Could Labour be playing a tactical game on #PeoplesVote?

Like many others, I was deeply disappointed to read Jeremy Corbyn’s interview with Der Spiegel published two days ago (Jörg Schindler, ‘Interview with Labour Leader Jeremy Corbyn: “We Can’t Stop Brexit”‘, Spiegel Online, 9 November 2018). This was published right after the news of transport minister Jo Johnson’s resignation and calls for a second referendum on Brexit, since which he has said it would be a ‘democratic travesty’ not to have another Brexit vote. Corbyn’s statement seemed to make this impossible, as a new referendum bill or amendment to that effect of an existing bill could not happen without Labour support.

The 2017 General Election produced 317 Tory MPs, 262 Labour, 35 SNP, 12 Liberal Democrats, 10 DUP, 7 Sinn Fein, 4 Plaid Cymru, 1 Green, 1 Independent and the Speaker. There is no likelihood at all of the Sinn Fein MPs ever taking up their seats, whilst the Speaker remains nominally neutral. Neither he (John Bercow (Conservative)) nor his three deputies (Lindsay Hoyle (Labour), Eleanor Laing (Conservative) and Rosie Winterton (Labour)) vote, by convention. The meaningful total is therefore 639 rather than 650, and so the government needs 30 seats for a majority. Following the Confidence and Supply agreement with the DUP, the government can count on their support in motions of confidence and various aspects of their legislative agenda, thus producing effectively 326 (316 Tories, without their Deputy Speaker, plus 10 DUP) MPs, as against 311 in the Opposition. Since the General Election, 2 Tories and 5 Labour MPs have either been suspended from their party or have resigned the whip, so there are a total 8 Independent MPs, whose loyalties in confidence or crucial Brexit motions may be unknown.

But assuming the suspended/resigned MPs continue to vote according to type, the government has a working majority of 13 votes. This means that if seven Tory or DUP MPs vote against them, they could lose a vote if there is also 100% opposition from the other parties.

It is now looking possible, even perhaps likely, that Theresa May will fail to get any deal through Parliament, with a range of Brexiteer Tories and the DUP warning they will vote against, while the deal is also opposed by some Remainer supporters of a second referendum such as Justine Greening. Representatives of the government have been allegedly attempting to woo some Labour MPs to support them on a deal. The Mirror suggested as many as 30 may be prepared to do this, but this may be too few, though the consequences of last-minute pressure from whips in both parties should not be underestimated.

But if the government fails to get a deal through Parliament, it is highly unlikely that they themselves would introduce a second referendum bill, having repeatedly ruled it out (though, as has been noted, Theresa May as repeatedly ruled out an early general election, then called one). However, there are various means by which such a thing could be triggered, either through primary legislation or amendments to existing bills; a UCL paper details five possible scenarios (Jess Sargeant, Alan Renwick and Meg Russell, ‘The Mechanics of a Further Referendum on Brexit’ (London: The Constitutional Unit, UCL, 2018), pp. 23-28).

The major question is whether a parliamentary majority could be found for this option. As the DUP are firm supporters of Brexit, there is little chance of their supporting any second referendum motion. At present, The Sun counts eight Tory MPs supporting a second referendum: Johnson, Philip Lee, Justine Greening, Anna Soubry, Guto Bebb, Amber Rudd, Heidi Allen, Sarah Wollaston. They do not list Dominic Grieve oddly, but he has made clear his support for this for some time. There are plenty of suggestions that a variety of other Tory MPs would support this if it came to it, despite not having yet said so publicly. The Liberal Democrats and SNP are likely to vote solidly for such a measure. As for Labour, in June The Independent counted 42 MPs backing a second referendum, to which there are probably a few other names to be added. But almost none of the Corbynistas, nor many of the Brownites/(Ed) Milibandites are on this list. Then there are the pro-Brexit Labour MPs, including Grahame Stringer, John Mann, Kate Hoey, Dennis Skinner and (formerly holding the Labour whip) Frank Field, while others such as Caroline Flint and Stephen Kinnock appear opposed to a second referendum. The 2018 Labour Conference saw a motion passed keeping a second referendum option open if MPs are deadlocked, but this does not firmly commit to anything. That said, Corbyn’s statement to Der Spiegel would appear to be in direct contravention of conference policy.

A second referendum will only get through with relatively solid Labour support, and a significant number of Tory MPs voting for it. My guess is that between 10 and 20 Labour MPs will definitely oppose even if the party institutes a three-line whip, so this requires 20 to 30 Tory MPs to vote for it and against their own government, a tall order. However, if the country looks to be heading for no deal (and Theresa May has set a date of this week, as Parliament returns from recess, for the government will begin to set into motion many emergency measures to deal with this), all sorts of new options are possible.

So, in light of Corbyn’s statement, a second referendum may seem impossible. Or is it? Shadow Foreign Secretary Emily Thornberry was interviewed on The Andrew Marr Show this morning (42’27”-56’22”). After Marr brought up Corbyn’s statement, apparently ruling out a second referendum, Thornberry began by saying that ‘the results of the referendum need to ought to be abided by’, but then immediately afterwards said ‘We do need an injection of democracy in between the results of the referendum and us going any further’. She then said that Labour wanted a ‘meaningful vote’, which was not what Theresa May was giving them in offering the choice between her deal or no deal, ‘the devil and the deep blue sea’. Thornberry said that instead, there should be a general election, but if that did not happen, then ‘yes, of course, all the options remain on the table and we would, you know, campaign for there to be a People’s Vote, but there are several stages before we get there’. Pushed further on Corbyn’s statement, Thornberry attempted to diffuse this by claiming context, need to be democrats, etc., and went onto discuss staying in the Customs Union, trying to produce ‘a Brexit which is good for the country’ (with no details of what this might be) and so on. When brought back to what is Labour’s procedure, Thornberry said ‘First stage is we demand a general election and that is what the proper thing should be. If we don’t get a general election then what we have said is all options remain on the table, and we will…’ then Marr interrupted to point out that Parliament has passed statute and so there are no options for overturning that. Thornberry then said ‘The difficulty is, our system is such that we are in opposition. You know, there are many ways in which we would want to have proceeded over this period of time, and we have a government…’, when Marr interrupted again to point out that they had a general election last year. Thornberry continued to say ‘But we have been doing our best to try to keep this government honest, try to keep this government focused on what’s good for the country, and we have been entirely consistent about that. She knows what it is that…. and like everyone else, vacillating backwards and forwards. We have said: six tests, we will vote for it, bring back a deal we will agree to. If she’s sensible, what she’ll do, is she’ll negotiate properly and bring back a deal which means that we’re in a Customs Union, and that we’re in a free market agreement with the European Union, based on free market rules, and if she brings back something like that, then it may well be that she’ll get sufficient support, but she won’t [attempt from Marr to interrupt again], hang on hang on, let me just, because this is really important, she won’t do that, because she’s more interested in saving her own skin and the Tory Party, because what she will rely on is Labour votes and some Tory votes, and she doesn’t dare do that. She ought to, because she’s the leader of the country. That is not leadership.’ Marr then noted that Kier Starmer had said that the six tests would be in the next Labour election manifesto and asked Thornberry to confirm this, to which she asked when the election would be, pointing out that an election manifesto in the next few weeks would be very different to one in a year’s time. She then said ‘In the next few months, what we would have in our manifesto is we would say: we have a vision for this country, we have a vision for Brexit. We know that the best way to proceed on this is to try to get a deal which is, as I’ve said several times, the model that I’ve put forward [Marr: ‘Six tests’] and with the six tests, and which is the six tests, and that’s what we would be working towards. And we would go in as pragmatists, and we would say to the European Union: the grown-ups have arrived and we’re no longer shouting at you, we’re going to sit down pragmatically and sort out something which is good for our economy and your economy.’ Marr pushed Thornberry further on one of the six tests , that which requires the ‘exact same benefits’ as membership of the Customs Union and Single Market, asking if there was a shred of evidence that the EU would contemplate that. Thornberry avoided this question, just saying that they had had meetings with the EU, who knew their position, but couldn’t negotiate with them as they were not the government. Marr pushed further, quoting Michel Barnier and Jean-Claude Junker on how third countries can never have the same rights and benefits as full members. Thornberry again had no real answer other than to say that these were negotiating positions, and that May had put down unrealisable red lines and ‘ridiculous tests’, unlike Labour. She continued to reiterate the same stuff, then Marr claimed Labour had a ‘fantasy prospectus’ and there was no way of getting anything like what they wanted. After more vacillation from Thornberry, the interview turned to Trump and some domestic issues.

