Friday, 4 March 2022

On Irksome Erdington

No, Keir Starmer. Labour's by-election victory was not "one of the best results we’ve had in Erdington for many, many years." 30 seconds with Wikipedia would dispel that notion. It is, however, the best parliamentary by-election result for Labour since he became leader. And as we're in Year Zero territory because the period between summer 2015 and winter 2019 never happened, according to his rewrite of Labour Party history Starmer is correct. But it's not a disaster either - just a middling, mediocre performance.

The majority Paulette Hamilton won was 3,266, lower than the nadir of the last election where Jack Dromey bequeathed 3,601. But this is a by-election which, as a second order election (i.e. an election viewed by a lot of the electorate as one that "doesn't matter"), turn out was well down. 35,000 Erdington residents hit the polls in 2019. On Thursday only 17k made the same journey, a story not just of by-elections this year but by-elections at any time. It's pointless comparing raw numbers because the comparison is not like-for-like. What matters is the proportion of the vote, and here Labour were up just over five points while the Tories fell by four. Had the proportion fallen, as per Batley and Spen, then Keir Starmer would be in trouble. But it didn't and the knives stay in the kitchen drawer for the time being.

That said, the result must be a personal disappointment for Starmer. Having seen the Liberal Democrats chalk up two famous victories, to properly cement his leadership and banish the mutterings the Labour leader needs a triumph of his own. Preferably a seat taken directly from the Tories to show the party and the press that he's a coming man, consolidating a marginal seat and making it safe would have done in Erdington's case. But it didn't happen. And there are two reasons for this. People haven't forgot Boris Johnson's partygoing antics, but his efforts to place the issue in abeyance with the Met investigation has worked. Though the Prime Minister also has a certain Vladimir Putin to thank for making sure his wrongdoing is buried under the weight of an international crisis. The visceral anger that fizzed around a month ago has petered out, and so there was nothing for Starmer to capitalise on.

This might not have mattered if Labour actually had something to offer, but the leadership have decided to say nothing and offer even less. Not even taking the Tories to task for being soft on Russia, not going hard on sanctions, and hinting we should be thinking about no fly zones have made people sit up and take notice. Voting against the Tories is never enough, you have to give them something to support. And the nice hair cut and saying "we're not left wing" ain't it. Whatever the case, while Starmer is safe for the time being it appears his de facto deputy is not.

"Ah!", might come a reply from a right wing Labour wiseacre, "if socialism was the answer then why did the literal Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition perform so poorly?" Good question. Coming third is barely a consolation if there are 34 percentage points separating you from the second placed Tories, and were miles away from saving the deposit. I can divine the explanations in next week's Socialist, blaming a media blackout and the fact their candidate, Dave Nellist, wasn't invited to a BBC-run hustings. TUSC were going from a standing start, and the vote tally did not reflect the enthusiasm for socialist ideas found on the doorstep. But a marker has been put down for next time. I could almost write the article for them. The problem is the Socialist Party, the main component of TUSC, has, for all its vanguardism, a wonky idea about class that is less sophisticated than its new comrades in the People's Alliance of the Left. And, despite the "serious" reputation it has on the far left, the SP is congenitally unable to carry out the consistent work necessary to establish, maintain, and expand a base in working class communities. This is reflected in the life of TUSC itself, which is but an electoral appendage with no independent existence or means of becoming a new left party in embryo. That role, of course, falls to the SP itself.

Therefore, the 360 votes it polled are not the beginning of anything. TUSC will be packed away and might be seen at the next general election, but it might not. It stood in 2015 and polled 212 votes on that occasion, but evidently was packed away and nothing was done to try and cohere that vote and build outwards from it. Perhaps it will be different this time, but as the best predictors of future behaviour is past behaviour, I won't be holding my breath.

Image Credit


Jimbo said...

A nice long article to start the day off.

Don't think labour or Mr. Starmer will be too worried by the result. After all a win is a win and they can only play the team in front of them. Last Mays local and mayoral elections I think highlighted that labours electoral chances seem to have turned a corner after the disastrous Corbyn years. I guess it's all moot at this moment the key will bis this year's locals.

