Labour Party

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Rishi Sunak Takes Staged Election Questions from Conservative Councillors Posing as Ordinary Voters

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 23/05/2024 - 7:34pm in

Rishi Sunak has been accused of faking support for the Conservative party, after taking two questions from supposedly ordinary members of the public, who turned out to be Conservative Councillors.

Broadcasters on Thursday morning carried footage of an individual wearing a hi-vis jacket, asking the Prime Minister a question about his Rwanda scheme, during an event at a warehouse in Derbyshire.

The man told Sunak that "the biggest issue is going to be immigration over this election campaign" before asking him whether "your Rwanda plan is going to see results and stop the small boats coming."

The Prime Minister thanked the man for his "important question."

However, neither Sunak, nor broadcasters informed viewers that the man asking the question was actually Conservative Leicestershire County Councillor Ross Hills.

Hills confirmed to Byline Times that he had been the individual asking the question.

"That was me yes," he told this paper, before confirming that he had been asked to appear at the event.

Asked whether the Conservative party had asked him to ask Sunak the specific question about Rwanda, he insisted that he had to get to work and ended the call.

Hills lists his job online as being a "part time dentist" alongside his job as a councillor.

This paper later identified a second hi-vis jacket-wearing individual asking Sunak a question at the event about the economy as local Erewash Conservative Councillor Ben Hall-Evans.

Conservative Councillor Ben Hall-Evans asking Rishi Sunak a question. Photo: Sky News

Hall-Evans, who lists his profession online as a 'Functional Consultant', told Sunak that "You've talked a lot about the economy, specific to everybody, the cost of living crisis... What's been done and what sets you apart for the future to benefit that pound in the pocket."

Sunak replied that this was a "good place to start" without revealing to viewers who the man was.

A Labour spokesperson said it showed that Rishi Sunak was "running scared" of the electorate.

"Rishi Sunak spent months dodging the verdict of voters and even now, he’s still running scared.

"The reality is that 14 years of Tory chaos have cost the country dearly and have left working people worse off."

The Conservative party was contacted for comment.

The row comes after Byline Times revealed that the Conservative party had staged a fake "protest" against Labour's Deputy Leader Angela Rayner.

This paper identified one of the protesters as local Conservative Councillor for Yarm, John Coulson.

Coulson admitted to this paper to taking part in the protest, alongside other local Conservative councillors.

Rishi Sunak Says no Rwanda Flights Will Take Off Before General Election – Spelling Likely Death of Toxic Scheme

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 23/05/2024 - 6:22pm in

Rishi Sunak has admitted that no flights will go to Rwanda before the general election, on July 4th.

The Prime Minister told LBC that the flights, designed to forcibly take hundreds of asylum seekers to the country, would now not be scheduled to take off until “after the election”.

The admission means that the scheme, which has already cost the Government hundreds of millions of pounds and been the subject of multiple legal and parliamentary battles, is unlikely to now go ahead given the state of current opinion polls.

The opposition Labour Party, which holds an average poll lead of more than 20 points over the Conservatives, has promised to scrap the scheme if they are elected in July.

Keir Starmer’s spokesman told this paper earlier this month that "we will not be sending any flights to Rwanda" under a Labour government.

The project, which was first announced by the former Home Secretary Priti Patel, under Boris Johnson, was ruled unlawful by the UK’s Supreme Court last year.

The court upheld a legal challenge against Sunak’s claim that Rwanda, which is a brutal dictatorship which was recently blamed for the bombing of a refugee camp in neighbouring Congo, would be a “safe” country to send refugees.

Despite this ruling, Sunak pushed ahead with the scheme by passing a new law which permanently redefines Rwanda as a safe place, no matter what conditions prevail in the country.

The passage of the law flew in the face of global perceptions of the country. Just last week a representative from Human Rights Watch was denied entry to Rwanda following the organisation's criticism of humanitarian infringements in the country.

The law also flies in the face of the UK’s own official positions.

Despite branding it a safe country, the UK has continued to accept refugees from Rwanda, while the Foreign Office’s own advice warns that LGBT+ travellers may experience "discrimination and abuse, including from local authorities”.

