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Batley won’t save Labour The by-election result wasn't a victory, it was a humiliation

No one person can save Labour. Credit: Christopher Furlong/Getty Images)

No one person can save Labour. Credit: Christopher Furlong/Getty Images)


July 5, 2021   7 mins

When the Irish academic John Pentland Mahaffy was approached on a train by an evangelist asking if he was saved, he replied, “I am, but it was such a narrow squeak that it does not bear talking about.” I thought of this when considering how Sir Keir Starmer might appropriately react to Labour’s unexpected victory in Batley and Spen. The political game dictates that no party leader could, in the circumstances, afford to be quite so candid as Mahaffy. But would there be a recognition that, all things considered, the result was hardly a roaring success for Labour?

Not really. As it turned out, Sir Keir described the outcome as a “fantastic victory”, and his acolytes in the party were quick to join in the crowing. Given what was at stake for Sir Keir personally, and what they perceived as the threat of the party passing back into the hands of the radical Left following a leadership challenge, it was perhaps no surprise that, privately at least, these people were cock-a-hoop about the result. But nobody in Labour’s ranks — at least not anyone serious about the task of winning power — could seriously consider Batley and Spen to be cause for jubilation.

I have never, by the way, been a member of the “Starmer must go!” brigade. Neither do I believe that Angela Rayner or Dawn Butler or anyone else being touted as a challenger to Sir Keir would offer a route out of the morass. In truth, the question of who leads Labour is barely relevant at the moment. What matters is whether or not the party at large is willing to undergo the kind of internal revolution necessary to make it a credible political force again. All the signs suggest it isn’t.

There is, too, the very real prospect that the Starmerites will, post Batley and Spen, make an identical mistake to that which the Corbynites made after the unexpected result in the 2017 general election: a not-quite-as-bad-as-we-feared outcome portrayed as some kind of stunning victory; an entirely misplaced triumphalism; the party’s deep-seated problems masked; the challenges unconfronted; the subsequent annihilation when the party next presents itself to the British electorate.

The clanging from Batley and Spen is a warning bell, not a victory one. Opposition parties which have not won a general election for 16 years and have just managed to cling on to a seat in a by-election in which their vote share plummeted have no reason to celebrate. All the more so when it follows hot on the heels of a devastating defeat in one of their strongholds. Batley and Spen may have granted Sir Keir a stay of execution, but it has not shifted the fundamentals in any meaningful way.

As far as I can see, the major political realignment which has been taking place in British politics for some years, and which was revealed most starkly at the 2019 general election, remains unchecked. Nothing that has happened since that election can be seen as giving Labour any cause for optimism that the outcome was merely an aberration — that the millions of working-class voters who, for the first time, turned to the Tories will at some point in the not-too-distant future realise the error of their ways and return to the fold.

Like all political parties, Labour has, throughout its history, experienced the shifting sands of public opinion, from the ecstasy of the landslides in 1945 and 1997 to the ignominy of the routs in 1931 and 1983. But the catastrophe of the 2019 election represented something different, something seismic. That particular defeat could not be attributed to routine fluctuations in political popularity; it was plainly something more. The ensuing 19 months have done little to disabuse us of this reality.

That the Labour Party is no longer an objection of affection for vast chunks of the British working class is beyond doubt. That millions among that cohort now actively dislike the party and everything it stands for is equally indisputable. And while, in matters of political discourse, it is important at all times to resist the temptation of hyperbole, it is still very difficult, even — perhaps especially — in the wake of Batley and Spen, not to draw the conclusion that the game might genuinely be up for the Labour Party; that the situation is now irrecoverable and we are witnessing the inexorable decline of an organisation that has been a fixture of our national politics for 120 years. In 27 years as a member, I don’t think I have ever felt such a sense of fatalism about the party’s prospects.

There was a time when even many Tory voters would harbour a sneaking fondness for the Labour Party. They may have been unwilling to place the levers of government in its hands, but they recognised its value in putting the case for Britain’s poorer classes and pricking the consciences of those who would otherwise be content to give primacy in all aspects of our national life to the diktats and caprices of the ‘free’ market. But, while elements of the working class do still vote for it and will go on doing so, Labour these days commands true reverence from little more than a hardcore band of dogmatic progressives, radicals and utopians whose unyielding belief in their own moral rectitude acts as an instant repellent to most ordinary voters.

The truth is that, over the past 30 years, the Labour Party was unknowingly digging its own grave. The promotion of identity politics, the embrace of a militant and uncompromising cosmopolitan liberalism, the drastic oversteer to those living in our fashionable cities and university towns, the elevation of globalism over the nation state, the sneering contempt for the small-c conservatism of large parts of the country, the rapprochement with market fundamentalism — all these things helped to drive a wedge between the party and its traditional base. At the same time, the party itself was undergoing a radical transformation: the professional and managerial classes began to dominate, while the old blue-collar element was increasingly sidelined; the priorities of provincial Britain were subordinated to those of the metropolitan elites.