Braingrass said...

I never understand the expression 'a win is win'. It is just tautological meaningless. 'A rose is a rose'. I think the most you can say about it is 'meh'. Of course in 2017, a year all Starmer supporters have erased from history, there was a 12.4% increase in the Labour vote. The highest since 1945. Now that is impressive. This wasn't. There is certainly no evidence that Tory voters are coming out to vote Labour, which is the justification of 2 years of attaching the left.

Unknown said...

The 'disastrous Corbyn years' were engineered, don't forget that......

cathy said...

Starmer is focused on winning elections, not on implementing working class politics. It was reported in the Financial Times on 18th Feb that Labour has entered into a de facto agreement with the Liberal Democrats on how to fight the next general election. It’s an unsurprising development. Starmer is focussed on ousting the Tories at the next general election but has come to the conclusion that the Labour Party is not capable of winning an overall majority. His goal is to have Labour as the biggest party. This will give him the ability to form a government with the Liberal Democrats. It is a dangerous strategy.
This is the editorial in March Labour Affairs

Blissex said...

«But this is a by-election which, as a second order election (i.e. an election viewed by a lot of the electorate as one that "doesn't matter" [...] It's pointless comparing raw numbers because the comparison is not like-for-like. What matters is the proportion of the vote»

If this is a "doesn't matter" election then the proportion does not matter either, because there is no indication of whether the turnout of Conservative or New, New Labour voters fell by the same percentage.

But rather the absolute numbers matter a lot more for another reason: they are an indication of whether the New, New Labour strategy of demonizing Johnson (and Corbyn) and presenting Starmer as the cherished champion of the affluent, property owning "aspirational" classes in enthusing them in turning out for him.

Instead raw vote numbers are showing very clearly that they are not even remotely enthusiastic about Prime Minister-in-waiting Starmer's "charismatic" thatcherism.

Blair (Nov. 2017): «'Labour should be 20 points ahead in polls'»

Hattersley (Dec. 2017): «Fears about victory for the far-left helps to hold down Labour’s opinion poll lead to 4-5% at a time when the government’s incompetence should put him 20 points ahead.»

«That said, the result must be a personal disappointment for Starmer. Having seen the Liberal Democrats chalk up two famous victories, to properly cement his leadership and banish the mutterings the Labour leader needs a triumph of his own.»

Whether Starmer enthuses affluent tory voters to turn out for him does not actually matter that much: for the "sponsors" class whether Starmer, Johnson, etc. win is a rather secondary point compared to whether a thatcherite wins, and as to that Starmer is a solid guarantor of "continuity thatcherism", and that is is history role, not winning elections. After 5 by-elections against a terrible government ranging from merely dismal to catastrophic wipe-out any leader whose actual electoral performance mattered would have been drawn and quartered,

Blissex said...

«no evidence that Tory voters are coming out to vote Labour»

That is the claimed strategy. It may also be the case that the real strategy is instead that Conservative voters stop coming out to vote for the Conservatives, as happened in 2001 and 2005, and in some recent by-elections, so that Starmer can win seats even if votes for New, New Labour don't rise or fall (as in 2001 or 2005). Same strategy as the LibDems of course.

The whig press is working hard to attack Johnson to demotivate Conservative voters to turn up, and this delivered some seats to the LibDems, but the attacks are strictly against Johnson, not his party, and in case of a "real" election most likely Conservative voters would turn out to express their gratitude for the huge property boom currently taking place.

JN said...

"Starmer is focused on winning elections"

Really? The evidence would suggest that Starmer's main priority is consolidating the Labour-right's control over the Labour Party.

For Labour to win the next general election would require the Tories to basically hand it to them (which might conceivably happen). But certainly Labour aren't going to win it on their own merits because the Starmer-led Labour Party is not bothering to offer a political alternative. They are presenting themselves as, at best, a more competent version of the Tories.