Sunday 19 December 2021

Was North Shropshire a Labour Disaster?

Having considered the Tories, what about Labour's result in the North Shropshire by-election? It looks like nothing short of disastrous. At a time when discontent with the Tories is running high, conventional wisdom suggests Labour would benefit. Especially in a seat where the party was positioned second between 1997 and 2019. Yet instead we saw its vote plummet by over 12 points while the Liberal Democrats surged from third to first in an even more stunning victory than June's Chesham and Amersham contest. Not good.

Is the straightforward reason that Keir Starmer isn't any good, and disgruntled Tories find his affectations unappealing? Perhaps, but on this occasion I'm not convinced this is the case. It seems obvious the leadership did not fancy Labour's chances from the start. Money was held back, Dear Keir didn't condescend to visit North Shropshire, and apart from a handful of shadow ministers dropping in there was little sense of urgency or enthusiasm for the campaign. If one was of a conspiratorial turn of mind, it might be suggested stitching up the selection and causing unnecessary local bad press was an evil genius move to concede the field to the LibDems.

But as the party was second placed last time, why throw in the towel? One of the arguments doing the rounds is the LibDems came second in this year's county elections so they're the natural repository of the anti-Tory vote. That's certainly the case for Shropshire as a whole, but the picture in North Shropshire is mixed. They were not uniformly runners up in this part of the world, but of the opposition parties they were the ones who made more of an effort to stand. Whitchurch, Wem, and The Meres were wards typical of the constituency as a whole: pretty much a Labour-free zone as far as candidates were concerned. Though, as recent general election votes showed the Labour votes are there. If the Great Satan Jeremy Corbyn could find them, that might suggest a good basis for a by-election insurrection? It would normally, and so we're left with something of a mystery. Unless a behind-the-scenes secret handshake had taken place between the two parties - the LibDems scaled back campaigning efforts in Old Bexley and Sidcup so they could have a clearer run where, according to Starmer's and Ed Davey's "feels", the LibDems stood more of a chance of winning.

Whatever the case, the message got out that a LibDem vote was the best way to punish the Tories and the good people of North Shropshire responded with alacrity. Therefore, given tactical voting was in play this was not the disaster the voting numbers suggest. But it still raises two issues Labour needs to address. First, as suggested in my Tribune piece, it is concerning Labour has so far not benefited from tactical voting anywhere near to the same extent. The tiny LibDem vote dipped in Old Bexley, and it seemed absent from the Hartlepool debacle. As Labour had an equal claim to North Shropshire beyond the "feels" of the hacks and Westminster wiseacres, when will it emerge victorious off the back of protest voting?

The other problem might seem minor but could store up trouble for Labour in the future: the Greens. As argued previously, the Greens are, sociologically speaking, an alliance of the petit bourgeoisie and the emerging new working class of immaterial/socialised workers. This is a problem because the latter are the core constituency of the Labour Party these days, a process of composition Corbynism accelerated and Starmer and friends are seemingly oblivious to. As such, the repeated feints to the right on public spending and immigration, for example, won't curry favour with this constituency and some of them can get peeled off by the Greens. At a local level, this is seen in the Greens' slow but steady growth in local government, but with the possibility of taking more support in the future. This could make the difference in the swing seats Starmer needs to win back. But interestingly, in North Shropshire - just like Old Bexley - the Green vote stayed stubbornly still. While not a lot to shout about to begin with, the fact these voters stayed put when tactical voting was understood by the electorate is, at least, interesting and worth keeping an eye on.

Not quite the disaster it seems at first glance, but not really good news for Labour beyond there being one less government vote in the chamber.


John said...

This was a disaster for Labour. There were 10 shadow cabinet visits to the Constituency. Half way through the campaign Labour tried to undermine the Lib Dems claims by promoting internal polling which said Labour were on 40 points. They paid for a 'wrap around' of the local paper. Hardly the activities of a leadership not fighting to at least maintain its vote and dent the Tory vote. Coming a good second would have been seen as a positive result for Labour, not the defeat that coming third is.