The scheme has become a kind of talisman for the Conservative Party, with former Home Secretary saying that her "dream" was to see flights take off to the country.

However, public opinion about it has remained split, with an opinion poll commissioned by this paper finding that just 26% of voters believed it would make any meaningful difference to immigration numbers.

The Prime Minister has continued to back the scheme as a "deterrent" against small boat crossings, despite the number of such crossings actually rising so far this year.

He also intends to make his support for it a central part of his coming general election campaign.

Just this morning Sunak told the BBC that he intends to push ahead with it, and cited support for the scheme from the Austrian Chancellor, who he met this week.

However, his admission that no flights will now take off to Rwanda before the election means that the scheme is now unlikely to ever take off at all.

That is likely deliberate. Despite all of the claims to the contrary, one of the biggest drivers of Sunak's decision to hold an election now was fears inside Downing Street that the supposed "deterrent" of Rwanda would prove to be a mirage once flights started taking off.

As Labour's Shadow Home Secretary Yvette Cooper put it this morning, "Rishi Sunak's words [this morning] confirm what we've known all along - he doesn't believe this plan will work and that's why he called the election now in the desperate hope that he won’t be found out."

Whatever the motivation, after two years in which it has completely dominated political and moral debate in the UK, the fact remains that the Government's "dream" of sending desperate refugees to the brutal Rwandan dictatorship now looks all but over.

Labour Won’t Stick to Conservative Spending Plans, Ed Miliband Confirms

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 17/05/2024 - 11:19pm in

The most senior Labour figure yet has confirmed that the party will not follow Conservative spending plans if elected later this year.

Speaking to Byline Times, Shadow Climate Change and Net Zero Secretary – and former Labour Leader – Ed Miliband addressed concerns that the party might not promise enough to inspire voters, claiming that its plans are both realistic and necessary.

It comes as Labour faces criticism from some on the left of its new ‘Six Steps’ plan, launched on Thursday, which focuses on "economic stability" over, for example, investment in infrastructure and growth. 

At the campaign launch in Barnet, north London, Miliband refuted this – outlining Labour's commitment to providing 40,000 additional NHS appointments per week and 6,500 more teachers, aimed at reversing current crises in those sectors. 

The Doncaster MP rebutted the idea Labour might ‘under-promise’ and fail to inspire people, saying: “No, because I think that what we're offering is absolutely where people are… If we think about what's happening in our schools, and kids being taught in crumbling school buildings with a lack of teachers, we're going to start to turn that around. 

“But the reason I say start to turn that round, is I think if we tell people that this can all be done overnight, people will say ‘we don't believe you’, and they'd be right not to believe us. What we're actually saying is 'this will take time'. But we're not saying that because we're not going to change things.”

He added that the party was “being realistic” but “also promising real change”. 

And he pointed to plans for more police, teachers and nurses, saying: “All of these things are real, they're concrete, they're costed, and they will make a difference to people's lives.”

Miliband also became the most senior Labour figure so far to confirm that Labour would not adopt Conservative spending plans if elected.

“We have got different spending plans to the Conservative Party," he told Byline Times. "Take what we're doing on teachers, that's extra investment. And then [take] education… or £8 billion pounds that we're investing in GB energy from the windfall tax. 

“We have different choices, different priorities.” 

Pressed on whether the party would refuse to sign up to Conservative spending plans, he added: “We're not signing up to their plans. We've got our plan.”

In 1997, Labour committed to stick to existing Conservative Party spending plans for the first two years, to suggest to voters that it could be trusted on economic spending. 

Miliband also claimed that Labour’s proposals on public services and green projects are "fully funded" and not reliant on high economic growth.

Labour says that increased teacher numbers would be funded by VAT on private school fees, and the new public energy company, GB Energy, would be financed through a windfall tax on large oil and gas companies. NHS improvements would come from closing non-dom tax loopholes.

Miliband contrasted Labour's funding strategies with what he described as the Conservative Party's "unfunded commitments," such as the proposed £46 billion National Insurance abolition which the Government says it wants to happen "when conditions allow". Miliband said: "We are absolutely clear how it’s being paid for."

