The Hartlepool byelection spells disaster for Keir Starmer – and Labour

If Corbyn can’t win Hartlepool, and neither can Starmer, who can?

It looks like Labour is about to lose the seat of Hartlepool to the Conservatives for the first time since 1964.

A dramatic Survation poll shows that Jill Mortimer, the Tory candidate, has 49% support among the Red Wall constituency voters, easily beating the 42% share of Labour’s Paul Williams.

It’s one poll and it’s one view, and the obvious classic caveat is the one that the Tories are keen to stress – there’s only one poll that matters and that’s election day. But still, this has been billed as a key byelection to gauge the public mood, and all the signs are there that Labour is as far from power as ever.

So what on earth does all this mean? We can quibble over the extent, but nobody will be arguing that Sir Keir Starmer is anything but a clear departure from Jeremy Corbyn. Yet he is set to lose a seat that even Jezza didn’t manage to throw away in the great ‘Conservative Charity Seats Donation Fund’ event that was the 2019 General Election.

If we’re being completely fair, it’s probable that, absent the Brexit Party, the Tories could have taken that seat as it seems that entire block vote has now gone blue. But even if that were the case, even if it had gone blue and was now being contested in a byelection, surely Labour would need to be winning this back to show a direction, a path to Downing Street?

There could very likely be an election in summer 2023 – that is not a long time away. And if Hartlepool is any sort of marker, we could be in for an even larger Tory majority.

And where does that leave Labour? Five general election defeats in 13 years doesn’t bode well, particularly if the margin is only getting wider. And across the Labour spectrum as well – Gordon Brown, Ed Miliband, Jeremy Corbyn (twice) and Sir Keir Starmer would all have tried to swap sides of the House with the Tories, and all will have failed. Who do you turn to next? Who’s the next in line to the throne? Which faction takes the wheel next time, and based on what?

Honestly, predicting the complete downfall of a major party in the UK is a fool’s game…but is that where we’re headed? I couldn’t tell you the vision, the purpose, the blueprint for government that the Labour Party would bring, so how could I vote for them? You may say the same about the Tories, and I’d agree, but they’re in power. They have the incumbency and stuff to talk about – what is the purpose of Labour at this point?

Fans of Corbyn are often of the opinion that the election defeat wasn’t wholly his fault, that he was definitely popular, that everyone loved him really, that it was the media’s fault and that he was treated unfairly. Putting aside the childishness of those arguments, they were summarily dismissed by the wider commentariat – Jeremy Corbyn has to own his failures as leader. And that was quite right.

So the same is now true of Starmer. If Labour lose Hartlepool, it’s his loss, nobody else’s. He has to own it. The million pound question for Labour then is; if not Corbyn, if not Starmer, then who?

If only Jeremy Corbyn had won

It doesn’t matter who is in government – it’s the opposition that is more needed than ever

Cast your mind back to December 2019 (or 1BC, Before Covid, as it should probably henchforth be known). The general election has been a fraught campaign between the incumbent Prime Minister Alexander ‘Boris’ Johnson who came to power on the back of the toppling of Theresa May, and Jeremy Corbyn who was battling accusations of antisemitism in his own party.

Somebody comes to you from the future – they can’t tell you who wins but they can tell you what is happening a year from now.

The Treasury – they tell you that the rail services have been effectively renationalised, the UK economy has shrunk by 11.3% (the largest for 300 years), the UK has borrowed £394billion, easily a peacetime record, including a government scheme costing £43billion to pay people not to work (indeed, making it illegal for those people to work) and they’ve given a million NHS workers a pay rise.

Unions – they tell you that the teaching unions have managed to persuade the government that all schools should be closed and children are to be taught remotely.

They tell you that everyone is confined by law to their own homes with minimal, strict exemptions and the opposition has not only failed to oppose this, but been incredulous that it took so long to do. They tell you a close government adviser praised the “innovative intervention” of China’s Communist Party in imprisoning their population, even saying “I think people’s sense of what is possible in terms of control changed quite dramatically between January and March; [China is] a communist one party state, we said. We couldn’t get away with it in Europe, we thought… and then Italy did it. And we realised we could.” And the government listened to this man and gave him a top table seat.

