In May 2023, when the British Office of National Statistics (ONS) released the March-quarter national…
My Wednesday blog post is designed to give me some more writing space. But in the last week, Syriza has lost the Greek election (about time) and the British Labour Party confirms it is more interested in satisfying the demands of the urban (London) middle classes and big business than keeping faith with its regional working class support base. That is a lot to consider. Tomorrow, I consider the Greek election. Today, I comment a little on the state of Brexit in the UK and the Labour Party surrender. And then I offer some great music (for those with similar tastes).
The UK system of government is based on the principle of – Representative Democracy – with a constitutional monarchy at the top, a relic of the past.
In the British House of Commons, members sit who are representatives of the people who elect them. In Australia, we make this link more explicit because our lower house is called the House of Representatives.
While these members typically belong to political parties, they are accountable back to their electorates, or, in the British parlance, their constituencies for the votes they cast.
They operate within a constitutional framework, which limits their powers.
There has been a long debate about whether these members should always represent the views of their consituencies or whether they can make their own judgements, even if they are in contradistinction to what the voters who put them into office desire.
On November 3, 1774, the conservative MP – Edmund Burke – who is a guiding light for modern conservatives (or so they say – rather than do), was elected the Member for Bristol and his ‘mandate’ was outlined in his famous – Speech to the Electors of Bristol at the Conclusion of the Poll – which is held out as the model where elected representatives do not have to reflect the wishes of the voters, but, rather to represent them using judgement.
He said in that Speech:
Your representative owes you, not his industry only, but his judgment; and he betrays, instead of serving you, if he sacrifices it to your opinion.
The Speech went on to outline a view that was deeply suspicious of the concept of democracy.
Burke was against the to-and-fro that occurs in democracies. He considered that:
Factions in republics have been, and are, full as capable as monarchs of the most cruel oppression and injustice.
He considered that the process whereby factions have voice was a dangerous threat to the state, which conditioned the way he conceived of representative democracy.
Voters were prone to being impulsive and lacking in judgement.
This view influenced his conclusion on whether an elected member should be bound by the views of the voters:
… these are things utterly unknown to the laws of this land, and which arise from a fundamental mistake of the whole order and tenor of our constitution.
Yes, a legal system dominated by the interests of the gentry and landed classes.
The Parliament was not their to serve the wishes of the people but to serve the interests of the nation, as the representatives judged them to be.
A very paternalistic view, which has been wheeled out in the on-going Brexit debate to justify MPs voting against the wishes of their constituencies.
Gerard O’Brien wrote in his 1993 study that:
Despite the relative paucity of bureaucratic controls, the ruling élites of eighteenth-century Britain and Ireland maintained through traditional methods a firm grip on their societies. In fact the very absence of governing institutions was in itself a form of social control in that it circumscribed the modes of and opportunities for expression of popular views and directed them into narrow and manipulatory channels.
(Reference: O’Brien, G. (1993) ‘The Unimportance of Public Opinion in Eighteenth-Century Britain and Ireland ‘, Eighteenth-Century Ireland, Vol. 8, pp. 115-127)
He went on to show that while there was a semblance where voters (the “outsiders”) could “access … the ears and minds of the decision-makers”, the reality was quite different – the “political power-structure controlled” debates.
Even within this context, there was a fierce debate as to how much autonomy the elected member should have.
Moreoever, an understanding of the historical context is very important.
The context in which Burke made his speech is totally inapplicable to modern Britain, where the political system is dominated by parties who offer options to the electors and promise to deliver on those outcomes if elected.
Burke was railing against the ‘pledge’ system which interest groups has tried to force on any future representatives – such things as the Member would not try to undermine the government.
An historical study of the time by Lucy Sutherland – Edmund Burke and the Relations Between Members of Parliament and Their Constituents – published in Studies in Burke and His Time (1968) provides a detailed account of why Burke’s Speech is specific to its time.
So to wheel it out now as a way of justifying MPs in the House of Commons ignoring the will of their constituents is a violation of the historical record, convenient though it might be to have some Burkean authority to throw around the Brexit debate to justify the unjustifiable call for a second referendum.
