Keir Starmer, 2020 Labour Party leadership election hustings, Bristol. Photo: Rwendland/cropped from original/licensed under CC4.0, linked at bottom of article Keir Starmer, 2020 Labour Party leadership election hustings, Bristol. Photo: Rwendland/cropped from original/licensed under CC4.0, linked at bottom of article

One referendum and one election continues to haunt Starmer’s Labour, argues Mike Wayne

The mouth moves, the eyes flicker, but no-one is home. Starmer, synthetic skin stretched over a vacuum, plugged into the Blair machine will die without ever having a genuinely original political thought. ‘I will take full responsibility’ he promised before the Hartlepool results were in. Even that line, word for word, is an old Blairite card trick, meaning precisely the opposite: someone else will carry the can (‘hello, Angela’).

Count Mandelson, recently back from Transylvania, took to the airwaves to defend his hapless creature. He invoked the Blairite track record, those election wins in 1997, 2001 and 2005. We must learn from these victories he implores us.

Very well, let’s learn. The catastrophic loss of 5 million voters between 1997 and 2010 is airbrushed from history. The Blairites lived off 1997 until they were just running on fumes, laying the basis for a future crisis as they lost Scotland.

And what was the innovative ‘genius’ of New Labour in 1997? Accept the basic economic settlement of Thatcherism, funnel money in the form of credits to top up the corporate dominated low-wage economy, and slap a ‘progressive’ liberal political-cultural cap on top of the whole jerry-rigged contraption and hope that it stays on the road.

It didn’t. The 2007-8 crash blew that settlement apart. You wish Dorothy from The Wizard of Oz would step forth and tell the Labour party establishment that she is not in Kansas anymore, and they aren’t in the 1990s either.

Meanwhile, the Conservative party has reaped the benefits. Brown sunk, Miliband floundered, then 2017 happened. It’s the election that time forgot – at least historical time as defined by the mainstream media and the political establishment.  

There Corbyn stopped the clock and began to reverse some of the baleful trends he inherited from the New Labour ‘Blatcherism’ monster, at least amongst the wider electorate. Corbyn won back the C1s and C2s in significant numbers and modestly improved on the DEs compared to the 2015 election.

Those gains collapsed back again in 2019. Why? The facts stare back at us unflinchingly. 52 seats of the 54 Labour lost were in Leave voting areas. Everyone knows this, but it is one thing to know a fact, another to fully absorb its implications. 

Corbyn did not have time to reverse the trends in the Labour party’s membership, however. Now overwhelmingly middle class, they refused to accept the 2016 Referendum result, the other vote that haunts us still. The membership who had voted for Corbyn, pressed him, in an unholy alliance with his implacable enemies, to offer a second vote.

Having pressed the red self-destruct button, they then elected as Corbyn’s successor, a leader who was most associated with Labour as a Remain party.

What does Brexit mean? Many things, but Count Mandelson on the airwaves could not spot any of them. He opined that ‘Brexit attitudes’ were playing a part in the Conservative’s popularity. This is code that Labour must wave more Union Jacks and St George’s flags around.

Mandelson, like his hapless creature, has never had an original political thought in his head. They can only copy the Tories. Only now, post Hartlepool, are they realising that their slogan ‘Same old Tories’ is out of date.

2017 again. It shocked the New Labour establishment, and they just want to forget it ever happened. It scared the life out of the Tories, but they are the ones brave enough to innovate when the time comes.

So they started nicking and adapting parts of the Corbyn 2017 manifesto – (yes the one Starmer wants to bury) including the promises to rejuvenate the North with substantial public investment. They hated Corbynism of course but they had learned that ‘austerity’ for now was no longer going to cut it. ‘Levelling up’ became in time Johnson’s offer to convert the Brexit vote into Tory votes.

2016+2017 = success because the Tories found a way of tying the promises of Brexit for a new sovereign freedom to the hopes of change, investment and re-orientation. The Labour Party under Corbyn could have captured that spirit, but defeating Corbyn (for the bulk of the PLP) or staying in Europe (for the bulk of the membership) prevailed.

The party most responsible for levelling down the North have turned it around. They play the game of leadership and agenda-setting much better than Labour, whose apparatchiks and media celebrity supporters are far more dim-witted than they could guess. 

Meanwhile, the Labour establishment wonders how on earth they can rebuild the coalition between their base in the cities with the small towns in the North which they have lost, possibly for a generation or more.

Just don’t mention 2017, whatever you do.

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