Batley and Span threw into sharp relief the depth of the mire into which Labour has sunk. The contest itself was a damning indictment of the party’s trajectory — the natural consequence of an aggressively identitarian politics which divides people into ‘oppressors’ and ‘victims’ on the basis of their biological, religious or ethnic characteristics. Every old hatred seemed to rear its head during the campaign, from anti-Semitism to homophobia to Kashmir and Palestine. It would be dishonest to claim that Labour was a victim in all of this; on the contrary,it was up to its eyeballs in it, even resorting in one leaflet to what appeared to be naked racism. “We are far more united, and have far more in common, than that which divides us,” said the constituency’s former MP Jo Cox in her maiden speech to the Commons. Those words seem like a bit of a sick joke after the by-election.

That so little of the narrative in the by-election focused on the socio-economic challenges facing local voters was depressing. In fact, the contest seemed to centre on anything but these issues. It’s hard to imagine that the constituency’s silent majority – many of whom surely struggle daily against the effects of inequalities in income and opportunity – would have been happy at how these questions were largely ignored. They could also be forgiven for not having a clue about how Labour intends to address these challenges on their behalf.

Batley and Spen showed us, too, the fruits of state-sponsored multiculturalism: a community divided against itself, grievance heaped on communal tension, a paucity of social solidarity, families residing just yards from each other but living wholly parallel lives, a sense of one-nationism utterly absent, the associative bonds that bind us together as humans and communities seemingly torn all ways. What did anyone expect would be the consequence of an ideology — once again, traceable largely to Labour and the wider Left but embraced now by most of the establishment — predicated on the active promotion of separateness and difference? That constantly telling assorted groups how dissimilar they are from each other would somehow bring unity and cohesion? Surely nobody can survey the battlefield of Batley and Spen and not be forced to think again about such questions.

Neither is it acceptable to dismiss critics of this ideology as bigots and reactionaries. Is seeking to break down cultural differences rather than accentuate them some kind of ignoble ambition? Are all attempts at cultural assimilation and those who strive for it somehow unworthy? What an error we made when we opted for the salad bowl over the melting pot.

Doubtless many in the Labour Party will now set about misdiagnosing the lessons from Batley and Spen. The Corbynites will blame the leader for the unimpressive performance. Sir Keir’s people will, in turn, argue that a fine victory was secured in spite of the fact that the Corbyn legacy continues to hobble the party. Some will blame George Galloway for eating up Labour votes. All will be missing the point.

Meanwhile, amid this internecine bickering, the party will plod on with no narrative, no strategy, no purpose, no sense of direction and little real leadership, with each of the warring factions – the liberal Left and radical Left – desperate to use victory in any new skirmish to assert its authority. The next of these skirmishes will be the ballot, beginning on Monday, to elect a new general secretary of Unite. Sir Keir will be hoping desperately that Gerard Coyne will triumph and rid the party of what he sees as the malign influence of Len McCluskey and his disciples. But, again, the risk is that such an outcome merely adds to the complacent belief that things are moving in the right direction. In reality, these types of victories will, unless the party can get its act together at the macro-level, prove to be pyrrhic, and will do little to turn things round in the polls.

Neither of the factions vying for dominance points the way to salvation. And it certainly isn’t within the gift of a single person to save Labour. For that to happen, there must be a radical overhaul in the party’s ideology.

The grisly campaign in Batley and Spen was a symptom of Labour’s disintegration and descent into a politics that does not resonate with large parts of mainstream Britain. That it squeaked home cannot mask that reality. Only when the party begins articulating a narrative that combines economic justice with the cultural politics of place, belonging and community will it stand an earthly chance of winning power again. We in the movement can only pray that we haven’t left it too late.


Paul Embery is a firefighter, trade union activist, pro-Brexit campaigner and ‘Blue Labour’ thinker

PaulEmbery

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Terry Needham
Terry Needham
3 years ago

“Only when the party begins articulating a narrative that combines economic justice with the cultural politics of place, belonging and community will it stand an earthly chance of winning power again.”
I have heard this dream expressed on numerous occasions in recent years. It cannot happen. The current membership of the Labour Party is not sympathetic to the aspirations of those voters who once supported it. Paul Embery is, in effect, calling for the expulsion of the vast majority of party members and MPs, from both the Corbynite and Blairite wings of the party. Those left would probably not fill a London bus.
I would vote for Paul Embery at the drop of a hat, but as things stand he would not be nominated as the Labour Parry candidate in any constituency in the country.

Last edited 3 years ago by Terry Needham
Jon Redman
Jon Redman
3 years ago
Reply to  Terry Needham

Well put.