But I think this interview may be significant in many ways, notwithstanding the waffle and false claims about being able to obtain a deal (in reality, Labour would end up in a very similar situation to Theresa May, save for accepting the Custom’s Union). Thornberry is probably the sharpest politician on the Labour front bench, and clearly knows exactly what the brief is and what needs to be said. The fact that she mentioned a People’s Vote early in the interview is vital, even though she was careful not to return to the issue. The official Labour line is to want a general election. The chances of this are very slim (though not impossible if the government truly alienate the DUP over a border in the Irish Sea, to the point where the DUP would no longer support them in a confidence motion). But Labour have to stick to this line, which would be easily dismissed if they were vocal about supporting a second referendum. But Thornberry said that failing to get an election, they would campaign for a People’s Vote.

So I believe that Labour are talking down a second referendum in order to maintain their line, but do have plans to support it when it becomes inevitable. This could be soon – if a confidence motion is put and the government wins it, thus precluding an election.  Of course it is also possible that Thornberry, Starmer and Corbyn are all putting out different lines publicly. I just hope this may have been co-ordinated.

There are many practical complications in bringing about a second referendum, which are explained in the UCL paper, but as this makes clear, it is possible, regardless of what Corbyn says. Labour could be acting more shrewdly than some imagine.

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UK Politics 3/9/17: voting and parliamentary arithmetic

A lot has been made of the fact that Labour under Corbyn gained many votes in the June 2017 election, enough that some think the party has full victory (in the sense of an overall majority) in its grasp. I wanted to look at some comparative figures, so compiled the following chart of votes (not seats) and percentages in each UK election since 1979:

Year    Conservatives          Labour            Lib Dems        SNP                UKIP

1979    13.7m/43.9%               11.5m/36.9%   4.3m/13.8%     0.5m/1.6%                                                                                                                          (Liberals)

1983    13.0m/42.4%               8.5m/27.6%     7.8m/25.4%     0.3m/1.1%                                                                                                                         (SDP/Lib Alliance)

1987    13.7m/42.2%               10.0m/30.8%   7.3m/22.6%     0.4m/1.3%                                                                                                                         (SDP/Lib Alliance)

1992    14.1m/41.9%               11.6m/34.4%   6.0m/17.8%     0.6m/1.9%

1997    9.6m/30.7%                 13.5m/43.2%   5.2m/16.8%     0.6m/2.0%       0.1m/0.3%

2001    8.4m/31.7%                 10.7m/40.7%   4.8m/18.3%     0.5m/1.8%       0.4m/1.5%

2005    8.8m/32.4%                 9.5m/35.2%     6.0m/22.0%     0.4m/1.5%       0.6m/2.2%

2010    10.7m/36.1%               8.6m/29.0%     6.8m/23.0%     0.5m/1.7%       0.9m/3.1%

2015    11.3m/36.8%               9.3m/30.4%     2.4m/7.9%       1.5m/4.7%       3.8m/12.6%

2017    13.6m/42.3%               12.9m/40.0%   2.3m/7.4%       1.0m/3.0%       0.6m/1.8%

So Labour under Corbyn did well, gaining 3.6m votes, but the Tories under May did even better. Two factors are of primary importance: (a) the collapse of the Lib Dem vote in 2015, following the Tory/Lib Dem coalition (see my earlier blog putting this in context); (b) the collapse of the UKIP vote in 2017, following the EU referendum, after having done exceptionally well in 2015, quadrupling their vote from that in 2010.

Labour certainly did manage to benefit from getting more young people to vote, but they also gained from the UKIP losses, which were threatening them in various traditional constituencies. But the Tories gained more, though the first-past-the-post electoral system threw up the bizarre result by which May gained 2.3m more votes than Cameron did in 2015, but won 13 less seats than the latter. The Conservative vote has not fallen, far from it (May won more votes than any Tory leader since John Major in 1992, and more than Thatcher in 1983), it is really just a question of how it is distributed.

The widespread tactical voting generally believed to have occurred from 1997 onwards, which helped the Lib Dems more than double their seats in 1997 (from 20 to 46) and go onto peak in 2005 (with 62), must be assumed to have disappeared, unsurprisingly as Labour voters are disinclined to vote for a party which spent five years in coalition with the Tories, even where they are the primary alternative in some constituencies to the latter. But the current voting system still works against Labour, and it should not be forgotten that they only won 262 seats in 2017; to win an overall majority by one seat they need another 65, whereas for a workable majority (not too vulnerable to backbench rebellions over contentious legislation) they need at least 85.