What Labour didn't have is 'boots on the ground' many of the people who have left or been expelled were the people who flooded to by-elections under JC. They spent their own money and time to work for candidates they didn't know, because they wanted labour to do well. These people are no longer part of the party and will no longer knock on doors for us.

Many more of us who have stayed in the party are not enthused by the present direction of the party and consequently don't feel inclined to travel miles to work for a candidate, who only made the shortlist because he is part of the Westminster bubble (despite his claims to be a local lad). This lack of momentum from party members is clearly obvious to the electorate. They then think well if party members can't be bothered to come and work why should we vote for the candidate.

The Labour leadership cannot afford the publicity this has given to the Lib Dems and tried desperately to a) maintain Labour's second place & b) dent the Tory majority. Since Starmer was elected the right have thought they could ignore the left wing and that changing polices to ones favourable to the media would ensure good media coverage. Thus hoping that favourable press coverage would replace the need to knock on doors.

Ignoring the left hasn't worked and the press won't give Labour an easy ride when it matters (in elections). If the right don't learn any lessons from this defeat, then it will the late 2020s or even early 2030s before some form of Labour party is back in government.

Anonymous said...

The Labour election leaflet stated "The Lib Dems can't win here. It's a two horse race between Labour and Tories".....So, either they thought that was true, or you can't believe anything Labour says.

Phil said...

Looks to me there was some internal dissension - national might not have given a shit but local and regional did.

Unknown said...

Phil, you are basing your incorrect surmises on a complete lack of knowledge of the constituency. Not your fault, but you have bought the bogus post election disaster spin of the Starmerite Labour creatures, and the Guardian. As ex vice Chair (and ex Labour Party member now - again) of the Oswestry and District branch in this two branch constituency the utter collapse of the activist ,mainly Left, membership since the victory of Starmer and the Labour Right , as nearly all the Left activists have left the party in disgust, meant that there was no workforce to do significant canvassing. and efforts to get members from, for instance, nearby Merseyside, similarly fell on deaf ears.

Also , even those local members of a more 'centrist' hue who remained have been so disgusted by the bureaucratic removal and gross slandering of the popular Labour candidate for the last three elections, Graeme Currie, and the imposition of a ghastly young Right Wing careerist (bag-carrier to the Labour Leader in the House of Lords, and someone who canvassed for the local Tory MP in younger days !), a willingness to canvas for such a creature , was singularly absent.

It was only once the campaign was under way that Labour HQ quickly realised just how unpopular Labour now is in North Shropshire, and ill-equipped to campaign locally, which is why they started making their excuses in the last week or so of the campaign. Labour won 17,000 votes with Graem Currie and the Corbyn Manifesto in 2017, almost the vote total of the cynically opportunist winning Lib Dem candidate this time - so it was not only Tory voters who staying at home in huge numbers in that small turnout.

No, North Shropshire WAS a disaster for Labour, and proof that the Starmer circle's Mandelsonite 'strategy' of winning over Tory voters whilst holding on to traditional Labour ones is doomed to fail. All your article does is gulp down and regurgitate the Starmer spin doctor excuse for such a terrible result for Labour. The Lib Dems have not even been a real contender in this constituency for a decade or more . in national Parliamentary elections anyway.

The Party that DID totally stand aside for the Lib Dems was the local Green Party . We didn't even receive that single free-distribution leaflet even the most minority candidates managed to send round by post - and they didn't really canvas at all ! Strange decision for a local Green Party which has done well recently in local parish elections, and has a very credible local candidate. The Greens must have fallen for that 'progressive alliance' tactical bollocks ! That the rabidly pro EU Lib Dems were the vehicle for the anti Tory vote in 60% Leave voting North Shropshire is astonishing - but then Labour's 'position' on the EU in 2019 is just seen as deeply dishonest by local voters. Needless to say, neither the Labour candidate nor the Lib Dem mentioned the EU at all ! In fact the election leaflets of all the three main parties were totally identical in all important areas - all making the same un-deliverable promises to save the local NHS and particularly the ambulance service , and fix the roads - which a backbench MP has no power to influence at all !

Blissex said...

