A well-known and liked journalist posted something along the lines of “Keir Starmer becoming leader of Labour proves I’m right in 1,000 words – off you go” on Twitter this week. The reason I bring this up is because I am about to do the exact opposite; Starmer becoming leader proves most of the things I felt politically convinced of over the last few years incorrect. His victory has helped me understand this.
One thing I was wrong about was the idea that Labour had been lost to the far left. Now, Starmer may fail to properly re-professionalise the Labour Party. He may fail electorally and then see the party becoming taken over by the far left once again. Yet the fact that he was able to not only win but win handsomely and on the same day essentially take over the NEC leaving him able to stamp his will on the party, demonstrates that Labour wasn’t as far gone as I had thought.
This leads directly to the bigger thing I was wrong about. I cheered on people like Chuka Umunna, figuring that centrists stomping out of the Labour Party to create a new centrist party or to join the Lib Dems and try and professionalise them was the right move. I thought Starmer had signed up to be on a boat that was going nowhere and eventually he’d just have to resign himself to that or quit politics. But he was wrong and I was right; staying in Corbyn’s shadow cabinet and keeping his head down on everything except Brexit, which is the policy area where Corbyn deviated the most from his followers by a significant margin, led directly to him becoming the next leader of the Labour Party by a significant margin.
What Starmer’s victory is synonymous with is the final victory of the two party system over any challengers. Everyone who left their parties or had the whip removed and never had it reinstated over the last couple of years is no longer in parliament. Every single one of them lost their seats. The importance of the Labour Party and the Conservative Party as the only two meaningful parties has been proven in the most ruthless manner; Starmer is only the full stop to that sentence.
This goes against what a lot of the discussion in Westminster over the past ten years has been around where political parties are headed. The coalition government, the rise of UKIP, the subsequent rise of the Brexit Party were all used to push a narrative that the two party system is in irreversible decline. Except Starmer sitting at the top of the Labour pile is the best proof you could ever want that this has not proven to be the case. The man who sat in the shadow cabinet, mostly quietly biding his time, is the one who is victorious, not the rebels who made a big show of stomping out.
I’m not saying those who left the Labour Party were wrong to do so. I’m simply saying that they paid the price for doing so with their political careers. No one is going to do that again inside of a generation, not unless they are willing to commit career suicide. Yes, you can point to lots of reasons this has turned out to be the case that have come from beyond the boundaries of the two main parties: the Lib Dems running the worst election campaign in political history, the shitshow that was Change UK, Farage losing his nerve and folding to Boris. Yet again, this only shows how difficult it is to do meaningful politics outside of the two big parties. As much as Corbyn tried to turn the Labour Party into a socialist student debating society, he didn’t succeed, even with all of the levers at his disposal. The Labour Party was too large to defeat.
I think the two party system has reasserted itself with such vigour because we are in such a polarised time with little room for nuance. People are now divided into teams and if you aren’t on one of them, you will get lost in the storm. Which is problem for someone like me since I don’t really like either of the teams enough to join one of them.
This week, I have another book coming out. It’s called “Politics is Murder” and follows the tale of a woman named Charlotte working at a failing think tank who has got ahead in her career in a novel way – she is a serial killer. One day, the police turn up at her door and tell her she is a suspect in a murder – only thing is, it is one she had nothing to do with. The plot takes in Conservative Party conference, a plot against the Foreign Secretary and some gangsters while Charlotte tries to find out who is trying to frame her for a murder she didn’t commit.
Also: there is a subplot around the government trying to built a stupid bridge, which now seems a charming echo of a more innocent time!
It’s out on April 9th, but you can pre-order here: