Sunday 26 December 2021

Starmerism at Year's End

What a difference six months make. According to the big constituency-by-constituency poll Focal Data have done for the Sunday Times, Labour is enjoying an eight-point lead. Not quite the 20 points promised by rightwingers a couple of years ago, but enough to give the party a 26-strong majority and the scalp of Boris Johnson himself: his seat is one of those slated to tip Labour's way. Keir Starmer's going to be quite happy with that as his Christmas gift. And yet none of this was inevitable. Six months ago Labour was reeling from the loss of Hartlepool, the its evaporation at the Chesham and Amersham by-election, and the scraping home in Batley and Spen by the tightest margins. Leadership speculation was in the air, a fluffed reshuffle damaged Starmer further, and as late as mid-October the Tories were occasionally posting double-digit leads. What happened?

One would be overly generous to describe Labour's comfortable position having anything to do with what the Labour leader has done. As explained here many times before, the chief characteristic of all governments since 1979 has been the centralisation of power and authority in the executive of the state and a weakening of the relative autonomy of the other institutions that comprise it. The main political consequence of this has been the ever greater investiture in the leadership and authority of the Prime Minister. If this drains away it's difficult to restore, and more often than not a new leader is required to recoup it for the cycle to be jumpstarted. This insight helps explain why Johnson clung to bad decisions made last year: because he could not be seen to be forced into retreat. Evidently issues vary in their capacity to erode authority, but coming one after the other they can have a cumulative effect. This has been the state of play since the summer. The Afghanistan debacle, National Insurance increase, suspension of the Triple Lock, and the unforced arrogance of the Owen Paterson affair put the Tories on the ropes, but it appears the Christmas Party scandal is the coup de grace. Nothing says dumping on the sacrifices practically everyone has had to make quite like a cheese and wine soiree.

Keir Starmer did nothing to achieve this outcome. None of this was foisted on the Tories by Labour making the political weather. That said from the point of view of increasing divisions among the government, Starmer was undoubtedly right in forcing Johnson to rely on Labour votes to get the latest round of Covid precautions through. Someone might point out that Starmer's room for manoeuvre was and is limited, thanks to the small matter of a large Tory majority and the press being uninterested in what Labour's doing. This is true enough, but even before he became leader Starmer indicated he wasn't about to contest the terms of Tory pandemic management. Whereas a properly constructive opposition would have made suggestions about supporting workers and containing the spread of infection, Starmer side-stepped this responsibility and opted for his comfort zone: managerial and process issues. It was a relatively simple matter for Johnson to brand the opposition leader as a bean-counting pedant, player of politics, and Captain Hindsight. In other words, Starmer made Labour irrelevant. Therefore when the vaccines came rolling out, his charges of mismanagement did not match up with the very smooth and well-organised job of millions getting their jabs. But perhaps abdicating from the politics of Covid ended up doing Starmer a favour. Also thanks to his courting the papers, Starmer has faced no press heat about the fights he's provoked inside the party, the pressure on him after the Hartlepool debacle was negligible, and even recent footage of him socialising when restrictions were in place was ignored.

Naturally, none of the Labour leader's fans can be this honest. Or at least, not say it out loud. John Rentoul, for example, puts this about turn in Labour's fortunes in the context of a praiseworthy "strategic patience". A funny way of saying luck. But this does raise a problem for Starmer. If the party's lead persists and Starmer's personal ratings continue to improve, "patience" will become the official explanation just as the vaccine bounce was the standard narrative for the polling doldrums. And, politics being politics, there's the tendency for leaders to quaff their own hype. This is a problem for Starmer because one thing he's demonstrated the last year is inflexibility. Since his rapid distancing from the leadership pledges into his preferred combo of technocratic Fabianism and superficial Blue Labourism, there has been no deviation from this course. The danger here is not so much the plastic patriotism, which all Labour leaders affect, but the policy prescriptions. If he offers nothing more substantial than competent leadership versus Johnson or his likely successor or, worse, emphasises his right wing positioning versus the Tories the left flank he needs to keep on board might find themselves tempted by the Greens, or by staying at home: a risk Labour cannot afford. Similarly, if Johnson undergoes an unlikely revival or his successor reinvents the Tories, a dogmatic insistence on the present course would not serve Labour well when a certain flexibility is required.

Nevertheless, Starmer and the Labour right are on a high, topped off by the Tory disaster in North Shropshire and the well-received Christmas address. To borrow Rentoul's phrase, now is the time for strategic patience. First, let the Tories carry on digging their hole, while occasionally lending them the spade. Second, concentrate on pushing a consistent and eye-catching narrative that can win back the lion share of the 2017 coalition and enough Tory voters. Recent polling shows this is possible, provided Starmer doesn't throw it away with another attack on the left or more right wing posturing. This moment is Labour's opportunity and Starmer's second chance - we'll see if 2022 is the year that builds toward an eventual election victory, or yet another famous defeat.


Unknown said...

Phil's recent upbeat, very recent (newspaper, not actual) poll improvement-based, fantasies about Labour's forward electoral potential is really very strange. Whilst still criticising the Right wing politics and internal anti Corbynite witch-hunting, and failure to engage at all over most Tory policy issues, he then apparently totally buys into all the current nuLabour/ Guardian, Rentoul, spin doctoring around this very iffy uptick in polling results . "Enough to give Labour a 26 strong majority" indeed. Pure piffle, Phil. Starmer has had the easiest ride from the MSM since Blair since becoming leader , and with a utterly corrupt and incompetent Tory government responsible for disastrous death figures from Covid, still Labour only gets a very fragile, recent, lift in polling whilst the mass media are highlighting the current 'Party scandals " of Johnson and co ! Meanwhile, on the crucial restructuring of our dying NHS for instance, into 44 'Integrated Care Systems' in England, ready to be handed over to private firms to run at a profit, Nulabour has NOTHING to say ! The general public will eventually see the disastrous impact for them of this massive next step to privatisation and insurance-based, rationed, healthcare - but Nulabour is simply not offering any critique or alternative.