I cannot see this happening, certainly not with Corbyn as leader. The electoral landscape has changed fundamentally since the pattern between 1997 and 2010. The Lib Dems and UKIP have collapsed, the Tories have swung to the right (though could move further right still) while Labour has swung to the left. Brexit has changed a lot; the good result for Labour and Corbyn this year came about in part through triangulation on this issue, managing to convince both Leavers and Remainers that they supported them. I cannot see this holding up further, and without a major and clear shift of policy, I believe Remainers will move away – though many, like me, feel politically homeless at the moment (a reason why a new centre party would be no bad thing).

On Tuesday Parliament will reconvene, and will start to debate the EU Repeal Bill. There has been talk of the government being defeated on this, which I would hope for greatly, but am not too hopeful, again for reason of numbers. There are four Tory MPs identified by John Rentoul as possible rebels –  Anna Soubry, Nicky Morgan, Kenneth Clarke and Dominic Grieve – and possibly a few more, but nine Labour MPs who supported Leave in the referendum – Ronnie Campbell, John Cryer, Frank Field, Roger Godsiff, Kate Hoey, Kelvin Hopkins, John Mann, Dennis Skinner and Graham Stringer – while Caroline Flint indicated this morning that she is not prepared to help obstruct the bill. The Tories and DUP together have 327 MPs, whereas the opposition (not including the seven Sinn Féin MPs who will not take up their seats, nor the Speaker) have just 315. Even if all the four Tories listed above voted against the government, and the DUP abstained, they would still have 313 votes and could comfortably beat the opposition if just the nine Labour MPs vote with them. If things got tighter, May could take the same course of action as John Major did twice when facing defeat, and turn a vote on legislation into a vote of confidence. With no parliamentary majority, it is hard to imagine many Tories (most of who, when in the last parliament, voted for Article 50, including Soubry) voting against the government then.

Labour have proved themselves utterly incapable of proper opposition on Brexit. The Michel Barnier/David Davis press conference on Thursday was quite farcical, and it is clear the talks have hardly progressed, yet there was hardly a squeak from Corbyn and Keir Starmer until Starmer’s ineffectual interview this morning, which only served to muddy the party’s Brexit policy further. Never has there been a time during which proper scrutiny of the government and their approach to negotiations was more important; never has Labour proved so inept at providing this.

Where I have some hope, paradoxically, is in the possibility of a large-scale grassroots Tory revolt following acknowledgement that the government is preparing to pay a large Brexit divorce bill (with some leaks in the press today suggesting a figure of €50 billion). A recent Guardian/ICM poll suggested that two-thirds of voters would find a figure of €10 billion or more unacceptable, and the government has done nothing to try and explain the reason (not even clamping down on Boris Johnson over his ‘Go whistle’ remark). While the legal obligation to pay such a bill has been questioned, Barnier has made it clear that without the government coming clean on their position on this issue, they cannot proceed with trade talks. With time ticking down until Article 50 expires in March 2019, the UK government cannot really afford to keep delaying this, when the chances of even coming up with a workable transition arrangement – which all the other EU nations will accept – are slim in the time available.

So I think we will hear the sum confirmed soon, despite the denials. May will try to wait until after her party conference in Manchester, 1-4 October, but this may be difficult. The Tory membership have already indicated their wish for May to stand down; if she is conceding a major Brexit bill, then the pressure may become unbearable. May appears to be trying to keep Davis and Johnson close, so that they cannot dissociate themselves from what results, and so would go down with her; in that situation, I still do not think it impossible that the membership might make a crazy choice like electing a figure like Jacob Rees-Mogg or Andrea Leadsom, beloved of Conservative Home and the like.

Then, if a new leader was feeling optimistic or simply deluded, they just might call another election. I do think (or hope?) that a lot of decent Tory voters could not vote for a party led by someone so right-wing. But in order for a different government, Labour will have to make a proper case for an alternative in terms of Brexit, and make more overtures to the Lib Dems and others. I cannot imagine the Lib Dems or SNP supporting a Labour government which is going ahead with Brexit. At present I still cannot support Labour because of Brexit, and am sure they are a very long way from being an electorally viable party.

 

 


Feasibility of a new UK centre party? And other Brexit-related thoughts

There has been a lot of activity during the last week, mostly on Twitter, but also a few related newspaper articles, emanating from comments by James Chapman, former Daily Mail political editor, who worked for a while for George Osborne as Chancellor of the Exchequer, and then as chief of staff at the Department for Exiting the European Union (DExEU) under Secretary of State David Davis. To cut a long story short, Chapman has been arguing that the Tory Party has been taken over by extremists aiming for a hard Brexit, and saying that Brexit will be a calamity for the country and the party, who may never win power again. He has called for the founding of a new pro-European party to be called The Democrats.

Chapman has claimed that several senior former and two serving Cabinet ministers have contacted him to express interest (though it is important to note his caveat ‘They are not saying they are going to quit their parties’), noting that 60% of the Tory parliamentary party backed Remain. And, significantly, he has given a date of 9th September 2017 to be at Parliament Square, saying ‘I promise some very special guests’. No leading politicians have yet openly declared support, though one might glean sympathies from two articles this morning. Former Labour MP and defeated leadership candidate David Miliband wrote in The Observer today about how Brexit will be an ‘unparalleled act of economic self-harm’ and called for a second referendum (or a vote in Parliament) on the choice between remaining in the EU or the alternative after negotiations, echoing a call made by Tony Blair in October 2016. At the same, Tory MP Anna Soubry, something of a hero of anti-Brexiteers since her endearing appearance and frank statements on the election documentary Brexit Means Brexit, wrote in the Mail on Sunday a quite startling piece attacking the ‘Hard Brexiteers’ (though saying she still respects the referendum result), and saying ‘I would be betraying my principles if I did not make it clear that country must always come before party’. Also this morning, International Trade Secretary Liam Fox and Chancellor of the Exchequer Philip Hammond have jointly declared, presumably in an attempt to override talk of major cabinet divisions, that the UK will definitely leave the EU, single market and customs union when Article 50 expires in March 2019, while also making clear their support for a transition deal from this point, though stressing that this must not be indefinite, or some ‘back door’ to staying in the EU. Fox has been considered one of the most pro-Leave members of the cabinet, Hammond one of the most pro-Remain, or at least ‘Soft Brexiteers’. Interestingly, Soubry tweeted this morning that the statement by Hammond and Fox ‘shows the need to form #Brexit consensus which Hammond is leading’, perhaps a qualified support for the cabinet member to whom she feels closest, though falling short of unequivocal endorsement.

