The apologists for Tory incompetence are becoming ever more desperate. We now have the undignified spectacle of Oxford University’s Centre for Evidence-Based Medicine publishing a non-peer-reviewed report co-authored by their Director (and regular contributor to Tory fanzine The Spectator) Carl Heneghan, which claims that Covid deaths have been over-reported due to a methodological failing at Public Health England (PHE).
The report alleges that PHE count all deaths of people who have ever tested positive for Covid as deaths from Covid. If this is the case, then – as unquestioningly broadcast by the BBC – someone could be diagnosed with Covid, recover and then weeks later be hit by a bus, and their death would still count as a Covid death for the PHE statistics.

It’s possible that the allegation is true, but the idea that the scale of its impact is sufficient to lead to a conclusion that deaths have been over-reported is pure fantasy – yet that is the headline used by the Daily Mail, and which Heneghan uses himself in his promotional tweets. The PHE figures for the 10 weeks of the peak of the pandemic only recorded 38k deaths, while the ONS data for the same period shows an excess death toll of 59k over the same 10 week period. For a conclusion that Covid has been over-reported, we’d need over 2 thousand extra people a week being run over by buses or suffering other non-Covid related deaths.

In an earlier non-peer-reviewed report for the CEBM, the same author criticised the comparison of ONS data for 2020 against a 5-year average because this approach doesn’t take account of population increase. The article didn’t show the figures adjusted for population. I guess it’s easier to throw some doubt into the mix if you leave the evidence out.[2] The figure of 59k excess deaths is a comparison of 2020 with a 10-year average adjusted for population growth.[3] That’s still 21k above the PHE figure. The idea that Covid deaths have been over-reported requires that all of those deaths and more must be attributable to non-Covid related causes. Over 2 thousand extra deaths a week, for 10 weeks, unexplained and out of nowhere, but not attributable to the global pandemic that was responsible for the other 3k excess deaths per week in the same period. Does that sound likely to you? No, it doesn’t to me either.

Neither does the idea that there was something unique about the lockdown in the UK that caused so many excess deaths, which somehow magically doesn’t apply in countries that locked down earlier and have suffered nowhere near the level of excess deaths. If lockdown causes such havoc, why have countries as diverse as New Zealand, Japan, Poland, Denmark, Greece and Hungary not been adversely affected?

By all means, let’s eliminate poor methodology, but let’s not feed the disreputable media outlets with a misleading conclusion fully aware that they will propagate the idea that deaths have been over-reported, it’s not as bad as we thought, Johnson is doing a grand job after all, move along now, nothing to see here…



Leadership v. Buffoonery

Two words guaranteed to get the disciples of the cult of Boris all hot under the collar: HERD and IMMUNITY. The very mention of these words and they’re all over you, insisting that herd immunity was never the official government policy.

It clearly was – see my last blog post for all the quotes – but to argue that it wasn’t is the most insane defence of a government reaction to a national crisis you will ever hear because to deny that herd-immunity was the policy in the absence of any measures of social distancing at all is to argue that the government did not have a policy. From Johnson claiming he’d shaken the hands of patients with coronavirus on February 27th to the closure of schools, pubs and restaurants on March 24th the government’s apologists are mounting the extraordinary defence that in the face of a national crisis – as deaths in Italy surpassed 700 a day – the UK government had decided not to have a policy.

That’s their defence of this government.

This isn’t my hostile assessment, remember. This is this government’s apologists’ own spin. That in the face of the greatest public health emergency in 75 years, an emergency in which there is 100% agreement that time is of the essence – the government made a conscious decision to do nothing.

For over three weeks.

That is their defence!

That is the best-case scenario for the reputation of this government and its pound-shop Mr Bean of a Prime Minister.

This defence has come largely from the Facebook and Twitter arms of the cult – perhaps the government have decided that their customary practice of telling barefaced lies and not caring about being caught out doing so is inappropriate as the death toll mounts. If so, Matt Hancock didn’t get the memo as he denied that herd-immunity was ever a part of government policy…

(Matt Hancock on BBC QT)

So it’s not about herd immunity, then  – what is it about Matt?

(Matt Hancock on BBC QT)

So it’s about “trying to get the curve down” and “protect lives”.
That’s not a policy Matt. That’s like having an economic policy of “having a good economy” or a football strategy of scoring more goals than the opposition. A policy is not the same as a slogan.

A policy has to tell us what you’re going to do.

What was this government’s policy after the Cygnus pandemic exercise in 2016 revealed that the country was woefully unprepared to face the likely threat of a pandemic?
This government’s policy was to do nothing.  

What was this government’s policy after the Cabinet Office published its Civil Emergencies risk register in September 2017 warning of the potential scale of a future pandemic?
This government’s policy was to do nothing.

In July 2018 when the Biological Security Strategy was published – do nothing

In January this year when the Chinese government alerted the international community to the danger – do nothing.

On January 23rd Hancock announced in Parliament his intention to do nothing.

