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How much crime is there on the London Underground?

London’s Conservatives are energetically criticising Sadiq Khan over his approach to violent crime and it was London Assembly Tories who obtained figures showing an increase in recorded offences of violent crime on the Tube network in the last few years. Supplied by British Transport Police (BTP), they showed that violent offences were 43% higher between November 2017 and September 2018 than in the slightly longer period between November 2015 and October 2016.

The statistics, which were reported by the BBC and City AM, also showed that crimes categorised as weapon offences saw the biggest percentage increase during that time (125%) followed by robbery (77%) and that recorded crimes of every kind, including sex offences, public order and criminal damage, have gone up by 25%. What do the figures mean and what action should be taken in response to them?

There are particular reasons to be wary of crime statistics, but the first point to be made is a more general one about percentages. A big percentage rise in anything at all does not necessarily mean a significant increase in the number of whatever that thing is. The total number of crimes categorised as violent recorded by BTP in the 2015-16 12 month period was 1,980 and in the 11 month 2017-18 period it was 2,838 – an increase of 858. That still feels big enough to be concerned about. So does the numerical rise from 10,450 crimes of every kind to 13,101.

Even so, the numbers are also worth evaluating in a couple of other relevant contexts. One is the likelihood of your becoming a victim of a violent crime when using the Underground. Do the police figures mean that possibility has gone up significantly? BBC London’s transport and environment correspondent Tom Edwards has calculated that one violent crime takes place on the Tube network for every 478,659 journeys. One chance in around half a million feels rather reassuring after “up by 43%”. So does the roughly one in 100,000 chance of being a victim of any sort of crime when using the Underground. BTP assistant chief constable Robin Smith described that rate as “incredibly low”, and the comment does not seem out of place.

Smith also provided another relevant piece of background. Referring to the big hike in weapons offences recorded, he stressed that these included the seizure of knives in what he called “our targeted, intelligence-led operations” of the past year. What happens when additional resources are devoted to tackling any specific sort of offence, be it online fraud or fare-dodging? Hopefully, more incidents are reported and more culprits apprehended. Result? The recorded crime figures for that type of offence go up, perhaps not because more such offences are being committed but because more of those committing them are being apprehended.

But, of course, there is another way of looking at that interpretation, which is that it demonstrates how much of the type of crime in question goes undetected. Transport for London illustrates this point in its latest business plan in relation to what it terms “unwanted sexual behaviour”. A campaign has been running to encourage more reporting of such behaviour by its victims. TfL forecasts that, because of this, it will see the “upward trend in recorded sexual offences continue”. TfL also anticipates the rate of overall crime increasing until 2023/24, when it will “begin to level out and fall” due to technological changes and enforcement efforts. The business plan also notes an increase in the amount of pushing, shoving and “altercations” related to overcrowding.

So there are different ways of reading at least some of the Underground crime numbers. The City Hall Conservatives accept that general point, but even so contend that the rise in the number of recorded violent offences on the Tube network give grounds for upbraiding the Labour Mayor, who does accept that violent crime in London as a whole has been going up.

Conservative AM Susan Hall said he should reduce what she called the “millions he is spending on City Hall waste” and put “more officers on the street”. If that sounds odd, given that the Underground is, by definition, not “on the street” but beneath it, the City Hall Tories explain that they believe diverting money from other areas into hiring more officers would help to reduce crime in every part of the city, the Tube included.

At present, there are 860 British Transport Police officers patrolling TfL’s rail network as a whole, including the Docklands Light Railway, London Trams and London Overground as well as the Underground. These officers are paid for with £76 million of TfL’s money. More BTP officers could in theory be paid for by TfL, whose board the Mayor chairs, but that, of course, would mean less money for everything else TfL does, and they already have a budget gap to bridge.

The Assembly Tories, including their mayoral candidate Shaun Bailey, are making an ongoing case about “waste” that could be cut enabling more Metropolitan Police Officers, who look after the rest of the transport network and sometimes support BTP colleagues, though what counts as “waste” and what does not is, of course, often a matter of political opinion. These will continue to be frequently aired from now until May 2020. There is also a much broader question about what difference “visible policing” really makes to crime levels, though this is one few politicians are eager to address.

