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The Conservative party is engaging in dangerous fantasies about how to win the next election

All too often, the default response is to find ways to stop Labour people voting.

Everything’s coming up Tory? Guido Fawkes reports that Downing Street are increasingly confident that they can pass boundary changes to reduce the number of constituencies from 650 to 600, although the DUP may yet scupper the plans.

Are they right? Well, I’m not going to speculate about whether the DUP or Conservative MPs are going to play ball, because, to be frank, I can’t be bothered to put the phone calls in, and in any case it could all change very quickly.

However – and apologies if I’m starting to sound like a stuck record on this – it is worth noting that the whole endeavour is much ado about nothing. The British electoral system used to have a small Labour bias, most neatly illustrated in the 2005 and 2010 elections, when a 35 per cent Labour share of the vote in 2005 delivered a Labour parliamentary majority of 66, while five years later a 36 per cent Conservative share of the vote left David Cameron 20 seats short of a majority. However that went sharply into reverse in 2015 because of two collapses: the Liberal Democrats’ collapse which directly benefited the Conservative Party, and the SNP surge in Scotland that made their vote considerably less efficient.

Although the Liberal Democrats revived a bit – in seat terms – and the SNP tide went in a bit, the overall pro-Conservative bias in the electoral system continued, with it taking considerably more votes to elect a Labour MP than a Conservative one. In 2017 the Labour party got 40 per cent of the vote and 40 per cent of the seats, while the Conservatives got 42 per cent of the vote and 48 per cent of the seats.

Reducing the number of seats doesn’t really make that much of a difference as far as the parliamentary arithmetic goes: on a 600-seater House of Commons the Conservative Party would still be a few seats short of a majority and dependent on the DUP to help them over the line.

Ultimately under the British electoral system, whichever political party’s electoral coalition happens to be most efficiently dispersed around the country will be the beneficiary of a bias, and anyone who bases their asks for boundary or voter registration changes on the idea it will help their side risks looking very foolish in short order.

Take the other Conservative measure designed to make it harder for Labour to win: mandating that people need to take a form of photo ID with them when they vote. The nominal argument for this policy is to combat electoral fraud, however, as I explain in greater detail here, there is no evidence or indication that this is going on, unless someone has been rigging election results entirely in keeping with national swing and demographic behaviour.  Which would be a perfect crime, it’s true, but also a pointless one.

At present, it is likely that if anyone ends up unable to vote because they don’t have photographic ID they will be Labour, rather than Conservative voters. But if the longterm demographic changes in who votes Tory and who votes Labour continue into the next election, it could turn out that Labour take a greater share of the graduate population while the Conservatives take a growing share of the population that is not educated to degree level, meaning that it is the Tories, rather than Labour, who do worse as a result of the change.

The whole thing is a hangover from a failed era of Conservative politics when, unable to defeat Tony Blair, the party engaged in a series of what are little better than conspiracy theories about how they needed to remake the electoral map to make it easier for them to win. Then they discovered David Cameron and briefly realised it was a whole lot easier to just try to win over Labour voters.

It’s an interesting contrast with Theresa May’s big speech on housing this week and the Conservative plan to unveil a youth wing. The Tory mouth opens and it says the things it ought to do if it actually wants to not only hold onto office but secure the big majority that has eluded it since 1987: build more houses, appeal to the young and the socially liberal. But when the Conservative hand reaches for the policy lever, the preferred solution is to erect barriers in front of “Labour people” and the ballot box.

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman and the PSA's Journalist of the Year. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics.

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I'm not going to be General Secretary, but the real fight to change Labour is only just beginning

If Labour gets serious about a new politics, imagine the possibilities.

For a second time, I was longlisted for the role of General Secretary of the Labour Party this week. For a second time, just as in 2011, I was eliminated in the first round. The final shortlist now consists of two veteran trade unionist women leaders, Jennie Formby of the Unite union and Christine Blower - formerly of the National Union of Teachers and the Socialist Party. I met them both yesterday at the interviews; I congratulate them, and look forward to hearing more about their ideas for Labour party renewal.

Last week in both the New Statesman and LabourList, I explained why I thought we needed a General Secretary “for the many”. I set out a manifesto of ideas to turn Labour into a twenty-first century campaigning movement, building on my experience with the Bernie Sanders campaign, Momentum, Crowdpac, 38 Degrees and other networked movements and platforms.

