The biggest danger for Labour is to believe “one more heave” will be good enough

by David Talbot

A Conservative government mired in sleaze and hapless incompetence, a jostling, ambitious Cabinet plotting against a bloodied Prime Minister and a resurgent Labour with sustained poll leads. For the Labour Party, after 12 long years in opposition, some of it spent in sheer shame, and a lot of it wasted, it is tempting to view the disintegrating spectacle of the Johnsonian premiership as its best chance to win a general election in almost two decades. It is a moment of opportunity, and extreme hazard.

The danger for a party that has become so accustomed to losing, as Labour had done by the 1990s, is that each and every wound inflicted upon the Conservatives is met with a raucous grin and a slouching of the shoulders. Many within Labour three decades ago were so desperate to put the party in government by any means, but the dominant philosophy that emerged post 1992 was that of “one more heave”.

It was a disastrous signal not only to the electorate, but to the party itself. Attaining power is never a given. This incremental, cautious approach attracted increasing ire as Labour waited somewhat listlessly for the next general election. A forceful warning came from a traditional foe, the pages of the Spectator, in 1994:

“Labour are so used to enjoying the Tories troubles that they have stopped thinking about their own. If the current line is held to the election, the ducking and diving of Labour will be as big a turn off as the deceit and dissembling of Conservative ministers”.

Alastair Campbell, the article’s author, would of course go on to play a leading role in changing the course of Labour’s trajectory for the better part of a decade.

The month following Campbell’s timely riposte, in May 1994, and just before John Smith’s tragic death, pollsters began to “inject realism” into their polling methodology. This involved adjusting voting intentions to take in account the many former Conservative voters who were ‘don’t knows’ – but likely to revert back to the government. With more than a nod to today’s psephology, it almost halved Labour’s leads.

Sir Keir Starmer faces an altogether more daunting task than the last time the Labour Party found itself on the wrong side of four straight general election defeats. Not only does Labour start with almost 70 seats less than those Neil Kinnock secured in 1992, but it has lost its traditional redoubts in former Red Wall seats and its fiefdom in Scotland.

The Labour leader’s critics oft argue that much of the party’s recent good fortune owes more to the Prime Minister’s demise than his own political machinations. To an extent, in the two-party duopoly of the Westminster system, that is ever the case. But just as the public turns on the Prime Minister, the test for Labour is to now turn this discontent into long-term support for its vision for Britain.

This is all the more important as Starmer enters the third phase of his leadership. With a government paralysed by events of its own making, and Starmer having worked so hard to make Labour credible once again, now is the opportunity to speak directly to the nation. The party finally has a Shadow Cabinet worthy of its name, with heavy hitters and strategic thinkers in all its key portfolios. It must reject the easy endorphins of “one more heave” and be, as a new Labour once said, a “modern party living in an age of change”.

Labour will not win, nor will it deserve to win, if it banks solely on a repudiation of Boris Johnson. For one, it is increasingly like that the Labour’s opponent for Prime Minister will not be the present incumbent. Labour owes it not only to itself, but to the nation, to be a serious and credible force so that, as Starmer’s pledged in his first speech as leader, “when the time comes, we can serve our country again in government”.

David Talbot is a political consultant

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10 Responses to “The biggest danger for Labour is to believe “one more heave” will be good enough”

  1. John p Reid says:

    Ok yes you can throw me in a hole, throw rocks at me ,had John smith lived Labour woulfnt have won in97 but it’d have been hard to see The libdems prop up a minority tory gov’t at the time

    No comparison between 83 or 94 and now people (like The wotking class (“) needed labour and labour couldn’t get the small business middle class,
    now it doesn’t care it’s lost the wotking class

    Labour hasn’t come anywhere to having a year zero moment to re invent itself and labour doesn’t want t to win so it’s irrelevant

  2. To win Labour needs to have principles and policies. Starmer and the present Labour front bench seem to have few of the latter and none of the former. Add to that Starmer’s total lack of charisma and the loss of activists hints that a defeat is on the horizon.

  3. Tafia says:


    Across January there were 27 polls conducted at various times by all the major polling agencies.

    Polling average was (figure in brackets compared to last month).