Sarah Atkin
Sarah Atkin
3 years ago
Reply to  Terry Needham

Which confirms his point that – bleakly – it may well be over for Labour. How can you have a Labour Party that now rarely talks about class? There’s no point to Labour if it isn’t politically AND emotionally anchored to the interests and priorities of working people.

Terry Needham
Terry Needham
3 years ago
Reply to  Sarah Atkin

I agree.

Richard Gasson
Richard Gasson
3 years ago
Reply to  Sarah Atkin

After 2019 I read an hilarious piece, written by a failed, prospective, MP about how we, by we she meant the progressive left, need to redefine working class. I read this and knew that Labour will not win another election for at least a decade

Prashant Kotak
Prashant Kotak
3 years ago

A fine and true, if sad, piece. I cannot disagree with pretty much any of what Paul Embery is saying, with the exception of the bits about Starmer.

At the outset making Starmer leader was indicative of the tone deafness that is symptomatic of present day Labour. He was pretty much Remainer-General-In-Chief, who fought tooth and nail to thwart Brexit, and the assumption that most people who voted Leave would warm to him was essentially taking Brexit voters for fools. It was not fatal, because the UK populace is fair and will give politicians multiple chances, but it made the task of persuading a potentially hostile grouping to come on board that much harder. Although Starmer backed off Brexit, the renounciation was mealy-mouthed, perhaps because he still needed to keep his Remainer wing sweet. The contrast with the Conservatives ditching May, a sitting PM, and picking Johnson is stark – the Tories in Westminster have been (and still are) suspicious of Johnson but they picked him because they saw he was more likely to deliver power. Once in position, he steamrolled the thwarters when they overstepped the line – he threw out Grieve, Stuart, et al, even grandees like Clarke. He did this even though it took the Conservative majority in Parliament below zero. Starmer is too weak for that type of confrontation as the spat with Rayner showed. He has also made a number of other mistakes, laser guided to alienate the Brexit voting block. That blub on TV came across as insincere and did him no favours.

My assessment of Starmer is that he is a competent enough technocrat, but he is not going to win an election, not unless something seismic happens, say if the US government comes right out and says them UFOs really are aliens from another world and Boris Johnson is one of them something like that.

Christopher Barclay
Christopher Barclay
3 years ago
Reply to  Prashant Kotak

Agreed. Starmer’s past as Remainer-in-Chief means that he cannot talk at all about the Brexit process or the UK’s relationship with the EU, however valid his comments might have been.
The Tories will also get rid of Johnson just as quickly once his idiocy becomes an electoral liability.

Jon Redman
Jon Redman
3 years ago

As they should, of course. Labour’s problem right now is that they have nobody who looks fit to be PM, and if they did, the loony members would not elect him.

Chris Wheatley
Chris Wheatley
3 years ago
Reply to  Jon Redman

Yes, but a bit scary because it means that Labour would be strong if a leader came along??? Really, this has been Labour’s problem since Harold Wilson.

David Uzzaman
David Uzzaman
3 years ago

I couldn’t agree more but no body can change unless they recognise that there is a problem. That applies as much to political parties as to individuals. Labour has been captured by factions who represent different groups all with competing ideologies. They have pushed Labour so far from its roots that it’s founders would not recognise it. None of these identity obsessed factions have much electoral appeal which is why they have infiltrated the Labour Party. Getting them out would require some very tough individuals at the top and Sir Kneeler is not made of the right stuff. Labour may be effectively lost and a new political party required to represent the considerable number of people not currently represented by any of the existing parties. UKIP proved that people will put aside their traditional voting loyalties if they are given a real alternative.

Christopher Barclay
Christopher Barclay
3 years ago
Reply to  David Uzzaman

UKIP also showed the difficulty in establishing a new party.

David Uzzaman
David Uzzaman
3 years ago

Absolutely. The odds of establishing a new political party are very poor. However UKIP moved the Conservative Party in a direction it would not have gone had it not been for the electoral pressure from UKIP. Third political parties under our current electoral system find it difficult to break though nationally. A party which had no truck with identity politics might never win a single seat but could influence one or more established parties to modify their offering to the electorate.

Christopher Barclay
Christopher Barclay
3 years ago
Reply to  David Uzzaman

I don’t disagree with what you’re saying, but I was thinking more of the totally unsuitable leaders the party elected. Small parties attract people who want to make the party their personal fiefdom without doing the kind of work required to work one’s way up a stable party.

Charles Hedges
Charles Hedges
3 years ago

The issue is cultural and character. On one side one has practical patriotic tough down to earth blue collar workers who are doers; they say I made this/built this.Noone employs a brick layer who cannot deliver what they say.
On the other side are effete impractical middle class white collar arts graduates who are talkers, indifferent to Britain and can spout drive and still be employable yet have a haughty contempt for blue collar workers who they consider are morally and intellectually inferior.
When an effete impractical middle class have haughty contempt for those who build, maintain and defend our nation and are in the same political party, how can there be unity?
Churchill respected E Bevin, calling him the ” Working Class John Bull “. Today, the effete impractical middle class Labour voters would treat him with haughty contempt.

