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How Jamie Driscoll can humiliate Keir Starmer

Jamie Driscoll represents much that has been lost under Keir Starmer's Labour. Credit: Getty

May 2, 2024 - 11:50am

If a generative AI were to create a CV for the ideal Labour politician it would look something like Jamie Driscoll’s. He grew up in a poor part of Middlesborough, and now has two children and a wife who is an NHS GP. His brother served in the Royal Navy, while his dad drove a tank in the British Army — before later working for ICI near the River Tees.

Far from the frenetic world of Westminster, where political wannabes jump straight from studying PPE to become political advisers and, later, Parliamentary candidates, Driscoll was an engineer who didn’t enter elected politics until the age of 48. In 2018, having briefly served as a local councillor, Driscoll won the Labour nomination to stand as the party’s candidate in the race to become the Mayor for the North of Tyne. A year later he won.

Now though, ahead of today’s local election, Driscoll, acclaimed by the Economist in 2021 as “Britain’s most powerful Corbynista”, has become an extremely dangerous opponent for Keir Starmer’s Labour. After appearing on a platform with the director Ken Loach, Driscoll was last year blocked from standing to be the party’s mayoral candidate for the much expanded North East metro area. As a result, Kim McGuinness — the leadership’s favoured candidate — enjoyed a coronation for the nomination. In contrast to Driscoll’s background in business and engineering, McGuinness’s path to public office has seen her work recently in that most absurd of political non-jobs: police and crime commissioner.

Following that treatment, which was condemned by leading Labour figures such as Andy Burnham, Driscoll announced his resignation from Labour — and his desire to stand as an independent for the North East mayoralty. Within weeks he successfully crowdfunded almost six times his target sum of £25,000.

While Driscoll was expected to be competitive, few foresaw that he might actually win. And yet polling from last weekend by More in Common showed Driscoll just two points behind McGuinness — an especially impressive statistic given Labour’s gargantuan polling numbers for Westminster.

That news has proven to be a useful resource for Driscoll and his activists in the final days of campaigning. In recent months they would often meet with the refrain that while a voter might prefer their man to McGuinness, they didn’t want to let in the Tories (a favoured line in the perennial anti-politics of the Labour party). Now, however, voters know it’s a two-horse race between the London-backed Labour candidate and the man Starmer expelled.

But what would it mean if, increasingly plausibly, Driscoll won? Firstly, it would represent a rejection of Starmer’s genre of localism — namely that he will “give power away” by creating more local mayors, while permitting his cronies to stitch up selections. This is, after all, the worst of all worlds: rather than empowering local communities, it simply means the proliferation of non-jobs for a bloated rabble of talent-free apparatchiks.

More than that, a Driscoll win would demonstrate that there are significant downsides to how Starmer and the Labour Right think about politics. Treating those outside your circle as expendable, and labelling them as bigoted when politically expedient, should have costs. So far, it hasn’t.

The national media has largely overlooked the race for the North East but a lot is riding on it — not least the point of devolution in England. Is it designed to serve voters, or the permanent political class in London, who would continue to make decisions only under a phoney localist imprint?

A Driscoll win would be a triumph for people power everywhere, while perhaps curtailing the most venal, authoritarian impulses of the Labour Right — especially important as the establishment tries to put the populist genie of the last decade back in the bottle. In a serious country, Driscoll would be considered a “centrist dad”. But Britain in the 2020s, as we already know, is anything but serious.

If he wins, it will send a massive signal to the national party: that there can, and should, be downsides to treating local people so appallingly. It would also underscore that Starmer has no interest in taking power out of Westminster. He wants the same clique to rule — just under the palatable guise of “localism”.


Aaron Bastani is the co-founder of Novara Media, and the author of Fully Automated Luxury Communism. 

AaronBastani

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Douglas Redmayne
Douglas Redmayne
21 days ago

Starmer was right to purge him because he is of the left and the left are a problem.

David Lindsay
David Lindsay
21 days ago

If Kim McGuinness won by fewer votes than the Greens had taken, then it would never be forgiven, nor should it be. And who are these people? Other than those whose entire professional and social lives were the right-wing Labour machine, then have you ever met anyone who said that they were voting for McGuinness?

No polling for this election was published until the last Saturday of the campaign had been and gone while most of the postal votes were already in. But Jamie Driscoll is still neck and neck. While the case for Jamie is the case for Jamie, McGuinness is a racist and, not unconnectedly, a failed and discredited Police and Crime Commissioner. She has not sought re-election, on the arrogant assumption that she had the Mayoralty in the bag. The explosion in knife crime on her watch is a matter of life and death. She is that bad.