But mirroring the Conservative Party’s line on Rishi Sunak’s stated aim to abolish National Insurance, Miliband added that Labour’s aims to allocate 2.5% of GDP to defence will come only when it’s financially feasible: “We are only going to promise what we can absolutely deliver."

Responding to Labour's Six Steps, a spokesperson for left-wing Labour group Momentum said: "Britain has big problems, and they require big solutions. Sadly, these fixes fall desperately short of the bold policies needed to fix the Tories' broken Britain, from mass building council housing to renationalising our public services. Worse still, Starmer is failing to break with the Conservatives' disastrous austerity dogma.

"Faced with similarly huge challenges in 1945, the post-war Labour Government brought sweeping change and investment to a country on its knees. Britain needs a real Labour alternative today, too."

If you have a political story or tip-off, email josiah@bylinetimes.com.

Six Things Keir Starmer’s ‘Six Steps’ Tell us About the Labour Party

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 16/05/2024 - 8:09pm in

Keir Starmer has today revealed the “first six steps for change” an incoming Labour Government would take if it is elected later this year.

The list, which was set out to journalists in advance on Wednesday, is different in several key respects to the ‘five missions’ he previously set out last year.

Here’s what has been added, what has been taken away, and what it tells us about the Labour leader and his plans for government.

Housing is Out and ‘Border Security’ is in

The first thing I noticed when looking at the list was that the first of Labour’s “five missions” for government, which was to “Get Britain Building Again” has vanished from the list. The second thing I noticed was that an immigration-based commitment to “Launch a new border security command” has been inserted instead.

Asked about this switch up, a Labour spokesperson told me that “what we’ve said about housebuilding before completely stands”. This was backed up by one of the business speakers at the launch event for today's six steps, focused solely on housing. However, while Labour's housing policy may not have changed, the emphasis placed upon it clearly has. By de-emphasising their pledge on housebuilding, which may be controversial in some NIMBY-filled Conservative target seats, and re-emphasising its new pledge on immigration, the Labour Party is sending a message about the kind of government it intends to be.

‘Spending Rules’ Now Trump Economic Growth

    The second thing I noticed was that whereas previous versions of Starmer’s ‘five missions’ for Government had committed to securing the “highest sustained growth in the G7” these ‘six steps’ instead commit to “deliver economic stability” through “tough spending rules.”

    This is a massive difference. Insisting that ‘fiscal rules’ should be the country’s number one priority, as the party's Shadow Chancellor Rachel Reeves did this morning, or that "stability is change" as Starmer put it rather obliquely, risks Labour making exactly the same mistakes that led the UK into the decade of austerity-driven low growth we have just experienced under the Conservatives.

    This is a suggestion that Labour has strongly pushed back upon, with Reeves insisting this morning that investment in the economy remains the party's priority. However, this new emphasis on "stability", combined with the party’s recent abandonment of its plan to invest £28 billion a year in green projects, suggests that the era of fiscal conservatism that has driven the UK into its current slump may yet continue under a Labour Government.

    From ‘Pledges’ to ‘Missions’ to ‘Steps’

      The next thing worth noting about Starmer’s new list is that it appears to be once an attempt to downgraded the extent to which he can be held to account for it. When he first ran for Labour leader, Stamer made “ten pledges” to his party, most of which he has since abandoned. Then when he revealed his new list last year, the word “pledges” had been replaced with the word “missions”. A pledge is to mission as a commitment is to a target. He may have a mission to “build an NHS fit for the future” but that doesn’t necessarily mean that he will promise to actually achieve it. The latest version goes a stage further, replacing the word “mission” with the word “steps” instead. So not only is he not pledging to get to the end of his mission, but he’s not even yet committing to get beyond the first step of that mission. This may not sound like a particularly important distinction to many people, but these kinds of differences in language do actually matter.

      This is particularly the case given the lack of actual concrete, measurable commitments in this list, aside from a single pledge to recruit 6,500 teachers. On every other step, from cutting waiting lists to “launching” new border security measures, the list does not give any means by which voters can actually judge whether the steps will have been a success.