«Yet instead we saw its vote plummet by over 12 points»

Percentages may matter as to who wins the seat, but raw vote numbers are more informative as to vote trends, here is a summary for north Shropshire:

2017: Con 33,642; Lab 17,287; LD 2,948
2019: Con 35,444; Lab 12,495; LD 5,643
2021: Con 12,032; LD 17,597; NLab 3,686

That looks like a lot of tory abstainers, and a lot of switching from New Labour to the LibDems, as the combine total stayed the same; there were probably a minority of Conservative to LibDem switchers, as the the NLab+LD vote should have shrunk, not stayed the same.

This is the fourth consecutive disaster for New Labour: loss of Hartlepool to the Conservatives, collapse in Bexley and north Shropshire, wipeout in Chesham.
The disaster as our blogger says is the more catastrophic because there is absolutely no sign that the move to the right of New Labour did result in a 1997-like 20 points lead as the "centrist" fantasy goes, no signs of chunks of "soft" thatcherite swing voters switching to New Labour's "forensic" thatcherism. They are instead switching if only temporarily to the LibDems.

The by-elections so far have been bad also for the LibDems: they got 2 wins in Chesham and north Shropshire, but that was not due to their increased popularity, as they were wiped out in Bexley and Hartlepool, but purely to the protest vote in by-elections that tory voters know don't matter with an 80 seat majority.

Too bad that things instead look good for the Conservatives: they won Hartlepool, held Bexley and lost Chesham and north Shropshire, which for by-elections in these circumstances is very good indeed. In particular while tory voters are feeling rebellious, it is pretty obvious that in an election that matters they won't make a protest abstention, or a protest vote for LibDems, as long as their interests are taken care of.

Blissex said...

«Thus hoping that favourable press coverage would replace the need to knock on doors»

Both matter but not much in this era: the Conservative are almost a pure marketing machine without many members or activists, and yet they win many elections, so knocking on doors is overrated; so is the press, because their marketing strategy is to preach to the already converted.

My usual claim is that national politics is not like student politics a debate at the union and "popularity" matters, it is about interests, and as long the Conservatives keep delivering for tories, the latter will vote Conservative, even holding their noses if they are queasy. Even "The Guardian" wrote:

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.

Anonymous said...

Well, there is very little difference between Tory and Labour, when it comes to the Lib Dems and Labour, a fully dedicated department would need a year to discern the substantial differences between them, and even then, the report would be pretty much blank.

So if we consider politics as getting policies implemented and not some partisan football league where you support teams come what may, then i would say any result is pretty good for Labour, the Tories or the Lib Dems.

For anything approaching a 'socalist' set of policies, of course it was disastrous, but surely after 70 years we have got used to this by now?

Blissex said...

«Mandelsonite 'strategy' of winning over Tory voters whilst holding on to traditional Labour ones is doomed to fail»

Actually the Mandelson Tendency does not necessarily want "holding on to traditional Labour ones”, I reckon that if they go into abstention they are almost as happy. Just like when people like yourself auto-expel themselves from the membership (“ex Labour Party member now - again”).

It is the “winning over Tory voters” that is doomed to fail unless the "official" thatcherite party screws up big time on property (or brexit).

The mandelsonians attribute to "triangulation" the magical victory of 1997, when it was instead due to the property (and jobs) crash created by Nigel Lawson. Since then no Conservative chancellor will allow (if they can) a property crash, they learned the lesson, which was reinforced when Darling and Brown could not stop the property crash of the 2000s they also got punished.
It is " property above everything else" until the bitter end.

«All your article does is gulp down and regurgitate the Starmer spin doctor excuse for such a terrible result for Labour»

I think that our blogger for various reasons always tries to give the benefit of the doubt to Labour, even when it is really New Labour instead.

Blissex said...

«The Labour election leaflet stated "The Lib Dems can't win here. It's a two horse race between Labour and Tories"»

Given that so far Labour had polled 2-5 times more than the LibDems that was a fair statement, even if a bit "performative" too. But who know that Starmer would beat Johnson :-) and lose 70% of the 2017 votes and 82% of the 2019 votes...

Dr Zoltan Jorovic said...