Categories: Analysis

Charles Wright: What is the future for London local journalism?

A common feature of London council meetings over recent years has been the almost complete absence of local newspaper reporters.

Just a couple of examples: in July 2017, the Haringey Advertiser closed (along with six other London local papers); a year later the Hampstead and Highgate Express, covering Haringey through its Broadway edition, saw its editor made redundant, a new editor also overseeing the Hackney Gazette, Islington Gazette and Brent and Kilburn Times, and a merged news team based in Stoke Newington.

It was a sad outcome for the “Ham and High”, which in the 1980s (when I worked there), had something like eight NW3-based reporters covering Camden, Haringey and Barnet councils comprehensively.

The story of the decline of local newspapers is depressingly familiar: falling revenues, falling circulation, low pay, less training and a squeeze on staffing. Across the country some 200 local papers have closed since 2005, some London boroughs have no weekly newspaper at all and by some accounts the number of local paper journalists has halved in the last decade.

While the London local paper market has proved relatively resilient, this has been largely due to consolidation, job cuts and consequent reductions in “on the ground” reporting despite online growth, as detailed in the London Assembly’s comprehensive 2017 report The Fate of Local News.

The result, according to contributors to the Assembly report, is a growing democratic deficit.

Eric Gordon, veteran editor of the independent Camden New Journal, told the inquiry that fewer journalists inevitably meant less investigative reporting, while Linda Quinn, Editor-in-Chief, Brixton Bugle, warned that if people “do not know what is happening in their name, it is very difficult to form a judgement to hold the council to account”.

With traditional local press  in decline though, the gap is increasingly being filled by community newspapers and websites, some of them, such as Inside Croydon, specifically seeking to offer “a real voice in your community, so often missing from council events or the established media”.

A veteran in the field is the Hackney Citizen, which celebrated its tenth year in print last summer.  “The focus has always been on readers,” editor Keith Magnum told Press Gazette. “We thought there was space for something that provided more informed debate and in-depth analysis”. Without local journalism, he added, “there isn’t any democracy”.

Further north, another survivor is the Waltham Forest Echo, launched in 2014 by Social Spider community interest company, which has gone on to launch the Tottenham Community Press and, in October last year, the Enfield Dispatch, following the 2017 closure of the Enfield Advertiser, chronicling its progress in a Medium blog here.

South of the river, online and print titles include London SE1 and 853, covering Greenwich and “doing the stuff the local press gave up doing a long time ago”, and the Peckham Peculiar, Lewisham Ledger and Dulwich Diverter series.

The independent Community News Network facilitated by the Cardiff University Centre for Community Journalism now has more than 100 members. There’s an interactive map of titles here, many of them in London.

Can they survive, run as they often are by committed individuals and kept going through advertising, subscriber schemes and unpaid contributors?

While the government-commissioned Cairncross inquiry into how to safeguard independent news in the digital age is yet to report, the BBC has thrown a lifeline both to the community and the traditional sector through its Local News Partnership scheme, funding reporters across the country to “fill the gap in local democracy reporting”, and Facebook is funnelling £4.5 million for community reporters via the National Council for the Training of Journalists.

But, as the Assembly report concludes, viability remains a major problem: “Without addressing the challenges that the industry is facing, and finding solutions, we are at risk of losing one of our most important democratic functions”.

Categories: Culture

Vic Keegan’s Lost London 74: the disappearing River Tyburn

Nothing in the metropolis is more lost than the historic rivers that once fed the Thames. And none is more historic or more lost in geography or imagination than the River Tyburn, which once flowed openly from Hampstead’s hills across Regent’s Park and Green Park to form an eyot called Thorney Island. On these few acres stood Westminster Abbey and its monastery, the royal palace (until Henry VIII moved out), the emerging Houses of Parliament and Westminster School. No parcel of land in Britain, and maybe anywhere, contains more history in such a small space.  

