador. 

The 2017 general election: not that close after all

The claim relies on the smallest number of votes changing in a specific way. It ignores that, based on the same logic, the Conservatives needed only 50 switched votes for a working majority. It also ignores the fact that constituencies are not independent events.

Far more votes would need to have shifted to plausibly change the outcome.

By the same logic, the Conservative needed only 50 switched votes to reach 321 seats. Given Sinn Fein’s abstentions, this is a probable working majority. 528 votes would have needed to switch for the Conservatives to win 326 constituencies — a Commons majority.

We should remember that constituencies are not independent events. We can also calculate what vote share would need to switch across Great Britain. How big does a uniform national swing need to be?

That also requires three assumptions. If one party increased their vote share, that same change happens in every seat. Only switching between Labour and the Conservatives occurs. Turnout does not change.

Under those assumptions, 0.04 points from Labour to the Conservatives gives the Conservatives 321 seats. Some 0.37 points in the other direction reduces the Conservatives to 310 seats.

These two switched vote shares are equal to around 13,000 and 116,000 votes across Great Britain. The Conservatives would have needed fewer switched votes than Labour to plausibly change the outcome in their favour.

There are other considerations to take into account, too. If Labour had been closer to the Conservatives in votes, then the electoral dynamics would also have changed.

In this alternate universe, the messages and targeted campaigns could have been dissimilar. Indeed, Theresa May might not have called the election in the first place.

The ‘2,227 votes’ figure appears to be a miscalculation. Suggesting Labour were a few thousand votes from “forming a government” relies on diamond-strong assumptions. It is time to bring it to an end.

Reactions are rolling in:

Where the battle lines are being drawn over leaked Labour report

There is no easy way through, however considered the response. Corbyn’s supporters are convinced by the election betrayal; many BAME MPs and members want more than just words from Starmer about tackling toxic attitudes at Labour HQ; and the officials are insistent the law will uphold their belief they have been maligned and defamed.

If there are any compensations for Starmer, it is that this will likely play out amid the political noise of coronavirus and far enough away from an election that many voters will not notice.

The Morning Star has its own explanation for Labour’s two most recent election defeats.

Editorial: The leaked report is important – but it was not sabotage that defeated the Corbyn project

The first is that the Corbyn leadership faced deliberate, planned obstruction from the Labour Party machinery from the beginning.

Evidence of this is not confined to the report, which was not a bolt from the blue. The suspension and expulsion of thousands of members during the leadership elections of 2015 and 2016 on the most trivial pretexts — an 82-year-old was expelled for having retweeted a demand that the Green Party be included in election debates — was very obviously an effort by the party bureaucracy to stop Corbyn winning.

Nor was the attempt to bar Corbyn, the incumbent leader, from standing for re-election in 2016 a secret.

The real fight was deeper,

For five years the political front line of class struggle in Britain was not between the two main parties but inside one of them — between those Labour forces invested (often literally) in the status quo, and those who wanted socialist change.

In the end, in the sense that Corbyn’s successor is not building on the socialist project but reversing it, the former won. Or rather, the latter lost.

Because the second key lesson is easily forgotten amid justified outrage over the leaked report. The socialist project was able to advance despite their sabotage. As one of the saboteurs put it on election night 2017, “they [Corbyn’s team] are celebrating and we are silent and grey faced.”

The relentless attacks did tremendous damage. But it was only when the Labour leadership allowed its own radicalism to be blunted, subordinating its socialist message to the liberal cause of a second EU referendum and prioritising parliamentary manoeuvres over mass mobilisation, that the wheels came off.

The People’s Vote marches for a Second Referendum were backed by figures like Sadiq Khan, the Labour Mayor of London, and many Labour MPs. John McDonnell addressed a Final Say Rally in October 2019.  There was radical left support from Another Europe is Possible which organised hundreds-strong contingents at protests that  drew, hundreds of thousands onto the streets.

If, as the Morning Star asserts, Labour did not engage in “Mass mobilisation” why did not they, and the rest of the pro-Brexit ‘Lexit’ (Left Exit) groups, organise their own demonstrations in favour of leaving the EU?

Perhaps they were afraid of attracting the nationalist support that lay behind pro-Brexit vote and the subordination of their socialist message to the cause of populist national sovereignty.

The daily’s own conclusion is that the left should have “grappled” with its enemies within, and that it should speak to the “whole working class” – as if working class voters were not divided on Brexit.

The Editorial concludes,

If we attribute our failure to the strength of ruling-class opposition, we may as well give up on socialism: it will never go away.

The important thing is to develop strategies to overcome it. The left did not grapple seriously enough with its enemies in Labour, but it was when it ceased to speak to the whole working class that it stopped being heard.

So the real struggle is against Labour’s enemies within.

Here’s some people with ideas about that:


Pseudo-Marxism has no place in our movement

All of this guff is nothing but dust being thrown into the eyes of the movement, intended to confuse and disorientate socialist activists – and, ultimately, to hide the real liberal, reactionary, bourgeois class content at the heart of Mason’s thesis.

