Starmer crushed the Labour Left. That is why he won.

09/07/2024, 10:50:39 PM

by Sam Dale

You may think it would provoke a moment of introspection. A shred of humility, perhaps? Maybe, even, a half-hearted congratulations to the new prime minister.

But no. The far-left, who left Labour on the brink of extinction just five years ago, are doing their most ungracious best to dismiss the most astonishing electoral turnaround in British history.

Jeremy Corbyn won in Islington North. A few independent wins. The Greens are second in a few dozen seats to Labour. Something about vote share. And just you wait for next time in….. 2029!

It’s always next time, isn’t it?

Such are the scraps the Left are left to feed off in the wake of Starmer’s swaggering, all conquering win.

So, let us stop and take a moment to savour this delicious victory.

In December 2019, just four and a half years ago, Trots and Marxists were running the Labour party.

Inevitably and predictably, it was handed its worst general election result in 100 years with 191 seats.

Keir Starmer took over a party on its knees. He had to be Neil Kinnock and Tony Blair rolled into one.

He made two big, necessary changes.

Firstly, he has crushed the Labour Left. Corbyn was booted out, Owen Jones left the party and a series of candidates ruthlessly dismissed.

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A pretty good Cabinet, with caveats

08/07/2024, 09:39:35 PM

by Rob Marchant

A Labour government. Let’s first just take a moment to savour those words.

Having sat in the Strangers Gallery just over a year ago and somewhat despaired as to the overall quality of the front bench, it looks to me that Starmer seems to have made a pretty good fist of delivering his first Cabinet.

The four Great Offices of State are unchanged from their Shadow incarnation: Starmer, Reeves, Lammy and Cooper. Reeves was brought in as a welcome safe pair of hands, with genuinely relevant career experience, to the Shadow Chancellor role after Anneliese Dodds’s unremarkable year in it, and has been well received since then. Cooper is a seasoned and respected politician, with Cabinet experience and five years of Home Affairs exposure chairing the Select Committee. Lammy we’ll come back to.

At the next level, Reynolds, Kendall, Healey, Phillipson, Kyle are all solid appointments. And Rayner’s appointment to Levelling Up, Housing and Communities seems to play to her strengths and interests. As expected, previous Cabinet experience has been pulled in wherever possible, to shore up a top table of many faces new to government; Hilary Benn has been brought back into the fold from committee-chairing, and a pleasant surprise has been the immediate deployment of “New Labour old lags” Douglas Alexander and Jacqui Smith as Ministers of State, alongside Ed Miliband, Pat McFadden and Yvette Cooper as full Cabinet members.

The less-good news: after a whole weekend of dithering, Anneliese Dodds has been given the Women and Equalities portfolio, despite having managed to anger numerous pro-women campaigners, including J K Rowling, with her clearly Stonewall-influenced views on gender recognition and conversion therapy, and will now be attending Cabinet, although not as a Secretary of State. One wonders whether no-one else wanted it, as a poison chalice; either way – in light of the new Prime Minister’s recently being forced into uncomfortable declarations regarding women’s toilets, contradicting Bridget Phillipson’s own the previous week – it is a tone-deaf appointment.

Meanwhile, women’s affairs being subsumed into Phillipson’s Education portfolio, breaking a manifesto promise that it would have its own department, presents less than ideal optics to women’s organisations on their importance to the new government. Monday’s Twitter has been aflame with the burns of disappointed women on Starmer and Dodds, and not without good reason.

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Nigel Farage and Reform were the Cleggmania of the 2024 campaign

06/07/2024, 09:11:57 PM

by Atul Hatwal

Earthquake? What earthquake. Nigel Farage might be talking up the result Reform secured but the facts tell a different story.

In 2015, Nigel Farage’s Ukip secured 3.9 million votes, 13% of the total and 1 MP. In 2024, Nigel Farage’s Reform won 4.1 million votes, 14% of the total and 5 MPs.

Yes, 2024 was an improvement over 2015 for Farage and his party’s vote was better distributed but remember who they, and all of the other parties, were running against: a tired, divided government in its 14th year that had presided over a parliamentary session where, for the first time, the country was worse off at the end compared to the start. Nothing works, public services are on their knees and even Nigel Farage has said that this version of Brexit has been a disaster.