Leon Wivlow
Leon Wivlow
3 years ago
Reply to  Charles Hedges

Surely the more intractable problem is that of the ‘religious arm ‘ of the Labour Party (anti-semitism, homophobia etc) against those supporting extreme identity politics (360 different genders, new pro-nouns, men in women’s prisons…) Their views are diametrically opposite and I can’t see either side giving ground.

Last edited 3 years ago by Leon Wivlow
Charles Hedges
Charles Hedges
3 years ago
Reply to  Leon Wivlow

To a certain extent it is three side Mexican firing squad

Chris Wheatley
Chris Wheatley
3 years ago
Reply to  Leon Wivlow

I think that Labour is now seeing this. Louise Perry in the latest New Statesman argues that all of these groups are not really going anywhere. She makes the point that if you are a feminist, you can’t support any other gender issues and that you can only be cancelled by your friends. So Cancel Culture is, in fact, a lot of little cancel cultures which are getting in each other’s way.

Leon Wivlow
Leon Wivlow
3 years ago
Reply to  Chris Wheatley

Even with all those disparate groups they can’t win an election. So if they ditch any of the groups they are doomed – hence why they pander to the Muslims.

Last edited 3 years ago by Leon Wivlow
Franz Von Peppercorn
Franz Von Peppercorn
3 years ago
Reply to  Leon Wivlow

Who is pandering to Muslims here? Labour or Galloway’s party? I would say the latter. The Labour Party has taken sides on the lgbt issues there but not by pandering to Muslims.

Leon Wivlow
Leon Wivlow
3 years ago

The Labour Party issued leaflets in Batley and Spen showing Johnson with Modi. They specifically addressed the issues of Kashmir and Palestine in their leaflets which were not distributed in the primarily white area of Spen.
(Remember how they sacked Sarah Champion for mentioning grooming gangs)? Labour cynically picked Leadbeater trading on her sister’s death, despite her sexual orientation, thinking their Muslim voters would have nobody-else to vote for. Then Galloway turned up, queering their pitch so to speak.
Both Labour and Galloway were pandering to Muslims, just Galloway was louder.

Last edited 3 years ago by Leon Wivlow
Cheryl Jones
Cheryl Jones
3 years ago

If Galloway was the spanner, surely he speaks to those who would rather vote Labour than Tory but can’t because of Labour’s obsession with censorious identity politics? They are Tory voters but maybe don’t know it yet. The fact that so many did vote Tory even after the pandemic which would have been troublesome for anyone in power, speaks volumes to me. Boris is portrayed as a clown – but he’s a clown who has a naked enthusiasm for all things British and a positive can-do attitude which is far more appealing than aggressive authoritarian student radicalism.

Last edited 3 years ago by Cheryl Jones
Christopher Barclay
Christopher Barclay
3 years ago
Reply to  Cheryl Jones

Galloway didn’t appeal to people opposed to Labour’s identity politics. He appealed to people whose idea of identity politics is supported Muslims worldwide and stoning lesbians.

alan Osband
alan Osband
3 years ago

Exactly! George just has a different take on identity politics . His version may be more internally consistent though

Jon Redman
Jon Redman
3 years ago

The bit about “a narrative that combines economic justice with … community” is simply flat-out impossible.
Labour’s idea of “economic justice” involves in practice identifying people within the “community” whom you hate, encouraging everyone else to hate them too, robbing them through the tax system while hurling insults at them, declaring this to be “economic justice”, and diverting the proceeds to its various undeserving client groups elsewhere in the “community”.
Sometimes, as with the white working class, what you rob them of isn’t money, but hope and belonging in a country that isn’t theirs any more; if anyone brings this up Labour calls them racists.
These client groups, who are usually told by Labour that they are “the most vulnerable people in our society”, often form themselves into closed, segregated groups themselves, and aren’t meaningfully members of any wider society at all.
Wishing for “a narrative that combines economic justice with … community” amounts to wishing to have your cake, and eat it, and lose weight. All on the taxpayer, of course.

Last edited 3 years ago by Jon Redman
Christopher Barclay
Christopher Barclay
3 years ago

Labour is failing to confront its current predicament, seemingly unaware that its emphasis on identity politics will lead it further down a cul-de-sac. The Cabinet is currently dominated by people of Asian descent. Only Johnson’s position as PM and Labour’s reluctance to acknowledge that these Ministers are BAME hides what is obvious. Were the Tories to slide in the polls and Johnson to be replaced as PM, the replacement would probably be one of Sunak, Javid or Patel. In fact it is possible that Sunak and Javid will form an alliance of the competent (and of Indian and Pakistani background) to remove the clownish Johnson and end the lockdowns.
Labour’s claim that ethnic minorities face racial discrimination that is unsurmountable without institutional reform would appear ludicrous. Labour would probably double down and claim that some minorities – Black Britons and practising Muslims – face unsurmountable discrimination. Over the next decade this in turn will be questioned, as Black Britons of direct African descent such as Kemi Badenoch become more prominent in politics, the professions and business. Labour would probably react by doubling down again – ditching this part of the electorate in order to focus on an ever narrowing core vote.