I say “once flowed” but, of course, the Tyburn still does until it goes underground and gets swallowed by Sir Joseph Bazalgette’s amazing sewer system and its interceptor channels, which pipe what is left of the Tyburn to sewage works in East London at a point shortly before it used to empty itself into the Thames. The only bit of it that occasionally reaches the Thames now is the western extension from around Buckingham Palace to a few hundred yards west of Vauxhall Bridge, where you can still see the outlet through which surplus water enters the Thames during storm conditions. You can also still see the sluice gate keeper’s house, now converted into a des res called Tyburn House close by the exit. 

Archaeologists are still arguing about the eastern route of the Tyburn after it leaves Buckingham Palace to flow roughly under Tothill Street to old Westminster, as new archaeological digs throw up new evidence of the mix of Thames and Tyburn waters which spawned lots of small eyots. But if you walk from the Embankment opposite Victoria Tower Gardens along Great College Street, the original medieval wall along which the Tyburn route ran is still there on your right. 

And when you get to the entrance to Dean’s Yard, you are passing over the remains of an ancient bridge near which the remains of a 14th Century pillar can still be found in the bowels of Church House. Thereafter, the Tyburn skirted the walls of the old monastery, along what used to be called Longditch (today’s Storey’s Gate) and partially up Whitehall before turning right into the Thames before reaching Downing Street. 

Whether the Tyburn can still be called a river when it contains so much sewage and doesn’t properly reach the Thames is a matter for linguists as well as archaeologists, but there is no doubt that waters still emerge from the Hampstead hills and, in storm conditions, produce a lot of water that in olden days would have been part of the Tyburn. You don’t need much imagination to sense that it is still there. 

 

Categories: Culture, Lost London

London EU citizens ‘scared’ to seek Brexit advice from government, says Sadiq Khan

Sadiq Khan has renewed his criticism of the UK government’s attitude to non-UK European Union citizens living in London and said he relishes the prospect of debating Brexit and its implications for the capital with his Conservative challenger in the 2020 London Mayor election campaign.

Speaking at his monthly Mayor’s Question Time session (MQT) at City Hall today, Mayor Khan said that Londoners from other EU countries are “scared to to go the Home Office or UK Border Agency” for advice about their status when and if Brexit takes place having seen the treatment of the Windrush Generation and their descendants in the context of UK immigration policy.

The Mayor described his Tory mayoral challenger Shaun Bailey and the rest of the eight-strong Conservative Group on the London Assembly as sharing the opinion of David Kurten of the Assembly’s Brexit Alliance Group that a “Brexit will be a fantastic thing for this country,” ideally on a “no deal” basis. Kurten was elected to the Assembly as a member of UKIP, but recently left the party. Khan said that Bailey has described Brexit as “a fantastic opportunity”.

The Tory mayoral candidate, who did not contribute to today’s discussion of Brexit, was reported in September on securing his nomination to have said he is “not a Brexiteer in that crazy sense of, ‘let’s just leave'”. In July, he wrote in the Jamaica Observer that he was “excited” that the British public was “brave enough” to believe there was “bright future” outside the EU and that, “By improving our relationship with the Commonwealth, we will create a fantastic opportunity for countries like Jamaica” to play a bigger part on “the global stage”.

London’s population of nearly nine million people includes approximately one million who are citizens of other EU nations, of whom roughly 600,000 are employed in the capital, largely in its construction and hospitality sectors along with the NHS and the tech industry.

At MQT Labour AM Joanne McCartney said she had learned from a body representing East Europeans that people seeking settled status are being told they will be expected to provide “documentary evidence of every month of their previous five years living here,” such as tenancy documents or formal employment contracts with many will not possess.

Mayor Khan, who said he had discussed such issues with a Portuguese minister at a meeting yesterday, said it was imperative to make sure EU nationals “are welcome in our city” and that national government “has got to recognise some of the concerns people have” in the context of controversy over the government’s “hostile environment” policy.

He recommended City Hall’s EU Londoners Hub as “a safe environment” for them to find information and said they should be able to vote in any second referendum in a widening of the franchise to also include 16 and 17-year-olds. The Mayor said in December that the Greater London Authority will pay the £65 fee “settled status” application fee for all of its staff and those of Transport for London and the Metropolitan Police affected by it.

