We need to place Labour’s victory in Batley and Spen into perspective. It was a narrow win, though unexpected, even allowing for George Galloway’s strange intervention. It doesn’t prove a thing, frankly.
Labour remains in an awful mess, just as it would be if it had lost by 323 votes rather than scraping in by that amount. Parliamentary elections are binary events, and by-elections even more so (I’m not being literal there), and the media even more so. It’s silly. What was it Kipling said about treating triumph and disaster both as imposters. It comes to mind here.
Everything that was wrong with Labour yesterday is still true today, and the Batley and Spen result - driven as by-elections tend to be by local factors, or the geopolitical issues of Kashmir and the Palestinians in this case - doesn’t offer too many prescriptions. The same, as it happens, is also true of the Chesham and Amersham by-election, with HS2 and development bulldozing the Tory vote away and Labour voters opting tactically for the Liberal Democrat- not every Tory seat in the south going to,do this at the next general election. Chesham and Amersham will probably revert to the Conservatives.
All Batley and Spen tells us is that Labour is as far away as ever from knowing what it stands for. Keir Starmer is as far away as ever from defining what he stands for. The party is as divided as ever. The left still stick to their delusions about how Jeremy Corbyn “won” the 2017 election, and they obediently attack every bit of made-up “woke” bait Johnson waves at them – like putting asylum seekers in a camp in Rwanda.
Labour isn’t offering anybody anything right now, and the voters still don’t trust the party. More working class people vote Tory than Labour. It is finished in Scotland. To do anything more than make speeches and organise rallies, Labour needs to gain 123 seats at a general election, and that means a swing of about 10 per cent since the last election, around what Tony Blair achieved in 1997, in a period of extraordinary Tory disarray, and a rare thing indeed. The Batley by-election doesn’t suggest the chances of that happening have shifted.
The Conservatives were probably hurt by the Matt Hancock controversy and the “one rule for them” hypocrisy it highlighted, plus generalised anxiety about Covid-19 and the economy. Yet the Conservatives still have a double-digit lead in the opinion polls even after the loss of 125,000 lives, in the badly-managed pandemic. They’ve not got Brexit done, inflation is soaring, the economy is poised on the brink of a slump, schools and hospitals are under huge pressure – and yet Johnson and his party remain popular and won the May elections.
You have to admit that that’s some political trick Johnson’s pulled off. Obviously culture wars work for him - but so does Labour’s in-fighting.
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