See for example this attempt in the New Statesman – Sorry, the role of an MP is to be a representative, not a delegate (December 7, 2015).
The point is this. In the modern era of British democracy (and in the Anglo world generally (at least)), we think it is appropriate that an MP, once elected, will not violate the preferences of the voters in his or her constituency/electorate.
Why do I say this?
This blog post – Comparing the 2016 Referendum vote with the 2019 Withdrawal Act outcome (January 16, 2019) – is relevant to the discussion.
The 2016 Referendum was very clear. The question was also beyond complexity:
Should the United Kingdom remain a member of the European Union or leave the European Union?
And the instruction was equally simple – Answer by putting a single X:
Remain a member of the European Union
Leave the European Union
That binary choice is as simple as it gets. There was no conditionality (withdrawal agreements, etc) imposed to constrain this choice.
IN or OUT!
The government of the day promised in its supporting documentation handed out in May 2016 (the ’16-page guide’) that:
This is your decision. The government will implement what you decide.
No ambiguity there.
While the “voting areas” or “Counting areas” established by the 2015 Act setting up the Referendum were not not aligned with the 650 Consistituencies which elect MPs (they were mostly delineated by the local authority boundaries), subsequent research has been able to break down the Brexit vote by electoral constituency.
I detail all that in the blog post cited above.
The summary results (reported in more detail in that blog post) were:
1. 62.9 per cent of the Constituencies voted to Leave. That means that 409 Parliamentarians who that sat in the Commons were representing electorates that voted to leave.
2. The difference between the 52 per cent of votes for Leave and the 62.9 per cent of constituencies voting to Leave is mainly due to the clustering of Remain votes in the larger urban areas. Spatial breakdowns suggest the Leave vote was more evenly dispersed across the UK.
3. And this is the important point – 60.7 per cent of Labour constituencies most likely voted to Leave, 75.4 per cent of Conservative, 33 per cent of Liberal Democrat and 60 per cent of DUP.
This means that 159 of the 262 constituences that Labour won in the 2017 election (seats in the House of Commons) voted to Leave the EU in the June 2016 Referendum.
Overall, the conclusion is unambiguous – there are lot of MPs in both the major parties that are not representing the views of their constituencies in this regard.
The Labour Party is the worst offender.
Representative democracy demands these MPs represent their constituents, irrespective of their own personal views.
When I met with Labour MP for Derby North, Chris Williamson in London in May, he told me categorically that he had campaigned hard for the Remain position as a personal preference but 57.2 per cent of his constituents voted to leave. He thus felt duty bound to represent that view.
He followed up with an article in the Morning Star – Leaving the EU and entering a new economic paradigm (May 24, 2019) – which captured some of the issues we discussed a week or so earlier.
I vigorously campaigned to remain and reform the EU. I knocked on doors almost every night in the referendum campaign, and when I wasn’t, I was speaking at public meetings across the East Midlands urging people to vote remain. I organised weekend street stalls in Derby city centre to promote the remain campaign, and was up at the crack of dawn on the day before and the day of the referendum, to leaflet early morning commuters at Derby’s bus station and railway station respectively.
But despite my best endeavours, 57.2 per cent of those who voted in Derby opted to leave, a bigger margin than the country as a whole. That is why I believe we must uphold the wishes that were expressed in that democratic exercise.
Democracy isn’t a “take it or leave it” proposition. The voices demanding a so-called “people’s vote” in a confirmatory referendum and those calling for the repeal of Article 50 are playing a very dangerous game.
I have great respect for that position.
Labour Party surrenders to the middle class and big business
Pity the British Labour Party leadership has now surrendered its valuation of democracy in favour of some contrived view that they have to shift to Remain.
The decision (surrender) by the Labour leader yesterday to demand another referendum where the Labour Party will campaign for Remain is a disaster and is another example of so-called progressive Left political parties defying the wishes of the voters in favour of corporatist, neoliberal elites.
The London Cosmos all quote the fact that 70 odd per cent of people who voted for Labour in the 2017 election also voted to Remain. Apparently, this means the Labour Party is a Remain party.