As a disabled person, I am excited beyond words at the possibility of Jamie’s Total Transport Network, but as a mixed-race person, I am terrified beyond words at the prospect of McGuinness, since she or one of her supporters might mistake me, or anyone else who was not a pureblood Northern European, for a “Gypsy”.

It is Jamie Driscoll who deserves to be elected Mayor of the North East Mayoral Combined Authority, with a population larger than that of 13 European territories that the United Kingdom recognised as sovereign states. If any of those fell under the rule of someone like McGuinness, then there would rightly be international uproar.

JOHN KANEFSKY
JOHN KANEFSKY
21 days ago

“The left” are a problem?
Not as much as the Islington / PPE at Oxford set, career politicians with no experience of the real world outside their friendship groups.
We need more people with experience and STEM backgrounds in politics, not more UMC drones who don’t know that there are only two sexes and think the lights will stay on when they have banned fossil fuels.

nadnadnerb
nadnadnerb
21 days ago
Reply to  JOHN KANEFSKY

The first thing Driscoll did when becoming mayor in 2019 was to declare a “Climate Emergency” on his first day. (in Tyne-Tees, that usually means “more taxpayer cash for offshore wind farms”)
This is not a serious person despite the pleasurable palpitations he gives Mr. Bastani. Not a serious person, but serious problems are engendered by such unserious persons.

David Lindsay
David Lindsay
21 days ago

Kim McGuinness insists on pronouncing it â€œMare”. That is almost enough reason to wish for four years in which to refer to her as â€œMare McGuinness” and â€œMcGuinness the Mare”, since who would we be to neigh-say her? Almost. But not quite. Vote for Jamie Driscoll.

The Greens provide the war-crazy Foreign Minister of Germany, and they keep both Fine Gael and Fianna FĂĄil in power to round up asylum seekers for transportation, in theory from Britain to Rwanda, but in practice to concentration camps, properly so called, while the Rwanda Plan served its true purpose of being endlessly â€œthwarted” in order to rile up the Conservative Party’s base. And now, the Greens’ right to participate in the anti-austerity, anti-war and anti-racist movement depends on their not taking more votes than McGuinness’s margin of victory over Jamie. Vote for Jamie Driscoll.

The explosion in knife crime on McGuinness’s watch is a matter of life and death. She is that bad. As a disabled person, I am excited beyond words at the possibility of Jamie’s Total Transport Network, but as a mixed-race person, I am terrified beyond words at the prospect of McGuinness, since she or one of her supporters might mistake me, or anyone else who was not a pureblood Northern European, for a “Gypsy”. Vote for Jamie Driscoll.

And the North East Mayoral Combined Authority has a population larger than that of 13 European territories that the United Kingdom recognised as sovereign states. If any of those fell under the rule of someone like McGuinness, then there would rightly be international uproar. Vote for Jamie Driscoll.

David Lindsay
David Lindsay
21 days ago

Where the hell are my comments? I am actually here on the ground, you know.

David Lindsay
David Lindsay
21 days ago
Reply to  Aidan Trimble

Mick Lynch has even campaigned door-to-door for Jamie. If that is not pro-Brexit enough for you, then nothing ever will be. Remember to vote for Jamie by pen, and not using the erasable pencil provided. If you doubt that, then consider that five of the seven local authorities are controlled, and that all seven are heavily staffed, by the Labour Right of which Aaron Bastani writes.

Benedict Waterson
Benedict Waterson
21 days ago

Calling the Labour right ‘authoritarian’ is a bit rich.
I believe in liberal pluralism, but the labour left obviously do not. Or even the democratic process, or the entire idea of politics as an ongoing negotiation of legitimate differences.

David Lindsay
David Lindsay
21 days ago

Good old Laura Kuenssberg, on hand to tell us plebs that “North East Lincolnshire is a place”, and that votes are counted “at tables, to use the jargon”. Gawd bless you, I doffs me cap, so I do.

The Greens have gained councillors in Newcastle and in South Tyneside. Have their supporters also voted for the Green Mayoral candidate instead of Jamie Driscoll? The Greens ought to be out of the anti-austerity, anti-war and anti-racist movement if that has been decisive. If Kim McGuinness has won, then it has been because she put the 2019 General Election result on the frontpages of certain local newspapers as if it were an opinion poll result and claimed that only she could “beat the Tories”. She would have won on a lie by paid journalists who were in fact cogs in the right-wing Labour machine. The 2028 campaign against her would start immediately.