Prashant Kotak
Prashant Kotak
3 years ago

Absolutely – given that two of the four great offices of state are held by ethnic minorities one of whom is a woman (the ‘wrong’ kind of ethnic minorities from Labours standpoint it goes without saying), my question is why cannot the progressive left see that pushing the ‘race and gender victim’ narrative is a dead end? Can they not concentrate on the scandal that literally millions of low paid people cannot get onto the housing ladder until their 40s instead?

Christopher Barclay
Christopher Barclay
3 years ago
Reply to  Prashant Kotak

Given COVID, I would see Health as temporarily one of the ‘great offices’, which means that three out of five are held by people of Asian origin.

Jon Redman
Jon Redman
3 years ago
Reply to  Prashant Kotak

They aren’t proper ethnic minorities. They’re Uncle Toms.

David Simpson
David Simpson
3 years ago
Reply to  Jon Redman

I do hope you’re being ironic!

Jon Redman
Jon Redman
3 years ago
Reply to  David Simpson

Well spotted – not everyone gets it around here….

Michael Richardson
Michael Richardson
3 years ago
Reply to  Jon Redman

Upvoted because I think you are being ironic.

Franz Von Peppercorn
Franz Von Peppercorn
3 years ago
Reply to  Prashant Kotak

They can’t because the ideology of modern leftism looks for victims. Not finding them, or enough of them, it turns to other intersections. Trans is a case in point.

This intersectional ideology largely originated in the US and is clearly been echoed back here by the university system. The teachers Union has just come out in favour of decolonisation of the curriculum. Since England didn’t colonise England, and they don’t mean that English people should learn Welsh or ancient Briton, this is basically a copy of American anti- Eurocentric ideologies. There you can argue that Europeans were colonialists, here you can’t. But when a country is mind colonised by another then it’s hard to think straight.

Of course this is happening under a conservative government so it doesn’t seem to matter who is on power.

Last edited 3 years ago by Franz Von Peppercorn
Ian nclfuzzy
Ian nclfuzzy
3 years ago

Another great article by Paul, who really should join the SDP……..

Labour is now a zombie party. It should by all logic have died along with many of the left-of-centre parties of Europe, yet FPTP makes it too strong to be killed, even with sunlight and a silver cross.

alan Osband
alan Osband
3 years ago
Reply to  Ian nclfuzzy

Unless you turned the metropolitan woke and the Muslims into stake -holders.

Jonathan Ellman
Jonathan Ellman
3 years ago

The trouble is, if the Labour Party were to follow Embery’s advice, it would lose the votes of the metropolitan woke and possibly of the Muslims.

Last edited 3 years ago by Jonathan Ellman
Leon Wivlow
Leon Wivlow
3 years ago

Which leaves them without enough voters to win an election.

Dustin Needle
Dustin Needle
3 years ago

I feel B&S is actually irrelevant in the grand scheme of political life. UK Politics has changed.
Socialism’s happy place is now in the UK regions and the public sector, where grievances can be aired and heard loud and clear through the readily available media megaphones of our numerous under-employed Mayors, First Ministers and their PR departments railing against the Government.
They are unchallenged in these areas, other than where the Nationalists hold sway. In those cases the party maintains a diplomatic silence, rather than trouble itself with the difficult job of opposition and presenting alternative policies, which would be it’s normal job.
Likewise the main party itself is not interested in the arduous job of governing the country.
The Tories for their part, can usually get away with paying lip service to this monstrous noisy, expensive bureaucracy, as they are too busy carrying out UN, WEF, G7 etc. directives.
Take back control? You’re having a laugh. Thanks to the long term legacy of EU open borders, the daily arrivals on our shores from France (see the German data as to how that is going to work out for us) and the legislation/legal funding that conveniently ties hands to an outcome out of reach of any democratic process; that ship sailed long ago.

Last edited 3 years ago by Dustin Needle
Chris Wheatley
Chris Wheatley
3 years ago
Reply to  Dustin Needle

Absolutely. As I elsewhere, everybody is so excited that Labour struggled in Batley, they are forgetting that the actual Labour policies are continuing as before. Nothing the Tory party is doing will change the trend. Labour in opposition is actually stronger than Labour in power.

Howard Gleave
Howard Gleave
3 years ago

Paul Embery should join the SDP. And everyone else who thinks like him. I could be tempted to vote for it inasmuch as Johnson’s “Conservative” party lacks the clear ideology and principles the SDP proclaims. The only decent thing to do with Labout now is to put it out of its misery, Then we need a credible centre-left, patriotic party, that espouses both the public and private sectors, advocated onshoring strategic manufacturing, isn’t indifferent to industrial strategy, believes in the nation state and the need to control immigration, while building housing to accommodate those who are here and need a house. Increasingly, that party is and deserves to be the SDP.