I called for a million-member recruitment drive, and the adoption of the new “big organising” techniques which combine digital and face-to-face campaigns, and have been pioneered by the Sanders movement, Momentum, Macron and the National Nurses Union in America. I set out the case for opening up the party machine in a radical but even-handed way, and shared ideas for building a deeper party democracy.

I noted innovations like the Taiwanese government’s use of online deliberation systems for surfacing differences, building consensus and finding practical policy solutions. Finally, I emphasised the importance of keeping Labour as a broad church, fostering more constructive internal discussions, and turning to face outward to the country. I gladly offer these renewing ideas to the next General Secretary of the party, and would be more than happy to team up with them.

Today I am launching, a new digital democracy platform for the Labour movement. It is inspired by experience from Taiwan, from Barcelona and beyond. The platform invites anyone to respond to others’ views and to add their own; then it starts to paint a visual picture of the different groupings within the movement and the relationships between them.

We have begun by asking a couple of simple questions: “What do we feel about the Labour party and movement? What’s good, and what’s more difficult?” Try it for yourself: the process is swift, fun and fascinating. Within a few days, we should have identified which viewpoints command the greatest support in the movement. We will report back regularly on this to the media.

The Labour movement is over 570,000 members, thousands of elected representatives, a dozen affiliated unions and millions of Labour voters. We may disagree on some things; but hopefully, we agree on far more. Labour Democracy is a new, independent and trustworthy platform for all of us to explore our differences more constructively, build common ground, and share ideas for the future. I believe Labour should be the political wing of the British people, as close to the 99 per cent as possible – and it will ultimately only be what we make of it together.

Yesterday I spoke over Skype with Audrey Tang, the hacker and Sunflower Movement leader who is now Digital Minister of Taiwan. Audrey is a transparent politician, so she has since posted a video of our conversation on YouTube. I recommend watching it if you are at all interested in the future of politics. It concludes with her reflections on my favourite Daoist principle, that true leadership leaves the people knowing that they have made change themselves.  

This General Secretary recruitment process has been troubled by significant irregularities, which I hope the party learns from. The story is considerably more complex and difficult than is generally understood. I have spent considerable time in the last week trying to shine greater light on the process in the media and social media, and encouraging the national executive committee, unions and politicians to run a more open and transparent process. I even started a petition to the NEC Officers group, calling for live-streamed debates among the candidates for this crucial and controversial party management role. I very much hope that there is no legal challenge.

Most importantly, the last week has exposed a significant fault line in Labour between the new left and the old left. When Jon Lansman of Momentum entered the contest against the “coronation candidate” Jennie Formby, many people read this as a fight between two factions of the old left. But Jon’s intent was always to open up a more genuine contest, and to encourage other candidates – particularly women – to come forward. Having played the role only he could play, he eventually withdrew with dignity. His public statements through this process have been reflective of the best of the new politics. And despite our very different political journeys, he kindly agreed to be one of my referees.

There has been plenty of the old transactional machine politics going on behind closed doors in the last couple of weeks. But out in the open, the new left movements and platforms have shown their strength and relevance. Momentum emailed all its members encouraging them to apply for the role. On Facebook Live, YouTube and podcasts like All The Best, the Novara Media network has been thoughtfully anatomising the contest and what it means for the future of the left. Even the controversial Skwawkbox blog finally agreed to cover my candidacy, and we had a constructive row about the leaked memo I wrote for Corbyn’s office back in December about how to win the next election using data, organising and every new tool in the box.

I am worried about the old left, because I feel it is stuck in a bunker, trapped in a paradigm of hierarchical power and control. The new left by contrast understands the power of networks to transform conversations and win hearts and minds.

The old left yanks at levers, and brokers influence through a politics of fear and incentives. But this tired game is of decreasing relevance in this day and age. The new left has the energy, the reach, the culture and the ideas to build a new common sense in this country, and to win decisive victory for Labour and progressives in the next general election – if the old left will partner with it. 

I am keen to help. So are many others. I hope we can start to have a more constructive and equal conversation in Labour soon. Otherwise an exodus may begin before long; and no-one wants that.

Paul Hilder is an expert on new politics and social change. He is a co-founder of Crowdpac, 38 Degrees and openDemocracy. He has played leadership roles at, Avaaz and Oxfam, and was a candidate for general secretary of Labour in 2011.