There’s a new national tradition – everyone has to come out of their homes and applaud public sector workers. The incumbent Prime Minister does it outside Number 10 – it is frowned upon to not do it.

Freedom passes‘ are coming – an official document that would be required to access the most basic services, Anthony Blair’s dream finally come to fruition, even more authoritarian than even he could have imagined. Papers, please.

Who, dear reader, do you think wins the election? The fop-haired [MASSIVE AIR QUOTES] “libertarian” [END MASSIVE AIR QUOTES] who campaigned to leave the EU or the turnip growing socialist who was frightening Jews? The man even gives you £100 to bet on it – where does the money go?

Ok sure, we’ve been sneaky here in neglecting to mention that a global pandemic struck. But ok, fine. Let’s tell them – a pandemic strikes and world leaders are panicking. Tell me with a straight face that you’d still lay a ton on De Pfeffel over Jezza.

And herein lies the problem. Johnson has paralysed the system because the way he chose to react (yes, it was a choice) to an undoubtedly scary situation was entirely against every “principle” he had ever claimed to espouse. Yet his followers, his party, those who have loved him for years, yearned for the day he would embrace his destiny and seize the keys to Number 10, can’t quite take it in. The Tory media can’t figure out how to approach the subject, MPs who love him but hate his approach to Covid have no idea how to hold him to account. They are confused, wrong-footed and nervous to try.

The man spent decades carefully building, honing and cultivating this mawkish, sickly adoration. He became a darling of the Conservatives and built up such a cultish following that, now the illusion has evaporated in plain view of anyone who cares to see it, his devotees are still staring dimly, wide eyed at the small, helpless Wizard of Oz, exposed as nothing more than a carnival showman with silly hair.

Still today, opinion pieces in the Telegraph and the Spectator pine for the ‘Old Boris‘, clamour for him to realise his mythical, non-existent ‘Churchillian spirit‘. It’s as pitiful as watching latter day Branch Davidians hold on to the myth of their founder.

Imagine – imagine – it was Corbyn in Number 10 and McDonnell in Number 11. Imagine the ferocity of the Tory benches. We’d actually have an opposition, which frankly is a damn sight more important at the moment than the resident of the seat of power.

It’s perfectly clear now that the government, of whichever stripe had been selected to lead the country, would have done exactly the same thing, give or take a few hundreds of billions of pounds (who can really take in these vast numbers any more?). What matters is how they are held to account and how they are opposed. Sir Keir Starmer’s Labour party has been supine, acquiescent at every turn, nay even demanding the government to go harder, faster, deeper. “What he said, but better” is the rallying cry of Her Majesty’s Most Loyal Opposition Leader.

The only opposition, once again, is a small sect of the Tory benches, just like on Brexit. This is simply not healthy. The government benches are supposed to back the government, the opposition benches are supposed to oppose. Like it or not, that’s the system and it’s breaking down. Every institution that is supposed to act as a brake on power has failed us – the opposition, Parliament itself, the media, the courts, every restraint on power currently lies slack while the proverbial bull trashes the – irony of ironies – China shop.

I have no love for Jeremy Corbyn. Any time Jewish people speak up and say they’re frightened is usually a good time to be very careful indeed. In that regard it was with a sense of huge relief that he got nowhere near power. But look what we have now. An authoritarian government and no opposition. Even if you believe everything the government has done has been right, even if they chose the right way to deal with this, no power should ever go this unchecked in a democracy. Ever. There is no excuse.

We will pay for this fealty for decades.

Vote of no confidence in the Government – PREDICTION

Mrs. May will almost certainly win, which is nothing short of perverse

Well I never would have predicted that. Today, I put the size of May’s defeat on the ‘meaningful vote’ at 141, a number which I changed three times but felt was a good shot. I started getting nervous when I realised I’d forgotten to consider possible abstentions. I needn’t have worried – the total ended up at 230. This is a monstrous number and one that is entirely unprecedented.