Eight days later as Chinese scientists warned of the inevitability of global outbreaks, the UK government turned down the opportunity to participate in joint procurement schemes with other EU countries. Their first action in the face of this crisis was to do less than nothing. To opt-out of doing something because it was Brexit day, and as Michael Gove later commented “we’re an Independent nation now”[2].

Despite warning after warning the government continued its policy of doing nothing – another month was wasted even before Johnson’s hand-shaking stunt at the end of February

Another week drifted by before his announcement in early March that we could “take it on the chin, take it all in one go, and allow the disease as it were to move through the population”.

Yet another week drifted by and then his CSO, Patrick Vallance mentioned in an interview with Sky News that this policy decision would require 60% of the population to become infected[3]. That’s right – on March 12th we were treated to the numbers behind the government’s “plan”, and this really was when the tide turned. People began to look at these numbers – 60% is 40 million cases. A fifth of cases becoming serious is 8 million hospitalisations. Ten per cent of those cases requiring ICU is 800,000. The number of available ICU beds is publicly available information updated every week. At the time we had 765 ICU beds available. 765 beds for 800,000 patients. You don’t have to be an epidemiologist to work out that that’s over 1,000 patients per bed. At an average stay of 10 days, that policy is going to need more than 28 years. It’s not going to work is it?

A week later the government announced that the science had changed and that they now favoured a policy of social distancing, trotting this out as “an excellent example of how we respond, based on science…when the facts change, our policy changes…there was no hesitation: we changed the official advice within three hours”[4].

Sorry, what?

So – thanks for confirming that the official government line that the policy has never changed is yet another complete lie – but aside from that…what? When the facts change? The facts haven’t changed.

“We changed the advice within three hours”?

Really? Because on February 27th Johnson was shaking hands with imaginary patients, on March 5th he was saying the policy was to “allow the disease as it were to move through the population”, on the 12th Vallance was talking up herd-immunity on Sky, on Friday 14th I was posting on Facebook about how the numbers didn’t add up and by the 16th Hancock was claiming that the science had changed. The quote about responding in three hours came out on the seventeenth and the government actually responded a week after that on the 24th. People who responded more quickly than the government  – include me, the FA, the Football League, the RFU, Radio 1, Warner Brothers, London Book Fair and The Who. That’s the band The Who, not the W.H.O. We don’t know Roger Daltry’s or The Who’s position on the value of testing, but we do know the W.H.O. was advising governments to “test test test”.

Our government’s abject failure to do so means that we have no idea how many cases there were by the time they finally introduced lockdown measures on March 24th. By that point we’d conducted 90,000 tests[5] – Germany by then was carrying out 350,000 tests a week.

We don’t know how many cases we had by the start of the lockdown on the 24th and the failure to instigate a testing programme means that we never will. But we do know that more than 422 people had died of Covid-19 in the UK before the lockdown started. Germany locked down after 13 deaths. Portugal locked down before any deaths. Here’s how that’s worked out:

Deaths per 100,000 population, data from

While Italy, Spain and France were hit early and caught unawares, the UK government has no such excuse. The warnings were there and were heeded by governments in Portugal, Germany, Denmark, Norway, Iceland, New Zealand, Australia and more.

This shaded area on the graph below represents 9,000 lives. The lives potentially lost due to the UK government’s abject failure to fulfil its first responsibility – to protect its people.

Deaths per 100,000 population, data from

Don’t clap for Boris. Save your applause for the nurses he and his lackeys refused to give a pay rise to, and then cheered themselves for having done that…

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We know that disaster capitalists like Ress-Mogg will be hoovering up struggling companies while their shares are at bargain basement prices, yet off-shore leeches have the affront to expect to be bailed out by the tax payer.

If multi-national companies want our money, we’ll be needing shares in return, at their current market value.
How about a few more conditions?

  • Register in the UK for tax purposes.
  • Pay a living wage to all employees (the real living wage, not the thing the Tories like to call ‘the living wage’).
  • Recognise Trade Unions in all workplaces at all levels
  • Pay any back taxes (for now, we’ll let them off the interest)
  • In future, the highest-paid employee will receive no more than 20x the salary of the lowest-paid full-time employee

If they’re not keen, they don’t have to accept the bailout…
Add your own suggestions in the comments…

This has been a quick note, but for longer articles and more in depth assessments, see our other posts.

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March 27th 2020

We all have our theories about exactly why Trump and Johnson are making such a poor job of dealing with the corona pandemic. Their responses to the crisis have little in common with the responses of other countries but plenty in common with each other – the dithering, the delays, the utter incompetence and the disregard for science, for clear communication, for huge swathes of the populations they respectively fail to either lead or represent. The fact-free floundering of these charlatans – out of their depth, beleaguered and babbling – has many facets but is essentially the product of a single root cause. Neither Trump nor Johnson has ever faced a situation before in their lives where they didn’t hold all the cards. Born to wealth and privilege, cosseted from infancy and insulated from the slings and arrows, sheltered through life and at every turn handed an inbuilt advantage over whatever confronted them. Now, when we need leadership, we find that we’ve allowed a minority of each of our electorates to foist upon us these feeble-minded show-ponies who haven’t the first idea how to deal with adversity. At a time when we need leaders who step up when the odds are against them, we find ourselves saddled with lightweights who’ve never struggled against so much as a level playing field. When we needed MLK we got MDF.

