Being unwilling to pay Mr Murdoch to see over his wall, I have no idea what photographs of me Labour councillors in the Batley and Spen constituency are circulating on WhatsApp, but they’re unlikely to be happy snaps in the eyes of Sir Keir Starmer, the beleaguered leader of the Labour Party.
The party born over a century ago from the belly of the British working class now has scarcely a worker in it, and an ever diminishing number voting for it. The so-called Red Wall stretching from the Midlands north, once virtually impregnable to Conservative assault, lies in ruins. Tory MPs sit atop the ruined coalfields and desolation rows that a previous generation of Conservatives once devastated in the great de-industrialisation of Britain by Mrs Thatcher just 40 years ago.
The neo-liberal orthodoxies of Thatcher-Reaganomics saw the grass grow in the streets along the Red Wall, as coal mining, steelworks, the automotive industry, shipbuilding and a hundred manufacturers in the first workshop of the world were all cruelly dispatched – slaughtered as formerly sacred cows at the dawn of a new religion: money. She may have been an Iron Lady, but there sure wasn’t much iron being made in Britain by the time she left.
How then can it be that former fortresses of Labour have been tumbling to the Tories since the December 2019 election, and with no sign of the onslaught ending? As recently as last month, the actually impregnable northern constituency of Hartlepool – Labour since democratic times began – fell to a crushing Tory victory, electing the first ever Hartlepool Conservative, a member just recently arrived in England with the golden sand of the Cayman Islands still on her shoes.
The answers are many and complex. They involve the makeover of the Conservative Party: Boris Johnson is no Margaret Thatcher. As entertaining as she was austere, as liberal as she was conservative, and surrounded not by swivel-eyed white men enraptured by middle-European monetarists, but by cabinet colleagues as colourful as himself who, moreover, to avert catastrophe from Covid, have spent public money like drunken sailors. The fact that much of it was wasted and some of it purloined is, for now, unimportant.
The decline of the Labour Party to the point of near irrelevance is what concerns this writer more. Labour is heading for 20 points behind the Conservatives as opposed to the 20 points ahead foretold by the Blairite ramp that ousted the former leader, and now non-person, Jeremy Corbyn.
Pasokification – that is, extinction – beckons for Labour. It looks, sounds and feels like the dodo in the glass case at the Natural History Museum: very last century.
Among working-class voters, Labour is a staggering 25 points behind the pro-business Conservative Party. At a time when economic boldness and a redistribution of the fortunes made by some in the pandemic could be politically popular, Labour, led by a staid former public prosecutor (who played a key role in the persecution of Julian Assange) has just sacked its shadow chancellor due to her dismal failure to produce a single idea that caught on. Yet her timidity was officially sanctioned throughout by the man who sacked her.
But the party’s problems run far deeper than pounds, shillings and pence. Brexit was the moment when millions of Labour voters finally cottoned on to the fact that the party really hadn’t loved them for a very long time. It didn’t trust them to govern themselves. It felt they needed civilising by the good burghers of Luxembourg, et al. It considered them racist and sexist homo- and transphobes who would burn the wicker man in a festival of reaction if we left the cloisters of the European Union.
That Britain had better standards on such things long before we joined the EU – and a Clean Air Act in the 1950s! – was of no importance. The stated view of the Labour front bench was that, left to ourselves, we would soon revert to painting our faces blue and living in the forest.
Labour shows every sign of still hating Britain, or at least real-life Brits. As Brecht said, “The party has lost confidence in the people and has decided to elect a new one.” We are too conservative for them – not on economics, as that would be impossible, but in our patriotism, our love of family and the nuclear family, our rough words and ways.
We are not woke enough. We don’t believe men can become women via declaration. We know that women give birth, not “pregnant people”. That breastfeeding – not chestfeeding – is natural and that men can’t do it. We don’t want our children prematurely exposed to weird and far-from-wonderful sex education in the name of “diversity”. In fact, we consider ourselves diverse enough, thank you very much. If you think England’s racist, you’ve never lived in France. But all of the aforementioned is alien to Labour, meaning we, the British, are the foreigners in Labour-land.
Which brings me back to Mr Murdoch. It’s a stroke of bad luck for Labour that, so soon after the Hartlepool debacle, a new by-election is imminent, in another former Labour fastness – this time, their West Yorkshire stronghold of Batley and Spen. According to the Times, Labour is terrified I might enter the lists just a few miles from the Bradford West constituency I took from them in a historic landslide just a few years ago.
Many of the old issues then are present in Batley now. The class and community mix of the constituency is disturbingly similar, and they fear the worst. They pretend the worst is that I might do so well as to let the Tories in. In truth, the worst, for them, is that our Workers Party of Britain, with its patriotic, pro-Brexit, economically radical and socially conservative platform and culture might take the seat. They are right to be afraid of that.
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