Alan Thorpe
Alan Thorpe
3 years ago

Recent elections have been a disaster for everybody. We need to wake up to the danger of political parties. All they do is adopt opposing views, none of which are much use for running a country. The majority of their policies are based on bribing voters based on how much of other peoples money they can take to hand out in welfare or spend on crazy projects like zero carbon. The job of politicians should be to work together to solve problems and they will never do this as long as political parties exist. This is not a new issue, George Washington warned about divisive political parties in his farewell address.

andrew harman
andrew harman
3 years ago

It is quite some state of affairs when you have a government of none of the talents (with the possible exceptions of Javid and Sunak), headed by a spaghetti-barneted buffoon with all the resolution of a a quivering vat of custard is able to rule the political life of the country with impunity, despite inflicting acts of wanton economic and societal vandalism on the country in the last year or so. Yet Labour is managing to facilitate this.
What Labour has become is an unholy coalition of pampered middle class brats, public sector workers, toytown revolutionaries and what remains of the tribal vote. I agree with those who have pointed out that its preoccupation with identity politics, making a virtue of victimhood as well as their own self righteousness.
It is true that a new party would find it next to impossible to break through unless it drew sufficient numbers away from the two main parties. But then, that was not accomplished with Brexit so is there reason to suppose it could happen now? Probably not.
History has taught us however, not to make predictions with too much confidence. Labour was being written off in the 1980s and early 1990s as were the Tories in the early 2000s.
So, there could still be time for Labour to renew and reinvent itself but it is difficult to see just where the impetus for that would come from.

Michael Richardson
Michael Richardson
3 years ago
Reply to  andrew harman

My view has always been that political parties do not so much win elections as loose them, that is, the encumbant party becomes too corrupt/too incompetent/too whatever, and the electorate swaps them for the other side. So, Labour lost in 1976 to Thatchers’s Tories who, like them or not, were competent. Eventually they lost it (Major was sort of dead man walking) to Blair’s revamped New Labour; they in turn messed up enough to be replaced by Cameron’s Tories (the LibDems turned out to be a sideshow).

The thing is, this worked since, each time, the opposition sorted themselves out, so when the encumants reached their end of life, the opposition was placed to take over. But this time, I’m just not convinced that Labour can do this. Perhaps it will need someone like Kinnock who took on the militant left, to take on the woke left, but I cannot see anyone who can do that.

Last edited 3 years ago by Michael Richardson
Hugh Marcus
Hugh Marcus
3 years ago
Reply to  andrew harman

Interesting thoughts Andrew. It’s possible that the only time we see a Labour government in the near future would be some kind of coalition. Had the UK a proportional representation system for elections to Westminster, you’d never see a Tory or Labour party govern alone again. Neither of them will countenance that idea as they know this.

Chris Wheatley
Chris Wheatley
3 years ago

Does any political party have a point at the moment? This is a very good article which seems to be anti-Labour Party but, in reality, no party comes out well.
Recently I read the history of coalmining in South Wales and the poverty, cruelty and terror of life in the late 19th century cried out for, rather demanded, a new party to defend the awful conditions of the miners. In fact, the Labour Party was not wonderful even then and the miners’ cooperatives followed by the unions saved the day.
Readers of UnHerd will crow about the poor performance of the Labour Party in Batley but what exactly does the Tory Party stand for?

Leon Wivlow
Leon Wivlow
3 years ago
Reply to  Chris Wheatley

Levelling up rather than levelling down?

Chris Wheatley
Chris Wheatley
3 years ago
Reply to  Leon Wivlow

This is a politically correct, good answer. But is it true? What Tory policies demonstrate this? Are they bringing back grammar schools, changing the school curriculum in some way, fighting woke attitudes? No, no, no. Any real positives apart from being anti-Labour as Mr Redman says? It is a clever and slick answer but not a policy.

Jon Redman
Jon Redman
3 years ago
Reply to  Chris Wheatley

Keeping Labour out of power. It’s a noble aim in itself. Look at what happens whenever they are allowed into power.

Brendan O'Leary
Brendan O'Leary
3 years ago
Reply to  Chris Wheatley

“being the least-worst option”.

Frederick B
Frederick B
3 years ago

Ever since Johnson became Prime Minister the Labour Party has had a golden opportunity to put itself firmly back on the side of working class and socially conservative voters. That opportunity was presented on a plate by the Tories’ new open borders immigration policy (deceitfully called a “points-based” policy).
Jim Callaghan would have opposed it vigorously, but I doubt if any such idea could even have occurred to any subsequent Labour leader. To be fair, I’m not aware that any politician of any party represented in Parliament has so much as squeaked in protest.
What this means is that there is a vacuum in our politics, and once the reality of Boris’ new policy begins to sink in post-Covid, that vacuum will be filled. It should be Labour doing the filling, but that is utterly impossible given the nature of the Party’s present membership.

