Wakefield voters chose Labour – the Tories should be honest about why

The problem is Boris Johnson and 12 years of failure. It wasn’t some non-existent pact between Labour and the Lib Dems

Labour 'rebuilding red wall', says Wakefield by-election winner

Normally, Boris Johnson’s cabinet is desperately hunting around trying to find talking points that will divide the good people of the United Kingdom, but this week they have successfully delivered something to unify people from both the north and south of England. Rural communities and urban centres alike have lost patience with this government.

Of course, the Tories were busy spinning the reasons for their monumental failures in the by-elections in Wakefield and Tiverton and Honiton. My favourite came before the results were even in, when Tory MPs took to the airwaves to say that anything less than a massive swing to Labour would be a failure for the Labour Party.

In a moment of rare honesty for the governing party, they genuinely thought that their best defence in the face of losses was to say: “God, we are so very bad and hated at the moment, we should have lost by more votes.”

After the results were announced came the shocking news that Oliver Dowden had resigned, taking full responsibility as chair of the Conservative Party for the losses. I am pretty sure that the people of the towns and villages in Devon and the streets of West Yorkshire would first ask “Oliver who?” before quickly googling him and wondering why he is the fall guy.

I am not sure their protest was about him, but perhaps the Conservatives thought that they needed to give voters a blond-haired scalp, and Dowden was the first that came to mind.

Dominic Raab strode valiantly out to do media rounds after the double defeat, and decided that the best spin he had was to insist that nothing needs to change, and the Tories just need to plough on regardless with their plan. He failed to say what that plan was, but insisted that the Conservatives would show they can deliver, which will be news to people waiting for a passport, on a housing list, waiting for routine cancer screening, awaiting an operation, trying to get a GP appointment, trying to get on a train or plane, or trying to get anyone charged for any of the crimes in the increasing crime wave.

Yeah, let’s focus on the Tory record of delivery after 12 years in government, where literally nothing is working and everyone in the country is waiting for something they used to take for granted.

Raab went on to blame the distraction of Partygate in the media. Now that the Conservatives no longer have Sue Gray to reach for to obfuscate, Partygate has become something the Conservatives use instead of naming the problem. A little like Voldemort, there is one man who cannot be named.

Yes, there have been some distractions, but who caused those again? I’ll give you a clue: it wasn’t Oliver Dowden. Even though he did his level best to sidetrack people with statues while their elderly mothers were waiting three years for a hip operation, not even he was responsible for these distractions.

The problem is Boris Johnson and 12 years of failure. It wasn’t some non-existent pact between Labour and the Lib Dems. It was because people in wildly different parts of our country decided to use their votes, completely of their own volition, to send a message that they think that the prime minister and his government have failed. Simple.

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I won’t try to spin here myself. I am thrilled about the result in Wakefield and heartened by the result in Devon. Do I think that the Labour Party has ground still to make up? Of course I do, it always should, and I hope from now on, always will strive to constantly improve and never rest on any laurels of historic voting patterns. I am proud to be part of making that happen.

Some of the same humility from the government wouldn’t go amiss. It won’t happen though, and I am not sure why they cannot see that refusing to name the problem deepens voters’ distrust in them. If you cannot identify the issue, you cannot solve it. The public watches, aghast at the level of ignorance and arrogance.

Today, I will enjoy the sun and the new unity that is breaking out in the country, regardless of how hard Boris Johnson has tried and failed to divide us. United, we stand and united, he falls.

Jess Phillips is the Labour MP for Birmingham Yardley and shadow minister for domestic violence and safeguarding

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