Britannia – the dog that didn’t bark

So the new set of UK coinage has been announced by the Royal Mint. This flora and fauna themed set look a bit toytown to me but then all new coins have that lack of familiarity, overall they are a nice set. What interests me is the reaction – or rather lack of reaction.

You see when the move to decimal currency happened, there was an outcry as the old penny disappeared and there was no Britannia depicted in the new range. Quickly the original 50p design of the full Royal coat of arms was ditched (eventually being released as a commemorative in 2013) and a new design with Britannia seated released to replace the 10-shilling note in 1969.

40 years is a long time for a set of coins so in 2008 the shield definitives again, again there was no place for Britannia, the new 50p formed the point of the shield with segments of the Irish harp and English leopards. Cue outcry from the usual subjects, the Daily Mail calling it an embarrassment to Gordon Brown. William Hague was even stronger, proclaiming “It is all too typical of a Government with an inadequate sense of British pride and an ignorance of history to want to do away with such a symbol.”1

The Mail’s petition did not result in another change of mind and Britannia disappeared until George Osborne to some fanfare brought the image back to the little seen definitive £2 coin in 20152

Now, as you will have noticed, there’s no Britannia to be seen in the new set, the £2 has been replaced by a four-nation selection of rose, thistle, daffodil and shamrock. So any shock from the Mail or the Conservative Party? Absolutely not a squeak. The Mail’s story is basically just a copy/paste from the Royal Mint’s press releases, gushing about King Charles’ love of nature.3

So, was the furore back in 1968 and 2008 just a concocted story to attack Labour governments? You might think that, but I couldn’t possibly comment.

  1. As reported by the Daily Mail on 2nd February 2008. ↩︎
  2. Somewhat tempered when the Mail discovered the model for the new Britannia was slightly based on a Polish immigrant. ↩︎
  3. It would be easy to attribute the capercaillie’s plight to the fact the King’s father shot so many of them, but they were only reintroduced to Scotland after their first extinction from these Isles so that people could carry on shooting them. ↩︎
General Election 2019

Kinnock myths

There’s a meme going around that Jeremy Corbyn is somehow being obstructive by staying on as Labour Party leader while we get on with electing a new leader and deputy. So we get uninformed people like this pop up on Twitter.

Lloyd’s entitled to his opinion, but not his own facts. I’m older than him and remember the 1992 election painfully well. The election was Thursday 9th April; Kinnock didn’t even announce his resignation until Tuesday 13th April so Jeremy’s already quicker off the marks. Kinnock then remained leader until John Smith won on Saturday 18th July, exactly 100 days later.

It made sense for Gordon Brown and Ed Miliband to step down immediately because they both had a deputy who was willing and able to hold the fort during the leadership election. Now, the deputy post is vacant so if Jeremy did want to walk away now the NEC would have to meet to put one of the Shadow Cabinet in as acting leader. That could not be one of the leadership contenders as that would be unfair and who else would want that thankless job?

Facing a triumphal Boris Johnson at the dispatch box for Queen’s Speech and weekly PMQs will be awful for Corbyn to deal with, we should be thankful to him for performing this last service to the Labour Party.

General Election 2019

What do we do now?

For some reason, I’m attending three meetings looking at what should the Labour movement do from here. We should be having a proper period of reflection but life doesn’t stop and neither can we. I’ll post considered thoughts from all three over the weekend but first thanks to Red Pepper for organising the first, attended by Zarah Sultana, newly elected Labour MP for Coventry South, Hilary Wainwright, Brian Eno and Dawn Foster.

Labour Leadership Election 2020

A tiny swing?

So Jess Phillips has penned an article for the Guardian/Observer on the lessons to learn from the election. It’s a thinly veiled launch of her leadership bid and to be honest there’s not that much there to disagree with, it’s all very generic. But one paragraph and one line in particular made me pause.

My constituents don’t mind that we might disagree – they appreciate above all else a straightforward approach. I can’t help but think that the fact that we saw only a tiny swing away from Labour in my seat was because of our ability to disagree well, with good humour and a shared vernacular.

Jess Phillips – The Guardian website 14th December 2019

That’s a data claim and one that if true would elevate Jess Phillips’ claim to support. After all, I voted for Tony Blair in 1994 mainly because of his success in increasing the membership of Sedgefield CLP. So is it true?

Screenshot from Wikipedia

Labour down 2.3% and Conservative up 10.0%, that’s a swing of 6.2% away from Labour to Conservative. Nationally the swing was 4.5% Labour to Conservative so 6.2% doesn’t seem too good. But then again the national swing was greater outside London, so maybe it’s good for Birmingham?

Swings (Conservative to Labour) for Birmingham constituencies and the percentage for Leave in the EU Referendum 2016. Own work.

So Birmingham Yardley was the second worst swing for Labour out of the ten Birmingham constituencies. But there is the Brexit factor here, the worst ones seem to have the highest Leave. So do they correlate and would that explain Yardley’s swing?