      Government by Opinion Poll

        If Starmer’s list of six steps and the order they have been placed in looks familiar to you, it could be because you have already seen very similar lists before. Every month the pollsters Ipsos publish a list of the top issues that most concern voters. The top three priorities in their latest version is identical to the first three in Starmer’s list, with the next three also following fairly closely to Ipsos’ list of voters’ priorities, it’s very clear that whoever was in charge of drawing up this list is very familiar with such polling. Asked about this on Wednesday, a Labour spokesperson replied that “this is a really good set of steps to show that we care about what the British public do.”

        Climate Timidity

          While most of the public’s top priorities are included in Starmer’s list there is no explicit reference to tackling climate change, which depending on which pollster asks the question, has consistently been among the top issues for voters for some time. The issue isn’t completely excluded, with a pledge to create a “publicly-owned clean power company” making number four on Starmer’s list. However, previous references to reaching “net zero” have been removed. Coming as it does after the party’s U-turn on its £28 billion climate plan, and its post-Uxbridge by-election criticism of Sadiq Khan’s clean air policies, this is another sign of the political direction Labour is heading in.

          It’s all About Keir

            The last thing worth noting about Labour’s ‘six steps’ is that Keir Starmer is placed front and centre. The list is not labeled as “Labour’s first steps for change” but “My first steps for change” with a large picture of Starmer taking up the majority of the party’s new Tony Blair-style ‘pledge cards’.

            This is an interesting choice given that Starmer’s ratings are currently historically pretty low for an opposition leader heading towards government. His presentational style is not always the most convincing. While not a bad speaker, his speech was one of the least impressively delivered of the many politicians, business people and activists who took to the stage at the party's launch rally this morning.

            However, while Starmer may not be the most inspiring speaker, he is still a lot more effective than Sunak, whose speaking-style sometimes makes him sound like a particularly patronising supply teacher. And while the Labour leader's ratings may not be great, they are still a lot higher than Sunak’s, whose name was largely absent from the vast majority of the Conservative party’s campaign material sent out in the recent local elections.

            This contrast between the two leaders probably explains Labour's apparent confidence in Starmer’s ability to win a presidential-style battle against Sunak, and also tells us a lot about what we can expect from the coming general election campaign.

            Labour MPs are ‘Furious’ with Starmer Over Defection of Hard-Right Conservative MP Natalie Elphicke

            Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 09/05/2024 - 1:32am in

            Keir Starmer’s decision to welcome the defection of hard-right Conservative MP Natalie Elphicke’s to the Labour Party has caused fury and disbelief among Labour MPs.

            One Labour MP told Byline Times that the “whole Parliamentary Labour Party is furious” about the decision to embrace Elphicke, who has a long record of inflammatory comments about immigrants and asylum seekers.

            Elphicke, who is the MP for Dover, has previously accused the Labour Party of wanting “open borders” and called for asylum seekers to be forcibly turned back in the English Channel. She has also suggested that those who arrive here use razor blades to cut their fingers to avoid being identified.

            Elphicke was also suspended from the House of Commons in 2021 after being found to have tried to influence a judge who was presiding over the case of her then-husband Charlie Elphicke, who was later found guilty of sexually assaulting two women. 

            Elphicke defended her husband at the time, saying that his being “attractive” to women had made him “an easy target for dirty politics and false allegations.”

            One Labour MP told Byline Times that MPs from across all wings of the party, up to and including Shadow Cabinet members, had made their displeasure about the move known to the Labour leader’s team.

            Responding to her defection, the MP described it as a "disgrace".

            "I think it’s a disgrace and I know a lot of colleagues are extremely unhappy", the MP said.

            "There’s being a broad church and then there’s admitting hard-right Tory MPs who demonise refugees and dismiss sexual assault survivors. 

            "We already know that many voters don’t understand what the Labour Party stands for. How does allowing someone who doesn’t remotely share our politics to become one of our MPs help? Or is Natalie’s vision the one Keir wants to present to voters?

            "As the saying goes, if you stand for nothing, you’ll fall for anything and that’s what is already putting voters off and worrying them about a future Labour government. It’s yet another move that will come back to bite us."

            Elphicke’s defection has also stunned the Conservative Party. One leading right-wing anti-immigration Conservative MP was heard commenting that Elphicke was considered “hardcore” on the issue, even to them.