This prompted the Prime Minister to stand at the dispatch box and all but ask for a vote of no confidence. Jeremy Corbyn duly obliged. The debate will take place tomorrow and the vote carried out in the evening..

So how is this one going to go?

There are very few people predicting defeat for the Prime Minister (certainly nobody close to the process). The ERG (the thorn in her Brexit side, led by the Honourable Member for the 18th Century) have pledged that they will back her, her confidence and supply partners, the DUP, have also pledged their support and that pretty much gives her the numbers to see this off. Somewhat counterintuitively, this one will appear to be much closer than any of the other votes, but will in fact be much more certain.

She’s going to win. Which is ridiculous, but makes sense when you look at it from a Tory Party identity point of view. It is, of course, enraging that we all have to suffer the consequences of a Tory identity crisis, but that’s the way it is. I want to write soon about why I think political parties should have a shelf life, and this will form a central part of thinking.

What is utterly obscene about this is that the Tories will never, above anything else, jeopardise their position in government if they can help it. Only if they can be absolutely assured that they are safe will they ever make any ‘risky’ moves. This obviously doesn’t always work out…as Mrs May found to her cost when she was about a thousand points ahead and fancied a 6 week tour of the country. The difference there was that she didn’t see it as a risk.

This becomes a huge problem when pretty much all other norms of party management and loyalty have completely broken down. Apart from infighting about the European Union, which is standard Tory practice, cabinet collective responsibility is hugely damaged, factions have emerged and are all willing to vote down legislation, broadsides against the executive are now daily and they just crushed the PM in the biggest vote of her tenure.

The PM, on this evidence alone, clearly doesn’t command the confidence of the house – but they will never ever say so when the alternative is that the opposition could form a government, or a general election could be called. This is deadlock, and it will only get worse.

As I said earlier, I can’t see Mrs May ever standing down of her own accord. All those that know her say she driven above all by a sense of duty – but this means different things to different people. It could be argued that being completely incapable of getting your major business through would indicate that it is your duty to step down and let someone else get their own mandate. But she doesn’t, and won’t, see it that way. And her party will back her. C’est la vie.

So this won’t be a very interesting prediction I’m afraid,. What will be more interesting is the pressure this now puts on Jeremy Corbyn. Frankly, it’s about time he faced some political pressure over Brexit and hopefully (though nowhere near certainly) this might come from his supporters, who overwhelmingly support a second referendum.

I personally think that would be the most politically catastrophic thing to happen since the last one (I think referendums are constitutionally ridiculous anyway and hugely resent the first one), but he will now start facing heated calls to back such a vote. If he doesn’t, or he dithers over it, will May be able to catch a break? Perhaps, but this will surely be short lived.

The problem now is that, if I’m right, all options will have been exhausted for removing Mrs. May and there will be no mechanism to stop her until the crunch in March (unless John Bercow just invents one, which, in his current mood, I wouldn’t put past him). So we remain in deadlock with a government that can’t get its business through, an opposition that hasn’t got a policy and a deadline fast approaching. It will be extended, obviously, there’s no way we will be leaving on that date. But eventually something will have to give.

And I have no idea what that will be.

So, to the prediction. As always, I point out my appalling record of political predictions before encouraging you to pay the slightest attention. Generally you can take whatever I say and believe the opposite.

Can you see any way she could lose it?

Prediction

On the motion That this House has no confidence in Her Majesty’s Government

I predict:

The Ayes to the right – 312

The Noes to the left – 324

VICTORY BY 12 VOTES

Will she continue as Prime Minister VOLUNTARILY?

Yes

The ‘Meaningful Vote’ 2019 – PREDICTION

It is certain she will lose…but by how much?

Here we go then.