For both men, their failure to understand the seriousness of the situation and their consequent willingness to prioritise other concerns above dealing with the pandemic will cost lives. Trump and Johnson’s lack of gravitas – in both cases a large part of their popular appeal – will result in the unnecessary deaths of some of the citizens for whom they are responsible. This is a matter of life and unnecessary death.

For both men, the issues they prioritised above the pandemic were the economy and their own popularity. For both men this meant playing down the threat when they should have been preparing for it. Trump got a head start while Johnson was trying to “Get Brexit Done”, declaring that the situation was under control (January 22nd  and 30th) had been shut down (February 2nd), would die in April with the hot weather (10th and 14th), that people are getting better (25th), cases will be close to zero (26th), it’s going to disappear like a miracle (27th), it’ll disappear and you’ll be fine (28th), there will be vaccines soon (March 2nd), and therapies (“therapies is sort of another word for, you know, cure”) (3rd). At this point someone in Number 10 must have noticed that Johnson had taken his eye off the ball and he was wheeled out to Kettering General Hospital to lie about having shaken hands with patients suffering from covid-19. That he was lying is hardly the point – both Trump and Johnson are compulsive, instinctive liars – we’ve known that since well before either of them took office.[1] That he was conveying a message that the virus is no threat – that we can be blasé about both its spread and its consequences – is the point. If such actions aren’t actually criminally negligent, then that can only represent a failing of our legal system, because they should be.

Meanwhile, Trump moved to claiming ‘low numbers’ (March 4th) and then ‘the lowest numbers’ (6th) while Johnson appeared on one of the UK’s biggest daytime TV shows (on March 5th) to make vague noises in the direction of the soon-to-be-announced herd-immunity approach: “One of the theories is that you know…um, perhaps you could sort of…take it on the chin, take it all in one…in one go, and allow the disease as it were to…to move through the …the population, er…I… without really taking as many draconian measures”. And there it is – the herd immunity approach. Before his light-entertainment interrogators Holly and Phil could challenge him on this – before they could get a word in – he began to row back on it: “I think we need to strike a balance”. (As if the idea of a balance between the herd-immunity approach and some other approach is a legitimate concept, rather than a dense mass of anti-thought). Within minutes he’d changed his mind and was supporting immediate intervention to flatten the curve: “I think it would be better if we take all the measures that we can now…just to…you know, to stop the peak of the disease being as….er…as…difficult”. Straight out of the gaslighter’s playbook he’d told us that some people had a theory that we were all expendable, like corona cannon fodder, then he’d immediately clouded the issue and finally said he’d make sure everything would be done to look after us. The idea was out there: there’s this theory – ooh a theory, how very sciencey – and it’s “counterintuitive”. This alone has the effect of immediately recruiting an army of social media propagandists who can’t wait to explain to their friends how “it may seem like that to the layman, but here’s the clever sciencey stuff that you probably don’t understand”. The idea was out there, but Boris was on record as preferring a different option, in case it all went Pete Tong. Over a week later Patrick Vallance, the government’s Chief Scientific Officer was announcing that the herd-immunity approach was indeed the government’s policy[2], and that mass testing was an essential part of the plan.[3] The pinnacle of this is a man with a bucket of water and a bottle with a hole in it convincing anyone who wasn’t familiar with the actual figures that this was a fiendishly cunning plan to scupper Jonny-virus in his tracks. Unfortunately, many people were aware of the figures. Patrick Vallance had told us that the herd-immunity would need to see 60%, or 40 million people infected. The experience of other countries told us that we could expect a fifth of those, or 8 million to need hospital treatment. We could easily look up the numbers of available ICU beds at the time. It was 365.

Three hundred and sixty-five beds.
For eight million patients.

The bucket of water and plastic bottle pantomime stops looking so clever when you realise the real scale would be a full swimming pool and a smallish egg-cup. The severe cases aren’t 4 or 5 times the hospital capacity as this thing with the bucket implies. Try 20,000 times the capacity. At a week in hospital for each severe case, this tactic will take 421 years. Imagine if all the beds were available – they’re not – and all hospital beds were empty (they’re not) and suitable for corona patients (again, they’re not), and imagine the government managed to double the number of beds and to provide all the required staff and facilities to bring them into operation (they won’t), would that help? Of course it would help! If no one else gets ill from any other condition or has an accident, and if everyone who is currently ill gets better tomorrow, we would then only have 56 critically ill corona patients per available bed. Spread over time, deaths could be kept down to a million or two – in that fantasy world though, not in any actual world.
How such an obviously flawed policy could have made it into practice is anyone’s guess. There’s recent speculation that Dominic Cummings had a hand in this – even in the Murdoch owned rags that generally fawn over his every move and not long ago were defending his decision to hire an advocate of eugenics and rape. Would that be much of a surprise? Cummings has shown that he’s keen to embrace faux science if it’s quirky, counter-intuitive and suits his narrow and narcissistic world view. Even better if it’s actual science, with graphs and everything and produced by scientists, and it supports essentially doing nothing about the pandemic that might disrupt business or Brexit. It’s fine so long as no one looks at the detail. We can show them this graph with two humps – a bad hump that we’re going to avoid and a good hump that we’re setting our sights on. Small details can be glossed over.  The detail that all our policies point to inaction, which actually puts us in line for the bad hump and the detail that the line representing our capacity is miles below even the good hump. Such minutiae are not for the likes of Cummings or Johnson. These are ideas men, a useful breed – except for the subset of their kind into which both Johnson and Cummings fall: ideas men whose ideas are all shit. 