            Asked about her defection, a spokesperson for Rishi Sunak, said that: "I think it's down to Labour to explain some of her past comments and why they believe that she's now the right person to join their party."

            Elphicke plans to stand down at the next general election but has discussed taking on a new role advising the Labour party on housing, a Labour spokesman said.

            A spokesman for the Labour leader told this paper that they were “confident” that Elphicke shares Labour values, despite voting for restrictions on trade union strikes and against action on climate change.

            Asked whether Labour would also welcome Nigel Farage into the party, they replied that “we have conversations with all sorts of people who want to come and support the party”.

            Why Mayors Outside Westminster Are Distancing Themselves From their Parties’ Politics and Colours

            Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 07/05/2024 - 11:54pm in

            It would be the rosette that did for Rishi Sunak. After all the court intrigue, the WhatsApp groups, the 1922 letters and the media briefings, the commentators were now convinced it would be the errant blue rosette that newly elected Conservative mayor Ben Houchen ‘couldn’t find’ at the count that spelled doom for the Prime Minister. 

            The commentators may well be right that Houchen made a political calculation and distanced himself from his Westminster colleagues. But if anything, the attention this provoked points to a deeper irony: for the national media, everything orbits around Westminster, including attempts to escape that orbit and see politics through the prism of place.

            In attending to local politics only for what it says about the ‘real’ centre of power, many (London-based) journalists masterfully manage to miss the message from the rest of the country: it’s not all about you.

            For a start, it’s easy to miss the parallels to other English places.

            Andy Burnham, Mayor of Greater Manchester, has built a similarly independent brand. The cover of his manifesto features a prominent profile picture and his name front and centre, with the smallest type reserved for the Labour logo, squeezed at the bottom.

            The former Conservative Mayor of the West Midlands, Andy Street, also sought to strike a place and person-based approach, leaning less on party ideology and more on his long track record in business. His colour branding – green and purple – veered away from the traditional Conservative blue. It is no small irony that Street came so close to re-election, but is understood to have been scuppered by the unpopularity of the party of which he remains, sometimes incongruously, a part. 

            Mayor of Greater Manchester Andy Burnham, pictured above in July 2022, has built a brand independent of Labour. Photo: PA/Alamy

            Much has been made of the joint Andys’ positive relationship with one another – and their shared analysis that puts ‘party before place’. Beyond a focus on the person behind the rosette, this also gives the candidates more flexibility to bend beyond the tight confines of their parties.

            When politicians are asked to take big political decisions beyond the halls of Westminster, they’re finding that, more often than not, associations with party brands are an obstacle to their work, both while in office and during elections. Political parties are ancient, worn brands which might work for those voters keen to pay as little heed to politics as possible, but may themselves contribute to that apathy. And for more engaged citizens, the story of UK politics over the past few decades is one of churn. Recall a series of votes that, whatever their outcomes, point to a general, sustained and deafening dissatisfaction with politics. 

            Much of this is down to our voting system – a clunky machine that stifles voter expression and frustrates the majority. Big parties are the electoral winners, but lose out more subtly; their desperate attempts to hold together broad churches, rather than allowing for our pluralist preferences to find representation, keeps the UK electorate locked into an unhappy marriage with the duopoly.

            Despite electoral impotence under First Past the Post it is striking – even moving – how many voters come election time still vote with their heart, for smaller parties who haven’t got a chance. So the two largest parties slug it out, corralling their large, diverse coalition under pain of deselection and hoping to play the margins and fall over the line – or at least be guaranteed second place.

            All the while, turnout drops, citizens turn away and the link between representative government and people’s lives frays. Combine this binary party culture with our rigid centre of government and the whole system begins to look hopelessly creaky.

            The push factors away from Westminster need no rehearsing. But apart from the obvious unpleasantness of the working environment, the normalisation of division and the relentless infighting, there are more nuanced critiques that arise only through stepping away from Westminster and looking back.

            After 16 years in the House of Commons, Burnham is a fierce critic of the whips system, a punitive approach to politics that rewards obedience and stifles debate within the parties. The mayors have also been commended for their openness to cross-party working, but most of them take it as read.