There had been talk of a new party earlier this year: in May it was claimed that various donors were approaching Tony Blair’s Institute for Global Change with a view to launching a breakaway movement which could attract some non- or anti-Corbynite Labour MPs, with talk of 100 such MPs resigning the whip and joining the new party. That was of course before the general election on 8th June, resulting in a hung parliament and a better-than-expected result for Corbyn’s Labour. Nonetheless, a report in the Sunday Times from the beginning of July (reproduced here) suggested that if Corbynites went ahead with deselection of centrist Labour MPs (with which some have already been threatened), then that could be a trigger for a number to leave to join a new party. This story was based upon sources said to be close to Blair, and hints were given that David Miliband might be a credible figure for a senior role in such a party.

Since Chapman’s first statements and tweets appeared, there have been a variety of left-of-centre voices considering the implications of a new party. Former SDP member and then Blairite advisor and then Transport Secretary Andrew Adonis (and staunch anti-Brexiteer) claimed a new party would indeed be much like the old SDP, and would achieve little more than to split the left and help the Tories, a view also echoed by Owen Jones, on the other wing of the party.  Corbynite journalist and Brexiteer Paul Mason, responding to those who had looked to the success of Emmanuel Macron in France as a model for a new centrist force, said that a new party would be ‘a liberal Tory party. The party of Notting Hill and Canary Wharf; the party of free market economics, globalised finance and social liberalism’ and would likely split the Tories rather than Labour. One might have imagined this to be an outcome Mason would have welcomed, not least in light of his earlier suggestion to the Progress faction that they ‘do a Macron’, but he suggested this would provide little more than ‘an emotional comfort blanket’ as global neo-liberalism withers.

However, political scientist and historian Tim Bale notes various questions relating to a new party, asking what such a new party would which is not already provided by the Liberal Democrats, whether existing anti-Brexit MPs would be better to pursue cross-party strategies, whether it is possible to ‘break the mould’ of British politics as SDP co-founder Roy Jenkins once claimed, in light of the UK electoral system which is unfavourable to third parties. However, he also argues that even if unable to achieve electoral victory, a new party could have an effect upon the policies of others, giving as previous examples of such a phenomenon the SDP pushing Labour towards a more centrist and pro-European stance such as won Blair a massive victory in 1997, or UKIP pushing the Tories towards a more overt and pervasive Euroscepticism.

Various issues occur to me immediately in terms of a new centre party and what it might achieve. The first relates to whether it could actually bring down the Tory/DUP quasi-coalition (for the purposes of confidence and supply issues in Parliament). The June election produced the following results: Tories 317, Labour 262, SNP 35, Liberal Democrats 12, DUP 10, Sinn Féin 7, Plaid Cymru 4, Greens 1, Independent Unionist 1, Speaker 1. So the Tories with the DUP have 327 seats; the others (without Sinn Féin, who will not take up their seats, or the Speaker) have 316. In a vote of confidence, I believe all the others, with the possible exception of the Independent Unionist Sylvia Hermon, would vote against the government. If 6 Tory MPs were to join a new party, or resign the party whip, that could leave the Tories + DUP with 321 votes, the others with 322. If Hermon voted with the government, they would win with 322 to 321; if she abstained, then the Speaker would use his casting vote, and support the government. So the new Democrats would have to capture seven Tory MPs to be sure of being able to bring down the government in a confidence vote, leading to a new general election in which they could fight most seats.

I do not believe this is likely at present. It is possible that Soubry (who in her mid-20s defected from the Conservatives to the SDP) and maybe one or two others (some possible candidates might be Kenneth Clarke, Nicky Morgan or Nicholas Soames, but it would be a huge step for any of these) might be prepared to take the ‘nuclear option’ and leave their party, but to gain a whole seven would require a true sense of a party in crisis.

The situation as regards Tories jumping ship is interesting to compare to that in early 1981, when just one Tory MP, Christopher Brocklebank-Fowler, joined the new Social Democratic Party (like Soubry, though it would be 29 years before she would become an MP), following the Limehouse Declaration of 23rd January 1981 . In 1981 the Tories had a clear majority (which would increase significantly in 1983). Their government’s reputation did look shaky, and Thatcher’s net popularity, pre-Falklands, was low as unemployment rose sharp, so that by the end of the year  she was declared the most unpopular Prime Minister since polling began. Furthermore, Labour remained consistently ahead in the polls right from the time of the 1979 election (peaking, as might surprise some, soon after Michael Foot became leader in November 1980), though this all changed after the Falklands War in 1982, when the Tories’ support soared from the mid-20s to the high 40s. This could not however have been predicted in early 1981. The Conservatives looked weak in the polls, though this was not an uncommon mid-term situation. They did not face something of such shattering impact as Brexit, nor rely upon another party in order to have a majority in the House of Commons. Thus I would argue that the situation was less serious then, and the incentives for Tory MPs to leave the party correspondingly fewer.

How about the situation for the other parties in early 1981? The Liberal Party then had 11 MPs, down from 13 prior to 1979; they would also go on to win Croydon North West from the Conservatives in October 1981, and Bermondsey from Labour in February 1983. The party had recently suffered a terrible blow with the trial in 1979 of their former leader Jeremy Thorpe on charges of having organised the murder of his homosexual lover. Even though he was acquitted, his refusal to give evidence and the general aspects of his lifestyle revealed in the trial meant his reputation was destroyed, with wider harm for the party as a whole, during a period when public opinion was considerably more homophobic than today. David Steel had taken over as leader in 1976 and tried to restore the party’s reputation, in which he was relatively successful, taking it into the Lib-Lab Pact of 1977-78, but the trial itself caused much strain. So the party was not in a strong situation. However, today we have a situation in which just two years ago, in the 2015 General Elections, the Liberal Democrats under Nick Clegg suffered the worst percentage loss of seats of any UK centre party since 1918, down a previous 57 to just 8. They won the seat of Richmond Park in a by-election forced by the sitting Tory MP Zac Goldsmith in December 2016, but Goldsmith won this back in June 2017. Otherwise, under leader (now ex-leader) Tim Farron, the Liberal Democrats went up to 12 seats, a modest gain but still a very long way from the numbers they had under leaders Paddy Ashdown and Charles Kennedy. It is hard to see yet any sign that under Vince Cable – widely remembered as a major figure in the Tory/Lib Dem coalition, and the man who trebled tuition fees – as leader, this situation would change. By contrast, when Steel was leader, it was not since the 1920s that they had experienced huge losses. Also, the Lib-Lab confidence and supply agreement, lasting 18 months, was of a different order to the five-year full Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition of 2010-15, which has left many on the left with a visceral disdain and distrust for the latter party, which will take time to shake, especially as the current leader was at the centre of that coalition.