The real question to be asked is why didn’t they do much better?

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Northern Ireland’s results might have longer-term ramifications for the province and the UK

03/07/2024, 09:38:48 AM

by Kevin Meagher

We’ve heard about the Red Wall, the Blue Wall, Scotland and Wales throughout this election campaign, but not so much about Northern Ireland.

Easy to overlook perhaps, but there are 18 parliamentary seats up for grabs and on three occasions over the past 45 years unionists have held the balance of power at Westminster.

Granted, with a Labour landslide incoming we probably don’t need to worry too much about the prospect of Keir Starmer being propped-up by the DUP (although there was a strong possibility of that happening if the numbers had been slightly better for Gordon Brown in 2010).

Still, there are a few interesting twists and turns to watch out for and the result might well have big ramifications for the new government further down the road.

First, there’s the DUP.

Northern Ireland’s preeminent unionist party goes into the election holding eight seats in the House of Commons (one ahead of Sinn Fein). But it’s a record that’s unlikely to be matched this time around.

The latest poll has them 10 points down on their 2019 share of the vote. There is also the elephant in the room in the shape of their former leader, Sir Jeffrey Donaldson, who is facing 18 charges in relation to historical sexual offences.

The party’s interim leader, Gavin Robinson, is the current MP for East Belfast. He faces a stiff challenge from Alliance. Their candidate, Naomi Long, formerly held the seat beating the DUP’s then-leader, Peter Robinson, back in 2010. Is history going to repeat itself?

Like the Tories, the DUP faces a challenger to their right splitting their vote in the shape of Traditional Unionist Voice. An undiluted, full-fat Paisleyite rump that makes the DUP sound like the Liberal Democrats. They are part of an alliance with Reform UK, (although Nigel Farage has personally endorsed the DUP’s Ian Paisley and Sammy Wilson).

But the DUP’s real threat comes from the resurgent Ulster Unionists and Alliance.  Both parties may take seats from the DUP. A worst-case scenario has them losing half their current tally.

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The Tories will not be the only party to collapse on Thursday, so prepare for another election very soon…north of the border

30/06/2024, 10:43:12 PM

by Rob Marchant

Britain’s national media are naturally focused on the story of the day, the Tories’ disastrous polling and the perhaps worse signals given by their own campaign teams.

These include the apparent writing off of any Tory seats with majorities more than 10,000 for head-office help and diverting these resources to other seats, including some ministerial seats with majorities of more than double that. Defending majorities of this size is essentially unheard of in the modern era of “key seat” campaigning, practiced by all major parties.

But north of the border, a second story – in its way, as momentous as the Tories’ – is rumbling. The palpable slump in support for the SNP implies not merely that they will lose a chunk of their Westminster seats, but that they are likely to be heartily trounced and that Scottish Labour would end up being the largest party in Scotland.

For a party which has now been in power for seventeen years – three more than the Tories – next Thursday is shaping up to be a huge turning point.

Uncut predicted back in May that the SNP is going to lose badly, and its numbers have not improved in the slightest. The Electoral Calculus site is showing them with a predicted 18 seats remaining – a slashing by nearly two-thirds from the original 48 in 2019 – and they could still go as low as 7.

Credit where it’s due: compared to his dreadful predecessor, the Corbynite Richard Leonard, Anas Sarwar has made a reasonable fist so far of being Scottish leader, (if we can gloss over his risking the wrath of Scottish women by having to be dragged kicking and screaming into protecting their single-sex spaces). But the real story is not so much Scottish Labour’s renaissance, but just how fed-up Scottish voters are with the out-of-touch incumbents.

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Starmer’s Labour offers genuine hope of restoring Britain’s credibility in the world

24/06/2024, 11:30:58 PM

by Rob Marchant

General elections tend to focus on bread-and-butter domestic issues that affect voters directly. But what would a Labour government look like in terms of its relations with the rest of the world?

