Friday 13 May 2022

Stitching Up Wakefield

I could simply repost last year's piece on the Hartlepool by-election stitch up. Nothing has changed. In case you happen to have spent the day under a rock or in a cloud of Covid fog, the 16-strong executive of Wakefield Labour Party have resigned their positions. This followed the shortlisting ahead of the upcoming by-election that excluded anyone local from contention, giving members a choice between Kate Dearden of Community and Unison's Simon Lightwood. How do we know it's a stitch up and not the result of their killing selection interview patter? Because the Labour leadership trampled all over by-election rules passed at last year's conference to secure this outcome. Chiefly a rule that required the selection committee to be made up of three local CLP representatives, not the one who was allowed to be part of the actual process. An oversight that does not at all leave the party open to a legal challenge.

This is very much part of a pattern. In Hartlepool the candidate was imposed, and Labour lost. Even in no-hope North Shropshire, you might recall the leadership intervened to make sure a left winger was nowhere near the candidacy. And the same rule applies in Wakefield. Whether Starmer indicated a preference or let his right wing minions steer the candidacy, neither want another leftist in parliament. Starmer doesn't because it's another pain in the arse, and the Labour right apparatchiks because making sure the left's candidate cannot reach the nominations threshold at the next leadership election is their raison d'etre. Remember, as their behaviour since 2015 reminds us, they're more interested in securing power in the party than beating the Tories and winning elections.

This time, the leadership are reasonably confident they can get away with stitching up the seat without any trouble. Totting up the popular vote from last week's local council elections in Wakefield, across the constituency's six wards Labour won 12,082 votes versus 8,025 for the Conservatives - a vote difference greater than the majority the Tories won in 2019. Thanks to the weakness of the government across the so-called red wall, Labour has reason to be bullish about its chances. But bullish is different to complacent, and the way the leadership have approached the selection suggests they think it's a shoe-in. They might be right to think so. The Tories are floundering, and the incumbent is about to get banged up for serious sexual offences committed against a teenage boy. The political mood is anti-Tory, even if it isn't pro-Labour and Starmer's party is the best placed for angry voters to give Boris Johnson a kicking.

The problem is by-elections can get blown off course by local issues. This is a must-win for Keir Starmer. If he stumbles and Labour doesn't take the seat, it's curtains. Fixed penalty notice or not. Therefore introducing an element of uncertainty by giving key local notables a reason not to cooperate isn't the smartest of politics. Also, having fooled themselves into thinking the 2019 result was all because of Jeremy Corbyn, they forget it was equally a protest against the arrogance of the "grown ups" who believed voters in places like Wakefield got Brexit wrong and wanted to reverse their vote. Recalling memories of distant, metropolitan second referendum types, trampling all over the local Labour Party could catch the public mood and votes that might have gone to Labour get picked up by other parties instead. The Liberal Democrats and Greens weren't anywhere in the district council elections, but they could become a repository of discontent. Given the stakes, I simply would not have done anything that makes a crucial by-election gain less likely.

It's a warning to us as well. Starmer treats Labour as if he's still a top administrator managing a state bureaucracy. He has no regard for the rules or the views of those who make up the membership, and that suits the right just fine as they pursue their petty vendettas through the party machinery. But that also means if Starmer becomes Prime Minister we can expect to see the exact same high-handed and authoritarian approach to government. Hardly an inspiring alternative to nearly a decade-and-a-half of Tory misery.

Image Credit


Robert Dyson said...

It fits:


Anonymous said...

Selection stitch ups are nothing new, and quite the norm in the party- whether its the so called left or right that are doing it. Its about interests and even friendships. Yes better if it was not thus but I don't see it changing any time soon.

Anonymous said...

Totally corrupt starmer.

Ken said...

There’s a song called “The Snake” where a woman rescues a snake which then mortally wounds her. She asks why the snake did this and he replies, “You knew I was a snake when you picked me up.”
Why this piece of stupidity? It’s because they don’t know anything else. Faced with the most incompetent PM in the post-war period, they can’t help themselves, they are immune to rational argument.
BTW what’s the betting that Durham police will not issue a fine?