In reality, Mason – like Kautsky – has lost his head. But at least the latter had a head to lose in the first place.

There is nothing radical to be found in Mason’s apologia for liberalism. Indeed, there are no positive suggestions for the left at all.

Most notably, in Mason’s (30-plus minute read!) essay, there is no mention of the need for the left to fight for mandatory reselection; to reverse Blair’s legacy; or to kick out the bureaucrats and careerists that have conspired against a Labour victory.

Instead, Mason has gone on record recently to defend Starmer – the right-wing Labour leader who is opening waging war on the left on behalf of the establishment, attempting to reverse all the gains of the Corbyn era.

This is a telling and textbook case study of where you end up if you abandon a class approach. The ideas of ‘culture wars’, postmodernist ‘narratives’ based on ‘values’, and popular fronts are a dead end for the movement. It is only the genuine ideas of Marxism that can unite the working class and offer a way forward.

Written by Andrew Coates

August 8, 2020 at 10:51 am

14 Responses

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  1. Reblogged this on Tory Britain!.


    August 8, 2020 at 12:04 pm

  2. Some interesting thoughts here but, as ever, there’s that giveaway usage of “liberal” as a pejorative and all my sympathies fall away and they just seem like the Daily Mail turned outwards.

    On related matters you might find my most recent Facebook status – on whether a different outcome to the miners’ strike would have eliminated the considerable black British and Islamic belief in a Jewish conspiracy, inspired by something posted on RT – interesting.


    August 8, 2020 at 1:00 pm

  3. With some caveats I broadly agree with your post. There is a I feel a real and present danger that some kind of left “Dolchstoßlegende” myth could enter the Labour bloodstream, and infect future thinking in the same way as the original did in the German polity between 1919 and 1933, There are, though, other points to consider. Yes; I know many Party salaried office holders propelled into the expansion of the machine in the Blair years were deeply hostile, and made little secret of it. But I have to ask the query “just how important were they to the local campaigns” ? Over the years as a former long standing CLP Secretary in a Labour marginal from 1997 through to 2017, we only really engaged with Regional Office in three ways; getting selections, and then trigger ballots underway and overseen, legal help if we needed any (we didn’t) and liaison over Cabinet, Shadow Cabinet visits – which everyone vied for, but which were often a distraction when all the active campaigners were tied up for a morning to accommodate whims of the visiting great man or woman.

    In the – groan – “final analysis” election campaigns are not some 1918 “Operation Michael” directed from on high and in a co-ordinated fashion across an entire front, but a series of local battles fought by local actors from the MP / candidate down, and as much reliant on local strengths as on overall strategic direction. The stance of the candidate towards the leadership in 2017 was part of this; In my area, which we now call the Tees Valley, this was mixed. One MP was a fairly enthusiastic Blairite, two were pragmatically prepared, despite personal doubts, to work with the new membership grain whilst two were adamantly opposed to Jeremy’s ascendancy and were not backward in voicing that loudly and publicly. We had two new candidates as well. One was generally sympathetic to Jeremy, the other had reservations, but concentrated on the job in hand. In the end, the outcome was better than most people expected (in their heats at least). All the re-nominated MP’s kept their seats whilst we gained one seat from the Tories but lost one seat with a new candidate. That was my constituency. Our previous Labour MP decided to be a proto-walker, standing down at the last moment, and leading to a hasty new selection. Mind, despite getting off on a bad initial footing, my gut feeling was – and still is that if we had an extra week of work, we would have kept that seat.

    Overall we did well in fairly dismal national headline territory – but was there that extra momentum to have propelled ourselves even farther forward ? Probably not. At a stretch we could have kept our constituency, but for the rest it would have bee merely piling up welcome, but excess votes, Nick Tyrone, who you cite does name some constituencies where it is possible we could have won in more propitious circumstances, and it might be useful to look at those in some detail to tease out local factors that may have lessons. But the role of Southside / Regional Office staff ? No smoking pistol pointing to electoral defeat. The only smoking pistol was collusion with those forces in the PLP opposed to the new leadership – but that ran alongside,- not centrally – to the election campaign and outcome, ( in my view at least.)

    david walsh

    August 8, 2020 at 1:18 pm

    • Thanks David.

      That tends to confirm a very general point, that the National Party, and often Regional offices, do not have as much influence as somebody with no ground-level, or in search of a very hasty analysis, would assume.

      While I do not have your depth of experience, I have been a Branch Secretary (around 9 years in the 1990s till early millenium), and over the years have done a lot of campaigning and am pretty directly familiar with what happens in the Labour Party here.

      The more you think about it the more incredible it is that anybody tries to talk about detailed LP strategy and action in General Elections without speaking of the “series of local battles”.