Swings (Conservative to Labour) for Birmingham constituencies and the percentage for Leave in the EU Referendum 2016. Own work.

Even on that basis, the swing was worse than you would expect for a 60% Leave constituency in Birmingham. There is a possible reason, John Hemmings, the previous Lib Dem MP for Yardley in 2005 to 2015 stood again in 2017 but didn’t in 2019. Some Conservatives who voted for him to stop Labour wouldn’t need to do that as the Conservatives are now second in the seat and that will have increased the swing to them.

But even giving Jess Phillips the benefit of all doubt, there’s no evidence that the swing could be described as a tiny swing and some evidence that Jess did worse than the average MP would have in the same situation.

Labour Leadership Election 2020

Early look at the odds

With Jeremy Corbyn seeking to step down in the ‘early part of next year’ here’s my brief thoughts on the odds currently circulating. At this point there’s been no declared candidates but John McDonnell has ruled himself out and suggested the next leader should be from the next generation naming three of them (Long-Bailey, Rayner and Burgon). Odds are the best prices available at time of writing, Buy means I think the current odds offer good value not that I think that candidate will win, Sell means the opposite and Hold is where I think the odds are about right.

Keir Starmer 10/3 Hold
Policies are more centrist than the average member and with hindsight blamed in some corners as having bounced Jeremy into a more Remain position than he was comfortable in. It would be fun to watch him dismantle Johnson at PMQs every week but Hague outclassing Blair didn’t actually help at election time. Clearly would be a capable Leader, though is he even more ‘metropolitan elite’ than Jeremy is. Keir was part of the ‘chicken coup’ of 2016 which may diminish his support within the membership.

Rebecca Long-Bailey 5/1 Sell
It may just be me but I’m not sold on why RLB should be the considered favoured choice of the ‘Corbynite elite’. Rebecca nominated Jeremy in 2015 and one of few not to nominate Owen Smith in 2016 so I assume that her politics are socialist but haven’t got an idea of what she believes in. Performed well enough in the ITV leaders debate but still think she needs some more experience, could be a good Shadow Chancellor.

Angela Rayner 7/1 Buy
Probably the candidate that is closest to my particular politics. Nominated Andy Burnham in 2015 which is where I started that particular election campaign before switching to Jeremy. Angela seems like the only potential candidate who really knows what working in low paid jobs is like. She could wind up Tories into making stupid personal attacks on her which will sound like attacks on their new voter base.

Jess Phillips 8/1 Sell
I do not know anyone in the party, even those significantly more centrist than me, who likes her. She’s a gobshite, spent more of Jeremy’s leadership bullying him than campaigning for the Labour Party and was part of the ‘chicken coup’. She doesn’t even have integrity, saying that she would resign from Labour and sit as an independent MP if Jeremy was re-elected Leader. He was and she didn’t. How any Labour party member could vote for someone who so regularly throws their toys out of the pram I cannot fathom.

Lisa Nandy 10/1 Sell
Owen Jones wanted her to stand for Leader in 2015 so Lisa has to have some good qualities but her behaviour in 2016 taints her in this contest. Stabbing Jeremy in the back (resigning and then being chair of Owen Smith’s campaign team) is not the way to win this electorate’s hearts and minds.

Yvette Cooper 16/1 Hold
It is not required for a candidate to be a Jeremy supporter to do well or even win this election. But you have to have had integrity and Yvette has never pretended to like the 2015-19 leadership. Instead she has performed well in her role as Chair of the Home Affairs select committee and her cross party work in trying to stop Brexit. On her talents 16/1 is way too generous but there’s two problems stopping me saying Buy; her constituency marginal status and her connection with the membership. Yvette is emblematic of the so-called ‘red wall’, despite having no connection with the local area, she was parachuted in and installed as Labour MP without any say from the local membership. She’s just suffered a 13% swing against her in Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford, having already suffered a 2% swing against in 2017 leaving her with a 1,276 majority. In 2015 she only received 17% of the vote from a Labour membership more supportive of her. Can she really do better?

Final quick thoughts
Emily Thornberry 20/1 – is she really the right person to rebuild the red wall?
Clive Lewis 33/1 – possible but what has he been doing in the last three years?
John McDonnell 50/1 – already ruled himself out, will be 73 next election.
David Miliband 50/1 – Next!
Dawn Butler 50/1 – should be shorter priced, she’s been very loyal to Jeremy, would she get the same support in return?
Stephen Kinnock 66/1 – would rather have his dad back again.
Hilary Benn 66/1 – would rather have his dad as well.
David Lammy 66/1 – same problem as Emily Thornberry, seems like he would have no appeal outside the M25.
Dan Jarvis 66/1 – reckon he might consider running – the Daily Mail would still paint a decorated army major as a traitor to the country though.
Stella Creasy 100/1 – I rate her but think she should be back in the shadow cabinet first.
Richard Burgon 100/1 – Odds will shorten after John McDonnell’s semi-endorsement but one of very few politicians that make me wish that I was able to answer his questions on his behalf.