Blair had one key issue on which he beat the Tories in 1997, defending and refunding the NHS , as a public service. That Blair then slowly worked to open it up to private contractors doesn't alter the fact of this clear water between the then Labour and Tory 'offers'. Labour , under the re-heated neo-Blairism of Starmer and his cronies, has NO real , significant policy differences with the privatising Tories. None at all - just minor cosmetic bullshit about 'trust and competence' - on the firmly pro capitalist US model of 'politics'.

Forget momentary 'constituency by constituency polling' under the commissioning of a Tory newspaper, - polling is never neutral, but is always a weapon of MSM politics - never reaching the poorer potential voters in relevant numbers - hence The Guardian's constant claims prior to the Brexit Referendum, and the 2019 General Election that even in the Red Wall Labour seats most people supported Remain, based on their endlessly weaponised poling data !

Phil, whilst being critical of Starmer , is actually feeding off and propagating the misinformation spin of the Guardianistas and NuLabour Spin Doctors. FFS, Phil, the North Shropshire result was a disaster for BOTH the Tories and NuLabour, in a seat where for the last THREE General Elections Labour took a firm second place and the Lib Dems came nowhere. But under Starmer's dead hand, and by parachuting in an unknown young Right careerist, labour's vote collapsed ! Stop spinning for the Starmerites , Phil, and your blog will have more real world credibility.

There is NO chance of Nulabour2 winning back either the 50+ Scottish seats, or most lost Red Wall seats in 2023 or 2024, and Labour will even lose more seats still via imminent constituency boundary changes. It's all over for Nulabour2 as a credible future governing party in its own right - as with all of the old social democratic, now firmly neoliberal, parties of Europe , the permanent rejection now of even moderate old social democratic values and policies, has forever destroyed the mass base of these parties electorally . Labour , with the utter defeat by the Right and their press allies of the mildly Left 'Corbyn wave' of 2015 to 2019, has now reverted to the wider European pattern -. FPTP will camouflage the voting collapse of Labour for a while yet in seats won, but its potential to win a General Election ? None.

Mick Kennedy said...

Does Starmer even deserve a second chance?

Phil said...

I'm not interested in spinning for the Starmerites, what I am interested in is understanding social facts as they unfold. The MMR poll done is based on constituencies and has a wider sample, and are good for providing a snap shot of a point in time. The MMR we saw in the lead up to the 2019 election, for example, was bang on.

You might not like seeing Labour take the lead, but you mustn't mistake your feels for the facts that are available to us. And at the moment it's looking like Johnson's authority has tipped over and will be exceptionally difficult to recover, and Labour are leading - as multiple polls attest.

Jim Denham said...

I have to conclude, Phil, that at least some of your readers (like the two btl commenters above) positively *want* the Tories to win the next general election. Some of your recent posts have pandered to that sort of thinking, but I'm pleased to see you've sobered up. Your critics might feel more at home over at Skwawkbox.

Blissex said...

«the left flank he needs to keep on board might find themselves tempted by the Greens, or by staying at home: a risk Labour cannot afford.»
«It's all over for Nulabour2 as a credible future governing party in its own right»

But that would be a strategic goal for New Labour's "sponsors": to ensure that it could only ever govern in coalition with the LibDems would be awesome for them, because it would ensure that if it were again infiltrated by Labour Party members it could not deviate from thatcherism.

Probably the ideal situation for "the establishment" would be for both the Conservatives and New Labour to always need the LibDems as a coalition partner, as that would also prevent drifts of the Conservative again into tory nationalism.

«as with all of the old social democratic, now firmly neoliberal, parties of Europe , the permanent rejection now of even moderate old social democratic values and policies, has forever destroyed the mass base of these parties electorally»

PASOKification is likely to be a strategic goal: driving "trot" voters into abstention or into protest votes for no-hope parties has the effect of them giving up the franchise voluntarily, just as Labour Party members giving up their membership are voluntarily expelling themselves.

The goal seems to be to return in large part to the time before universal suffrage "polluted" politics with representation of "trots" (workers and renters etc.), and only the propertied and affluent had the right to vote. Making the propertied and affluent the only ones with effective representation is pretty much the same as restricting the vote to them.

Blissex said...

“«some of your readers (like the two btl commenters above) positively *want* the Tories to win the next general election.»

I think that this is a rather wrong impression, because because people who “positively *want* the Tories to win” usually campaign for that or to undermine their opposition, just like the New Labourite staffers and MPs did in 2015-2019, attacking relentlessly the Labour Party, overtly and covertly.

To me it seems more indifference as to whether the nationalist thatcherite ultra-authoritarian Conservatives or the globalist thatcherite hard-authoritarian New Labourites win; the issue outside student politics is not which party or leader wins, it is which politics win, and as to the politics even "The Guardian" editorial opinion was recently:

Labour risks ending up being Conservative-lite on the economy and Conservative-lite on its principles. It would be a mistake for him to think voters just want healthier versions of Tory policies. Labour’s “diet Johnson-ism” would pale in comparison to the real thing.

If one is non-thatcherite or anti-thatcherite, an election win for New Labour is pretty much as bad as one of the Conservatives, or in one way worse, because an election defeat for New Labour might mean a weakening of their control of the Labour Party legacy.