@Unknown. You seem to know the constituency, but it isn't clear you understand people or politics as a whole. Reading between the lines you seem to have wanted people to vote for none of the available candidates. Which, to be fair, quite a lot did by staying at home. According to your interpretation, the Labour candidate was a New labour plant, the Lib Dem a cynical opportunist, and the Green a naive fool for believing in progressive tactical voting (the same tactical voting which overturned a 190 year Tory safe seat).

What you are saying, without seeming to be aware of it, is that all the options were wrong, and everyone who voted was conned. In your world, the Labour candidate would have been the same one who lost the last three elections, the LibDems would have stood but only in a half-hearted way and the Greens would have fought tooth and nail in defiance of any thought of not splitting the anti-Tory vote. Far better for the Tories to have won, but with a reduced majority, Labour to have come a valiant second, and the others to have come nowhere.

I see articles where they portray Corbyn supporters as embittered tribalists who would rather the Tories continue to rule with a big majority than anyone but their chosen clique win. I tended to not believe them, or think they were a caricature. But here you are, the incarnation of this attitude. As someone who is not Labour but did support Corbyn and voted tactically to try to ensure a Labour government, I find this depressing and disappointing. You'd rather the whole country was f*cked than compromise on anything.

In your view, everyone who doesn't think exactly like you is naive or a cynic, or an opportunist, or a careerist, or a fool. Imagine thinking that by not striving to split the anti-Tory vote it might actually be possible to overturn a huge majority!
No, far better to be a die-hard tribalist and not campaign for anyone, but just sit at home and hope they all lose. That'll sort this country out! All that you are ensuring by your hardline opposition to any idea of strategic compromise is continual defeat and further disaster for the nation.

There are two ways of looking at politics (and people). One is that its about getting your way. The other is that it's about finding solutions that works for as many people as possible. The first is the current Tory leadership view - and, it seems, yours. So you actually have more in common with right wing populist side of the Conservatives than you do with the average person. There isn't going to be a revolution. Progress will be in small steps, but the real enemy is obvious, so why not direct your fire, and ire, at the right targets? It really isn't the Lib Dems or the Greens, or even Keir Starmer (although he is annoying).

Nonsense Spotter said...

@Dr Zoltan

“Progress will be in small steps,”

Do you have the exact formula so I can properly evaluate the level of bullshit on which you are operating?

Boffy said...

Yes, it was clearly a Labour disaster worse than for the Tories, who will win it back at the next GE. It shows the problem for Starmer.

He is relying on the reactionaries of Blue Labour as counter to the Left, i.e. vast majority of party members. He is accordingly appeasing reactionary nationalist sentiments, and so trying to capture the same reactionary vote, i.e. the vote of the petty-bourgeois owners of the 5 million or so small businesses that pushed through Brexit.

That puts him on the same platform as the Tories. He can't get those votes, but even in a Brexit voting seat like N. Shropshire, there is enough anti-Brexit votes that can be consolidated to win the seat, and that is what the Liberals did. They reversed what Johnson did previously in consolidating a core Brexit vote around the Tories.

The lesson is clear, to win Labour has to ditch and militantly oppose Brexit, and has to reverse the dropping of radical social democratic policies.

Blissex said...

«politics as getting policies implemented»

I understand the feeling here, but "implemented" is supposedly the job of the civil service, politics is not management. I would rather have read "getting policies decided in the interests of our constituency".

«and not some partisan football league»

I have only recently realized that a lot of politics and politics reporting is as if it were student politics at Eton or at least Oxford: a game of posturing and positioning among people who have fundamentally the same interests, but have personal rivalries and ambitions.

«where you support teams come what may, then i would say any result is pretty good for Labour, the Tories or the Lib Dems»

More widely, the results are good for constituencies that benefit from thatcherism, whether party brand is it wrapped in. Classic "Indian Bicycle Marketing".

Blissex said...

«believing in progressive tactical voting (the same tactical voting which overturned a 190 year Tory safe seat»

The problem with this kind of statement is that it is "politics free": but who cares which type of thatcherite occupies a seat if their politics are pretty much the same? Cameron, Blair, Clegg, for example, what's the big difference? In student politics in upper-middle and upper class places like the public schools and Oxbridge everybody have similar same interests, so it really matters who exactly wins which office, even if they end up doing almost the same things.

