Tuesday 13 February 2024

From Rochdale to Botchdale

Labour has got itself into a spot of embarrassing bother over the Rochdale by-election. With news breaking at the weekend that the party's candidate, Azhar Ali, was recorded at a meeting making "antisemitic comments", leading lights on the Labour right, such as the Jewish Labour Movement's Mike Katz, and recent returnee Louise Ellman took to the media to defend him. And, having done so, the party turned around on Monday evening and disowned Ali's candidacy. If he's elected on the 29th Labour have said he won't ever take the whip. A mess, certainly, and one that has provided the Tories some cheer while boosting George Galloway's chances of taking the seat.

And then Tuesday took a turn for the worse. Graham Jones, hoping to get back his old seat in nearby Hyndburn, was recorded at the same community meeting that nobbled Ali saying that British citizens fighting for Israel should get locked up. The JLM said this was unacceptable and antisemitic and, like clock work, the party handed down a suspension. At about the same time, The Times scooped on complaints against Sue Gray. You'll remember the frisson of impropriety on occasion of her appointment and recall how the rules about employing former senior civil servants didn't apply to Keir Starmer because she was the best of Whitehall. Turns out she undertook an investigation into leaks surrounding the leadership's dithering over the £28bn/year green new deal commitment, and did not afford staff their right to union representation or respect for the rules of workplace conduct. Phones were confiscated and searched for incriminating messages without following procedure. The GMB branch representing party workers are unhappy and have lodged an official complaint. And to think Gray was the woman brought in to professionalise the Starmer operation.

Apart from the occasional criticism, rare are the Labour leaders who've enjoyed such a benign press climate. In fact, Starmer is doubly fortunate that as the Tory party heads down the tubes, their key institutional supports are facing crises of political influence too. And yet Labour are all over the place, determined to compete with the Tories for the mantle of the most disarrayed. Of course, the Labour right have only themselves to blame for their predicament. As the Starmer-commissioned Forde report found, the Labour Party operates with a hierarchy of racism and accusations of antisemitism were peddled for nakedly factional reasons. A point underlined by Labour initially protecting Azhar Ali, because what matters is not tackling racism but the politics of those so accused. The problem is if you promote a politics based on falsehood and hypocrisy, you yourself will get poisoned by its legacy. With the Tories badly flailing, if the Labour right turns a blind eye when its people make dubious comments the government are going to seize the weapons they fashioned and used against the left. It's obvious. It was always obvious.

Does this really matter as far as the general election is concerned? Not really. Labour's difficulties in Rochdale aren't about to swoop down and save the Tories from their oblivion. Even if Galloway does win the by-election, the mood is resolutely against the Conservative Party. Likewise, the slate of independent left candidacies hoping to give voice to disaffected supporters - as well as they might do when the general election swings round - aren't going to change the outcome. But what does matter and what this episode of ineptitude is indicative of is how Starmer's Labour behaves in government. If their operation is thrown into chaos thanks to unforced error, how will Starmer manage when faced with the inevitable lobbying scandals, cash-for-access scandals, and donations-for-favours scandals? Because if the party behaves as it has these last couple of days - try to tough it out, get the ministers and senior MPs to burn political capital defending the indefensible, and then screeching to a panicked u-turn - then the authoritarian government Starmer wants to lead will rapidly discard its authority.

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McIntosh said...

A warning shot to Starmer from the press to behave himself. Even more forensic investigation of candidates to weed out those the 'Mail', etc don't approve of. There will be no point in Starmer pursuing any policy out of principle if it does not meet the 'Mail' test. We can expect even more of a politics of prejudice, sympathy for right wing dictatorships, contempt for the poor and veneration of the rich.
And it appears Ms Gray and Mr McSweeney are not the fantastic political maestros we were told they were - except when they can use the Labour machine for factional domination.

Anonymous said...

An excellent article, thanks for sharing. I'm pleased I stumbled across your blog.

You have been favourited!

Rob M said...

The sheer incompetence of the Starmerites never fails to surprise.
Not only may they have given the seat to Galloway but by disowning their own candidate (so there is no Labour candidate contesting Rochdale) they have given a green light to Labour members in Rochdale to campaign openly for Galloway without fear of sanction.
Not the outcome they wanted, but probably the one they deserve.

Anonymous said...

Glad to have come across your blog via Skwawkbox. Will spread your words wherever I can. I am looking forwards to the 29th for purely entertainment value. I am an Independant but unfortunately a realist. Wobbly