Finally it has come around. That so called ‘meaningful vote’ will now happen this evening and it set to be a big one. Having already been delayed once and the Prime Minister out of road to kick this particular can, MPs are set to traipse through the lobbies and cast their votes on the deal (which isn’t a deal). I’ve enjoyed predicting the last few big political events and so I thought I’d do another special for this one. Yet again, my lunchtime has a purpose.

So how is this one going to go?

All the predictions are of a big defeat, so this really becomes an exercise in calling the scale of defeat. I know we’re all supposed to have the learned the lesson that nothing is predictable in politics anymore and, while that is true to some extent, Parliamentary votes are much easier to call than public ones. There are nowhere near the number of votes for a win – this is pure damage limitation.

So she’s going to lose – even she knows that. Usually, any defeat of any kind on the government’s main business would spell the end – but these are not usual times. It’s rather perverse, but briefings are whispering that as long as the defeat stays within the bounds of two figures, she will carry on regardless. Three figures…and they’ll consider it. This is insane – but what isn’t?

We live in a world of competing mandates (which I’ll come to in a later posting). Corbyn is elected by the members, but is crushed in a no confidence vote by his MPs. He’s still there. Now his members are against him on the major policy…but still worship him. The country voted Leave in a plebiscite, but the elected Parliament (88% of which stood on Leave manifestos) says Remain. May doesn’t have the confidence of any of her MPs, but they backed her in a confidence vote. She could lose and carry on. Madness all around us.

If I’m completely honest, I can’t see Mrs May standing down…ever. She could be the only one in the lobby and stand there thinking to herself, “If I could just get Juncker to send them all a basket of muffins…”. So this is probably all a bit pointless.

Enough waffling – to the predictions.

As always, I point out my appalling record of political predictions before encouraging you to pay the slightest attention. Generally you can take whatever I say and believe the opposite. Although I did call the last one very closely…

What do you reckon? Single digits? Double? Triple?

Prediction

I predict:

The Ayes to the right (for the plan) – 248

The Noes to the left (against the plan) – 389 

DEFEAT BY 141 VOTES

Will she continue as Prime Minister VOLUNTARILY?

Yes

Will she face a vote of No Confidence from the Commons tabled by Jeremy Corbyn within two days?

Yes

Will she survive that confidence vote?

You’ll have to come back for the next instalment…

 

May leadership challenge 2018 – PREDICTION

Rebels have finally reached the numbers for a challange – but can they win the vote?

Here we go then.

Confidence in Theresa May as leader of the Conservative and Unionist Party (and therefore, Prime Minister) has been challenged by at least 48 of her colleagues. The magic number, talked about for months, has finally been breached and Sir Graham Brady contacted the Prime Minister last night to inform her. They agreed the vote should be held as soon as possible, and that will be tonight. Finally I have something to write about on my lunch hour.

So how will she fare?

Well, I have a sneaky feeling that this won’t be as straightforward as anybody thinks. Whilst actual confidence in the Prime Minister within her party, Parliament and the country at large is probably close to zero, actually winning a confidence vote will be, I think, quite easy. The political variables involved in such a process do not lend themselves to accurately reflecting reality.

It has taken a good while to get 15% of Tory MPs to trigger this ballot – they now need 50% to actually vote no confidence. Whilst they will almost certainly get a lot more than 15%, the jump to 50% is enormous.

The vacuum that would be left may make several factions keen to leave in her in place, worried as they would be by who or what would replace her. I’ve said for a long time, the biggest strength Theresa May has is her supreme weakness. That is to say, in normal times, she would be considered the worst option – now, however, there is nobody obviously ready to step in, no winning ideology ready to command a majority. If she were stronger, there would be a bigger clamour to depose her and provide the kind of organising necessary to do so. This attempted ousting is slapdash and desperate.

Whether she could win this but still survive a Commons confidence vote is highly questionable. Her majority is so tiny and even if just the letter writers were to vote against her, that would destroy her premiership instantly. But would anyone dare vote against her in that scenario? It’s one thing voting against when you know your party will still be in power, but knowing you would be triggering a general election? Very different story.