Michelle Johnston
Michelle Johnston
3 years ago

Many of the comments focus correctly on the chasm that has opened up with the blue collar workers.
To add to Labours woes there maybe another one of their cards that is being to shrivel.. the NHS.
In talking to many of their target voters their is a growing sense that the ‘fuss’ being made about the Covid tale is entirely due to the dysfunctional nature of the NHS. Please also note where the greatest number of infections are. Communities are not taking it seriously anymore. They know gran is at risk but the rest of us are not.
People now know that 30% of their workforce are vulnerable by being Co Morbid and are not fit to work in an emergency environment. That less than 2,000 people are in hospital and deaths are only 10% of Pneumonia/Influenza Deaths and yet the vast majority of us unaffected by the infection itself are still being restricted is due to the poor management of the NHS and its preparedness. This is not a matter of politics it is a matter of the institution. More and more people know this is not an issue of money.
Put simply the clap from March 2020 may have been a turning point and the religiosity surrounding the NHS and its greatest disciple the Labour Party may begin to look less important politically and will be recognised for what it is a chaotically run organisation where far to many people entering hospital should not be there in the first place.
The real question about tipping people out of hospital last year should really be about why were they there in the first place and I say that as someone whose mother has died in hospital this last week where the final four days were characterised by great care and a wonderful conversation began with the Urology Department who given the anguish and suffering and delusional rantings of my mother asked if I thought enough was enough to which I replied thank god at last we are considering my mother as a fit and well human being who is anything but and can move toward a blessed release. Those who looked after her have clearly got the point that life at any cost is not life, we need that now to be part of the public conversation.
To return to the central point Labours more money mantra in a more sophisticated dialogue where we consider the health of the nation the health of their workers and what is life will like everything else look wrong.
Some may say that debate will be still born after the last year I wonder and if it does gain traction the Labour Party will have another of its anchors removed.

Andrea X
Andrea X
3 years ago

Thank goodness for Paul.
I wonder, though, what the Galloway effect actually was.

Michael Gibson
Michael Gibson
3 years ago

Could it be that Labour/Socialism has run its course and is no longer relevant at all? In its whole history of 120 years it has only been in power for 30 yrs and 10 of them were under Tony Blair, which all spells conservative with a small c. The so called ‘working classes’ now have too much to lose and are not attracted to higher taxes and regulation which socialism inevitably brings. The Brexit vote illustrated this perfectly…

Tony Taylor
Tony Taylor
3 years ago

I don’t think you can so easily dismiss Galloway’s votes. Had his Commies not run a candidate the great majority of his 20% would have probably gone to Labour, who would have then won B&S in a canter. True, Labour has moved from its roots, but as far as this by-election, and this electoral cycle is concerned, Labour did not take much, if any, flak.

Francis MacGabhann
Francis MacGabhann
3 years ago
Reply to  Tony Taylor

I personally cannot stand George Galloway, but I acknowledge that he’s a force of nature, a lighning streak, if you like, and it’s impossible to say exactly whose votes he drained off. I don’t think you can be so certain Labour would have won convincingly were it not for his intervention.

alan Osband
alan Osband
3 years ago
Reply to  Tony Taylor

The harassment of the Cox-sister by Muslim extremists probably made white people feel able to vote for her .Did the Labour Party organise it

Christopher Barclay
Christopher Barclay
3 years ago
Reply to  Tony Taylor

True. A high level of political volatility is possibly being hidden by factors such as this. The Hartlepool by-election followed the undoubted success of the vaccination programme that was meant to return us to normal and on the day Macron helped the Tories by threatening the UK. Hancock’s disregard for his own rules and the refusal to lift lockdown despite the vaccination programme may have severely damaged the Tories in Batley

Judy Englander
Judy Englander
3 years ago
Reply to  Tony Taylor

Tbf, I didn’t see anyone say the Tories were in with a chance before Galloway threw his hat in the ring. Batley and Spen wasn’t even on the Conservatives’ hit list. Then the political journos started predicting it as almost a certainty.

Last edited 3 years ago by Judy Englander
David McDowell
David McDowell
3 years ago

Love the hat tip to Mehaffy, Wilde’s mentor.

James Chater
James Chater
3 years ago

Last edited 3 years ago by James Chater
Franz Von Peppercorn
Franz Von Peppercorn
3 years ago

Galloway took some of the Brexit vote. He is loudly pro Brexit. As to where the rest would have gone, probably nowhere.