            But most of all, what the Andys have given voice and a face to is a new approach to representation: politicians that gain their legitimacy from their distinctive people and place, and model a culture – cooperative, constructive, collegiate – to match. Their respect for one another and their collaborative efforts to pry more powers from Westminster have shown the possibility of putting party allegiance second place.

            A working relationship forged through a shared approach, and trust built across party divides – is a rare thing in British politics – and has already done much to demonstrate that devolution is about cultural, not just political, change.

            Elsewhere, this week we also saw the English’s penchant for independently-minded politicians pop up in other places. Jamie Driscoll ran an impressive grassroots campaign for the North East mayoralty, without machinery or much airtime. Labour’s rejection of him left him at a clear disadvantage in terms of backing, brand and resources, but, as elsewhere, it also liberated him from the confines of party orthodoxy. This allowed – even required – him to lean into participatory politics, drawing the support of groups like Green New Deal Rising. 

            Whilst it ultimately wasn’t enough to beat the sheer force of Labour’s brand, Jamie’s campaign always offered more than a narrow focus on electoral wins: it galvanised people, especially young voters with a clear commitment to a different style of leadership. It was itself a brand that managed to win the votes of almost 127,000 people across the region, more than the Conservatives, Lib Dems, Greens and Reform combined. Last year, Labour HQ claimed he wasn’t a credible candidate and disowned him; but the local roots he’d cultivated by doing politics differently proved them wrong. 

            Most of the time, the entrenched power of First Past the Post obscures this appetite for – and advantages of – this independent style of politics. But the local and regional elections – with the sheer number of seats up for grabs and the comparative chaos of ward-by-ward contests – offer the space for it to shine. 

            The independence phenomenon helps us rediscover some of the best parts of local democracy: a more direct line from candidate to electorate, a short feedback loop, more locally-directed policies and the success of nonconformist politicians. People yearn for distinctiveness – and to put their place on the map.

            The Flatpack Democracy movement, birthed in Frome, but spread around the country, has long carried the torch for this non-party and often highly popular movement. Even when sticking with the brand, the Preston Model, named after the pioneering city council seeking more economic autonomy, has been feted around the world.

            At times harder to pin down, harder to analyse and often messy and confusing, this is arguably democracy at its best. It also demands that we all, but especially commentators and politicians, work harder to understand what’s going on – what are citizens feeling, thinking, needing and prioritising? 

            What might all this mean for an incoming Labour administration? Well, it challenges leaders to think beyond the party duopoly, and recognise the multi-party reality of 21st-century Britain.

            The demand for greater devolution is growing harder to ignore. The popularity of cross-party cooperation in the name of common good politics shows no sign of waning. Despite structural attempts to thwart it, pluralistic politics will find a way to poke through the cracks appearing in our crumbling FPTP system. 

            Some might question the desirability of personality politics, especially when the current mayor candidates still skew far too white and male. But it does indicate a significant desire among voters for a recognisable and relatable figure, one who stands for their region and is closer to home, within reach.

            This could also work to boost representation, if the parties can grasp the opportunity, with figures like Magid Magid in Sheffield bringing welcome life and spark to a local mayor’s position. And as of last week, for the first time ever, there are more women metro mayors than those called Andy.

            Most of all, we’re going to see more of this, not less.

            Labour could choose to champion the work of their mayors – like Burnham, Sadiq Khan and Tracy Brabin – and back both their independence and their individuality, not just how well they toe the party line. Or they can reject this opportunity to refresh politics and prepare to face more competition from independents like Jamie, who aim to give them a run for their money – and ‘their’ seats. Richard Parker – who has ousted Street – accused him of ‘being a Tory when it suits him’.

            But this local independence seems to reward candidates who do the hard yards rather than winning on the slipstream of the party machinery, perhaps Parker will yet find that “place over party” might just be up his street. Bring on devolution all the way down - and bring on a politics that puts the person, not the party rosette, on the podium. 

            Frances Foley is deputy director of the cross-party group Compass

            ‘Keir Starmer’s General Election Reality and Why Comparisons with Tony Blair’s Victory Are Problematic’

            Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 07/05/2024 - 9:30pm in

            The result of the next general election appears to be all too predictable.