General Election 2019

The morning after the night before

It is clear now that Britain has spoken and they want the Conservatives in power for the next five years. As a believer in democracy I respect that decision and because I have to live in this country I hope that Boris Johnson doesn’t make as much a pig’s ear of running the United Kingdom as I currently fear.

History will judge Jeremy Corbyn kindly. His solutions for fixing Britain are the right ones and eventually we’ll get there. It will just take us longer to get to a society where everyone is valued, everyone plays their part and everyone shares in the rewards. That’s the socialism in my heart and the socialism that I will always fight for. It’s the socialism that Jeremy believes in too, that’s why I voted for him as leader in 2015 and 2016. It’s not a job or a game, it’s something he needs to do, to help people achieve more together than they are able to do individuals.

Nearly a quarter of a century ago, I was involved in a local election in Scotland and tasked on election day with knocking up in a couple of council estates. Surprisingly I wasn’t given a list of which households to go to, “Just do every house, they all vote Labour there” was the message from the old-timer running the committee room. And they did, both wards returned Labour councillors with well over 70% of the vote. Maybe they moved to more modern campaigning but eventually in 2015, those estates stopped voting Labour and it came as a shock.

In 2013, the tale being told about the South Shields by-election was that David Miliband had bequeathed his successor in the seat a contact rate of 1%. Such a pitiful connection to the constituents didn’t stop Emma Lewell-Buck winning the seat, but it allowed the rot to set into the floorboards. All across the country (not just in the Midlands and North) good working class people realised that Labour wasn’t speaking for them anymore. Even that was okay in terms of Labour getting elected because the Tories didn’t seem to speak for them either. But then Boris came along with his simple message, “Get Brexit Done”.

It didn’t matter that the “Get Brexit Done” slogan didn’t mean anything. It was like the Underpants theory from South Park, the promise is that everything will be okay once the UK Brexits. It’s hope and it’s hope that can be distilled into a soundbite on the news and repeated to every interviewer’s question. Labour’s manifesto was well thought out, ambitious but the scale of the country’s problems demand that, but as the length of this piece shows it can’t be distilled into an easy explanation of how voting Labour would mean a better life for the 99%. Four years before the SNP had done the same trick by claiming that independence would be the panacea of all ills. Theresa May tried to sell the same message in 2017 but wasn’t convincing enough to do it as she was at heart a Remainer. Boris led the Leave campaign, he was better at his lines.

Overall I don’t think this is Jeremy’s fault. No Labour leader would have got an easier ride from the press. Remember how much bad press Ed Miliband got? And I don’t think it’s the manifesto, the individual policies are popular. Maybe the fact we had so many of them crowded each other out. I can blame the lying Tory spin machine and the unwillingness of our state broadcaster to call them out on it but that’s like a sailor moaning about the sea. I admire Jeremy’s insistence of running a positive campaign. It probably wouldn’t have been effective running an equally dishonest one. But it did feel like a boxing match where one guy can punch below the belt while the other one isn’t allowed to punch back at all.

But that’s not all past. What now then? Now Boris owns Brexit, he’s got a huge majority in the Commons, he can pass any Brexit he likes. There’s no-one he can blame if it all goes wrong although I’m sure that he’ll try. I want the Labour Party to stay united and be an effective, harrying opposition and not do what the Conservatives would love and become a circular firing squad. I have a couple of favourites for the soon to be vacant leadership but am genuinely open-minded. Even MPs from the pragmatic centre would be fine if they have integrity and positive ideas on Labour being a governing party of the left.

There will be around 200 Labour MPs on the green benches by the looks of it, they must work together in the spirit of socialism. There is still half a million Labour members that will support them every step of the way if they do.

The next general election is less than five years away, we can win it.


Starter Question of the day


The Early Bird

So what can be African, Emperor, Little or Macaroni?

African springs to mind elephants but there no Emperor Elephant, there is an Emperor Penguin and I think there could be a Macaroni Penguin so I think I’ll go with that. But the early bird catches the worm and I don’t think that worms are the main diet in the Southern Seas. I’ll still go with Penguin for the lack of any better thought. Good job I’m not a codebreaker really.


The decline of the US Presidency

Once, this man was considered too goofy looking to be President

Now, this man is President


Go Tigers

When Channel 4 started showing American football I didn’t know anything about the sport so I got a book. There among the pages on rules, equipment, positions and the NFL were a couple of pages on college football, a world completely unknown to me. This book had been published a couple of years before as the then current National Champions were Clemson. This stuck in my head because I knew where New York, Dallas and San Francisco were but where on earth was Clemson?

Fast forward about 32 years and I’m doing what 12 year old Andy would have found amazing. Up at 4:30am and watching the 4th quarter of the national championship as the Clemson team comeback against powerhouse Alabama. A little cheer as the Tigers score the deciding touchdown with one second on the clock. Congrats on your second national title Clemson Tigers. 

Photo attribution Matthew Blouir via Wikimedia Commons under Creative Commons 2.0