«all the options were wrong, and everyone who voted was conned»

Well, for thatcherites all the options were right, and nobody was conned: it was a choice between a nationalist thatcherite (Conservatives), a globalist thatcherite (Libdems) and a globalist thatcherite dog-whistling to nationalist thatcherites (New Labour).

«Corbyn supporters as embittered tribalists who would rather the Tories continue to rule with a big majority than anyone but their chosen clique win»

That is rather a good description of New Labour, the various wings of the Conservatives, and the LibDems, who share fundamentally the same politics and interests, and where the only thing that really matters is which clique wins, because that determines who have good careers. From their viewpoint a seat switching from one type to thatcherite to another is indeed a big deal.

The “Corbyn supporters” don't support a person (Corbyn) or a clique, they support a certain type of politics, at least social-democracy, that is non-thatcherite or even anti-thatcherite, and interests, and which particular clique of thatcherites wins is not something they get excited about. The modest differences between various brands of thatcherite marketing are not that interesting to people opposed to thatcherism.

«There are two ways of looking at politics (and people). One is that its about getting your way. The other is that it's about finding solutions that works for as many people as possible.»

In my experience only the slimiest shysters try to fool the populace they usually despise with laughably simplistic propaganda like “finding solutions that works for as many people as possible” when the populace knows well that politics is about the interests of lobbies, and that's why there are political parties that represent them. The populace know very well that politics is not about philosopher-kings debating about the greater national good, even student politics is not that cartoonish in a wishful thinking way. Politics is about things like how to achieve lower wages and higher rents, about privileging the interests of incumbents over those of their "servants" like renters and workers. Politics is the continuation of (class) war by other means...

I would be surprised if someone who reads this blog really believed that politics is about “finding solutions that works for as many people as possible”, but I still hope it was written in good faith that is with extreme naivety.

"Nonsense Spotter said..."
«“Progress will be in small steps,”
Do you have the exact formula so I can properly evaluate the level of bullshit on which you are operating?»

I think it was described long ago by Plato in "The New Republic" IIRC. A more recent sci-fi book demolishes the "philosopher-kings" idea cherished by authoritarian managerialist right-wingers (a.k.a. "centrists").

Nonsense Spotter said...

Hi Blissex,

Plato can’t help us here, we need much much more information, such as:

What is the definition of progress? Is it fixed in time?

What is the definition of small? How is it objectively measured?

How far back in time does this progress in small steps go? Back to the Stone, Bonze Age, last year, last week? Or is the shyster doctor predicting the future? Is it the same definition of progress all the way back and all the way forward?

Are we talking about progress in nations here? So does this progress in small steps work for Britain only, or Britain, Vietnam, Iraq, USA, Japan, India, DR Congo, Australia, Germany, Israel, Moldova, Uruguay, Canada etc etc

I put it to the audience that the history of most nations includes some rather gigantic steps!

Does progress in small steps apply to technology? If so which kinds of technology?

Again progress did not only come in small steps but in gigantic convulsions and revolutions. Compare technological progress pre 1500 to after 1500 for example, does the technology graph validate a small steps theory. Spoiler alert: does it fuck!

I think we can safely say Dr Zoltan is a shyster and most certainly not naive. Authoritarian managerialist right-winger (a.k.a. "centrist") seems to be fitting; also the shyster doctor provides nice confirmation about the nature of centrists, from his own shyster lips! I feel like the shyster’s words should be framed for posterity, it can be looked back on incredulously in say 200 years time, assuming enough small steps have taken place by then!

“in my experience only the slimiest shysters try to fool the populace they usually despise with laughably simplistic propaganda like “finding solutions that works for as many people as possible”

Spot on Blissex, I would just add that this also applies to people who say things like,”There are two ways of looking at politics (and people)”, or maybe the shyster doctor is simply too lazy to think of any more ways or thinks the audience are stupid enough to swallow his managerialist bullshit?

This is why we still need philosophy actually, to highlight the managerialist poppycock of shysters like Zoltan.