Britain’s reputation in the world is surely poorer than it has been for decades – not because it is seen as bad by its neighbours and allies, but because it is looked at with a kind of sad sympathy, as you would a friend who had recently committed an act of self-harm and had not yet turned the corner into recovery. The UK is fundamentally liked and admired abroad more than some cynics might think, but these days it is rather in spite of the Tories than because of them. In particular, the premierships of Johnson and Truss have hardly worked wonders for the credibility of British governments abroad.

At such a time, Labour has a huge advantage, as in some other policy areas, of being able to make major, positive changes, by dint of simply not being the Tories, and therefore not hidebound by Tory obsessions, such as being triggered by any mention of, well, that great continent of which Britain’s landmass forms a part.

Whether or not you agreed with Britain leaving the EU – and most of the country, for better or worse, no longer thinks it was a good idea – in 2024, the country is clearly not ready to rejoin and neither is the party – wisely – positing this as something they will look to deliver. After all, they are not even elected yet, and self-evidently need not to scare the horses and put at that risk. But we are looking to file off some of Brexit’s sharp corners with some simple and specific pledges.

Where the manifesto says “new trade agreements”, it seems to be talking about sensible, focused measures with existing partners, rather than of the Tory-style, “the government announces a terrific new trade deal with Lichtenstein” variety.

For example, exporters of many kinds of perishable goods have been for the last two-and-a-half years been subject to pointless veterinary checks on every load, causing delays and increased costs which have harmed their business; checks which Labour will seek to remove. Neither will they have Britain commit reputational hara-kiri by putting it outside the European Convention on Human Rights, something that only the despotic regimes of Russia and Belarus have managed since its inception.

A major area which requires a high level of international coordination is Miliband’s familiar hobby-horse of the environment and clean energy; while one might speculate on the practicality of his grand schemes, at least Labour will not be beholden to the cranky climate-change deniers of the Tory right.

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A big Labour win, or even a solid majority, will show once again that the ground game is wildly overrated in modern politics

22/06/2024, 09:34:47 PM

by Atul Hatwal

Heresy! Burn the unbeliever! Is someone really blaspheming against the hallowed environs of the #Labourdoorstep?

Yes dear reader, I am and if you too want to be damned by the high priests of political organising, read on.

Door-knocking, phone-banking and leafletting are the performative rituals of politics as a religion rather than practical activities that make much difference to the election result.

They provide a communal focus for activists. They give the candidate something to do (normally far too much, both in terms of time and financial commitment) and generate a faux flow of data during those frenetic few weeks of a campaign, cloaking local endeavours with the appearance of quantitative rigour.

But in truth, most of it is futile, certainly in terms of the overall election result.

How have I discerned this untold wisdom? By dint of remembering the 2019 election, the 2017 election, the 2015 election, the 2010 election and… well, you get the point.

Here are a few examples.  There are many more.

In 2015, Labour was wiped out in Scotland. The SNP was in the ascendant but they did not have an activist operation on anything like the scale to actively work and secure 56 out of 59 seats, constituency by constituency. But somehow, without a full ground operation, they still succeeded.

David Cameron’s Tories did similar to the Lib Dems in the south, once again, without any sign of a comprehensive ground game that extended across all of their target seats.

In 2019, the Tories smashed Labour across the Red Wall. These were not seats with huge, bustling Tory activist formations which had been assiduously working each constituency for years. Once again, in most of these seats there was no substantive Tory ground game, yet still, even without lots of social media posts about the #RedWall doorstep, the Tories managed to reduce Labour to its worst result since the 1930s.

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For this campaign and beyond, Labour needs to articulate a vision of freedom. The manifesto was a good starting point

16/06/2024, 10:41:51 PM

by Jonathan Todd

“There is a sort of sea change going on now and I would argue it is to the left,” claims Steve Richards on the latest edition of Not Another One, a new podcast and one of the most welcome developments of this general election.

The guide to this possible leftward turn sits, to some extent, in the Labour manifesto 2024. But, as Phil Collins observes, “a manifesto is only an opening gambit.”

1945 brought a Labour government of bigger and more enduring change than any other. Yet, as Collins notes, “Labour’s 1945 manifesto had just seven pledges. In 2019 the manifesto contained one hundred and sixty.”