    Con 32.2% (-1.4%)
    Lab 40.1% (+1.8%)
    LDem 10.6% (+0.6%)
    Grn 5.5% (-0.6%)
    Rfm 3.6% (-2.1%)
    Oth 7.8% (-0.2%)
    Ave Lab lead over Con: 7.85% (+3.05%)

    Tory support swung between 27-35%, Labour’s between 37-43% and the LDems between 8-13%, indicating a continuing highly volatile electorate reacting to immediate events as opposed to medium & long term direction. Labour managed to hit the magic 40% sixteen times during the 27 polls and on one occasion showed a 14% lead (Find Out Now, 13 Jan). Labour led in every poll with leads of between 3% – 14%.

    The current ‘PartyGate’, ‘Cost Of Living Crisis’ and ‘Boat People’ continue to hit the Tories hard however the latter two are the ones hitting the actual Tory vote the hardest which may explain why the Home Office no longer releases daily figures. Certainly, hardened Tpry voters do not believe him when he says he can sort these crises out. However Labour – currently riding high, are still not doing as well in the polls as they wereduring the last few months of 2020 and early 2021, nor as well as Miliband and Corbyn were during their mid-terms. At the start of the month, the Tories were actually showing signs of recovery, had a dreadful mid-month where Labour were wiping the floor with them, before finishing the month showing signs recovery again.

    As it stands, if a General Election were conducted on these January figures and using the new boundaries, it would result in a hung Parliament of L314, C241, SNP59, LD11, PC5 G1, NI18, with neither side being able to form a majority government and Labour requiring either the support of the SNP (highly unlikly as they cannot meet the SNP’s demands and would certainly lose the election anyway if the electorate thought they might), or the support of the LDems in order to get a fragile majority of around 8-10 once the Speakers and Sinn Fein’s seats are discounted from the 650.

    As a point of interest, one of the pollsters asked the ‘Don’t Knows (included in Oth), if they intended to vote and if they did who would they vote for. The largest amount who expressed an opinion opted for Tory.

    General Election 12 Dec 2019:
    UK TOTAL – Con 43.6%, Lab 32.2%, LDem 11.6%, Grn 2.7%, Oth 9.9%
    GB ONLY – Con 44.7%, Lab 33.0%, LDem 11.8%, Grn 2.8%, Oth 7.7%
    UK lead Con over Lab: 11.4%
    GB lead Con over Lab: 11.7%

    Polling figures for 2021 (256 polls)
    Con 40.3%, Lab 35.2%, LDem 8.4%, Grn 5.7%, Rfm 5.7, Oth 4.7
    (Oth includes SNP, Plaid, UKIP)
    ave lead Con over Lab 2021: 5.1%

    Polling figures for Jan (27 polls)
    Con 32.2%, Lab 40.1%, LDem 10.6%, Grn 5.5%, Rfm 3.6%, Oth 7.8%
    Lab over Con Dec: 7.7%



    There were no political opinion polls released during this period but there was one IndyRef poll, the result of which was:-

    Yes: 46.0% (-2%), No: 46% (+2.5%), DK: 8% (-0.5%)
    (Y:50 N:40)



    There were no polls released during the month.



    There is a possibility that the Stormont elections will be brought forward from May, if the parties are unable to form a new government following the resignation of the First Minister.

    What is clearly apparent is that the DUP are haemorrhaging support to the more extreme working class unionist party TUV (Traditional Unionist Voice) and this is almost certainly being caused by the the Protocol. (the unionist vote tends to be split along class lines – middle class unionists support UUP, working class unionists support DUP/TUV)

    (figure in brackets is the shift since last polling in November)

    DUP: 17% (-1%)
    SF: 25% (+1%)
    UUP: 14% (-)
    SDLP: 11% (-1%)
    APNI: 14% (-1%)
    TUV: 12% (+1%)
    GRN: 3% (+1%)
    PBP: 1% (-1%)
    Oth: 3% (+1%)

    (2017 first preference %:-)

    DUP: 28.1%
    SF: 27.9%
    UUP: 12.9%
    SDLP: 11.9%
    APNI: 9.1%
    TUV: 2.6%
    GRN: 2.3%
    PBP: 1.8%
    Oth: 3.6%

    There was no IndyRef polling released during the month.