Leon Wivlow
Leon Wivlow
3 years ago

Electoral Calculus on Twitter undertook an exercise whereby they asked 14,000 voters, if there were a ‘progressive alliance’ ie. only one left wing party stood in every constituency, how would you vote? The figures gave the Tories 305 seats. In theory, it works.

Al M
Al M
3 years ago
Reply to  Leon Wivlow

Does it suggest what this party’s policies would be? If the constituency comprises Twitter users, then indeed it might work.

Last edited 3 years ago by Al M
Leon Wivlow
Leon Wivlow
3 years ago
Reply to  Al M

Thank you, that made me laugh!

Richard Slack
Richard Slack
3 years ago

This is pretty-much standard issue Embery, the same line that the Labour Party is now the plaything of middle-class “woke” individuals sipping Lattes in their home in Islington, signing petitions about the Rain Forests and colonialism and loathing the traditional working class. One could write a book on it, indeed Embery has.
The difficulty is that this opinion fails to explain the facts. One such fact is that, far from Islington being one of the most upper-class parts of the land it has layers of deprivation significantly higher that a virtually all of the so-called “red wall” constituencies. An analysis of the 2019 election shows, in fact, that the Labour Party secured a majority of votes in every income bracket up to ÂŁ90k per year, with highest figures in the lowest incomes. The big Labour Majorities in Islington, in where I live in Poplar and Limehouse and, indeed in Embery’s Barking are not due to a party solely appealing to the upper middle classes.
We should bear in mind also that the classification of Social Class by employment has not been revised since the 1950s in an era when the world of work was quite different. A call centre worker on a zero-hours contract is probably clasified now as “middle-class” and the D and E categories of skilled and unskilled manual workers are largely found amongst those retired. This chimes with the heavy preponderance of retired workers in the Red Wall seats.
Rather than regarding the new classes emerging in cities and towns with something like disgust as Embery does, which has been the Starmer approach, the Party should build itself around the new and growing cohort of youngish workers who do not have the luxury of the security older generations have, who are more than comfortable with multicultural Britain, who are not strung up on Gender issues and have a genuine concern for environmental issues and climate change. In the last set of Council Elections there were indications, firstly that the Labour Party is starting to gain votes in suburban areas and also that is may well lose some of that support to the Green Party if it continues for sentimental reasons to pander to the sensibilities of a segment of the country who will be unlikely to support it, flags or no flags.

Chris Wheatley
Chris Wheatley
3 years ago
Reply to  Richard Slack

The Labour Party will always appeal to the young with its message of ‘Focus on the poor and eliminate the fat-cats’ but this alone does not guarantee success.

What the Labour Party doesn’t see is that the ‘secure older generations’ number about a quarter, or more, of the populace and if they are pushed into a corner they will rebel. Whatever the belief of the Labour Intelligentsia, marginalising older people will not win elections.

One possible Labour policy could be to disenfranchise everyone over 70 years of age.

Richard Slack
Richard Slack
3 years ago
Reply to  Chris Wheatley

Nobody is suggesting they should be marginalized but, at the same time they should not, perhaps be regarded as the future deal makers. There are a lot of interesting facts about the “Red Wall” but the reality for most of those seats is that the population has shifted significantly.

Chris Wheatley
Chris Wheatley
3 years ago
Reply to  Richard Slack

I am partly agreeing with you and partly not. I accidently picked up a copy of The Socialist Review a few months ago – the Christmas edition. They asked their contributors some questions, one of which was, ‘Can the PLP deliver a socialist Britain.’ Virtually all said No, because the PLP was not a unit, it was a war.

I know a woman who is a recently retired Councillor in Islington and she says the same, that locally the Labour activists do good work but they are repeatedly let down by the goings-on in the PLP. In an article in the current New Statesman, Stephen Bush describes the Labour Party as ‘moribund’, this in a Labour magazine.

Last edited 3 years ago by Chris Wheatley
James Chater
James Chater
3 years ago
Reply to  Chris Wheatley

i

Last edited 3 years ago by James Chater
Al M
Al M
3 years ago
Reply to  Richard Slack

“An analysis of the 2019 election shows, in fact, that the Labour Party secured a majority of votes in every income bracket up to £90k per year, with highest figures in the lowest incomes”

Are you referring to B&S, Islington, the ‘Red Wall’ or the UK? I’m assuming Islington.

Last edited 3 years ago by Al M
Richard Slack
Richard Slack
3 years ago
Reply to  Al M

the Electorate as a whole

Christopher Barclay
Christopher Barclay
3 years ago
Reply to  Richard Slack

Less than 4% of the population earned more than ÂŁ90k in 2018-19.
Percentile points from 1 to 99 for total income before and after tax – GOV.UK (www.gov.uk)
If Labour were really gaining a majority of votes in each income bracket below ÂŁ90k, then they would be getting at least 48% of the vote – easily enough to win a huge majority.
“Islington … has layers of deprivation significantly higher that virtually all of the so-called “red wall” constituencies.” Your evidence for this claim?