I think Keir’s had it. This may not discomfort you terribly, I know. Still less the fact that Labour will rummage around in its idiot box and find someone even more un-electable to lead the party. Cheeky Nandos perhaps, or Angela No-Brayner. Someone mental for whom patriotism is an anathema and who finds it difficult to rise up for a moment off their knee, all the while banging together saucepans for the NHS, Cuba and transgender rights.
Starmer’s days are numbered because of what just happened in Chesham and Amersham and what is about to happen in Batley and Spen. Sacking his closest ally and election edgelord supremo, Baroness Chapman of Darlington, and then giving her a job to be useless in somewhere else will not stave off the crisis. The left of the party will look at the two results and conclude: whatever strategy it is you are pursuing to win back the country, it is not working. It is working significantly less well than Jeremy Corbyn’s strategy — and that wasn’t hugely successful. And they will have a point, kind of.
In Chesham and Amersham, the hapless Labour candidate, Natasa Pantelic, polled 622 votes, lost her deposit and finished fourth with 1.6 per cent of the vote. That 622 figure is the lowest figure I can find for a Labour parliamentary candidate anywhere since 1945. For sure, it was not a seat in which Labour expected to do well — the Liberals and later the Lib Dems have been the chief opposition to the Conservatives since the seat was created in that lovely golden year of 1974. But 622 votes!
Clearly, no matter how much Starmer may have moderated his party — on financial stuff, not on the crucial cultural stuff — it has even less appeal to white, middle-class, well-brought-up voters than it did when Magic Grandpa was in charge. Labour polled more than 11,000 votes in 2017 under Corbyn and more than 7,000 last time around. They are now, as a party, extinct in the Chilterns. They have lost the red wall, and any succour to be gleaned from taking the occasional council seat in Chipping Norton does not mean that they are a threat to anybody in the south-east: aside from with young, affluent inner-city voters, they have no purchase at all. The left knows this.
But Batley and Spen is worse, far worse. Because Labour will not merely lose a seat it has held since 1997, but will probably come third behind George Galloway’s Workers party. This is crucial and may be the tipping point for Starmer — because the left will be able to argue that truly ‘radical’ policies can prove attractive to working-class voters. This is true to a degree, but it misses the bigger picture: the demographics of Batley and Spen.
Back in May I read in a low-circulation left-wing magazine a rumination on Batley and Spen by its political commentator. Batley and Spen ain’t Hartlepool and Labour should hold the seat, was the gist. Get outta Westminster for five minutes, you bozo. As soon as the local activist Paul Halloran polled 6,000 votes in 2019 standing for the Heavy Woollen District Independents, the Labour majority of 3,000 or so was under grave threat. Halloran — a decent bloke — took his votes from the disenfranchised blue-collar and no-collar white working class who cannot abide Labour, not least because in the area it is Muslim-dominated.
I’m sorry to put it like this — but that’s how it is. Several parties attempted to persuade Halloran to stand for them (including mine, the SDP), but he refused, because he wanted to see the Tories win.
If that decision was calamitous for Labour, what came next was even worse. Galloway announced his intention to stand — sniffing in the breeze a chance to replicate his astonishing 2012 success in Bradford West, where he ousted Labour and polled 18,000 votes. The question then became: how many Muslim Labour votes would Galloway harvest? And the answer according to an awful lot of people I know who are canvassing up there is: almost all of them. They flock to him. He is a hero. Believe me, there is no way on earth Labour can win this seat. Truth be told, it will be lucky to come third.
But then they didn’t help themselves, either. The party gerrymandered the shortlist for candidates to ensure that the late MP Jo Cox’s sister, Kim Leadbeater, won the nomination. Excluded from the shortlist were a couple of local Asian candidates. How do you think that played out among Labour’s Muslim voter base? Especially when it was revealed that Leadbeater had been a party member for… three weeks? A stunning own goal. Sorry, Kim — it doesn’t matter how often you pose with people wearing T-shirts depicting a map from which Israel has been expunged, the Muslim votes are going elsewhere. That’s the truth of Batley and Spen: a constituency divided on racial and cultural grounds. We may not wish it were so, but it is.
There is one more issue regarding this by-election which is being mentioned by nobody except for the SDP’s terrific young candidate, Ollie Purser. A teacher from Batley Grammar School is still in hiding following his suspension from the school, and subsequent death threats from Islamists, for having shown a picture of Mohammed to pupils. So craven have we become that even the Conservative candidate won’t address the issue. My lot are standing on the single point that this is an issue of freedom of speech and freedom of conscience and that it is abhorrent that such a thing could happen in a western democracy. We will not win. We should win.
It is not beyond possibility that Galloway will actually win, although the Muslim vote is a bit lower than it was in Bradford West. That would make life even harder for Keir Starmer. Unendurable and untenable, I would suggest.