    I include the Republic because they are the only foreign country with a common land border with the UK and also share a common heritage. In addition, what goes on in Dublin also has an effect on Belfast & London and vice-versa

    There were two polls during the month that averaged as (comparison to last month in brackets):

    SF: 33.5% (-1.0%)
    FF: 21.5% (nc)
    FG: 22.5% (+2.0%)
    GP: 3% (-2.0%)
    LP: 4.0% (-0.5)
    SD: 2.5% (+0.5)
    S-PBP: 2.5% (+1.0)
    AÚ: 1.0% (nc)
    Oth: 9.5% (-0.5%)

    (General Election 2020)
    SF: 24.5%
    FF: 22.2%
    FG: 20.9%
    GP: 7.1%
    LP: 4.4%
    SD: 2.9%
    S-PBP: 2.6%
    AÚ: 1.9%
    Oth: 13.5%


    FRANCE (Presdential elections 10 & 24 Apr, 2022)

    There are now 39 declared candidates at this stage, not including the incumbent Macron, with the same five as last month clearly ahead of the herd, and only two of those five will reach second round run-off.

    During January there were 63 Polls averaging:

    ( Top 5 – Left-Centre-Right-Nationalist-Gaullist)
    (figures in brackets last month’s comparison)

    Melenchon: 9.5% (anti-EU)(-0.3%)
    Macron: 24.1% (pro-EU)(+0.1%)
    Pecresse: 16.3% (EU-sceptic)(-0.7%)
    Le Pen: 16.9% (anti-EU)(+1.0%)
    Zemmour: 12.8% (anti-EU)(-0.6%)
    34 Others: 20.4% (+0.6%)

    Macron has stepped-up his ‘I’m Mr Tough Guy’ campaign, causing a major panic in Brussels with his latest demand that Freedom Of Movement is reduced significantly, at least until such time as the EU secures it’s external border properly. He has also been rebuked by the Commission for his latest stupidity at the channel ports where France is refusing to accept paperwork with digital signatures on goods entering from UK and insisting on ‘wet’ signatures, in clear and direct breach of the EU-UK deal. He actually told the EU to mind their own business how France runs it’s own border. Immigration remains the single biggest issue so far in the election, with the cost of living in France (worse than UK) not far behind. Of major outrage at the moment is the deliberate lack of integration by muslim arrivals and a documetary team now living under Police protection after receiving death threats from islamic extremists after a documentary – ‘Restricted Zone’ was shown on mainstream TV in which they showed the impact of islamism in just one town – Roubaix. Toy shops selling faceless dolls and teddy bears to comply with stricty islamic teachings, restaurants and cafes having screened cubicles for women not accompanied by a male and a charitable educational institution given a €60,000 grant to promote hardline islamic teachings amongst other things. Three directors of the charity are now facing prosecution, along with the Mayor of Roubaix.


    And purely in passing………….


    President Biden remains the most unpopular President in US polling history for the third consecutive month. His Deputy – Kamala Harris, is even more unpopular.

  4. Anne says:

    The Labour Shadow cabinet are coming forward with plans and alternatives – Rachel Reeves making an impact- Labour now ahead on proposals on managing the economy – a position they have struggled to achieve. Lisa Nandy making an impact on the levelling up agenda – good match for Gove.
    Further problems for the Government in NI. This on top of the cost of living crisis.

  5. Tafia says:

    typo correction in Scotland – (Y:50 N:50)

  6. John P Reid says:

    Good polling Tafia, libdems and reform up from the election, SNP still struggling to get the 5% they got in 2015
    The council by elections and private polling reveal that the labour lead is nowhere near it

  7. Tafia says:

    “There’s no means of avoiding the final collapse of a boom brought by credit expansion. The alternative is only whether crisis should come sooner as the result of voluntary abandonment of further credit expansion or later as a final & total catastrophe of the currency.” – Ludwig von Mises

    The ‘Cost Of Living Crisis’ (which is actually no big deal to anyone who remembers the 1970’s, or entered the workplace as an adult prior to 2007, is actually being caused by the west – particulalrly the USA, now starting to unwind from QE. (in the USA, 27% of all medium and large businesses now cannot meet their debt servicing and are technically bankrupt, meaning the lending banks are also under extreme pressure as they face having to write-off the debts).

    This is the point we in the UK (and basically anyone in the west that uses the ‘American’ methood of banking) is at now economically. Nearly 14 years of constant QE – directly and indirectly (such as via covid subsidies), have now got to be either unwound and settled – at great pain to ordinary people, or continued with snowballing catastrophic consequences further down the line.

    There is no middle way and it is a stark black & white choice.