But they ignore the fact that in the House of Commons, democracy plays out along the lines of One vote per Constituency (or MP).
The concentration of votes within constituencies is not the foundation of democratic organisation in Britain. The distribution of MPs is.
The relentless push for Labour to change their view on the Remain/Leave divide has finally cracked the leadership.
Tom Watson (Deputy Leader) was recently described by Dawn Foster (Source) – as “a lifelong professional wrecker, who has made it his official duty to complain weekly to the Sunday papers, without suggesting any concrete proposals for how to bring the party forward.”
He has been undermining Corbyn’s position on Brexit ever since.
Most recently, he claimed the Labour Party had to become (Source):
… the party of remain …
And after gushing on about how “the European Union that it stands up for the weak against the strong” (excuse me while I consult the ‘bucket’), the declaration makes it clear what the motivation is:
As the party of Remain, we will not take every voter with us, but it’s the only way that Labour can win
Pure instrumentalism. Crude vote-seeking.
All the statements of ‘principle’ are lost in this haze of opportunism.
And remember, Watson voted to invade Iraq – Blair’s disgraceful, lying assault on that nation.
He opposed demonstrations against UK airstrikes against Syria.
He didn’t have the fortitude to vote in the October 2016 attempt by the Labour Party to force the Commons to withdraw UK support for the Saudi assaults on Yemen which has murdered thousands of civilians.
He also abstained on voting against the Tory welfare policy in July 2015, which cut payments to the poorest people in Britain, particularly impacting on children (Source)
It was this vote – Corbyn voted against the second reading – that according to Dawn Foster “sparked a huge surge of support for Corbyn”. This shift really marked the end of Ed Miliband’s “austerity-lite” hold over the Labour Party.
Dawn Foster’s analysis of Tom Watson concludes that his Remain narrative is about undermining “the party leadership” although she finds very little evidence that his right-wing views are proliferating.
The electoral failure of the Independent Group/Change UK (or whatever the handful of remaining ex-Labour and Tory MPs now call themselves) should be a warning to the Labour right, but their self-confidence is far greater than their analytical ability.
The point is that by abandoning (in most part – Fiscal Rule aside) the centre-right Blairite, Miliband ‘austerity-lite’ mantra, Labour went close to winning the 2017 election.
Dawn Foster concludes that this is:
… because it addressed so many of the problems faced by people and communities across the country. Labour won more seats, in spite of people like Tom Watson and his ideological bedfellows. Many centrist Labour MPs desperately wanted the party to lose heavily so they could depose Jeremy Corbyn. They still do. A Labour government with Corbyn in charge is less preferable to them than an indefinite Tory government.
She urges to have the “guts” and “quit the party and try to prove that his ideas have electoral traction.”
… the end result of Watson et al’s constant attacks will not be electoral success under another Labour leader, but a Tory victory. And the people who need a Labour government to change their lives and communities are unlikely to forgive people like him.
I couldn’t agree more.
I last considered these matters in this blog post – The Europhile dreamers are out in force (April 15, 2019).
I will write about the Greek election tomorrow.
The decision to surrender on the Brexit issue and give credence to the disgraceful views of the likes of Tom Watson will be another chapter in the way social democratic parties defy their voters and, in doing so, ultimately, walk the plank.
The Syriza experience is demonstrative.
The Party kicked its own voters in the teeth and fell into line with the neoliberal Europhiles and the Commission. As I will write tomorrow, there is a long tradition in the neoliberal era of turncoat social democrats.
Two examples in the Anglo world:
Hawke/Keating Australia 1983-1996
Lange/Douglas New Zealand 1984-1989
These governments were elected on progressive reform platforms and turned neoliberal immediately. By the end of their periods in office they were electoral poison but had paved the way for the conservatives – making it easier for them to do more damage.
British Labour have had two periods like this – the Callaghan-Healey years before Thatcher and then the Blair years.
Democracy has a habit of biting back when it is trodden on.