 

Categories: News

David Leam: Why Crossrail 2 remains right for London

Steve Norris has a long and distinguished record in championing better transport in London. But he’s off track in his criticism of Crossrail 2, the planned north-south cross-London rail route (“We need to think again about Crossrail 2“, 6 January).

Steve rightly recognises London’s looming transport capacity problems – the sort of pressures that we already see in crazily overcrowded tubes and commuter rail services, which will get far worse as the city’s population nudges 10 million towards the end of the next decade. Where I differ with Steve is that I continue to see Crossrail 2 – which would link the national rail networks in Surrey and Hertfordshire with tunnels under London between Wimbledon in the south and Tottenham Hale and New Southgate in the north – as the first best solution to this capacity crunch.

Steve points out various local problems with some of the plans, including in Wimbledon and Balham. More important, he thinks it’s too expensive and instead suggests “much more affordable improvements”, such as the planned Bakerloo Line Extension.

Let’s deal with those local issues first. Steve is quite right to highlight some of the problem areas on the Crossrail 2 route, as set out at the last public consultation in 2015. Every project has its tricky local hotspots, which require extensive local consultation and detailed technical work to address. The good news is that the Crossrail 2 team have done this work and now have vastly improved proposals for key sections of the route, such as a choice between Balham and Tooting as a stop, and by looking at what Crossrail 2 means to Wimbledon town centre. The bad news is that local communities in these areas are none the wiser about proposed changes, and will remain in the dark until the Department for Transport agrees to Transport for London publishing revised plans. This must be a priority for 2019.

That leaves the wider strategic case for Crossrail 2 – and I my view that is stronger than ever. Crossrail 2 is a radical solution: rather than tackling a clutch of problems piecemeal, it brings the solution to them together. It will relieve the chronic congestion on the south west main line into Waterloo. It will relieve crowding on the Tube, especially on the Northern Line in south London. It will stem the rising numbers of regular station closures due to overcrowding, which are forecast to become steadily more numerous. It will cut congestion on the great eastern line into Liverpool Street. And it will ensure that passengers arriving on HS2 will actually be able to get on the Underground at Euston, rather than creating a giant bottleneck.

In total Crossrail 2 will increase the city’s rail capacity by around 10 per cent, bringing an additional 270,000 into Central London each morning peak time. And at the same time, it will deliver a huge boost for housing. The railway is deliberately routed through some of the parts of north-east London most desperately in need of regeneration, in Enfield’s Upper Lee Valley. Crossrail 2 will support tens of thousands of new homes there, making those areas attractive to develop where at present their very poor transport services prevent that. Altogether, it will support the building of some 200,000 new homes across London and the South East.

Certainly, Crossrail 2 is an expensive project, estimated to cost up to £30 billion. But it will generate benefits to the wider economy worth many times that amount. London’s experience with Crossrail 1 demonstrated the potential to secure funding contributions from a range of beneficiaries beyond just the hard-pressed taxpayer, which to some extent can be replicated by Crossrail 2. The joint DfT-GLA Independent Affordability Review on Crossrail 2, which I supported through its advisory panel, identified a wide range of potential funding and financing options, as well as promising scope to reduce and reprofile costs. Our report is with the Mayor and ministers awaiting a response.  

There’s no doubt that the delays and cost overruns on Crossrail 1 make the near-term funding challenge for Crossrail 2 a degree harder. It would be naïve to pretend otherwise. Short-term progress may, as a result, be slower than supporters had previously hoped. But what London’s – indeed Britain’s – infrastructure now needs is a plan for the long term – one that looks decades ahead, not just a couple of years.

Thankfully, we have been given the blueprint for just such a plan by the independent National Infrastructure Commission, which published its plan for Britain’s infrastructure through to 2050 just last year. This backed Crossrail 2 as an essential and affordable component of a UK-wide investment programme, alongside other vital schemes such as Northern Powerhouse Rail, which will connect some of our great northern cities. Crossrail 2 will stop our capital from grinding to a halt. Both projects will drive growth and productivity and benefit the whole of the UK economy. The government now needs to set out a long term plan that commits to both.