So, the Liberal Democrats are in a relatively weak position, Somewhat more so than in the early 1980s. This just might be enough to prevent a re-run of the events of the 1980s, in which the SDP and Liberals fought two elections in an alliance, then after the 1987 election the former part split down the middle over the issue of a merger. This merger was supported by Steel and most in the Liberals, and various up-and-coming SDP politicians including Paddy Ashdown and Charles Kennedy, and veterans such as Shirley Williams and Roy Jenkins. On the other side was SDP leader David Owen, with a group of acolytes including MPs John Cartwright and Rosie Barnes, who maintained his own separate SDP following the merger in 1988. This led to the two parties running rival candidates in by-elections, most notably in that in Richmond (North Yorkshire) in February 1989, in which the votes of the two rival centre parties together exceeded those for the Tory candidate (future leader William Hague), but the division of the centre let the Tories through. Following disaster in the May 1990 Bootle by-election, the Owenite SDP was wound up. The situation was not plain-sailing for the new Liberal Democrats, though: they first had problems with their name, beginning as the ‘Social and Liberal Democrats’, then adopting ‘Democrats’ as a shorter version (so anticipating the new party, and alluding to the American party), before settling on ‘Liberal Democrats’ in October 1989 after heated debates in which leading figures very publicly disagreed. Prior to this, they had suffered a terrible set of results in the 1989 European Elections, gaining only one-third of the votes of the Green Party. But Ashdown was able to hold the new party together and eventually more than double their representation in the 1997 General Election, helped by a new wave of tactical voting (which held up until 2015, as Nick Clegg discovered to his immense cost).

Could we see a similar course of events, with the new Democrats in the place of the old SDP? The moderately greater weakness of the Liberal Democrats today might result in some differences, but I cannot see why these would be that significant. A small number of Tory MPs might join the party, and a few from Labour, at present. The election result, and the power of party members, has consolidated Corbyn’s position, so that those who leave are unlikely to ever find a way back in, at least for a long time. However, if deselections begin, this situation might change.

I also find it hard to imagine that Labour under Corbyn could win an overall majority (from which they were well-short in June) in a future election, especially now that the triangulation witnessed during the election campaign – managing to convince some Northern Leave voters on one hand, and Southern middle-class Remainers on the other, that Labour was on their side – is unravelling. This has been clear ever since Corbyn sacked three shadow ministers for voting for a Queen’s speech amendment calling for the UK to remain in the customs union and single market. But there is no obvious rival for party leader likely to win enough support in the party as a whole. Because of the membership, even if Corbyn does eventually stand down, perhaps following another election loss, his successor may be another similarly-minded candidate. With this in mind, it would probably make sense for the likes of Liz Kendall, Chuka Umunna, Stephen Kinnock or Hilary Benn to leave for a new party, especially if supported by Blair and Miliband, but I cannot see them doing so without a wave of deselection. Just this weekend, Andrew Grice argued that unless Corbyn opposes Brexit, then he will be unable to retain the support of many who who might shift their allegiance to a new party. This may be true of voters, but Labour party tribalism should not be underestimated.

But there are other factors to consider. It is very far from a foregone conclusion that a transitional agreement will be agreed by the other 27 EU nations (all of whom must agree unanimously for it to be possible). And this will not come without a price, quite literally. A week ago, it was reported that the UK was prepared to pay a £36bn bill for exiting the EU, provided the negotiators would talk about trade (contradicting Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson’s remark a few weeks previously that the EU leaders could ‘go whistle’ if they expected any such ‘divorce bill’ to be paid). However, immediately following the publicisation of this figure, various Tory Eurosceptics responded angrily and claimed that such an action would be impossible to sell to voters, and Downing Street rejected the claim that they were prepared to pay the £36bn. The Eurosceptics may be right, but I do not believe the EU will take trade, transition, or anything else until the UK government agrees a figure (Michel Barnier made this clear in July). We are informed that the government is about to publish a range of key position papers on various Brexit issues, but it is far from clear if the divorce bill will be included.

One other option has been touted by leading anti-Brexit campaigner Gina Miller, who has suggested that instead of a transitional agreement, we should be looking for an extension of the timetable for exit, but as one person has pointed out, it is hard to see how this would be possible with EU elections forthcoming in May/June 2019. For the UK to be part of these would be a huge leap that even some ‘soft Brexiteers’ would find difficult to back, at least to their constituents and local parties.

I think the government will realise soon that it has two options: either to agree a figure, at least for negotiations, in advance, or else have to exit the talks without any agreement. This may come as soon as the Tory Conference at the beginning of October, at which we are told today Theresa May will attempt a ‘mea culpa’ about the election result, in an attempt to hold onto her job. But I do not believe this will be any more successful than Ian Duncan Smith’s ‘quiet man turning up the volume’ speech in 2003, soon after which he was deposed. May looks a weak and wounded Prime Minister, lacking authority, only remaining in place because of lack of a clear successor. If she commits to a Brexit divorce bill, I believe there will be moves against her following the conference, as have been predicted by others, and many Eurosceptic Tories in the constituency parties will put their weight behind an alternative candidate. It is not inconceivable that they might support Jacob Rees-Mogg, who today is said to be considering his options, a result which would be as ground-changing for the Tories as Corbyn was for Labour. I cannot imagine Soubry, Clarke and various others being able to remain in a party led by him, even less so than when it was led by Duncan Smith.

So, in conclusion: a new party might attract some small number of defectors, but will probably become embroiled in a competition for the centre with the Liberal Democrats; as anticipated by Bale, it may have an emboldening impact upon anti-Brexiteers in the two main parties; if the Tories elect a highly right-wing leader like Rees-Mogg (or Andrea Leadsom), more MPs might be prepared to defect, as would be the case for Labour if they begin deselections, or back hard Brexit. And above all, the decisive moment in the Brexit negotiations is about to come, I believe. Either a bill will be agreed, or negotiations will come to a halt, and a hard Brexit without a transitional agreement will be a foregone conclusion.

I am unsure if there exists such a thing as a ‘soft Brexit’ other than entering into an EEA agreement in the manner of Norway, thus remaining in the single market, but a hard Brexit would be the worst possible outcome, and fatal for the UK. At present I see no evidence that either Labour or the Tories have any strategy to avoid this. It is time for all right-thinking politicians in all parties to accept that this matters more than party loyalties. I can personally no longer support Labour (or my local MP, Corbyn) while he maintains essentially supporting Brexit, and would welcome the new party. A second referendum is desperately needed, with much more information about what a post-Brexit Britain will actually entail made available to the voting public. I await 9th September with great interest.

