Sir Keir Starmer is planning a policy review as part of his plans to ‘change’ Labour after the dismal Super Thursday results. This sounds, to put it mildly, like a rather small response to a rather big problem.
Talking to MPs and campaigners over the past 24 hours, I have noticed a shift in the way many of them describe Labour’s challenge. The Hartlepool result has underlined that the party’s recovery hasn’t yet started, and that it is going to be a very, very long time before that recovery can take the party back into government.
The scale of the defeat is one reason for this shift in mindset, but another is the way in which Labour’s support in Hartlepool has been declining for a couple of decades. There is no evidence that recovering that support can happen overnight. That could mean there will be a few more elections where Labour fails to win, before the party has a real chance. Which could make Starmer a Kinnock-esque figure, who might merely prepare the ground for another leader who wins.
One MP who canvassed in the seat observes that the result had three elements: ‘Long Covid, long Brexit and long Corbyn. We have been in suspended animation for 18 months because of the pandemic and so it still feels like 2019 politically. Brexit is still hanging around like a stale smell. Voters just wanted to say thank you for the vaccine programme. And it is undoubtedly true that lots of white working class voters haven’t quite been convinced that Jeremy Corbyn isn’t still the leader.’ A frontbencher agrees: ‘It’s been a year of politics in suspension in many ways.