Friday, July 05, 2024 

A one term landslide.

I promise not to make this an every 5 year ritual, honest.

This time there are no guilty men. Last night was an election so rich in stories that I could write 5,000+ words and still not even begin to adequately summarise what will end up being likely the most seismic vote in modern political history. Not necessarily because of what it means this time, but because of what it almost certainly heralds.

First though, the sheer unbridled joy at Jeremy Corbyn, this humble but dogged and determined man, who never asked for the hopes and dreams of so many millions to be placed on his shoulders but nonetheless took up the burden, winning as an independent brought out the waterworks. In spite of the Labour machine being against him, in spite of that Survation poll, in spite of voter apathy, in spite of all the MRPs, the sheer love so many of us have for him and his ideals propelled him back with a majority of over 7,000. And the response of the Lee Harpins of this world, the aggro centrists, and all the worst people in the world has only made the victory all the sweeter.

Nonetheless, it would be churlish to deny in spite of the vote share and the popular vote that Starmer, McSweeney et al have succeeded where Corbyn failed. Yes, it's now all the clearer the non-aggression pact between Tories and the then Brexit party was a huge factor in the defeat last time. Yes, it's apparent that Starmer himself with his 2nd referendum policy sabotaged what could have been a much closer result. Yes, nearly the entire media was against us then, and this time nearly the entire media was against the Tories, but ultimately it's seats that count. Yes, you can effectively argue the Conservatives lost this election, and had already lost it 2 years ago, rather than it being Labour wot won it. There is nothing wrong at this point in saying we lost and that they've won.

This though is a 1997 style result without any of the bedrock to suggest the slag pile won't simply collapse again. In some areas, it's even more dramatic than 1997, such are the seats that fell to Labour last night, seats that have never been Labour or anything other than Tory in the lifetime of my parents. Aylesbury for instance. Buckingham, which hasn't had a Labour MP since Robert Maxwell, albeit on hugely different boundaries than then. The same alliance that delivered the 1997 landslide, with the Lib Dems winning seats once synonymous with the party or its predecessor, Sutton and Cheam, North Devon, and more besides like Newton Abbot, while Labour wiped out huge Tory majorities, most obviously Liz Truss' in South Norfolk, back together like a reformed Spice Girls.

Only this alliance has none of the freshness, the pizzazz or energy of the one that formed that day in May. Yes, the Tories have been annihilated, the worst result in their history, and yet there's a grinning, gurning goblin sitting right in the space vacated. And besides Farage, there are the deep, fissured fractures that it's impossible not to see in the McSweeney-McFadden strategy. They could not be more evident than in Keir Starmer's own seat. A triumphant landslide winning prime minister is meant to increase their majority considerably, not see their vote cut almost perfectly in half. Andrew Feinstein's astonishing 2nd place with over 7,000 votes, based wholly around unseating the Labour leader over his at first support for Israel's assault on Gaza after the Oct 7th attack and then the sophistry of claiming to want a ceasefire without doing anything to pressurise Israel into ending the war was but a foretaste of what else was to come. 4 pro-Gaza independents defeated Labour candidates, capitalising around what many of us had known was a groundswell of rage at the atrocities being committed in full public view without any of the attending media outrage at Russia's invasion of Ukraine. I suspect there could have been at least one more, in Birmingham Ladywood, had it not been for the various revelations about Akhmed Yakoob's views on things other than Palestine.

That Wes Streeting, supposedly this amazingly popular figure in focus groups, came within a whisker of being defeated by Leanne Mohamad, a 22-year-old British-Palestinian was something no one except those on the ground could have predicted. Streeting spent the evening acting the cunt on all three of the election programmes, looking every bit an eye-popping psychopath on the BBC when Corbyn's name was mentioned, and had he been defeated it would have been the Portillo moment to end them all. Humble is something Wes Streeting simply doesn't do, and humble is something that many in Labour ought to be today rather than basking in the adulation of political journalists who have frotted them all the way into government.

And then too there's the rise of the Greens, as laser focused on building their votes in the four target constituencies as anything proposed by McSweeney. To gain Bristol Central, North Herefordshire and Waveney Valley at the first attempt suggests a party far more ruthless than it has ever been before. Without question many of us have given our votes to the Greens not because we hold any great affection for the party or come close to supporting all their policies, quite the opposite in some instances, but because they are at least offering an alternative; the manifesto was practically Labour's 2017 one. As with Reform, the dozens of seats in which the Greens came 2nd establishes a foundation on which to build, something began by the previous winning of council seats. That they can do it in both what were Labour and Tory seats also reflects an unlikely coalition between the liberal urban middle class and rural, small c conservatives which otherwise would chafe.

All of this makes clear that the Labour party cannot possibly govern as it has operated in opposition. As a suddenly noticing pundit from the Economist has it, the punching hippies hasn't all been about showing how the party has changed, but because they actively enjoy it and despise such people. Starmer told us that if we didn't like the changes he had made, we could leave. We left. An anonymous source describing the resignation of councillors over the party's stance on Gaza as "shaking off the fleas", and the utterly tone deaf hubristic comments of Starmer about sending back Bangladeshis in a Sun debate, however much he claimed they were misconstrued, made clear just how little the party thinks about so many of its natural supporters, who duly supported the independents and the Greens instead. Nowhere was this new mood of fuck you I won't do what you tell me more exemplified than in Chingford and Wood Green. Faiza Shaheen was treated shamefully by a party high on its own sense of impunity, deselected and replaced within a day. She could have done what many previous purged Labour candidates did and endorsed her replacement for the good of the party; instead she fought and completely divided the Labour vote, with Iain Duncan Smith winning because of the sectarian stupidity of a Labour executive that thinks it's too clever by half.

I would like to think that as boneheaded as some on the Labour right are, they would recognise where they've gone too far. I would like to think that rather than David Lammy's "progressive realism" that they will accept they need to demand an end to the war in Gaza now, and find the pittance of money necessary to remove the two child cap on child benefit. These would be two relatively small shifts that would be popular, signal they are already listening and accept a new coalition beyond that which has won them this election will be needed to win the next one. You can belittle and insult the left when the priority of so many is to get the Tories out and they will vote tactically to do so; you cannot when that alliance will have fell apart in five years' time. That I cannot see them doing even these two piecemeal things, or at least not for years, says much about where I think this will end.

5 years is of course an extraordinarily long time in politics. By then a 2nd Trump presidency could be on the cusp of going down in flames. Ukraine is likely to have been defeated, whether on the battlefield or in the negotiating room. Equally, by then the planning reforms could have already started to kick in; real economic growth and an increase in real terms' pay might be back once more. The ultras thought Starmer was just a placeholder, such was the scale of the "worst defeat since the 1930s" of 2019, which would take two terms to overturn. My thinking was Starmer would be knifed as soon as excusable with Wes Streeting installed as his replacement, always the ultimate plan of the Blairite ultras; that now looks highly unlikely given his shaky majority. Whether they could coalesce instead around Reeves or someone else remains to be seen. It might not be the case that the right will unite around the leadership of Kemi Badenoch or Robert Jenrick, with Farage given a plum job in order for him to merge his party into the Conservatives. It could be that instead it's a rerun of 2015, with voters despite everything giving the party of government more time.

But these are all pleasant, optimistic thoughts rather than realistic ones. 2024 is an extraordinary result, but it suggests 2029 will be far more defining of the politics of this century. Unless Labour can change again, this will be a one term landslide.

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