 

 

 


To HASC – questions to ask to stop child abuse being exploited for party-political gain

This afternoon (Wednesday October 21st, 2015), the Home Affairs Select Committee (HASC) will be taking evidence relating to allegations and investigations into the abuse of children committed by VIPs (and in at least one case, alleged rape of an adult woman) from five important people: Detective Chief Inspector Paul Settle, formerly of Operation Fernbridge, Assistant Commissioner Patricia Gallan and Deputy Assistant Commissioner Steve Rodhouse of the Metropolitan Police, Tom Watson MP, Deputy Leader of the Labour Party and a prominent campaigner on child abuse, and Alison Saunders, Director of Public Prosecutions. A report this morning makes clear that the committee have decided not to interview Zac Goldsmith, MP for Richmond Park and Conservative candidate for London Mayor.

Over the last two weeks, ever since the broadcast on October 5th of the BBC Panorama programme on the alleged VIP Paedophile Ring, there has been a concerted media campaign targeting Tom Watson above all, who has been labelled a ‘witchfinder general’, as responsible for supposedly unfounded claims of high level abuse. I do know Tom personally, vouched for the importance of his work on abuse as part of his deputy leadership campaign materials, and so obviously am far from impartial, but can see in absolute honesty that I do not recognise the figure portrayed by much of the press, and also have very strong reason to believe Tom has acted with integrity and in good faith. I suspect that his conciliatory position as deputy to new Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, despised by the right-wing media and many Blairite elements in the party, is fuelling this campaign. Furthermore, there are complicated reasons which may become apparent this afternoon why some conflicts have arisen between various parties all devoted to uncovering and preventing child abuse by prominent persons. Last week I posted a detailed timeline of events relating to Leon Brittan, which I believe show clearly that the decision to pursue further the rape investigation into him, after it had been dropped, came from the Met, not from Tom.

The following are issues I implore all members of HASC to consider before questioning this afternoon.


Allegations of a statement taken by an ex-customs officer about the late Lord Brittan

The distinguished journalist Tim Tate has written what to my mind is the most important piece on the allegations surrounding Leon Brittan (later Lord Brittan). Tate does not accept the claims, printed in Exaro and elsewhere, that a video seized in 1982 from Russell Tricker featured the Home Secretary themselves, but crucially claims that a statement was taken from the customs official in question, Maganlal Solanki, attesting to having seized video tapes from Brittan upon entering the country at some point in the 1980s. If a written statement exists attesting to this, it is of crucial importance in establishing whether there might be any truth in the allegations against Brittan. HASC should ask Settle to explain whether this exists or not. Furthermore, at the time of the 1982 siege of Elm Guest House, a then-eight-year-old boy was found and questioned, later (now an adult living in the US) questioned by detectives from Operation Fernbridge. On at least one occasion, this boy identified an ‘Uncle Leon’ from the ‘big house’ as being involved. It is equally vital that Settle is questioned about this. Furthermore, Solanki should also be summoned to speak to HASC.

Tate sent the following questions to the Independent Inquiry on Child Sexual Abuse (to the best of my knowledge he has not yet received an answer) – I suggest these are equally relevant for HASC:

1. Has the Inquiry yet established direct contact with Operation Fernbridge ?
2. Will the Inquiry be examining documentary evidence held by Operation Fernbridge concerning its investigations into the late Baron Brittan ?
3. Specifically, will the Inquiry secure from Operation Fernbridge copies of all such documents including, but not limited to, formal statements made under caution, officers’ notebooks, internal memoranda and historical documents acquired during its investigation into the late Baron Brittan ?
4. Does the Inquiry plan to require public testimony from the current head of Operation Fernbridge, AND its former senior investigating officer, [NAME REDACTED HERE] concerning the late Baron Brittan?
5. Does the Inquiry plan to require public testimony from the former Customs and Excise officer Maganlal Solanki who gave evidence to Operation Fernbridge concerning the alleged seizure of child pornography from the late Baron Brittan ?
6. Does the Inquiry plan to take evidence from the US Marshall formerly attached to Operation Fernbridge in connection with a visit he made at the request of Operation Fernbridge to a suspected victim of Baron Brittan ?
7. Does the Inquiry plan to publish the documents acquired and/or generated by Operation Fernbridge during the course of its investigation into Baron Brittan ?


Involvement of other MPs

By far the majority of the focus has been on Tom Watson, but other MPs have been equally involved with campaigning on abuse, and some have made more extravagant claims or threats. Specifically:

1. The Labour MP John Mann has handed police a list of 22 politicians alleged to have been involved with the abuse of children. Furthermore, in July last year, Mann indicated the possibility of using Parliamentary privilege to name abusers.

2. The Labour MP Simon Danczuk also threatened to use Parliamentary privilege to name a politician alleged to have visited Elm Guest House; whilst Danczuk did not ultimately do so, it is widely believed to have been Brittan.

3. On October 28th, 2014, the Labour MP Jim Hood did indeed name Brittan in Parliament. The following day, Danczuk backed Hood for having done so.

4. On November 27th, 2014, Conservative MP Zac Goldsmith said the following:

We need only consider the Elm guest house in Barnes, which was run by Haroon and Carole Kasir. It was raided more than 30 years ago, back in 1982. The couple were fined and given suspended sentences for running a disorderly house, but at the time there were already questions and allegations around the abuse of young children at the house. Allegedly—we are reliably told this—12 boys gave evidence in 1982 that they had been abused, yet all these allegations simply evaporated at the time, some 30 years ago. They are only resurfacing now.

When Mrs Kasir died a few years after the house was raided, in very odd circumstances, a child protection campaigner from the National Association Of Young People In Care called for a criminal investigation into events at Elm guest house. He said he had been told by Mrs Kasir that boys had been brought in from a local children’s home—Grafton Close, also in Richmond—for sex, and that she had photographs of establishment figures at her hotel. One of them apparently showed a former Cabinet Minister in a sauna with a naked boy. She had logbooks, names, times, dates, pictures of her customers and so on. All that evidence simply disappeared after the raids and no longer exists. That is astonishing.

The Met has since confirmed that Cyril Smith visited the place—the hon. Member for Rochdale has made this point—and at least three other men named in documents as visitors to the Elm guest house were later convicted of multiple sexual offences against children. It is impossible to believe there was not a cover up. This is not sloppiness; there has to be more to it than that.

I was quite surprised when I watched the broadcast of this debate in November to hear these claims, which are thought to be tenuous by many campaigners, presented in Parliament. Questions have been rightly asked about Goldsmith’s source for the claims – the Mail journalist Guy Adams suggests it was like to be either Chris Fay or Mike Broad (Fay has e-mailed me to indicate that he has never met nor had any contact with Goldsmith). Furthermore, Goldsmith participated in an Australian documentary Spies, Lords and Predators, broadcast in July this year and heavily influenced by the reporting of Exaro, which has come under severe criticism.