            The Conservative Party has been struggling in the polls since the Partygate revelations during Boris Johnson’s premiership. Its travails were then accentuated by Liz Truss’ whirlwind in Downing Street. Under Rishi Sunak, selected to supposedly steady the ship, any initial progress evaporated.

            So much so that Sunak appeased vociferous right-wing factions in his party in a desperate attempt to stem the threat of his time at the helm not even lasting the aftermath of the May 2024 local, mayoral and parliamentary by-elections until a preferred autumn general election date. 

            Expectations are therefore high for change, especially with the added dimension of fluidity in Scottish politics, despite the mountain Labour will have to climb after the drubbing it received from Johnson in the 2019 General Election.

            Regime Transitions

            Excluding the exceptional circumstance of 1945 when the country, emerging from a wartime coalition, had experienced the levelling effects of a global apocalypse, radicalised by truly being ‘all in it together’, there have only been three successful transitions to a Labour Government in nearly 80 years: 1964, 1974 and 1997.

            In 1964, Harold Wilson achieved a minuscule overall majority, despite facing an opponent, in Sir Alec Douglas-Home, widely perceived as belonging to a bygone age, leading a party still suffering reputational damage from the earlier Profumo scandal – a majority albeit that became a much more substantial one in the subsequent 1966 election.

            Much to his surprise, Wilson returned to office in February 1974, this time even more precariously as a minority Government in a hung Parliament. That had been in the context of the Heath Government’s industrial relations chaos and an energy crisis crippling the UK economy. In the ensuing October election, Wilson returned to where he had started in 1964, governing with a tantalisingly small majority. 

            Tony Blair, pictured above in March 2023, won a landslide victory in 1997. Photo: PA Images/ Alamy

            Tony Blair’s landslide victory in 1997 was much more emphatic, repeated in 2001, then much less convincingly in 2005 following the Iraq invasion debacle. He faced an opponent, in John Major, humiliated by the UK’s ejection from the European exchange rate mechanism, deflated by a series of scandals making a mockery of his ‘back to basics’ catchline, and undermined by a party already suffering schisms over membership of the European Union.  

            Given this post-war history a cautious mentality from Labour leaders, and reluctance to take anything for granted, is perfectly explicable, especially given a predominantly hostile media environment. But are these precedents helpful in evaluating the circumstances of the coming general election?

            Are parallels being drawn with Blair’s stunning victory in 1997 valid? Does the current Conservative regime, long in power, face an existential crisis unlike anything with modern equivalents? 

            Election Determinants 

            Electoral experts have long identified a trend towards partisan dealignment as party identifications loosen and voting patterns become more volatile. However, in the 2019 election, political allegiances were more dramatically ruptured, as ‘Red Wall’ seats fell into the waiting hands of Johnson’s Conservatives (though working-class Conservatives had always been a well-known phenomenon).

            Hopes were dramatically raised, only to then be dashed. That election will be remembered as a salutary tale where the earth was promised and next to none of it delivered (most aspects of life have gotten worse since). Clever politically in the short term, it was disastrous in terms of ramping up public disillusionment another notch. 

            This is where comparisons with 1997 become problematic.

            Labour faces a more sceptical electorate whose enthusiasm for new brooms cannot be readily aroused. Keir Starmer in playing down Blair-like hyperbolic rhetoric is therefore in tune with the current zeitgeist. It may, however, have implications for turnout in the coming general election, especially when combined with voter suppression measures enacted in the 2019-24 Parliament.

            But the Thatcherite inheritance, too, has direct bearing on just how deep a crisis is facing the contemporary Conservative Party.

            The privatisation and deregulatory zeal cemented an economy more pre-occupied with sweating existing national assets than with new productive investment, as such a classic case of induced rent-seeking behaviour. Those chickens have progressively come home to roost in the form of a stagnating economy.