Meanwhile, across the Atlantic, Trump who had spun off into full-on conspiraloon mode, declaring that the virus is a hoax (Feb 28th), is back on the minimiser trail claiming it’s really working out (March 10th), a lot of good things are going to happen (11th) and it’s going to go away (12th). Then suddenly on March 13th someone informs him that people are dying and his response is the only one it could ever have been: “No, I don’t take responsibility”. By the 16th he’s changed his tune: “This is a pandemic” and of course, by now, he’s known all along how serious the threat was – he was the first to realise: “I felt it was a pandemic long before it was called a pandemic” (17th).

A week later, distracted by something shiny, Trump has decided it wasn’t a big deal after all and is now preparing to lift the social distancing policies he’d half-heartedly allowed other people to apply over the past fortnight. Trump’s inaction and incompetence are slightly – but only slightly – mitigated by state and city authorities doing on a local level what he should have been doing nationally. Johnson has no equivalent back-up. The shift in the UK is stark. Only a week after the CSO was promoting the herd-immunity policy of letting the virus run through the population, the government had been forced to change direction – social distancing was introduced and schools closed their doors to most pupils for the foreseeable future. A week later Johnson announced strict rules intended to keep people at home, though he bodged the announcement so badly that even his own government were not clear on what he meant, resulting in at least five different messages being delivered that evening and the following morning.

It remains unclear how severe the crisis will become. In the UK it’s beyond reasonable doubt that it will be less serious than if the herd-immunity folly had been allowed to continue. Similarly, it’s vanishingly unlikely that it won’t be more serious than it could have been if sensible distancing measures had been introduced sooner. We’ll never know exactly how many lives have been lost due to the government’s denial and delay because – as the BBC have now revealed – the UK government is knowingly under-reporting deaths. The only thing that can be said with certainty about the situation in the States is that Trump’s lies have made things worse – as did his dismantling of the National Security Council’s global health security office.

When all of this is over, both countries have some reflecting to do. Are we going to continue to allow electoral minorities to inflict these crass, incompetent buffoons upon us? As the rest of the world moves forward with plans to mitigate inequality and to focus more on the quality of life and less on over-consumption of ever more plastic shit, are we going with them, or are we going to watch from the sidelines? Will the UK and the US be part of the gear-change into the future, or are we condemned to look backwards – living on past glories because they’re the only ones we have left? This won’t be the last crisis we face and if we want to make less of a pig’s ear of the next one we could do with a leader who hasn’t spent their life being gifted the win by the advantages they did nothing to earn.

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[1] Back in what astonishingly now seem like the good old days of the 1980s, Tory ministers used to actually have to take the risk they were claiming to take – the odious Selwyn Gummer had to actually make his daughter eat a burger for the press in his idiotic attempt to downplay Mad Cow Disease – he couldn’t just lie about having done it and expect that to be enough.




This post includes a blueprint for Labour’s future. You’re probably not going to like it. If you’re on the right of the party you won’t like where we’re going. If you’re on the left of the party you might not like how we’re going to get there. Crucial to understanding the journey is understanding where we’re starting from. It’s probably not where you think it is.

First, though, it’s really important that we get things in perspective. I keep hearing from the Tories, the BBC and Labour centrists, about how this was Labour’s worst result since the 1930s. That’s all bullshit though. The fact is that this was Labour’s worst result since…2015.

That’s right. Last month Labour attracted 32.1% of the vote. In 2015, under Ed Miliband, Labour took 30.4% of the vote – in 2010 Gordon Brown managed 28.1%. So let’s not have any of this ‘worst result since the 30s’ nonsense. In terms of vote share, the 2019 General Election result was better for Labour than any of the last four elections – except for Corbyn’s performance in 2017. The reward in seats was poor, but unless someone has a plan for winning perfectly distributed votes across 326 constituencies we just have to try to win as many votes as possible and find some other way of dealing with the undemocratic nature of FPP (see below).