As always, I point out my appalling record of political predictions before encouraging you to pay the slightest attention. Generally you can take whatever I say and believe the opposite.

But today, I think I might have the result right. Of course I do. So in the spirit of aiming to be at least a bit wrong, I’ve also predicted the numbers.

What do you reckon? Will she stay or will she go?

Prediction

There are 315 Conservative MPs currently in the House of Commons, meaning she needs 158 to back her as leader.

I predict:

Confidence – 207 (65.7%)

No Confidence – 108 (34.3%)

Will she continue as Prime Minister even if she loses by 1 vote?

Yes

Will she face a vote of No Confidence from the Commons before the Brexit vote?

No

 

If Labour wins the next election, Theresa May should stay Prime Minister

Socialists – it’s your turn to be run by somebody who doesn’t believe in your project

Who knows when the next election will be? In theory it is pencilled in for 2022; in theory this is more or less guaranteed by the Fixed Term Parliament Act. But the evidence of last year shows us that the Act isn’t worth the vellum it’s written on. An election could be called at any time, and when it is, it will be a choice between Jeremy Corbyn’s vision of a Socialist Britain versus whichever person emerges from the ensuing scrum following the Maybot’s political scrappage.

At this point, my money is on a Labour win, though that could obviously change. Let’s, for the sake of argument, assume that Corbyn is victorious and commands a small majority in the House. To illustrate to those voters just how painful the last two years have been for some of us, I propose that Theresa May continues as Prime Minister.

Why on earth would we do that, Mark? That would be patently absurd. She doesn’t believe in anything that was proposed in our campaign, she doesn’t believe in Socialism, she argued against it! What could possibly be gained by having someone lead a government on a platform that she fundamentally doesn’t understand or want?

Well…quite.

One assumes that renationalising the railways will be a Labour policy (good – I support that). Theresa May could own that, why not? Of course, she thinks the market should be involved, but she is obeying the vote and getting on with it. Sure, she’ll cock it up, the current companies will hold her over a barrel and demand billions in compensation despite the fact they won’t even be running the railways any more, fares will go up, service will be poorer and the whole thing will be an exercise in damage limitation…but that’s just what you get when a non-believer takes on the project. Suck it up, guys.

Sure, she can set up a national investment bank, why not? Of course, she doesn’t believe in borrowing to spend on public services, so she won’t put enough into it and the whole thing will collapse, meaning price rises for everyone, failed projects, tons of wasted money and half built infrastructure. But hey, what do you expect when she thinks it was a bad idea in the first place? She’s just enacting the will of the people.

Why couldn’t she take on the task of getting rid of Trident? She can do that, after all she is driven primarily by a sense of duty. Of course, rather than dismantling it safely and gradually spending less and less on it until it’s completely decommissioned, she’ll probably negotiate with the unions and the suppliers until we’re basically spending the same amount of money on it, but the thing doesn’t work and sits idly in a dock somewhere being completely useless (even more so than it already is).

I’m sure many of you would be rather annoyed if this were to happen, and rightly so. I think Corbyn’s vision for Britain is idealistic, unworkable and rather silly in many ways (though certainly not all). But if he wins, he obviously should run the country and implement his ideas. That’s what democracy is about. Good ideas implemented by people who believe in them is the ideal situation. Bad ideas being implemented by people who believe in them is obviously worse. But to have a good or bad idea being implemented by people who fundamentally don’t believe in them is the worst. I’d much rather have a government with policies I loathe than a government who doesn’t believe in what I believe in, trying to implement what I believe in.

Gosh…socialism being enacted by a capitalist Conservative – what a ridiculous notion. Brexit being enacted by a team of Remainers…

The ongoing hilarity of Corbyn’s Brexit position

No matter what he does (or doesn’t do) on Brexit, he can do no wrong in the eyes of his supporters

As a non-partisan but politically engaged person, I cannot help but continue to actually laugh as this doublethink persists among the rank and file of the Corbynite wing of the Labour Party, and indeed, the country.

