Tuesday 2 March 2021

Applauding Failure

What might Keir Starmer say to the gloomsters and the doomsters following the latest poll, placing Labour seven points behind the Conservatives? We don't know, but at least this is providing ventriloquising opportunities for some. Indeed, a mini-genre is growing up around Keir apologism and at this early stage we can discern three types. The first is everything is brilliant actually and Keir Starmer is doing a brilliant job brilliantly. The second, offered by those fancying themselves as knowing wiseacres maintain nifty 11-dimensional chess stratagems are in play. This stretches credulity, but whatever fantasy helps folks get through their day. And the third genre? For this we turn to the pen of Polly Toynbee.

Most of the article is flim flam speculation about a budget whose details have accidentally on purpose leaked out to the press this last week, and so can be put aside. What's more interesting are her two core arguments. The first, and one shared by the inane boilerplate of Alan Johnson, is the idea Labour are suffering because of a Boris Johnson vaccine bounce. The second thesis flows from the first. Things are rubbish and the polls will eventually turn as reality bites down, therefore no need for panic. Instead Labbour supporters must exercise patience.

Let's take a look at the evidence of a vaccine bounce. True, a lot of people are feeling optimistic about the future as the prospect of something approaching normality might be with us by late summer. So the Tories are getting awarded for, well, a NHS job well done? Survation recently reported a three-point uplift for the Tories, stretching the gap between them and Labour to eight. According to Opinium, the government are up one and "the grown-ups" trail by seven. and RedfieldWilton? A two-point bump and a gap of five. It's a mixed bag across the different pollsters. Some suggest growth in Tory support at Labour's expense, and others point to a modest dispersal of opposition voters across the minor parties. Given how Keir Starmer's leadership has gone backwards in terms of voting intention and personal ratings, this demands an explanation.

Polly Toynbee chooses not to provide one. She laments the difficulty of getting noticed, and writes of this being "the worst of times for an opposition, a bystander carping at the government’s monumental blunders and disgraces ...". I suppose it depends on what one does with the mantle offered to them. Consider Jeremy Corbyn at the onset of the Coronavirus crisis. Defeated and miles behind in the polls, he tried offering leadership by criticising the government for their unserious response and made suggestions. Among them was a five-point plan demanding a rise in sick pay, a job retention scheme covering the self-employed, increases to social security payments, and help for renters. This was after he made the case for the effective nationalisation of the wage bill, which the government took up. Despite casting a defeated and, in the eyes of establishment politics, diminished figure his intervention ensured the pandemic wasn't as painful as it might have been. Keir Starmer's opposition is reduced to "carping" because he's not offering an alternative to the government. He has abdicated the responsibility for leadership to randoms picked for the focus groups over Zoom, and without a poitical critique, without even attempting to contest the Tory framing of the pandemic, then of course his criticisms about competence are going to look like carping. The punters, unimpressed, will switch off. This is not the force of circumstances staying his arm: these are the consequences of a conscious political strategy.

There are, of course, other issues too. Dear Keir is proving lacklustre, but he does so under circumstances not of his choosing. The polarisation that has marked politics for the last six years remains the unminstakable feature of the British scene, and yet LOTO and its very clever people pay it no mind. Therefore the second part of Polly Toynbee's apologia, the counselling of patience and the inevitability of a reversal in Labour's fortunes is based on the old Blairist assumption pissed off voters have nowhere to go. As the drop in turnout in 2019 and the loss of 2.5 million voters show, our people always have somewhere they'd rather be if Labour doesn't speak to or for them. And this, which shouldn't need spelling out, is a big risk. Remember, our people might be clustered in the cities but they have a presence in every constituency in the land. Alienating Labour's actual core vote to win over the imagined core vote seems like daft politics.

Toynbee then has set down the template of the third genre of Starmerist apologism. The nothing-to-see-here response. Less stupid than praising Dear Keir for all he does, like its stable mates it performs a superficial analysis of the moment, purposely avoids critical commentary - in this case denying the Labour leader any agency - and just assuming the fatalist tectonics of politics will grind out the support in the end. Good grief, is this feeble minded bollocks the best they can come up with?

Image Credit


Blissex said...

«is the idea Labour are suffering because of a Boris Johnson vaccine bounce.»

Oh no! The current common theory is that New New Labour's brand is still toxic because of Corbyn's derangedly extremist socialism, and it will take more than year for Starmer's shining and forensic performances to persuade voters that New New Labour has returned to being a thatcherite party like the others. Seriously? :-)

Alen said...

Totally agree... the current leadership & the PLP are a bad joke!

Starmer & new, new labour are incapable of anything other than trying to repeat the fluke of 1997. While hoping to be simultaneously gifted the once-in-a-generation luck of having the tories temporarily implode & vacate the field for 10 years.

My prediction is after the next election new labour will be competing with the lib dems for third place. And a new left party &/or coalition will fill the void left by new, new labour.

In short, it’s over for labour & its corrupt, overly complicated rulebook. There is simply no demand for a political party that is a slightly less racist version of the tories.

SimonB said...

Any objective look at the Tory polling would notice that the”bounce” is a flat line unchanged for over a year. More media BS, in other words.

Shai Masot said...

I think it was JOE's @baloo meme wot done it. Absolutely withering. Keef will never recover from that. It's over.

Dialectician1 said...

Ha ha, who reads Toynbee these days? Or for that matter, any of the other hand-wringing New-New Labour centrists who populate the column inches of the Graun/Observer? Their noisy and distracting opinion pieces are mostly irrelevant and pompous. Toynbee, like the rest of that gilded generation of Westminster pundits struggled throughout the Corbyn era to make sense of the shifting political landscape, mostly because their PPE courses only covered 'grassroots socialism' as a disruptive/infantile force. Toynbee and her ilk at the Graun didn't cover themselves in glory during that period; they were exposed to be just as anti-Corbyn as the rest of the printed media. And you know, isn't it simply amazing how the systemic anti-Semitism that stalked the Labour Party has suddenly been eradicated........

It's a complete mystery to these pundits that their beloved Virgil Tracy hasn't been a big hit with punters. But hey, if we wait long enough, this wooden, gauche, servant of the establishment will grow on us and we'll learn to love him. Good luck with that one!

Blissex said...

«My impression is that Keir Starmer personally is actually "Yellow Labour" like Old New Labour, but is pretending to support "Blue Labour" theme»

As to this, our blogger mentions "fabians", but that is not the same as "Yellow Labour": however gradualist, the fabians are still social democrats, "Pink-ish Labour", rather than "meritocratic" neoliberals. However the Fabian Society is a different matter: I guess it is has been infiltrated extensively by "Yellow Labour".

BTW there are two types of whig: socialdemocratic "leftist" whigs, let's say Keynes-style, and victorian "rightist" whigs, and the "Yellow Labour" ones are the latter. I think that the socialdemocratic whigs have always been part of the Labour tradition, influential even if small.

dermot said...

Simon, regarding the Tory bounce, check out Yougov's latest.

13% Tory lead will shake the dovecote.

Con 45%, Lab 32% Libs 6, Greens 7.

Running through seat calculator, Labour gets 196 seats. Guess that 20 point gap being predicted by New New Lab wonks might still happen, just not in the promised direction.