I will apologise right off the bat – none of this is going to be positive. Even if you’re a Tory, none of this is going to be positive. The reason for this is that for all of the usual hysterics surrounding the aftermath of May 6th, if anything people haven’t gone far enough in talking about how much of a sea change we’ve experienced due to the Hartlepool by-election and the set of English local elections that occurred on the same day. I think it all but locks in another decade of Tory government, barring a miracle.
Most Tories are avoiding saying as much publicly. They realise that to do so would appear hubristic and might blow up in their face at some point. But you can feel that they feel it. Things are different after May 6th. While prior to the Thursday before last Conservatives felt like Starmer was going into a downward spiral that might gift them the next general election, there were still nagging doubts this was the case. Hartlepool was the perfect remedy for all of that. Here was a contest in a red wall seat that Labour hung onto in 2019 because of the Brexit party vote. How much of that Brexit vote would shift to the Tories? Answer: all of it.
How Starmer has handled things since then has been almost as catastrophic as the result. The way he has lionised Angela Rayner is remarkable. His half-arsed reshuffle managed to deteriorate his authority even further than losing more than 200 seats in a set of local elections he should have cleaned up in. The time has come to whisper it: Keir Starmer has been a disappointment as Labour leader.
That feels hard to say – and that’s for me, someone who has never voted Labour at a general election in my life. It was a bit of a miracle that he managed to get the leadership in the first place. What I mean by that is someone who had enough credentials with the left to win yet clearly wanted to try and steer Labour away from Corbynism was a truly incredible person to have won a Labour leadership contest in early 2020. It feels scary to write off Starmer because as I’ve written before, it is hard to see anyone who might be better winning the next leadership contest.
But the time has come to be realistic here, particularly with so many rancid ideas being passed around the centre-left at the moment. People who should really know better are putting all of their energy behind a ‘progressive alliance’ of parties. I’ve written a lot about the limitations of such of an alliance elsewhere, so I won’t rehash those arguments here. I just find it depressing that so many who had put their backs into stopping Brexit have decided now to back an obviously doomed project.
If you want a ‘progressive alliance’ and think it’s the only answer, stop pissing around and really go for it. Merge the Labour party, the Lib Dems and the Greens into a new entity. Merge the memberships. Come up with a collective manifesto and shadow cabinet. Create a British version of the Democrats. That’s the only way this idea will ever work.
Ah, but then we come to the ‘Labour isn’t finished’ argument, which is a fair enough thesis. I’m coming to the point where I disagree – I think Labour really could be past the point where winning an election ever again could be possible. When I say this to people, a common response is, ‘Well, what about the 1980s? People thought Labour were finished then but they rebounded to win 418 seats in 1997.’ There are few responses I have to that. One is that back in the 80s, the trade unions were a relatively moderating force. Since they represented the working person, they were a bit more grounded in reality. Nowadays, the leadership of most of the major unions seems to have gone as far to the left as it is humanly possible to go. This is pretty major – one thing about the history of the Labour party to note is that they have a real problem escaping the pull of wherever the trade union movement happens to be.
The other is that the PLP had a lot more power back then. At the beginning of the decade, they alone chose the leader of the party, but even when the rule of thirds came in, MPs still had a lot of power over the direction of the party. That’s gone now – the membership alone decides these things. And because of Ed Miliband’s £3 entry disaster, the membership has tilted very much to the left. Thus the membership, which now has ultimate power, is completely out of touch with the rest of the country.
I don’t see how you get round these two points. The next leader of the Labour party, probably after the 2023 or 2024 general election, will be one of Angela Rayner, Rebecca Long-Bailey or Andy Burnham. I think the latter will probably get it in the end simply because he’s a bloke (the membership may have gone to the left but it still doesn’t seem to like women very much). His very recent pleas for Labour people to accept Brexit as the “new reality” will probably hurt him, but given all of the potential leaders will be pretty Lexity, I still think Burham will sneak through.
That will be a total disaster for several reasons. One is that Burnham is worse than Starmer on almost every available metric. Second is that it will be like the left rewinding itself back to 2015 and instead of picking a catastrophic option, merely a terrible one.
So, what will the next ten years of Tory government look like? Everyone thinks they’ll revert back to austerity but I’m not really convinced they will; I think a lot of the people insisting on this are indulging in wish fulfilment, hoping for a version of the Conservative party an economically left-wing party can attack. I think they will rule until an opposition party can effectively do three things:
- Attack Brexit and get a hearing from a public that has grown sick of the hassle of it – I think that’s five years away at the most optimistic.
- Attack the Tories economically from the right and be heard – again, at least five years away from getting the public to listen on this.
- Attack the Tories on sleaze, which after ten years of a one party state, should be the easiest on this list to achieve.
The problem is, it is impossible to see the Labour party being a party that can do those three things, even if I gift them a decade. Which brings me back to the party we do need at the moment – and again, that party would take five years to gain power, even if it was perfect – which is essentially something that looks a bit like the Canadian Liberal Party in terms of ideology, the American Democrats in construction. In other words, a party we do not have at present. If you want a ‘progressive alliance’, that’s what you need to start building.
While I’m here, I’ve got a new book coming out in the autumn entitled The Patient. Here’s the blurb, followed by a link to pre-order on the WH Smith website (you can of course pre-order on Amazon, but the link isn’t working for me at present):
She went willingly to the hospital. She couldn’t have anticipated how difficult it would be to leave…
Mr and Mrs Sincope are anticipating the birth of their first child. On the way to the hospital for Mrs Sincope’s induction their squabbling over their daughter’s name betrays an unquestioning trust that everything will go to plan. And why wouldn’t it?
But as the hours pass and Mrs Sincope’s labour doesn’t begin, the couple start to worry. And as the hours bleed into days and there is still no sign of progress, it becomes clear that there is something far more sinister going on behind the white hospital doors…