Crossrail 2 is a grand and ambitious infrastructure scheme, as befits Europe’s largest and most dynamic city and the economic heart of the UK. It remains the right solution for London’s future. If we duck the decision now, we will deeply regret it in the 2030s.

David Leam is Executive Director, Infrastructure at leading business organisation London First, which is strongly supportive of Crossrail 2. More on that here.

Categories: Comment

Dave Hill: Sadiq Khan speaks for London on Brexit but the city’s leavers matter too

Sadiq Khan’s grasp of the majority mood in the capital has only rarely looked less than assured and his stance on Brexit demonstrates extremely well that he knows which side his electoral bread is buttered. His arrival in the House of Commons public gallery last night as MPs prepared to sink Theresa May’s EU withdrawal deal to the bottom of the Thames sent a message as loud and clear as his cute appropriation of the New Year’s fireworks display for his London Is Open campaign. In a 60 per cent Remain city, this is a 100 per cent Remain Mayor.

Later, he was on the telly articulating his line, also punched out in an evening press release, that the Prime Minister should do what is required to rule out a “no deal” exit, that a big rethink should take place, and that “in the absence of a general election, the British public must be allowed to decide what happens next”. His view was perfectly aligned with that of Jasmine Whitbread, chief executive of business organisation London First, and his plea on “no deal’ was also made in a letter to the PM, co-signed by the mayors of Greater Manchester and the Liverpool City Region and the leader of Newcastle City Council.

By contrast, as I write Shaun Bailey, his Brexit-backing Conservative challenger for the mayoralty, has mustered not even a tweet about last night’s extraordinary parliamentary events. Of course, unlike the City Hall incumbent, Bailey could not have hoped to get a share of last night’s Brexit drama limelight, but at some stage his campaign will surely need to embrace this momentous national issue, which matters massively to London and to many Londoners. London Mayors cannot make or unmake Brexit national policy, but it is part of their job to make their view about it known. The same goes for mayoral candidates.

The time will come when Bailey will be asked to articulate his position in detail. In September, the Evening Standard, whose anti-Brexit position has not stopped it from running a string of puff pieces in support of Bailey, reported him saying he is “not a Brexiteer in that crazy sense of ‘let’s just leave'” and promising he will be “talking to Londoners about how we get the best deal,” but little else has been heard from him lately.

That needs to change, not least because London’s Leavers matter. They might be very much in the minority but they are a hefty one, comprising more than 1.5 million voters in 2016. Tory jibes that more Londoners voted Leave than voted for Khan earlier in the same year are questionable – it all depends on how you define “voted for” – but however you look at it, that is a lot of Londoners. And speaking up for them is not only a job for the Brexiter Tory hopeful. It is a job, or ought to be, for Mayor Khan too, especially as the heat is very far from going out of the Brexit debate.

London’s preference for Remain is a reflection and confirmation of the city’s branding and its baked-in self image as an international, outward-looking global metropolis. But the rise of this triumphant, culturally kaleidoscopic London – the London of the 2012 Olympics – is nonetheless felt by some Londoners as a loss, and eurosceptic Londoners aren’t confined to older white people in Hillingdon and Romford. Worries about immigration, the pace and character of change, and erosion of cultural identity are expressed by Londoners of many colours and heritages.

These Londoners’ voices should be more widely heard and their concerns acknowledged. That does not mean accommodating the poison put about by UKIP, a party which, in any case, a massive 67 per cent of Londoners would never, ever vote for, according to the recent YouGov poll for Queen Mary University. What it does mean is recognising that London’s proud and dazzling embrace of immigration and diversity does not necessarily delight all Londoners and that ignoring their disquiet risks undermining the remarkable degree of unity this city of 300 languages enjoys.

It is in the interests of both Bailey and Khan to do this: the former, because speaking clearly and constructively for London’s Leavers will surely help him secure their votes in 2020; the latter, because his mayoral standing could only be enhanced by it without diluting his Remain credentials or ability to represent the majority view. And if there is to be a second referendum or “peoples’ vote”, any victory for Remain would need to be a big one if the EU issue is to be resolved. The Mayor’s championing of Remain is both justifiable and politically shrewd, but he would be wise to also reassure London’s Leavers that they count for something too.

 

 

 

 

 

Categories: Comment

Bob Neill MP: Why I will be supporting Theresa May’s Brexit deal

No sooner had dawn broken on 24 June 2016 than talk began of Londoners barricading themselves within the confines of the M25, a separatist state of Remainers committed to a future inside the European Union. Whilst most of those proposing this did so very much tongue in cheek, a serious question was posed. How do we reconcile a national vote to Leave with the very different outcome in London, a city that prides itself on being an open, global metropolis, that thrives on the service economy and has close ties with the continent, and in which some 59.9 per cent of the population (and in certain boroughs, more than 70 per cent) voted to Remain?

This dilemma, which many London MPs have been grappling with over the past two years, is, for many, a deeply personal one. I have lived and worked in London my entire life, and have had the privilege of representing its residents, at every level of government, since I was 21 years old. Through the intervening 40 plus years, I have made no secret of my belief that we have incalculably benefited – economically, socially and culturally – from our close ties with our European neighbours. That belief has not changed.

Notwithstanding my dislike of the outcome, as a democrat I respect the vote that was delivered through the referendum and believe it is incumbent on all of us in parliament – whatever our starting position – to step up to the plate, cut through the complexities that have arisen, and find a practical way forward that delivers an orderly departure from the EU.

Quite patently, however, the vote to Leave was not a mandate for the sort of hard Brexit some of my colleagues now advocate. On that basis, I have sought throughout this process to nullify the threat of a no deal exit, which would, on any measure, set Britain back a generation, and would be particularly hard felt in our capital.

To those who have labelled me, and other likeminded colleagues, a traitor, mutineer, or one of any number of haphazard derivatives, I say this: now is not the time for ideological puritanism and rigid dogma. Politics is the art of the possible, and cool pragmatism, rooted in hard-headed reality, not theory, is required. That is why I’ll be supporting the Prime Minister’s deal tomorrow.

True, it is not perfect, but it’s the best plan on the table to protect jobs and support businesses, pulling our country back together and fulfilling the promises that have been made, which must now be kept. Crucially, by providing a transition period, from which we can negotiate our future relationship with the EU27, it allows us to avoid the sort of cliff-edge Brexit a no deal would entail, and which on Friday, the Confederation of British Industry reaffirmed would cause “profound, widespread and lasting” economic consequences. That is why they, and other key organisations in our capital, including the City of London Corporation and City UK, support the deal.

Like those representative bodies, I would prefer not to be leaving at all. But the Withdrawal Agreement is the only available option that extracts us from the EU whilst ensuring we remain on the straight and narrow. The most likely alternatives – no deal, or a second referendum – which I recognise enjoys significant traction in London, and which I have some sympathy with – carry too much risk and uncertainty, the ultimate anathema to businesses, large and small.

Compromise is a mark of mature politics, and that is what the Prime Minister’s deal is about. It certainly doesn’t give me everything I want, nor will it fulfil every wish of my Brexiteer colleagues, but it gets the job done, and more importantly, gets it done sensibly. It also offers solutions to the unique set of challenges London faces where the alternatives offer dead ends. That is why I’ll be following my head, not my heart, into the voting lobby tomorrow and supporting the deal.

Bob Neill is the MP for Bromley & Chislehurst.

Categories: Comment

Sarah Hayward: Labour’s leadership won’t help Londoners stop Brexit

Theresa May is going to lose the vote on her Brexit deal on Tuesday, and the Tories’ lack of a majority and failure to gain the support of enough of their own MPs mean it matters what Labour, as the official opposition, does next. It will have a massive impact on the future of country, London included. What are the dynamics at play?

It’s worth spelling out just how London-centric Labour’s top table is. The key shadow cabinet positions are all held by London MPs: Jeremy Corbyn represents Islington North, Emily Thornberry Islington South & Finsbury, Keir Starmer Holborn & St Pancras, John McDonnell Hayes & Harlington, Barry Gardiner Brent North and Diane Abbott Hackney North & Stoke Newington.