It is amazing how much he is allowed to get away with. It is astonishing how little accountability he faces from his supporters. Even if anyone in his own party dares to question him on Brexit, the people who are actually trying to hold him to account on the biggest issues of the day, they are denounced as ‘out to get him’, even by those who are die-hard Remainers.

I have tried to point this out before, but it apparently cuts no ice among the faithful apostles – Mr Corbyn is no ally of Remain. I really don’t mind people ignoring this point (as it makes the opposition to Britain leaving the EU all but toothless in the Commons), but never let it be said that you weren’t warned.

His performance in the original campaign was heavily questioned, but this didn’t stick to him because the acolytes defended him. This was hilarious at the time, and continues to be so. Defending a man against a charge that you yourself would have levelled at literally anyone else…yeh, definitely not a personality cult.

Imagine it had been Blair who had been all lukewarm on this issue. Or Brown. Or indeed, Cameron. They’d have been all over them like a rash – “Why didn’t you try harder? Why didn’t you give it everything? Where were you?!”

Anyway, that was then and this is now. But of course, not much has really changed has it?

Deep down (and probably in the privacy of the voting booth), he’s a fellow Leaver.

As thousands and thousands of people gathered on the second anniversary of the vote to protest against it, chants of “Where’s Jeremy Corbyn?” intermingled with the sourdough dust and diesel particulates of the warm London air. For whilst this was a large gathering of woke, right-on, middle class Leftists on a lovely sunny day in the nation’s capital, it wasn’t a Corbynite rally. This was the fierce, white hot rage of the correct (just less than) half of the nation.

Inevitably, the defence came. The great man had more important engagements. A quick scan of Twitter (shudder) told me exactly what I needed to know. He was in Palestinian refugee camps working with the displaced people there. Aha, gotcha. Argue with that one, you heartless Zionist.

Again – as laudable as that is, does it not worry you that that couldn’t have waited for perhaps one more day? He isn’t exactly known for shying away from demonstrating in London. This march was for one day on a well known anniversary – as the Leader of Her Majesty’s Most Loyal Opposition and apparent ‘Remainer’, could this have been the priority for just one day? Forgive me if this sounds glib, but isn’t the point of a refugee camp that it isn’t a pop up tent that’s here today and gone tomorrow? Who could begrudge him going there…but on that day? The same people are crying foul over Boris Johnson’s failure to show for the Heathrow vote on Monday due to some apparent important foreign engagement – is it not the same thing?

Who knows. I’m not attacking the guy. He can do whatever he wants. If the visit to the camp was his priority, then more power to him. I quite like him (have defended him several times here and here) and admire his ability to not show any cards yet be defended for it. My point is the reaction of his followers. Nobody is ever disappointed in him. They spend so much time defending him from attacks that they seem to fail to see that he is not their ally on this crucial issue.

It’s all fine by me. Keep putting him up on a high pedestal and defend him from attacks. Deep down (and probably in the privacy of the voting booth), he’s a fellow Leaver.

Ooooooh Trojan Horse Cooooorbyn…

As the Tory ‘Islamophobia’ row simmers, Labour has a unique opportunity

Will they be bold enough to grab the high ground? Somehow I doubt it…

Hardly a day goes by without reports of identity issues within our existing – yet lifeless and to all intents and purposes, dead – political parties. And so it is that the next ‘identity under fire’ scandal begins to take hold of another major British political party, as mutterings of ‘Islamophobia’ within the Conservative and Unionist Party begin to make their way into the public ear.

The Guardian reported last week that some party members, activists and potential election candidates had been on the end of some rather unpleasant behaviour from other members. I make no judgement on the veracity of these claims; for the purposes of this piece, I merely want to look at the fact that these things are being reported.

For herein lies the potential opportunity for Labour (particularly the Corbynite wing), one which I wholeheartedly believe they will not take, living as they still do in the point scoring, one-upmanship world of traditional politics.