The decision to support a second referendum damages democracy. It overturns the 2016 choice which was hardly ambiguous.
I think it will also turn against Labour generally.
As Peter Ramsay (Professor of Law at LSE) wrote earlier this week (July 8, 2019) in his article – A second referendum would be Labour’s route to Syrizafication – the decision:
… will certainly make Tony Blair’s political divorce of the party from Labour’s working-class traditions irreversible.
What we have is obvious.
1. June 2016 – Leave wins the vote. Clear cut. A heavy working class Leave vote and a majority of Labour MPs represent Leave electorates.
2. The Remain gang – higher income etc – hated it. Immediately wanted to undermine it. The Leave voters were ignorant, racist, stupid etc.
3. The Remain gang had bombarded the population with spurious modelling about the economic disaster that would immediately follow. The predictions were never realised.
4. Since then – by hook or by crook – they have demanded a new vote – and will keep demanding votes until they get what they want.
5. That is not democracy. That is a bullying cosmopolitan elite thinking they have superior wisdom to the working class in regional areas.
As Peter Ramsay points out:
More than 85 per cent of MPs in this Parliament were elected on manifestos promising to implement the 2016 referendum. This was not some minor policy issue. It was a promise to implement a major constitutional change that the majority of the electorate voted for in a referendum Parliament itself enacted.
So reneging on the 2016 vote means these MPs are no longer representing the people. Democracy has failed and Labour are surrendering within that failure.
His analysis of the likely electoral results of abandoning the 2016 decision are worth considering.
The most sensible analysis of the 2016 result was that the:
… working-class and poorer voters were much more likely than middle-class voters to vote for Brexit, and for good reason. They voted against a political system that had ignored their interests for far too long.
Which means that:
For Labour to go over officially to the side of elite resistance to Brexit will send a clear message that the demands of working-class voters are less important than those of the middle class or of big business.
This is what Syriza did.
But, of course, the so-called progressive Cosmos will be happy.
They prosper whether it is the Tories or Labour that are in national government.
And if Brexit fails, they get to avoid the queue at the airport (non-EU lane) on their next ski holiday to the Alps and they will be able to keep writing their vacuous and arid reform proposals for the EU – and lecturing us on how the EU is the only thing keeping Britain (a currency-sovereign nation) from total collapse.
As before you lot!
It is almost as if one should hope that Boris Johnson gets up and pushes a No-deal through.
Music for today
I was listening to a great album from 1969 while I was working this morning. Bobby Womack was the artist – see below.
This song – I’m in Love – was on that album.
Wilson Pickett released the song in 1968. Apart from the magnificent Hammond organ, you get Bobby Womack on guitar.
Bobby Womack said he wrote the song when he married Sam Cooke’s wife three months after Cooke had been shot dead at the age of 33.
Womack said he wanted to let the world know how he felt. He must have felt really good. The marriage caused him a lot of trouble though.
This song came out during Pickett’s period at Atlantic Records when he teamed up with Bobby Womack, who played guitar (mostly a Telecaster) on the recordings produced.
For a guitarist, this song is notable. Written in E major, it is marked by a full fret board use of so-called – Double Stops – that beautiful sliding harmonic sound you can here throughout the song and which were an integral part of 1960s R&B.
Bobby Womack also wrote the early Rolling Stones hit record – It’s All Over Now – but his own band with family members – the Valentinos (aka. the Womack Brothers) – first recorded it with Sam Cooke as the producer in 1964. You can hear it – HERE.
They just don’t write and play songs like that very often.
Aretha Franklin’s 1974 cover version – the most popular version – is pretty hot too – HERE.
And this is the original version from Bobby Womack – and is my favourite. It is on his 1969 album (one of my favourites – in a long list) – Fly Me to the Moon. Well worth having on regular play cycle.
It features the dual contributions of Womack playing all the frills on guitar and the brilliant – Reggie Young (who died earlier this year) playing the chord ornamentations. A near perfect combination. Reggie Young played on a lot of Elvis Presley recordings out of Memphis.
That is enough for today!
(c) Copyright 2019 William Mitchell. All Rights Reserved.