Add to this the fact that the majority of Labour’s massive membership is London-based and, on the surface, the potential seems there for the party to help a Remain-supporting capital to either stop Brexit altogether or at least to secure a Brexit that includes a very close future relationship with Europe. But closer inspection reveals a very different picture – one in which no deal far is more likely than no Brexit and a London-centric Labour Party fails to take an approach in line with what most Londoners want. 

Labour’s official position – wanting a general election – is for the birds. I have no doubt they sincerely want one, it’s just that they do not have (and have never had) any meaningful mechanism for getting one unless Tory MPs decide to commit political suicide and vote to bring down their own Prime Minister. That is not impossible, but it is not in Labour’s gift to make it happen. Labour also says it has kept “all options on the table” and that no deal will be disastrous for the country. So, what will they do next?

Those pinning their hopes on Labour coming out swinging for a so called “people’s vote” by the end of the week shouldn’t hold their breath. Many people point to the overwhelming support for both another referendum and for remaining in the EU among Labour’s members. But this fails take into account the interplay – or lack of it – between support for the EU and support for Corbyn.

People rarely vote on a single issue. That’s as true inside the Labour Party as it is for a general election. Support for Corbyn among the Labour membership is not linked to his position on any particular issue. As with any candidate in any kind of election, it is about what he represents to the electorate. There is a reason why pollsters ask questions like “shares my values” or “cares about people like me”. It is because voters usually can’t pin down their exact reasons for supporting someone. It’s more a feeling they have about someone, the same as when buying a house or choosing a spouse. It is less rational than emotional.

Corbyn shares the values of the majority of Labour members, and he cares about what they care about. He talks their language. Many ardent EU-supporting Corbyn fans share his critique of it. There is no will among the Labour membership at large to threaten Corbyn’s position as leader because of his views on Europe. For his supporters, retaining Corbyn as leader of Labour is more important that retaining our membership of the EU.

So, if the members aren’t inclined to exert pressure, then we need to look at what the key players in the high command might do after Tuesday’s vote. The signs there are not any better for those of us who want to find a way to reverse the outcome of the 2016 referendum.

Corbyn is a life-long eurosceptic. So is McDonnell. They are not in any way committed to finding a way to stay in the EU. McDonnell’s most recent speech and media appearances illustrate how many of the key players regard Brexit as a distraction from what they see as the real business of stopping austerity. There are some at that top table who are Remainers. But Abbott, like the membership, is too committed to the Corbyn project to upset the applecart. And Thornberry and Starmer are unlikely to act, even if minded to, when the membership would likely punish them for it. Remember that these MPs’ constituencies have thousands of members who hold their futures in their hands as reselection looms.

On top of this, many of the people around Corbyn, and perhaps the man himself, see the chaos that no deal could cause as creating the sort of revolutionary opportunity they have yearned for all their lives. For them, a break from the EU is a potential rejection of the old order and a chance to sweep away a political and economic system they regard as failing. Parliamentary democracy is a painstakingly slow way to create change – and it’s hard work. Brexit threatens a massive economic shock to the system and, therefore, in the logic of the revolutionary position, an opportunity.

In cold electoral terms, the political incentives don’t suggest a change in the Labour leadership’s attitude to a second referendum. They have carefully, diligently and very effectively sought to avoid all blame for Brexit so far. Leadership support for any position that alters that is going to be very hard to come by.

I think the best that Labour (and other) Remainers can hope for after Tuesday is that Corbyn doesn’t whip his cabinet to a line. It would mean the Starmers and Thornberrys of this world could back another EU vote without losing their jobs. In the absence of any other plan, that might help create enough momentum for another referendum. Failing that, we need to hope that a big enough cohort of parliamentarians can come together across party lines to force the government to put the brakes on no deal. And nothing that’s happened since June 2016 suggests that is going to happen.

London’s future will be shaped by London politicians. But it’s very unlikely that will end up being what Londoners voted for in 2016 – or anything like it.

Sarah Hayward is a former leader of Camden Council.

 

 

Categories: Comment