5. The Conservative MP and HASC member Tim Loughton, who has in the last few days started charging Watson with setting himself up as ‘judge, jury, and executioner’ over individual cases, himself threatened in July 2014 to use what he called the ‘nuclear option’ to name suspected paedophiles in Parliament. He also called for action from the inquiry in November 2014 following allegations from Exaro about MPs throwing sex parties involving the abuse of children, murder, and more.

Many of these are stronger claims or threats than anything by Tom Watson, who in a November 2014 interview with Guardian journalist Decca Aitkenhead said just that at least one politician had abused children.

HASC needs to speak to Mann, Danczuk, Hood, Goldsmith, and Loughton.


Allegations of a Westminster paedophile ring

It is often claimed that Tom Watson has alleged the existence of a Westminster paedophile ring. This would be truer of Danczuk (I am not absolutely sure if he has specifically used the term, but will check); Watson’s question to the Prime Minister on October 24th, 2012 contained the following words:

The evidence file used to convict paedophile Peter Righton, if it still exists, contains clear intelligence of a widespread paedophile ring. One of its members boasts of his links to a senior aide of a former Prime Minister, who says he could smuggle indecent images of children from abroad. The leads were not followed up, but if the file still exists I want to ensure that the Metropolitan police secure the evidence, re-examine it and investigate clear intelligence suggesting a powerful paedophile network linked to Parliament and No. 10.

A network which is linked to Parliament and No. 10 is not the same thing as a Westminster paedophile ring. There is no doubt that a network existed around Righton, at the very least featuring other committee members of the Paedophile Information Exchange, such as Charles Napier, convicted and sentenced last December to 13 years for hundreds of sexual assaults upon young boys, or Righton’s partner Richard Alston, jailed in September for 21 months for child abuse charges, in a trial at which claims emerged of sessions involving Alston, Righton and Napier together.

The link to Parliament and No. 10 rests upon claims made in a document about which I am not at liberty to write now. Tom Watson’s source for his original PMQ was retired child protection worker Peter McKelvie, who last week resigned from the Victims and Survivors Consultative Panel to the inquiry.

Scapegoats are being made of McKelvie and Watson in a bid to stop further investigation of a wide range of claims about politicians of which both are aware. It is vital that HASC also summon McKelvie and ask him about this specific claim mentioned by Watson in 2012.

If HASC will deal seriously with these claims, they will be carrying out their proper role, and not serving simply as a front for political point-scoring. The issue of high-level child abuse is far too serious for this, and it would be a tragedy if the cross-party consensus which was previously built on this were now to be abandoned.


Call for All Political Leaders and Leadership Candidates to Pledge Full Co-operation with Abuse Inquiry

The Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse is now underway. Despite two previous chairs rightly standing down due to some of their connections, and unpleasant politics between some other panel members and other individuals, resulting in the loss of several very good people, nonetheless what is now in place is strong, focused, and has real powers. I am very pleased at the access to intelligence files and also the pledge that no-one who comes forward will face prosecution under the Official Secrets Act. And personally, I am especially pleased that the Terms of Reference make clear that music tuition will be an area of investigation, for which I have campaigned qnd lobbied for several years. The website is at:

https://www.csa-inquiry.independent.gov.uk/

Some survivors and campaigners have unfortunately expressed grave reservations about the inquiry. I would implore them to at least try engaging with it, difficult though this might be, in full recognition of the fact that they have more reason than anyone to be distrustful of any such venture. But I believe the chair and panel do wish to get to the bottom of this terrible factor afflicting our society for so long, and help to build a better society in its place.

In an interview I gave earlier today for Sky News:

I called for the leaders of all the major political parties to pledge full co-operation with this inquiry (and make all relevant documentation available) and want to repeat this now, and hope others will help with urging publicly not only current leaders, but also leadership and deputy leadership candidates, to do so. Much evidence has come to light suggesting that abuse by senior politicians in many parties was either ignored or actively covered up, and that other politicians had connections to paedophile organisations. It is paramount that this is fully investigated in order to understand better how high-level abuse could go on for so long with apparent impunity.

So I ask people, journalists, campaigners, bloggers, tweeters and others to help keep the pressure on the following politicians in England and Wales to give such a pledge, and if not, explain not.

Conservatives
Leader: David Cameron
Future Leadership Candidates: Boris Johnson, George Osborne, Theresa May

Liberal Democrats
Leader: Nick Clegg
Leadership Candidates: Tim Farron, Norman Lamb

Labour
Leader: Harriet Harman
Leadership Candidates: Liz Kendall, Andy Burnham, Yvette Cooper, Jeremy Corbyn
Deputy Leadership Candidates: Tom Watson, Stella Creasey, Ben Bradshaw, Angela Eagle, Caroline Flint

UKIP
Leader: Nigel Farage

Greens
Leader: Natalie Bennett

Plaid Cymru
Leader: Leanne Wood


Greville Janner and Margaret Moran – trial of facts more likely for expenses fiddling than child abuse?

In 2012, the former Labour MP for Luton South Margaret Moran faced 21 charges of false accounting and forgery of parliamentary expenses involving sums of over £60 000. However, following a psychiatrist’s report, Moran was found to be suffering from a depressive illness, with extreme anxiety and agitation, and as such was unfit to stand trial. Nonetheless, a trial went ahead in her absence (a so-called ‘trial of the facts’) and it was found that she did indeed falsely claim more than £53 000. Moran received a two-year order placing her under the supervision of a council mental health social worker, as well as being treated for the improvement of her medical condition. At the time, the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) and Head of the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) was Keir Starmer, now the Labour MP for Holborn and St Pancras after being elected in May 2015.

Fast-forward to two-and-a-half years after the trial of the facts for Moran, and as is now well-known, the new DPP, Alison Saunders made the decision not to charge Labour peer Lord Janner, formerly Greville Janner, MP for Leicester West from 1970 to 1997, with 22 offences involving the sexual abuse of children, between 1969 and 1988, on the grounds of his suffering from dementia. Even the Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, argued that Janner should face a ‘trial of the facts’, but Saunders dismissed this on the grounds that Janner was no longer an ongoing risk to the public (not something which Janner himself would have viewed as an obstacle to prosecuting Nazi war criminals with dementia, as witnessed by his statements here and here). Starmer defended his successor Saunders’ decision, saying that ‘we should inhibit our comments on the case’.

There have been major questions asked about the reliability of the diagnosis of dementia against Janner, in light of clear evidence of much significant activity at the House of Lords and elsewhere following the initial diagnosis (see for example this report – as Gojam has pointed out on The Needle Blog, there is a great irony in Janner being deemed too ill to face justice but well enough to legislate). But even if one accepts that Janner is not fit to appear in court, do the seriousness of the charges (not to mention the suggestion that Janner may have been part of a wider network, together with the former Speaker of the House of Commons George Thomas aka Lord Tonypandy) not make the case for a trial of the facts imperative? Janner may not be an ongoing risk to the public, but neither was Moran, who was no longer an MP at the time she faced charges.