    This is what Sunak is facing – and it will be what Reeves will face should she ever become Chancellor. The Bank of England has decided it is to start now and has called time on nearly 900bn of QE since the ‘crash’ and intends to recover all of the £450bn of it that is covid -connected, by the end of 2024 and the remainder by the end of 2029 (recover means suck back out of the economy), hence the rise in base interest rates from 0.25% to 0.5% – the first of what will now be succesive rises in bank rates (and these will continue to rise now right across the western world and Japan) , that will make mortgages – both domestic and business, more expensive (and thus private and retail rents), credit cards harder to service, finance at all levels more restricted, business loans harder to come by and requiring more collateral. Not just in the UK (there are major developed countries in a far worse state than we are debt-wise behind the scenes – such as USA and and the eurozone of the EU), but right across the developed world.

    The nexy General Election faces the distinct possibility of being so toxic because of the choices that will have to be made, that neither side want to win it.

  8. Landless Peasant says:

    Rachel “tougher than the Tories on Welfare” Reeves has no place being in the Labour Party. I’ll never vote for a Labour Party with that woman in the cabinet. As for Starmer, he’s an Establishment stooge, probably working for MI5, his mission is to destroy the Labour Party, and he’s doing a good job of that.

  9. Tafia says:

    Jiohn P Reid – The council by elections and private polling reveal that the labour lead is nowhere near it

    Indeed John, as last weeks council by-elections show. And Labour have a major problem in Greater Manchester with Burnham’s CAZ massively unpopular with ordinary people ( a more openly anti-working class, pro-middle class policy you would be hard pushed to find), leading to public condemnation and open revolt by many of the Greater Manchester CLPs such as Heywood & Middleton and Oldham East, and particulalrly in the south asian communities because of the impact on taxi livlihoods etc. Penalising people with older diesel cars, when they cannot afford anything else is overwhelmingly going to hurt the working class more than any other.

    Last week’s Council By Elections (There were three last night as well but I can’t access the breakdown yet, but they are apparently roughly in line with these).

    Cotswold – Campden & Vale
    Conservatives 1,180 (56.2%, +12.5% on 2019)
    Lib Dems 920 (43.8%, +18.2%)
    Conservatives hold

    Dacorum – Berkhamsted West
    Lib Dems 924 (64.1%, +13.9% on 2019)
    Conservatives 318 (22.1%, -5.6%)
    Green Party 130 (9.0%, -5.8%)
    Labour 69 (4.8%, -2.5%)
    Lib Dems hold

    Dacorum – Boxmoor
    Lib Dems 1,319 (60.5%, +18.3% on 2019)
    Conservatives 599 (27.5%, -4.3%)
    Labour 171 (7.8%, -6.2%)
    Green Party 92 (4.2%, -7.8%)
    Lib Dems hold

    Leicester – Evington
    Labour 1,557 (38.8%, -15.4% on 2019)
    Conservatives 1,382 (34.4%, +12.9%)
    Lib Dems 830 (20.7%, +12.5%)
    Green Party 200 (5.0%, -7.1%)
    For Britain Movement 45 (1.1%, +1.1%)
    Labour hold

    Manchester – Ancoats & Beswick
    Lib Dems 1,113 (53.2%, +31.0% on last year)
    Labour 793 (37.9%, -20.6%)
    Green Party 119 (5.7%, -5.3%)
    Conservatives 66 (3.2%, -5.2%)
    Lib Dems gain from Labour.

    Tamworth – Spital
    Conservatives 613 (43.6%, -5.4% on last year)
    Independent 482 (34.3%, +34.3%)
    Labour 311 (22.1%, -10.4%)
    Conservatives hold.

  10. Tafia says:

    In fact, just found the skeleton of last night’s 3 by-elections

    Hailsham South (Wealden)
    LDem: 59.7% (+30.9)
    Con: 38.5% (-8.1)
    SDP: 1.8% (+1.8)
    LDem gain from Con
    No Lab (-24.7) from last outing.

    Alcombe (Somerset West and Taunton)
    LDem: 50.2% (+17.7)
    Con: 43.2% (+24.2)
    Lab: 4.1% (-6.8)
    Ind: 2.5% (+2.5)
    LDem gain from Independent.
    No other Ind (-37.6) as prev.

    Eastleigh Central (Eastleigh)
    Lib Dem 43.9% (+6.8)
    Lab 24.3% (-4.6)
    Con 20.3% (-4.5)
    Green 7.9% (first time out)
    Reform 3.6%(+0.1)
    LDem Hold

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