The Tory ‘landslide’ was an increase of 329,881 votes – equivalent to around 0.6% of the electorate. This minor adjustment in voting behaviour caused a seismic shift in parliamentary seats illustrating (yet again!) that our electoral system is not fit for purpose. For their increase in votes of 0.6%, they were rewarded with an increase of 48 seats – 7% of the 650 available. The Liberal Democrats gained 1.4 million votes – more than three times the Tory gain – and ended up with one fewer seat than they’d started with.

If this was the Brexit election, it failed to provide any kind of mandate for anything even vaguely resembling Johnson’s plan. With the Tories on 43.6% and Farage’s Brexit Company Ltd on 2% the Get Brexit Done parties managed less than 46% of the vote. The other 54% of votes went to parties supporting a third referendum or cancelling the whole thing. The largest ‘third referendum’ party was Labour whose referendum would not offer the option to leave the Single Market or the Customs Union (since there has never been a mandate for either).

What can we take from this?
Well for one thing, despite the devastating prospect of five more years of incompetent and inhuman Tory rule and the crowing from Johnson, Cummings, Kuenssberg and the rest of Conservative Central office, we can take heart that we live in a country where most people didn’t fall for the lies or vote for the liars. Most people who voted put their cross next to the name of a non-sociopath. Remember that when people say that we deserve what we’re getting ‘because we voted for it’.

What are we trying to achieve?
The aim here is not to get the Labour Party elected. The aim is to improve society. To make the lives of those whose lives are least bearable, more bearable. To lift us up out of the mire, away from the iniquitous and divisive dog-eat-dog mess that we’ve become, so that we can all look forward to a brighter future. While getting the Labour Party elected provides a means to that end, then all well and good, but winning elections is not an end in itself, and those advocating a shift away from the left would do well to remember that. There’s no point getting elected if you’re only going to do what the Tories would have done anyway, or hold the fort temporarily until they get back in and resume the destruction of the country. On the other hand, there’s no point restricting our approach in such a way as to consign us to permanent opposition, powerless to put principles into practice. What we need is a firmly left-wing programme, with a realistic long-term strategy to bring it to fruition. The question is not who is good and who is evil, but what is the most efficient way to best serve the principles of helping those most in need, and moving us all forward into a better society.

The obvious answer, the only answer, the urgent answer is that we need to get the Tories out. That is all. If we do that, we can have a sit-down and a nice cup of tea and embark on a conversation about what comes next, and while we’re doing that people’s lives won’t be made more miserable with every passing day. Tories out – then we can think about the other stuff.
But hang on, I hear you cry, we’ve been trying to get the Tories out for 9 years, it’s not as simple as that. Not true though, is it. We (the Labour Party) have been trying to win elections for nine years – for 119 years in fact. But getting the Tories out and winning elections aren’t necessarily the same thing. Remember that we’re trying to achieve a better society, not a Labour government. We might all agree that a Labour government is the best way to achieve a better society, but it’s still only a means to an end, not the end in itself. We need to think strategically rather than tactically.

Back to the Blairite Future?
The Blairites, centrists, right-wing of the party, whatever you want to call them, are keen on the idea that a left-wing manifesto is unelectable, that Blair – for all his faults – did win three elections and if we want to win elections then we have to offer a Blairite, centrist manifesto. It doesn’t take much digging to find the flaws in this approach. For one thing Labour’s 40% vote share in 2017 was considerably higher than Blair’s 35.2% for his 60 seat majority in 2005, and a fag-paper short of his 40.7% which produced a massive 176 seat majority in 2001. What we lacked in 2017 was not a sufficient share of the vote, but a geographical distribution that was optimally aligned to the undemocratic nature of the electoral system.

The Changing Landscape
The simplistic demand for a shift to the right in pursuit of a return to Blair-era majorities also ignores the changing nature of the electorate. In the three elections under Blair the combined vote of the SNP and the Green Party never topped 2.5%, but in the last three elections has averaged over 6.5%. The SNP component of that is particularly important – its geographical concentration is such that it translates into dozens of seats for under 4% of the vote. Forty-eight seats at the 2019 election, many of which were traditionally Labour seats and whose loss predates Labour’s move back to the left under Corbyn – so a simple return to the centre isn’t going to win them back. It’s really important that we recognise the scale of this change. While it illuminates a giant hole in the Blairites’ argument for moving back to the centre, it also illustrates the size of the task in front of a left-wing approach. The next election isn’t just there for the taking. We need a different, more imaginative approach. All of this is obviously exacerbated by the split right through the party over Brexit…

The Brexit effect
For the Labour Party Brexit came at a time when the membership had just elected a leader with whom they agreed on almost every policy – except for Brexit…! This disjunction reflected the wider problem that Brexit caused for the Labour Party. With large chunks of Labour’s support threatening to jump ship one way or the other Labour – and Corbyn in particular – were stuck between a rock and a hard place. What was needed was a creative solution, followed by a clear message. (For what it’s worth my approach can be found here, but it’s obviously outdated now). Unfortunately, Corbyn – and the party – dithered and allowed the press to paint us as leavers to remainers and as remainers to leavers, costing us votes at both ends.