When the Labour antisemitism scandal started to bubble up, I was sceptical. I couldn’t really see how there could be so much prejudice and dislike of Jews within that party. Of course, any large organisation will always have unpleasant people (especially organisations that are, by definition, ideologically driven such as political parties) and unsavoury views. Of course, it has turned out that there is far more of it than it really palatable for a mainstream party and they are rightly now doing something about it.

But I have to be completely honest, whilst I thought it unfair, I had very little sympathy. I will always stand up for my opponents when they are being unfairly smeared (indeed I have done so on these pages several times), but it felt very much like they were finally lying in the bed that they had made for themselves.

For years, they trashed, smeared and viciously attacked UKIP (a party that I personally loathe but had huge democratic support at one point) whenever any reports of racism or other prejudices surfaced. There was no ‘well I’m sure it’s only a few bad apples’, no ‘well at least they’ve expelled that person’, no ‘that isn’t representative of that party at large’. Nothing. They joined, nay led, the charge, crying ‘racism’ at every turn. Same thing happened at the referendum, when I got caught up in the hysteria against my vote. So I have absolutely no problem standing back and letting Labour defend itself against charges of rampant, endemic and institutional antisemitism. I don’t believe it, but that’s the game they’ve been playing for years, so they can keep playing it and take the punches from it. Not nice being tarred with a big brush is it?

Now though, the Tories are facing a similar thing. The tone is rising to the point where they will be accused very soon (if they haven’t already by the time this goes out) of having rampant, endemic and institutionalised ‘Islamophobia’. So Labour has a choice. It either does the traditional, tiresome, public-are-bored-of-it-all tactic of squeezing them on this and pushing for resignations and inquiries and expulsions. Or, it takes a new path, one that urges them to root it out whilst not assuming the whole thing is already corrupted by it. A good faith opposition, if you will.

I’ve felt the responses to this just whilst writing those last few paragraphs. It’s like I can already read the comments. ‘But they are though, Mark, it’s so obvious’. ‘You’re not serious defending the Tories are you?’ ‘This is a completely different situation.’

Well it might look like a different situation to you, but from an outside, non-partisan point of view, it looks exactly the same. You certainly don’t need to listen to a word I’m saying, you’re welcome to do whatever you want. But wasn’t politics supposed to be different now? Wasn’t Labour supposed to be ushering in a new era of politics? It seems to me that there is a moral high ground that could be occupied here that is currently vacant. It’s also, if you really want to look at it with cold hard party politics, an opportunity to get this antisemitism thing off your back. By looking reasonable for them, you make yourselves look more reasonable.

I don’t have a horse in this race, and I know next to nothing about the internal machinations of the Tory party. I don’t think I even know a member of it, but I know plenty of Labour voters and members – probably at least 80% of friends and acquaintances, with the rest distributed amongst Greens, Lib Dems, random other weird Leftist movements and non-engaged people. I do know that most of my friends are feeling very cross about being accused of either being antisemitic or enabling antisemitism though. And that doesn’t feel fair does it? So…what do we think we might do about it? Someone has to take the first step here.

It feels like that moment in ‘The Thick Of It’ where one of the two parties announces an inquiry into something that will bring them both down. An act of pure mutual destruction, no longer held in a state of stand off. Well, whilst you’re both scrabbling around in the mud anyway, one of you has the opportunity to be the bigger party.

I hope that can be Labour. But I doubt it.

 

Ken Livingstone resigns – and yet I don’t rejoice

Something still doesn’t feel quite right about this whole saga

Ken Livingstone has resigned (finally, one might say) from the Labour Party. So there we have it – the dragged out, inevitable result following a grotesque spectacle that has lasted 2 years. Two years. Has it really been that long? It simultaneously feels like an age and just a few days since the ex-Mayor of London uttered the phrase that may outlive anything else he has ever said: “Hitler was a Zionist“.

