Wednesday 19 January 2022

Welcoming Christian Wakeford

"Let's give comrade Christian Wakeford a big welcome to the labour movement!" said no leftist this lunchtime as he crossed the floor to sit behind Keir Starmer at Prime Minister's Questions. As broken clock David Aaronovitch noted, leftwing Twitter seemed more upset about his defection than anyone else. This was borne out on my timeline too for the obvious reason that Wakeford's politics haven't changed ("I'm still a centrist", he remarked), but Labour's has to the point it appears attractive to Tory deserters.

Subsequent social media debate descended into the calm exchange customary between different wings of the Labour Party, with the only riposte offered by leadership supporters being "we need to win". Which, having boiled down the dregs of the New Labour years is the only sentiment that matters these days among the ever-so-wise. Leaving aside the politics for the moment and looking at "the look", does it help Labour's chances of winning? It depends on who you ask. Contrary to the myths peddled by the Labour right, the left are very aware of having to win over enough people who've voted Tory on previous occasions. Tens of thousands wouldn't have door knocked in the damp and the cold two years ago if this wasn't the case. As far as the left are concerned, it marks the distance travelled since Starmer shammed the membership with his Corbyn-lite leadership pledges. How about ordinary Tory-leaning punters? Are they likely to take this as permission to start taking Starmer seriously as an alternative? Maybe if Wakeford was a bigger name with some recognition. As it stands, he's likely to enjoy as anonymous a career with Labour as he had among his 2019 cohort.

Let's be honest here, this is primarily about keeping a nice job. As a government backbencher he was almost as solid a loyalist you'd find anywhere on its benches. And now he's a Labour MP I'm pretty certain his future votes will fully align with the leadership's wishes. Like many of the so-called Red Wall'ers, Wakeford probably didn't expect to get elected and perhaps saw Bury South as a stepping stone toward a safer seat down the road. He did the hard yards as a school governor, borough and county councillor, and constituency bag carrier for another MP - a familiar pattern for those set on a career in politics locked out of the London-centric Oxbridge/think tank/Spad route. Interestingly, Wakeford kept pocketing the council allowances - totalling £22k - for a year after his election despite barely keeping up with his local government duties. A very cushy number, and if one isn't strongly motivated by political principles one might look at the change around in the polls, the very slim majority, and the fact Labour largely recovered its local election vote in Bury back in May, and conclude the healthy bank balance is served by defection.

Is there more to it? Probably. It does speak to a certain failure of the parliamentary Tory party, especially as it has and continues to hosts characters of a similar stripe. The so-called Northern Research Group formed in Autumn 2020 is designed to prosecute "northern interests", concerns the Tories have traditionally not paid much mind to, and press for delivery on Boris Johnson's infrastructure pledges. Its true role was and is to act as a collective shock absorber to brace Tory MPs against car crash constituency surgeries and their painful postbags. Having done this work myself, almost all the problems people had with the NHS, the council, the DWP, and any public service was lack of funding or unnecessarily cruel restrictions introduced by the Tories. Careerist he night be, Wakeford won't be the only recently elected Conservative discomfited by the realities of his party and the punitive policies he's supported in the chamber. Thanks to Covid and therefore the limited opportunities for in-person gatherings, the NRG has not been able to discharge its protective function as it might and act as a salve for guilty consciences. Who knows if other Tories in marginal seats, confronted with the imminent end of their careers and the consequences of their policies, are thinking of striking out on a similar path? Reports from conference season suggests there might be.

What conclusions can we draw from this affair? It's demonstrative of a defeatist mood among that layer of victorious 2019'ers, which could be leveraged in the tête-à-tête of parliamentary games playing to Labour's advantage. The second is the risible idea that this has saved Boris Johnson, and it's all part of a super clever-clever game the Labour whips are playing. I.e. That a defection would rally the Tory tribe to their wounded chieftain, making them less likely to no confidence Johnson and therefore leaving the government stuck with its idle, lying albatros. Explaining causes by consequences is lazy, wrong, and concedes Starmer far too much Machiavellian credit. And third, as per Starmer's Blue Labour/social conservative branding, the welcoming of Wakeford into the fold could help destabilise the core vote, just as previous right wing posturing and poicy pushing did this time last year. Contrary to popular belief, the new working class doesn't just live in safe Labour seats - they are everywhere, including the key marginals. Our natural supporters have plenty of places to go, therefore parading a new parliamentary recruit who's joined up because Labour is Tory enough these days might not be the election winning masterstroke the leadership thinks it is.

Image Credit


David Lindsay said...

The Labour line is now that Christian Wakeford had been in talks with Keir Starmer for four months. Well, then, it cannot have been anything to do with partygate, can it? Try and get your story straight, lads. Still, fair play to Starmer for having done as he had clearly hoped and produced the policies to attract an MP who would be AltRight in the United States. Or, indeed, in Britain. But the Conservative Whips had no idea that these negotiations were going on? For four months? What do they do?

There is no point making "Wokeford" jokes. In that case, then he would have stayed where he was. Wakeford was one of the 100 Conservative rebels who would have brought down Boris Johnson if Starmer had not saved Johnson's skin. Yesterday, though, Johnson decided that they, and Jeremy Corbyn, had been right all along. No more vaccine passports after all.

Wakeford should be confronted live on air with each of his egregious votes, and challenged either to defend it or to recant it. He should also be confronted with the words that Tony Blair had had written into the Labour Party Constitution and which were now printed on his own membership card: "The Labour Party is a democratic socialist party." It is a Yes-No question, "Mr Wakeford, are you a Socialist?" Some of us know how to get out of that one, or how to spot people when they are trying to do so, but he would have no idea.