The Brexit divide may have been decisive in this election, but some of the problems it revealed – in terms of Labour’s electability – had been bubbling under for decades. The idea of northern industrial Labour heartlands was already out of date by the time Blair handed over to Gordon Brown. Blair had inherited a host of traditional Labour seats and managed to combine them with a more aspirational, middle-England constituency and this unlikely alliance lasted while neither group had reason to look elsewhere. With Thatcherism fresh in the mind, traditional Labour voters tolerated the Blairite obsession with focus groups and sharp suits – the Tories were not an option. On the other hand, the smooth media machine and willingness to break with Labour traditions brought approval from Murdoch which translated into support from centrist and uncommitted former Tory voters sensing a competence that had deserted the Tories – jaded and complacent after 18 years of unshakable majorities. Many of us who don’t fit into either camp voted for nuLabour because it was the only Labour on offer.

Following the global financial crash, Murdoch deserted Labour – if he didn’t blame Labour for the crash, he’d have to blame the banks, and we know that was never going to happen. The narrative that the party was somehow responsible for the situation that crashed economies from Iceland to Japan was allowed to take hold. Labour’s support slumped to 29% under Gordon Brown in 2010.

As well as the SNP and Green Party more than trebling their vote share between 2010 and 2015 largely at Labour’s expense, we were also haemorrhaging votes to UKIP in this period. This was largely concealed at the time as the party was simultaneously winning over swathes of Clegg’s 2010 LibDem voters, disgruntled at the Tory coalition in general and the u-turn on student finance in particular. The Brexit effect after 2017 was not only to accelerate and amplify these Labour losses to the populist anti-EU right, but to drain us of recent converts who flocked back to the LibDems and their firm anti-Brexit stance.

And now, after Thatcher, Blair and Brexit we’ve moved so far to the right that it’s a long, long way back. The 2017 election shows that there is a decent support base for a left-wing manifesto but it also shows us that given the current strength of the SNP (and the geographically concentrated nature of their support), that base is no longer enough to get the Labour Party back into power. Not only is a slide back to the right undesirable in its own terms, but it’s also a flawed approach to either of the aims of getting a Labour government or bringing about improvements in people’s lives. The political landscape has changed. As well as the rise of the SNP and the Green Party, many of those core voters in the Labour heartlands are gone for good now. They’re not going to be lured back by the party making itself into pale imitation of Cameron’s Tories or a cut-price UKIP. 

What Labour needs now is to nurture the existing seeds of its transformation into a forward-looking, socialist party for the 21st Century. We need to embrace technology and the possibilities it brings for our relationships with work, leisure, education and health. And we need to invest in the future of the country.


So what do we aim for?
In the long-term, a democratic socialist model in which society is regarded as a public good and most people recognise their reliance on and obligations to each other. Sounds great, but it’s pretty vague – how do we get there? Well, we need:

In the medium term, a sustained period of freedom from Tory rule in which – as part of a broad coalition if necessary – we bring a currently sceptical public on a journey of gaining confidence in a progressively socialist approach to the economy and society. Where public spending is seen as investment, rather than interference. This also gives our MPs much needed governmental experience and lets the electorate see what they are capable of. (How many current Labour MPs have Cabinet experience?) Many on the left view any coalition as a compromise, but we should see it as an opportunity. Public understanding of what we are trying to do isn’t there yet. We need to bring people with us. A sustained period of Tory-free government could see the Overton window shifting back to somewhere reasonable. Imagine a future where discussions about Universal Basic Income or Modern Monetary Theory are not conducted in tabloid headlines about scroungers and magic money trees. In order for this to happen, we need…

In the short term – given the political realities of our current situation – an electoral front. An anti-Tory electoral pact, for one election, the last FPP election in the UK, to be shortly followed by our first democratic General Election. Again, many in the Labour movement have long viewed such an act as a compromise. It’s no such thing. It’s a pragmatic move to get the Tories out of government to stop them fucking up the lives of the people of this country, which is – or should be – item number one on our list of priorities. Following this one-off electoral pact, PR would be introduced, the Tories will then only ever be able to form a government when they get more than fifty per cent of votes, which is never and we can all breath a huge sigh of relief and get on with the future.

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The adoption of Proportional Representation (PR) is not exactly a hot topic in the UK but it’s definitely a conversation that everyone is aware of, even if it’s widely misunderstood. Recently though, I’ve noticed more interest in the US about whether it’s something that should be considered over there. What I’ve also noticed is a level of confusion about what PR is and how it would work, so here I’m going to run through the basics of how PR might improve political representation in the US.

What is PR?
PR does what it says on the tin, It simply means that after any election to a representative assembly the proportions of seats held by any party is the same as the proportion of votes for that party. This means that everyone’s vote is of equal value. Many people in the UK and the US are unaware that their current electoral systems don’t deliver on these obvious goals, which are pretty much the basic requirement for a democratic electoral system.