I do not want to make light of the issue of MPs fiddling parliamentary expenses, though do think that as financial scandals go, this was quite small in terms of the sums involved, especially relative to government spending. Furthermore, I do not share public cynicism about the very profession of being a Member of Parliament, and think our MPs should be paid more, commensurate with the salaries they might receive in the private sector, and hopefully then few would want to fiddle expenses.

The spectacle of a clearly distraught and destroyed (and visibly aged) Moran, following the court ruling, was something I found upsetting at the time. This has nothing to do with her gender; the vilification and imprisonment of Denis McShane was no less pretty, nor was the SNP-driven hate campaign against the vulnerable Charles Kennedy, likely playing a part in his early death.

But I believe there are current and former MPs against whom far more serious charges exist. The fact that parliamentary expenses has been viewed as a more serious matter than the abuse of vulnerable children says a good deal about the distorted moral compass that exists in the circles of power.

Reports today in the Guardian, Independent, Times and Mail all suggest that Saunders decision could be overturned, as she herself intimated in an interview earlier this week. This is following a review by an independent QC, though @ExaroNews have tweeted today ‘Crisis at CPS: tonight CPS denies story in Daily Mail that DPP decision on Janner is to be reversed. Mail prob right then.’

The case for a trial of the facts against Janner is unanswerable. Anything less will smack of a high-level establishment cover-up. It is vital that in this case the truth is established whilst the alleged perpetrator is still alive. This is far more serious than any expenses scandals.


Labour can and must win in England alone – and has done so several times before

The loss of all but one Labour seat in Scotland to the SNP appears to have sent shockwaves down the political establishment, as if Scotland were a much larger part of the United Kingdom – in terms of population and seats – than it actually is. It’s time for some perspective in terms of figures:

There are currently 650 seats in the whole of the United Kingdom. 18 of these are in Northern Ireland and are generally uncontested by the major parties in the mainland. This leaves 632 for England, Scotland and Wales. Of these, 533 are in England, 59 are in Scotland, 40-in Wales. England has nine times the number of seats of the next largest region.

In 2015, the breakdown of seats in the three constituent parts of the mainland were as follows:

Total: Conservatives 330, Labour 232, SNP 56, Lib Dems 8, UKIP 1, Green 1, Speaker 1

England: Conservatives 318, Labour 206, Lib Dems 6, UKIP 1, Green 1, Speaker 1
Scotland: SNP 56, Labour 1, Conservatives 1, Lib Dems 1
Wales: Labour 25, Conservatives 11, Plaid Cymru 3, Lib Dems 1

Labour continue to have a clear commanding lead in Wales; there is not at present any sign of Plaid Cymru making major advances comparable to the SNP, though of course this situation may change. The Conservatives, however, have an overall majority in England of 107 seats. Were Labour to recapture 20 seats in Scotland (which would now be a significant gain), say, they would still be a long way from denting the Conservatives majority in England.

But Labour have achieved this before. Consider these results in England alone:

1945: Labour 331, Conservatives 159, Liberals 5, Labour Independent 1, Independent Conservative 1, Common Wealth 1, Communist 1, Independent 3
1950: Labour 251, Conservatives 242, Liberals 2, National Liberals and Conservatives 4, Conservatives and Liberals 2, Conservatives and Natural Liberals 2, Liberals and Conservatives 1, National Liberals 1,
1951: Conservatives 259, Labour 233, Liberals 2, Conservatives and Liberals 2, Conservatives and National Liberals 2, Liberals and Conservatives 3, National Liberals and Conservatives 5
1955: Conservatives 279, Labour 216, Liberals 2, Conservatives and Liberals 2, Conservatives and National Liberals, Liberals and Conservatives 3, National Liberals and Conservatives 5
1959: Conservatives 302, Labour 193, Liberals 3, Conservatives and Liberals 2, Conservatives and National Liberals 6, Liberals and Conservatives 2, National Liberals and Conservatives 3
1964: Conservatives 255, Labour 245, Liberals 3, Conservatives and National Liberals 4, National Liberals and Conservatives 2, Speaker 1
1966: Labour 285, Conservatives 216, Liberals 6, Conservatives and National Liberals 2, National Liberals and Conservatives 1, Speaker 1
1970: Conservatives 292, Labour 216, Liberals 2, Speaker 1
February 1974: Conservatives 267, Labour 237, Liberals 9, Independent Labour 1, Social Democrat 1, Speaker 1
October 1974: Labour 255, Conservatives 252, Liberals 8, Speaker 1
1979: Conservatives 306, Labour 203, Liberals 7
1983: Conservatives 362, Labour 148, Liberals 10, SDP 3
1987: Conservatives 357, Labour 155, Liberals 7, SDP 3, Speaker 1
1992: Conservatives 319, Labour 195, Lib Dems 10
1997: Labour 329, Conservatives 165, Lib Dems 34, Independent 1
2001: Labour 323, Conservatives 165, Lib Dems 40, Independent 1
2005: Labour 286, Conservatives 194, Lib Dems 47, Respect 1, Independent 1
2010: Conservatives 297, Labour 191, Lib Dems 43, Green 1, Speaker 1
2015: Conservatives 318, Labour 206, Lib Dems 6, UKIP 1, Green 1, Speaker 1

(Figures taken from the UK Politics Resources site)

In five of the eight elections since 1945 in which Labour won a majority nationwide, they also won an overall majority in England. The exceptions are 1950, when the Conservatives together with associated conservative parties had a total of 252 to Labour’s 251 in England, and Labour’s overall majority in the country was just 6 seats; 1964, when Labour had a nationwide majority of only 5, excluding the Speaker; and October 1974, when Labour had a nationwide majority of only 4. Attlee in 1945 and Blair in 1997 and 2001 won commanding three figure overall majorities in England alone; Wilson in 1966 had a respectable majority of 59, and Blair in 2005 also had a perfectly serviceable majority of 45.

Furthermore, in 1945, 1997 and 2001 Labour had an overall majority in the whole of the country on the basis of its English seats alone; in 1966 it would have scraped one from its seats in England and Wales (317 out of 630). 2005 was different, however; then the total of seats in England and Wales was 315, which would still have made it the largest party by a comfortable margin, but not able to command an overall majority in the UK if the SNP had performed like they did in 2015.

Labour can win, and win decisively in England; being able to do so is key to their winning a comfortable overall majority in the country again.