      Andrew Coates

      August 8, 2020 at 2:10 pm

  4. There were obviously internal factional differences, plots and ‘back-stabbings’ along with mainstream media bias against Corbyn, all of which had some effect, but at the end of the day the real fly in the ointment was Brexit and Labour’s handling of their stance on it. I think a very large percentage of the British public are Nationalistic, xenophobic or just a tad racist, and obviously wanted out of the EU.


    August 8, 2020 at 2:14 pm

  5. Reblogged this on A Riverside View and commented:
    Here Comrade Coates has written a very interesting article about the story that the 2017 election was sabataged by people in the Labour Party who thought Corbyn was so bad, they prefered to Tories to win.

    Kevin Algar

    August 8, 2020 at 6:20 pm

  6. I hate to have to admit it, but John Rentoul of the Independent makes a fair point

    “So, yes, Corbyn could have won in 2017, but it wasn’t sabotage from his own side that stopped it. The giveaway, as Nick Cohen points out, is that Corbyn complains about 2017, when a lot of Labour staff were “Blairites” and he did better than expected, and not about 2019, when he had total control of the party machine and did worse than at any time since 1935.”

    Jim Denham

    August 9, 2020 at 10:52 am

    • But didn’t ‘Momentum’ led by multi-millionaire property developer Jon Lansman have full control of the Labour Party in 2019?


      August 9, 2020 at 11:06 am

    • Actually, the meme, that labour did worse in 2019 than in any election since 1935, is also a right-wing narratieve based on a lie, as I set out in my posts lifelong Labour Voters?.

      In fact, it wasn’t. Labour’s vote share of 33% was higher than the 27% it secured in 1983; it was higher than the 30% it secured under Kinnock in 1987, and more or less the same as the 34% it secured under Kinnock in 1992, when it was expected that Labour was going to win. A large part of the poorer showing of Labour in terms of seats comes down to the fact that Labour was wiped out in Scotland, but Labour only had six seats to begin with, whereas back in in the 1980’s and 90’s, it was dominant in Scotland. Labour lost those Scottish seats long before Jeremy Corbyn became Leader.


      August 9, 2020 at 12:13 pm

  7. The real delusion in 2017 was that it was ever likely that the soft-left, Blair-rights, let alone the hard right within Labour were ever going to unify behind Corbyn. It was that kind of Stalinist Popular Frontism promoted by those behind Corbyn that led him to continually appease those elements after 2015 rather than go after them with the kind of vigour they have always done against the left, whenever they have had the opportunity.

    It was Stalinoid Popular Frontism that led Corbyn to oppose demands for a democratisation of the party via mandatory reselection that enabled all those right-wing and soft left MP’s to stay in place, backed by a failure of Momentum to organise the rank and file as they seemed more concerned with organising big show piece spectacles occasionally rather than persistent work at a local level.

    It is what led Corbyn to continually back track on points of principle, and to resort to the usual bureaucratic manouevres rather than open political struggle against the agents of the class enemy within the party.

    In the same way, anyone who thinks that the right are going to unify behind Starmer is equally deluded. Starmer is just the consequence of the failed Popular Front strategy inside the party of the Stalinists behind Corbyn. He represents just a move along the continual ratchet to the right that such a strategy always involves. As soon as the right feel strong enough, they will demand that he either capitulates to them entirely, or they will ditch him too.


    August 9, 2020 at 12:05 pm

  8. In the 2017 GE the Blairites in charge of our CLP decided to nit even run a centralised consituency campaign but to throw it to the branches to “do what you can” locally. In previous elections they had onky ever cancassed 3 if the 6 wards because “its too tory to bother”. The branches organised and campaigned reduced a majority of thousands to a couple of hundred. We were without a budget, and CLP “problems” meant we were without even basic leaflets for the first 3 weeks of the campaign. And our regional organisation fought tooth and nail to stop Jeremy or John or any high profile visitors from coming here. It would have made a difference.
    So I personally disagree with others observations on the 2017 election – without RW dishonesty and sabotage we could have won. Should have won.

    As for the observation that in 2019 JC had “total control” of the party aparatus – what guff! The MSM had another 2 years of panning and attacking us, lead by the so-called PLP and others within the party. Having a new GS was never going to be enough.


    August 9, 2020 at 1:40 pm

    • Where?

      Andrew Coates

      August 9, 2020 at 3:30 pm

    • Which constituency was this ?

      david walsh

      August 9, 2020 at 5:53 pm

  9. The Ashfield experience is wildly atypical; but it happened. Gloria da Piero , who had read the runes of an appalling pro-Brexit tide in the constituency, decided to stand down but managed to install a prospective candidate of similar politics. Her agent Lee Anderson, veteran of many campaigns against travellers, decamped to the Tories. Her office manager left for the Ashfield Independents , a peculiar aggregate of Lib-Demish and UKIP. Lee was selected as the Conservative candidate and is now our MP. Sic transit team Gloria.

    Julian Atkinson

    August 10, 2020 at 10:31 am

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