What Labour did have in 1945 was an argument about freedom. “For once,” writes Richards in Turning Points, “a Labour leader won a case about ‘freedom’ … It was only through the ‘power of the state’ that people had become free … Future Labour leaders who lost elections might have fared better if they had been as nimble as Attlee in claiming the vote-winning term ‘freedom’ for their party.”

The freedom to be homosexual under Harold Wilson in the 1960s and the freedom to smoke-free pubs with Tony Blair in 2000s are relatively rare examples of Labour leaders embedding change through arguments about freedom.

“Freedom is a complex term, but one that (Margaret Thatcher) seized and defined in her own terms, a talent that has usually eluded Labour prime ministers,” laments Richards in Turning Points.

Isaiah Berlin’s famous Two Concepts of Liberty essay lurks behind these grand Labour and Tory battles. With Tories usually emphasising the negative (freedom from) and Labour the positive (freedom to).

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The purge of hard left candidates will be shocking to many in the party but it shows Starmer’s operation understands the reality of modern politics

30/05/2024, 12:16:09 AM

by Atul Hatwal

The first rule of politics is to learn to count.  Reports of the last minute purge of four hard left candidates suggest that Keir Starmer’s team have fully taken on board Lyndon Johnson’s most important lesson.

Many in the party will be shocked and uncomfortable at the developments. Few would think that Labour splits dominating news coverage, to the exclusion of the central message on the economy, is desirable. But there is a logic to what is being done, beyond spite or pure factionalism. It is a rationale that recognises the limitations of party whipping in an age of social media and one that makes Lyndon Johnson’s rule all the more important.

Boris Johnson won the 2019 election with a majority of 77 but he faced multiple rebellions and was ultimately brought down because his whips could not maintain discipline across the parliamentary party. Clearly he played a leading role in his own demise but twenty or thirty years ago, there’s a reasonable chance he could have survived. What has changed since the 1990s and early 2000s is the size of the bubble in which politics is conducted and the pace at which the news cycle turns.

In a pre-online, pre-social media age, politics was the preserve of the individuals within the physical environs of Westminster, largely the MPs and the lobby journalists. It was a small world, one in which personal relationships, a trading of favours and the odd grabbing of lapels could maintain party discipline. News was slow, there were a limited number of broadcast channels, and the daily papers took twenty-four hours to publish.

But now, it is different.

The bubble has grown and extends from Westminster into the online world of commentators and activists. The news cycle has accelerated beyond all recognition. In the 1990s, when an event occurred, the next day’s reporting would normally be factual on the event and comment pieces would tend to follow 48 to 72 hours later. Today when a newsworthy event occurs, the factual turn of the cycle is complete within minutes and multiple rotations of comment and reaction begin within the hour.

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The SNP’s impending collapse is an opportunity, but also a warning, for Scottish Labour

29/05/2024, 09:30:05 PM

by Rob Marchant

While the Tories writhe in anguish about how large their defeat is likely to be, spare a thought for another party, which might conceivably end up worse.

It’s been difficult to keep track of everything that’s gone wrong for the SNP over the last year or so.

First there was the shock resignation of former First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, and her own arrest. Not to mention that of her husband, who was later re-arrested and charged, on suspicion of embezzlement.

Her successor Humza Yousaf, in power for just over a year, continued to pursue Sturgeon’s tremendous unpopular policy of gender self ID, and was himself forced to resign after the failure of a widely-criticised bill curbing free speech and the subsequent collapse of the coalition with the Scottish Greens.

Now we have John Swinney, who has been in office for a further 21 days, during which he has: used up political capital trying to save a disgraced MSP friend, only to fail in the end; pushed for recognition of a terrorist state, even though his role has no powers whatsoever over foreign affairs; has been unable to say what a woman is; and the icing on the cake was when Rishi Sunak called a general election unexpectedly early, meaning that they now look to receive a terrible drubbing at the polls sooner rather than later.

Indeed, a poll a few days ago, when put through the well-known Electoral Calculus model, predicted it could end up with as few as seven seats; a total wipeout. Oh, and their Westminster leader, Stephen Flynn, would lose his seat, although he remains bullish about their prospects, in a “Chemical Ali” kind of a way.

Yousaf was fond of saying that this coming general election should be seen as a plebiscite on Scottish independence – but they’re not saying that any more.

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