The stocks were sold; the Press was squared: The Middle Class was quite prepared – Hilaire Belloc, Lord Lundy
THE bookies’ odds on a Conservative win in the Labour safe seat of Batley and Spen were so short that a punter would have had to bet £20 just to afford a McDonald’s Happy Meal on the winnings. On the basis that the seat was already lost, Labour politicians were plotting to overthrow their leader, forgetting that no Labour leader has been defenestrated in the 120-year history of the party. The Communist Party of the Soviet Union has a better record in this area, as has the Chinese Communist Party.
The intensity of Labour’s celebration suggested that Kim Leadbeater had captured a hitherto solid Conservative seat. She had not. Leadbeater clung on to a previously safe Labour seat with a 90 per cent drop in majority, a more than 7 per cent drop in the Labour vote, and a 4 per cent swing to the Conservatives. This was all after the exposure of Matt Hancock’s failure to ‘Protect the NHS’ as well as his walking out on his wife and three children, the youngest aged eight, as soon as his affair was brought to light.
The celebrations by the pro-Starmer faction of the Labour Party were more couched in relief than triumph. They recall how the evacuation of Dunkirk was marked in 1940. However, Churchill remarked in Parliament that ‘wars are not won by evacuations’. Elections, as numerous Labour MPs know but can never acknowledge to the media, are not won by such swings against them.
It all seems topsy-turvy. The government is halfway through its predicted term of office, but people now expect it to keep taking seats off the major opposition party, regarding an inability to do so as some kind of failure. This is not how politics has worked in the last half-century. Incumbency stoked resentment, and by-elections were a barometer of that resentment. Governments lost seats. John Major saw his 1992 majority of 21 whittled away through by-election defeats and defections to become a minority by 1997.
The Conservative strategy in the seat seemed to be to let Leadbeater and George Galloway duke it out and allow their comparatively anonymous candidate to come in and take advantage of a split vote. I do not have a TV licence, and therefore I have not watched news bulletins, but the Conservative seemed all but invisible. Leadbeater and Galloway were ubiquitous.
There was also cowardice. A local teacher and his family are hiding in fear for their lives because the teacher tried to educate his class in real-world issues which included the display of a cartoon of Islam’s founder. A teacher in France was beheaded after a similar ‘crime’. This would have been a time for the Conservative candidate to make a stand on the issue, to promote the freedom of speech which is under such attack these days, but he chose not to do so. As it stands we have a de facto blasphemy law in this country that is privately enforced with a threat of capital punishment. This is the wrong kind of privatisation.
It is in this context that the title of Sir Keir’s Guardian article that stated ‘Labour’s by-election victory was a strike against the politics of division’ is ludicrous. Kim Leadbeater was happy to stand alongside youths who openly support the destruction of Israel. A campaign leaflet attacked the Conservatives for associating with the Indian Prime Minister. There was the hackneyed claim that Boris Johnson is hostile to the British Muslims who make up a minority of the constituency significant enough to swing the vote, through the overused excerpt of a few words from a 1,000-word Telegraph article. Labour also mounted its now-traditional deflective accusations of Islamophobia against the Conservative Party. A fear of such accusations prevented security guards from intercepting the Manchester bomber in 2017, and suppressed action against gang rapists in Rotherham and elsewhere for over a decade. Labour are making this country less safe by accusing everyone they do not like of being a racist. They also see alienating British Indians and British Jews as a price worth paying to secure seats. Labour explicitly traded on the politics of division. As an experienced lawyer, Sir Keir would have recognised this.
What of Labour’s new MP? A political naif who will have to be shepherded inside and outside the Commons, she will probably be under orders to keep her mouth shut lest she says something stupid. So she will be seen – she is the pin-up of Labour’s alleged revival – but not heard, unless it is to say something bland, obvious or unoriginal. While she may be good at making representations on behalf of the people of Batley and Spen, that is likely to be the limit of her ability. Her only leverage in the Parliamentary Labour Party will be her knife-edge majority; if she is ever thwarted, Labour risks losing the seat.
Kim Leadbeater is on record as saying ‘If I can be half the MP that Jo was, that’ll be pretty good going.’ Her late sister talked about people having ‘far more in common with each other than things that divide us’. Leadbeater’s campaign was informed by the second half of her late sister’s words. This has also been the case in the wider Labour Party for years. A party that sows division does not deserve to govern. Labour holding on to Batley and Spen this way is not on the road to power. And if the Labour Party is not on the road to power, then it is increasingly pointless.Attachments area