Which elections would benefit from PR?
The obvious candidate for PR in the US is the system of election to the House of Representatives. The House is supposed to represent the citizenry of the US and therefore all citizens should have an equal vote.
The Senate trades the democratic principle of equal citizen’s votes for the US objective of providing states within the federation with an equal voice, regardless of population. PR can only help systems that are intended to deliver the democratic principle of equal votes to deliver on that ambition. There is scope for the US to adjust the power relationship between citizens and states by adjusting the power relationship between the House, the Senate and the President, but it’s not possible to make elections to the senate always representative of the votes cast. Because the number of senators per state is fixed, and the state boundaries are fixed, reform of the Senate is more likely to come in the shape of a system of transferable voting, such as STAR voting

As for presidential elections, PR isn’t appropriate because you can’t have a president who is proportionally made up of different people. The principle of equal votes requires the abolition of the electoral college in presidential elections. Those in favour of the electoral college will mount various arguments in its defence, but there can be no defence of the Electoral College on the grounds of equal votes.

Do we really need PR?
Yes. Under the current system, some parties in some elections win one seat for every 162 thousand votes, while other parties need over 318 thousand votes for each seat. This means that different people’s votes have different values.
There is also a serious problem with Gerrymandering – the redrawing of electoral district borders to win seats. Under PR the borders can be drawn anywhere without giving any advantage to any party. So, if you want equal votes and/or Congressional Districts related to actual communities, then yes, you really need PR.

How would it work?
It’s astoundingly simple.
You run the election exactly as you currently do, with everyone voting for a local candidate, and the winner gaining a seat in the House of Representatives. So far so familiar. Next, the House is topped up until the proportion of Representatives for each party represents the proportion of votes for each party. The extra Representatives for each party come from that party’s closest losing candidates. That’s it. You now have a democratically elected House of Representatives and corrupt politicians can Gerrymander all they like – the total effect will be zero.

What are you waiting for?

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In a modern democracy, the electoral system has one role. To convert votes to seats. If a system cannot perform this task, then it’s not fit for purpose – any other supposed benefits are irrelevant. The First Past the Post system doesn’t even come close.

Why we need PR
Our system has not become broken. That would imply that at some point it had worked. It has never worked. The Representation of the People (Equal Franchise) Act in 1928 completed the progress toward universal adult (over 21) suffrage. The General Election of the very next year gave Labour the most seats despite the Tories gaining more votes, and rewarded the 23% of the electorate who voted for Lloyd George’s Liberal Party with fewer than 10% of the seats.

In three attempts, Churchill could only ‘defeat’ Attlee in an election because our ridiculous system awarded his Conservative Party a Parliamentary majority despite polling a quarter of a million fewer votes than Attlee’s Labour in the 1951 election. These are some of the worst instances but in every election in the supposedly democratic era, the result has been twisted by our undemocratic system.

In every UK general election, most people vote for a candidate that loses. In most general elections, most people vote for a party that has no role in the government formed after the election. Votes are not of equal weight – in 2017 for example, the Conservatives won one seat in Parliament for every 42 thousand votes, but Labour needed 49 thousand votes to win each seat and the Greens over half a million voters per seat.
The proliferation of tactical voting websites in 2017 and now in 2019 are symptoms of this failure. We should all be able to vote for the party we support and to know that our vote will count for just as much as anyone else’s – otherwise what’s the point of having one vote each?

How to implement PR
The ideal PR system was proposed by the Hansard Society in the 1970s. It meets the requirement of transferring votes into seats, it maintains – strengthens even – local representation, it gives no more power to party bureaucracies than the current system, it renders gerrymandering pointless and allows constituency borders to be drawn along genuine community lines without any danger of political gain for anyone. It maintains our system’s accommodation of independent candidates, it’s simple to use and understand…and it’s democratic!

So how does it work?
Well, we run the election exactly as we currently do, with everyone voting for a local candidate, and the winner gaining a seat in Parliament to represent the constituency. So far so familiar. Next, the House of Commons is topped up until the proportion of MPs for each party represents the proportion of votes for each party. The extra MPs for each party come from that party’s closest losing candidates. That’s it.

This astoundingly simple system provides numerous benefits. It’s democratic for a start, which should be enough on its own. It renders constituency boundaries politically irrelevant, so we can go back to having them drawn with reference to actual communities, instead of twisted for party advantage. (It’s important to realise, though, that the problem with the current system is not where the boundaries are drawn or that constituencies are not of equal size. Fixing either or both of those issues won’t make the system democratic). Perhaps its greatest asset – after the fact that it actually performs the function required of a democratic electoral system – is that it provides us with a number of MPs in addition to the one-per-constituency we are used to under the current system. These ‘spare’ MPs can be used to improve the representational role of MPs. It might be that a spare MP on the government benches assists with local duties for the otherwise engaged PM, or other cabinet members, whose constituents get a pretty raw deal in terms of local representation under the present system. Opposition parties could make similar arrangements to cover constituency duties for their senior MPs. Other MPs might be used to provide an additional layer of representation for voters saddled with an MP of a different political persuasion to their own. A spare Labour MP might give Labour voters in the Home Counties, for example, a sympathetic representative – in addition to the endless stream of Tory MPs who are part of the furniture at the local golf and country club. Similarly, a spare Tory MP might be assigned to represent the dozen or so people in Liverpool who still buy The Sun and are consequently too embarrassed to take their grievances to their sitting Labour MP.