In welcoming Wakeford, Starmer has made it clear that Labour would not repeal any of the measures for which Wakeford had voted, and on several of the worst of which the Official Opposition had merely abstained in any case. Starmer and his ilk may be desperate to be the Clinton-Biden Democrats who were now the party of Dick Cheney. But in American terms, Wakeford is not even a Cheney Republican. He is a Trump Republican from before Trump was vaccinated. Labour has always, and not least under Corbyn, aggressively policed its left flank while having no right flank whatever. But this? Really? I mean, really?

Anonymous said...

I see from Wikipedia that Wakeford is strongly anti-immigrant and pro-Israel.

Good fodder for New New Labour, then.

David said...

Phil, I haven't seen this mentioned anywhere but I am sure you will know. Will there be a selection / reselection process in Bury South before the next election?

Alex Dawson said...

An ideal way for Starmer and the Labour Party to really capitalise on this defection will be for Wakeford to resign his seat and call a by-election in Bury South. Imagine the damage done to the Tory Party, and the validation of Starmer's political approach in the fabled "red wall", if Wakeford is returned as a Labour MP with a healthy majority at the by-election. Wakeford could also use the opportunity to enlighten everyone as to his political conversion from populist English nationalism to (as it is stated on the Labour Party membership form he signed) his commitment to democtatic socialism.

As it is, with no by-election, voters in Bury South will see this as a grubby deal which will feed the dangerously destructive anti-politics narrative.

"There's no point voting for any of them, because they are all the same" will be the refrain from many voters come the next proper election I would wager. And with shameless careerism like this on display, it will be no wonder.

BCFG said...

'Left wing twitter' cant be that left wing if they are complaining about a careerist moving from one right wing party to another.

Seriously, what genuine leftist gives a shit?

In more important news:

All the right wing parties (Tory, labour, Lib Dems), plus a number of assorted right wing independents have issued a new edict to their PR representatives and a new motto for their conferences:

“Pubs not Public Health”

The job of the PR department is to put the decency into this venality.

So the above will translate into something like:

"Living with Covid, stronger and better"

Phil said...

Here's an answer of sorts, David:

Jim Denham said...

I note that Corbynista/ Skwawkbox favourite Barry Gardiner played a key role in recruiting this right wing scum-bag.

Anonymous said...


you really are desperate, not to mention pathetic

david walsh said...

I don't know whether 'anonymous', lambasting Jim Denham is coming via a Liverpool router, but I would recommend reading and commenting on this in relation to Barry Gardiner's role.

Jim Denham said...

Anonymous: am I wrong about the role of Gardiner, then? Please explain why pointing this out is either "desperate" or "pathetic"

Robert said...

The voting record of Wakeford under a Labour whip will be very different to that under a Tory one and the political capital from gaining defectors (even if it is painted as rats leaving a sinking ship) is well worth any discomfort over past voting records. But the Left would rather stay pure and remain on the opposition benches for another 12 years. Maybe another hundred years.

Unknown said...

The absolute cynicism of the dishonest claim by Blairite hack, 'Roberts' above is truly gobsmacking.

I think you will find that the mildly social democratic manifesto of Corbyn-led Labour in 2017 was massively popular - but any hope of Labour winning that election on such a policy offer was utterly sabotaged INTERNALLY by a concerted conspiracy of endless smearing (and even deliberate misallocation of resources during the election campaign) by a united Right Wing Party machine bureaucracy and the majority of the PLP - in close cahoots with the Tory and Guardianista mass media - as is by now very well documented. The same thing happened in 2019, with the addition of the selling of the suicidal 2nd Referendum and Remain policies to major sections of the supposed 'Corbynite' Left , ensuring a massive Labour defeat. The truth is for the careerist, corrupt, status quo supporting Labour Right majority , an election win by even a modestly Left wing Labour government is simply unacceptable , and a Tory victory preferable. AS Blair and Mandelson openly stated

For those claimed , 'We must win at all costs' , supposedly 'realist' Starmerite/Blairites now back in total control (under the malign tutelage of Peter Mandelson) , it is actually only 'victory' on a neoliberal policy agenda that safeguards their opportunities for corrupt self enrichment for 'favours delivered' to Big Business , once their Parliamentary stint is over, and won't provoke the Daily Mail et al to attack Labour as they demonised Corbyn, that drives their entire policy agenda.

As Marx commented in the 19th century about US 'pork barrel politics', as in the USA to this day, so now in the UK, the facade democracy game for the mainstream politicians is merely one based on inter party competition around the narrow status quo of neoliberal , low tax, privatised, low regulation, capitalism, and the core issue of which group of near identical party politicians gets to stuff their noses in the trough of government-based largesse and backhanders.

A Starmer/Blairite government will never happen , because Scotland will never be won back, and most of the old 'Red Wall' seats will never be recovered either. The most likely scenario will be some sort of future , German-style, coalition - whereby key politicians from most of the mainstream parties all get to stick their noses in the trough, whilst the electorate continue to be royally screwed. That very likely scenario will of course provoke the emergence of a mass populist pseudo radical, 'anti elite', Far Right political party - as per most of mainland Europe.

Robert said...

It is up to the appropriate CLP members to decide Wakeford and any other Tory defector's fate, they can even be deselected if found to self interested charlatans, however for Labour it is a win win, not only is this further damage to Johnson, his government and Tory majority, but Labour are almost guaranteed to get the so called red wall seats back.