Rejoicing has come from most quarters outside of the Labour hard left to which Mr Livingstone nominally belonged. My own MP, Luciana Berger, who I very much like and has championed the cause of ridding the Labour Party of antisemitism, tweeted her approval with a note of disappointment that it has taken so long.

It is being positioned as a victory for the moderates, a victory over Jeremy Corbyn (whose response has, as is typical, been criticised) and a victory against antisemitism.

And yet…and yet…I just can’t bring myself to join the chorus. Something still doesn’t feel quite right about the whole issue. I say still, because back when this was all kicking off, I wrote in defence of Mr Livingstone:

“Here’s my problem – why didn’t anyone just challenge him on the facts? If you think you’re right about something, there is no reason to apologise. Sometimes people get hurt and that’s a shame, but if they’re hurt by something that is true, there’s not much you can do about that. As it happens, he’s wrong, so he should apologise. But the problem is, every time he is on the airwaves, he isn’t met by this challenge, he is just met by an incredulous presenter who simply cannot believe that he won’t apologise for hurting people’s feelings.

“I’ll be completely honest, I think the guy is wrong, but I do have a respect for his doggedness. He hasn’t just backed down like every other person in public life does and apologised just to end it all. Throughout this whole saga, I deliberately didn’t look up his references because I wanted to hear him faced with someone authoritative on the subject to deliver an actual riposte to his claims. The problem with not doing that, is that the people listening just hear his side, then a request for him to apologise. This leaves people going “well if he’s right, why should he?””

If somebody is going down, even an enemy of mine, you’d better have a good, logical and rational reason for it

It honestly feels like this never really happened. I saw the odd piece discussing the so-called ‘facts’ that Mr Livingstone was talking about, and some brilliantly dissected them and showed, to my satisfaction, that he was at the very least misinterpreting unquestioned historical events. David Baddiel’s piece in the Guardian was particularly good.

But the whole thing has been soaked in emotion and fury, something most of us hate when it is directed from the hard left towards the rest of us. It’s so easy to drop verbal nukes on people – ‘racist’, ‘sexist’, homophobe’, transphobe’, ‘Islamophobe’, all terms which, if they can stick, can destroy you in an instant. I hate their overuse and the casual way they are thrown around. Well, the latest powerful one is ‘antisemite’, and I’ll be damned if I start playing the same game as unthinking idiots whose tiny emotional capacities can’t separate “I think, after careful consideration, that the EU is a bloated, bureaucratic organisation which is not capable of real reform and which I think will collapse quite soon, and I’d rather Britain was away from that when it happens” from “I HATE IMMIGRUNTZ”.

I refuse to allow emotion, even when used to advance my own political ideas, to be the tool used in what should be a civilised argument. If somebody is going down, even an enemy of mine, you’d better have a good, logical and rational reason for it. If only this whole saga had taken place at the level of ‘Ken, you are wrong, here is why you are wrong and therefore why we’d like you to recant and apologise’, we may have better grounds to call for his sacking. As it is, it has taken place at the level of ‘what you said was very hurtful and we don’t like you so kindly p*** off or we’ll destroy you’, leaving the guy bewildered and in a more defensible position. He can claim he was hounded out by a mob without due process. Not something you want to leave an enemy with.

You might say that he didn’t help himself, that he seemed to just keep talking about Hitler every time a camera was pointing at him. But frankly, why shouldn’t he? That’s what he kept being asked about. It may look silly, but I’ve had to sit back and admire the guy whilst he engages in political suicide in order to not back down to emotional pressure. More power to him on that front.

He thinks he’s right. I think he’s wrong. He won’t be persuaded of that whilst people just shout in his face and demand apologies. He isn’t sorry, so why you even want him to say it is beyond me – you know it would be empty.

Listen, the Labour Party as an organisation can do whatever it likes. It’s not my problem how they go about their business. If they don’t want him there, they can get rid of him. It just seems like such spurious grounds at the moment, and without solid due process, it’s difficult to know. Antisemitism is definitely a real problem within the Labour Party. Is this a serious victory in that fight?

Somehow, it doesn’t feel like it.