For years people have argued that a problem with PR is that it tends to produce coalitions. But that’s because PR reflects the composition of the electorate – if the political composition of the electorate is such that no one party has the support of a majority of voters, then any democratic system will throw up a parliament from which a coalition is required to govern. But there’s also a strong case to argue that coalitions are a far superior way to go about governing a country. Whether you’re a fan of Thatcherism or not, the facts are that it produced a fundamental shift in the politics of the country, catapulting the Overton window so far to the right that a generation later the views of Mark Francois are considered in some quarters to be acceptable. Now if that had happened on the back of 55 or 60 percent of the electorate, that would be bad enough, but all of that – and all of the insidious ways in which our political culture has been damaged by those years – all of that happened with no more than 43.9% support from voters – 33% of the electorate. Under PR there would have been no Thatcherism,

“But PR allows extremist parties to gain a foothold”. The growth of UKIP and its transmogrification into the Brexit Party PLC pretty much pulls the rug out from under that one, since it’s all happened under our current FPP system.

There will be calls too for various types of multiple-preference vote systems, AV or STV. Some such systems have their merits, but these address a different problem. Multiple preference systems address the issue that people’s policy positions don’t necessarily align to a particular party programme. This is a desirable aim but a different one to achieving proportionality – and one which can be pursued once we’ve managed to get votes of equal weight.

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Cut through the collective delusion that has engulfed the UK and the solution to the Brexit impasse could hardly be clearer. Everyone has to compromise, but no-one has to give up their long term ambitions – they’ll just need the will of the people behind them to get there. For those complaining about a lack of democracy, what could be better?

The problem is that having allowed a catastrophic mistake to befall the country on June 23rd 2016, we’ve spent the intervening period making everything worse. Once the chaos of the Tory leadership issue had been resolved, Theresa May, seeking to establish her Brexiter credentials, immediately capitulated to the ERG and drew a series of red lines which effectively ruled out any kind of deal that would be acceptable to Parliament. May’s government then wasted a few years in the mistaken belief that as the clock ran down sufficient numbers of ERG hard-liners would notice that reality exists and get behind the deal they referred to as the worst-of-all-worlds. (They were wrong about that too, as no-deal clearly had that honour, until the prospect loomed of no-deal combined with the office of Prime Minister being handed to Boris, the bastard spawn of Donald Trump’s reflection in a phlegm-strewn mirror and a puffy, over-privileged version of the creepy clown from that old 1970s TV test card).

As a result, we’ve spent over two years discussing the wrong issue. As far as most politicians and everyone in the media were concerned the difficulty was in working out exactly how to leave the EU, and yet all of the the actual problems revolve around trying to work out exactly how to leave the Customs Union and the Single Market.

It’s obvious isn’t it? How about we just leave the EU? We can revisit leaving the Customs Union and the Single Market later, when the pressure is off. When we’ve worked out exactly what that would look like. These are huge steps that are proving difficult to navigate. Let’s take them one at a time, and make life easier for ourselves. Let’s start with the only one that has a mandate from the people of the UK – which is also the easiest and least controversial one.
This plan respects not just the 52% who voted to leave the EU, but also the 52% of voters in the 2017 General Election who voted for parties that said they’d stay in the Customs Union. This plan is acceptable to the EU and (with promised future referendums on the Customs Union and Single Market) would get through Parliament. It delivers the referendum result. It solves the border problem on the island of Ireland without creating another one in the Irish Sea. It avoids a no-deal disaster. It pulls the rug out from under the attempts to shut down discussion by yelling ‘democracy’ in the face of anyone wanting to discuss the pros and cons. The hard-Brexiters will (dishonestly) claim that the referendum was about leaving the CU and the SM but at least that requires them to engage in conversation – a conversation in which the facts are on our side. That’s a far better position than having gammons thoughtlessly yelling ‘democracy’ at us, while we’re trying to explain what democracy actually entails.

Labour’s policy comes close to addressing this but they need to be clearer in their thinking and their presentation if they want to get their proposals through Parliament. Currently, labour’s policy looks like BRINO to the ERG, but presented as the first step of three the ERG could only oppose it by admitting that they don’t think they’d win any future referendums – that they know they don’t have the will of the people. (Obviously, this is already true of their opposition to another EU referendum but currently, there is too much opportunity for them to hide behind bluster about not respecting the 2016 result. Implementing the 2016 result ought to take care of that).

Those who want a hard Brexit can see this as the first step towards that and if the will of the people is with them, then that’s where we’ll end up.

Those who want to remain can accept this as damage limitation and if the will of the people is with them they can look forward to rejoining the EU at some future point in a much easier way than would be possible after a hard Brexit.

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