The UK Labor Party got rid of their anti-Semitic leader Jeremy Corbyn last year after documents came to light showing Labor’s shocking hatred of Jews. The party elected an equally left-wing leader in Keir Starmer, who promised to win back the working class, which had deserted Labor over their far-left policies.
Judging by the results of a special election in Hartlepool, a working-class northern seat that has voted Labour since it was created in 1974, Starmer has a long way to go.
The conservatives not only won the special election by a wide margin, but Labor lost mayoral elections across England and lost a sizable number of council seats as well. The party is rapidly descending into irrelevancy and Starmer’s response was to fire his deputy Angela Rayner from her frontbench role as chair. Rayner was seen as a bridge between less radical elements and the far left that dominates the party.
“Keir said he was taking full responsibility for the result of the elections — and he said we need to change,” said a party official. “That means change how we run our campaigns in the future. Angela will continue to play a senior role in Keir’s team.”
Rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic will not win Labor many votes.
Former Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell fumed on Twitter: “Keir Starmer said yesterday that he took full responsibility for the election result in Hartlepool & other losses. Instead today he’s scapegoating everyone apart from himself. This isn’t leadership it’s a cowardly avoidance of responsibility.”
Another former frontbencher said Starmer had “lost the plot” and that “this sacking will tear Labour apart. What a clown.” The person said Starmer prevented Rayner from coordinating the Hartlepool by-election campaign, instead tasking his top aide Jenny Chapman with the job. “He’s decided to take the coward’s route and blame Angie, someone who has repeatedly been stopped from running campaigns, and take no responsibility himself.”
In addition to being clueless, Starmer is apparently a political coward. This means he won’t stand up to the radical left who, as The Nation believes, need to put their agenda front and center to win back the working class.
This week’s results were devastating for Starmer, who has failed to mount an effective opposition against Boris Johnson’s Tory government despite the latter’s inept handling of the coronavirus crisis and the prime minister’s being mired in sleaze. Over the last year, Starmer has failed to set out an alternative vision for the country—or the party—in a moment when Covid laid bare inequalities and demanded a bold government initiative to emerge from a crisis that should have been a gift to a social democratic leader. Instead, the most effective opposition to the government has come from the young Black Manchester United soccer player Marcus Rashford, who has twice forced a government U-turn on feeding poor children during the lockdown.
Is the answer really self-evident socialism?
A Conservative victory in a working-class town like Hartlepool is nothing to celebrate. It suggests that the electoral realignment of 2019 was no one-off and cannot simply be explained away by Brexit—or Corbyn. It speaks to a toxic fusion of English nationalism, political disaffection, and economic decline that has found a viable home, for now, in the Conservative Party.
To believe that ordinary people’s views about nationalism and the economy are “toxic” explains a lot. Labor’s socialist agenda is still resisted despite Great Britain’s taste for it. Boris Johnson’s “socialist lite” administration is far more palatable and will continue to dominate until and unless Labor shows the voters that they’ve learned their lesson about extremism.