Some thoughts on the current situation Labour finds itself inReading time: 8 mins
I should probably state what I want to see from the Labour party. I personally believe this country needs radical fundamental change, but I realise this is going to be really difficult, will probably take a while, and is virtually impossible to do within the current Labour party. With this in mind, in the short-term I want to see Labour commit to social democratic policies as I believe social democracy is leagues better than what we currently live under (but still fails to address the crucial issues in our society - but this isn’t an article on my ideology). If a Labour party can commit to social democratic policies to address poverty, mental health, equality etc then I will support that party. But its obvious that this isn’t enough to win an election. (as Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership has proven).
Voting can be seen as a two-way deal: you elect someone, and in return they give you something. Let’s look at the Hartlepool by-election through this lens. What was the Conservatives deal? I’d say their main policy was their levelling up agenda - they promised investment, which is important especially for areas that feel left out. We must remember that we are no longer dealing with the austerity policies of Cameron/Osborne. The Tories have also delivered on their flagship policy of getting Brexit done (ish). So then what are Labour offering? Err, pass. As John McDonnell put it: “You can’t send candidates out there naked without something to advocate.” I can therefore only conclude that the Tories were simply putting forward a better deal than the Labour party, at least on a national picture.
It might come as a shock to those stuck in a lefty/liberal echo chamber, but Boris Johnson is seen quite positively by many. According to YouGov, 48% of people polled believe he is doing well as prime minister (as of the 10th May). Part of this might be attributed to his ability to get Brexit done, and his personality in general. In comparison, Keir Starmer’s approval rating is an abysmal 17%, and 65% of people think he is doing badly. It’s hard these days to figure out what Keir Starmer is motivated by, and what he stands for. Keir can’t just stand as the ‘not Boris’ candidate; he must present his own vision for the country, and how this is better than Boris’ vision.
As for criticisms of Johnson’s COVID handling, I suspect many people are sympathetic to the difficult situation that Johnson is in, a situation many wouldn’t want to find themselves in. Dealing with COVID is of course very difficult, I don’t doubt that, but in my opinion I believe that there were some very obvious mistakes made which I think Johnson could have easily done a better job on. For example, we locked down too late, we still have a dysfunctional test, track, and isolate system, government messaging has been very confusing, many people have been excluded from government support for no good reason. I could keep going on, but you get the idea. Labour, to their credit, have been critical of some of these issues, but I feel it ought to have focused more on them.
I mainly attribute Labour’s disastrous result in 2019 to their Brexit policy. Labour ought to have had a policy of ‘we’ll respect the referendum result’ like they did in 2017. Instead, they decided to have another referendum, and renegotiate. I might even go as far as to say it would’ve been politically wiser for Labour to have backed Theresa May’s deal. While Labour didn’t win in 2017, they achieved a large vote share, made seat gains, and denied May a majority. All of that under Corbyn’s leadership. Labour could’ve built on this success but in my view they’re Brexit policy set them back. While I generally like Corbyn, he does need to take responsibility here as he should’ve insisted that Labour stick to its original Brexit policy rather than conceding a second referendum. That would’ve appeased Brexit voters, and Corbyn should’ve made the point to remainers within the Labour party that they lost, and trying to ignore the original referendum decision would’ve been deeply damaging (as it was). I don’t think Brexit will dominate the news agenda as it did (although I say this will little confidence) so Labour probably don’t need to worry about this, and to give credit to Keir Starmer, I think he was right in not voting against Johnson’s trade agreement. However, Keir Starmer advocated for a second referendum as shadow Brexit minister, and voted against Theresa May’s deal, so I think a lot of people can see that it isn’t really genuine for Starmer to now take the position that he does.
There is also the question of whether Keir Starmer has to go. I obviously didn’t want Keir Starmer to fail. I liked Jeremy Corbyn but that ship has sailed, and I was willing to give Keir Starmer a chance. However, I am now running out of patience. This last election might have given Starmer a wake-up call to get some policies, and show some motivation, but I won’t hold my breath. If Keir didn’t have the motivation beforehand then I don’t think he will convincingly fake it - people will see straight through that. But I think I’ll hold until the next by-election for my judgement. If Labour loses, then I think Keir Starmer really has to consider his position.
It does look like Keir Starmer is making efforts to improve his image, mainly on TV. He’s agreed to appear on Piers Morgan’s Life Stories, and according to today’s Times, he’s also considering appearing on a fly-on-the-wall documentary. It will be interesting to see what sort of character will come through on these shows, and I think it is potentially a good idea. But if he truly is a plank of wood, then I suspect nothing in these shows will change that.
As for future leaders, I honestly think Andy Burnham would do a good job. The chances of him standing for leader are very small considering he has just been re-elected as mayor, and there’s no way he can suddenly walk away from that. He did state that in an Observer interview that if he had widespread support then he would stand for leader after the next general election. But what I admire about Andy Burnham is that he did have policies, he shows motivation in his speech, and this both seems to make him incredibly popular within Greater Manchester. These are in my view important qualities for leadership of the Labour party. But aside from him, I can’t really think of anyone else suitable for the role. I don’t think the party would be able to elect a candidate to the left of the party, and in my view they don’t have to. As long as a candidate is committed to social democracy then that is fine by me. There is little chance of a left wing leader being able to bring radical socialist policies in the next manifesto.
If the Labour party is going to commit to Social Democratic policies, they really need to do a better job at selling them than last time. Labour should’ve put some more emphasis on how they were going to pay for their policies. I don’t think they would’ve had much trouble paying for the policies but you have to explain how to the electorate because they will might be worried about the country’s debt, and what taxes might have to go up to pay for it. I’m not saying Labour haven’t been any good on this - funnily enough, Labour costed their manifesto in 2017 while the Tories didn’t, even though they’re supposed to be the more fiscally competent party. But I still feel that Labour could’ve been better.
I do however notice that some people have the perception that Labour is all about being ‘Woke’. I honestly don’t know if this is just coming from people stuck in right wing echo chambers, or is an actual concern among voters although my suspicion is the latter. Below is a tweet from Darren Grimes.
I find image laughable for several reasons. Firstly, they are only measuring what Labour are perceived to be in support of as opposed to what they are actually in support of. It does also appear that those polled where just given the two parties, and a ‘don’t know’ option. If I was in that situation, I would’ve said Labour for just about all of them - it doesn’t mean I actually think Labour will support those policies, just that they are the most likely to. I’ve seen this image shared many times, and other people making similar comments about Labour. As I previously mentioned, I haven’t a clue whether this is a concern among voters but it is worth mentioning. All I would say is I think it is better for Labour to campaign on actual policies rather than being drawn into the culture war.
On a final note, if the Labour party stays on its current track (which I think even its leadership realises it can’t), then there is no way I can support them. At that point, the Labour party really is just the ‘not Tory’ party, and if the Tories manage to pull off their leveling up agenda, then I don’t see how today’s Labour party would compete with that. But of course, I do not hold all the answers, nor do I claim to. There ought to be a discussion about this within the Labour party, and that discussion ought to begin with: what is our motivation? Why are we in politics? What issues do we want to address?