            The Conservative Party since 2010 nonetheless managed to provide an exhibition of poor governance with few parallels: austerity; self-harming Brexit; descent into bitter in-fighting between multiple factions; the questionable awarding of contracts to cronies, and disbursement of public funds on the basis of political connections; insouciance about letting bodies pile high during the pandemic; Johnson’s lies in denying breaches of COVID rules in Downing Street; soaring interest rates during Truss’ 40 days of madness; Rwanda; divisive 'culture wars’; and a succession of ministerial resignations/dismissals for behaviour unbecoming of public office. 

            Boris Johnson, Liz Truss and Rishi Sunak have all helped ruin the Conservative's electoral chances. Photo: Gavin Rodgers / Gavin Rodgers/Alamy

            Added to which Johnsonian populism turned the composition and disposition of civic bodies of any significance into tests of partisan loyalty. Recognising that citizens recoil from every aspect of their lives being politicised in this tendentious manner, Starmer again displays astute judgement about the mood of the electorate. 

            Clearly, many factors will affect the outcome of the next election. That includes the extent of tactical voting. It also applies to how right-leaning votes split between the Conservative and Reform Parties. As it does to how efficient is distribution of the Labour vote, whether urban support forfeited from those wanting a more radical policy offer, or disenchanted by the Party’s stance on Gaza, is more than compensated for by revival in seats they need to change hands.

            The respective efficacy of the political parties ground operations can make a difference too. Recent heavy loss of councillors further hinders Conservative effectiveness in this respect. 

            But especially crucial in determining whether Labour wins an improbable relative, or much more likely small, large or landslide absolute majority, so determining the strength of its mandate, will be the above interplay between voter turnout, motivation and intensity of feeling towards a languishing Conservative regime.

            Conservative losses at the higher end of expectations in the May 2024 elections, indeed, largely corroborated the story opinion polls have been conveying for some time. Even a chink of light from re-election of the incumbent Mayor of Tees Valley, reliant as much on personal as Conservative Party branding, produced swings that would put Tory Westminster seats in that area at grave risk.   

            Stakes Involved

            More signs then that the 2019 electoral coalition continued to fracture under Sunak’s leadership. As a Thatcherite ideologue, instinctively recoiling from economic intervention other than in the most extreme of circumstances, his appeal is limited in former ‘Red Wall’ constituencies.

            Neither, however, is he averse to right-wing populism, notably on net zero, migration, welfare or valuing the creative arts. These culture wars, at the defining heart of identity politics, conveniently distract attention from growing economic inequality, of which Sunak himself is an exemplar, but discomfort more liberal Conservatives in ‘Blue Wall’ seats.

            If he is a political master of anything, it is therefore in an ability to incur almost everyone’s displeasure.    

            All of which highlights the high stakes involved in the general election: economic resilience (including imperative acceleration rather than decelerating progress towards decarbonisation); social cohesion; and even trust in democratic institutions themselves. A tall order.

            The subject of dismay in many quarters, Starmer’s caution does have a compelling logic.

            Apart from unforeseen events (the pandemic and the invasion of Ukraine during the current Parliament) regime characteristics do, in any case, only take shape over time. That was true of both the Thatcher and Blair Governments.

            The lesson of transformational premierships is that they begin with diffidence, achieving momentum as they gain in confidence and authority, affording much more scope for shaping the political narrative. It is the very antithesis of Truss’ devil-may-care policy style.

            None of this detracts from the fact that, come the other side of the general election, there is not only much at stake for the country, but also for what is likely to be only the fourth electorally successful Labour leader since 1945.

            Someone who doesn’t easily fit into the factional politics of Labour’s past, yet unlike Blair uninhibited in using the discourse of class, a theme in Tom Baldwin’s recent biography is Starmer’s determined drive to transform prospects for his party. What began as an iterative process morphed into a much more overt strategy. 

            This is a clue, perhaps, to the template for how his performance will evolve in government. As someone better prepared than most Opposition Leaders, it would certainly be surprising if Starmer under-estimated the scale of the task before him, given the grim legacy he inherits.

            The Local Election Results Flush the Conservative Party’s Culture War Strategy Down the Gender Neutral Toilet

            Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 03/05/2024 - 5:07pm in

            The hours before any big election is a crucial time for any political party. 

            With voters about to pick their local representatives in large parts of the country, you might have expected the Conservative party to have spent all of their time this week ramming home their big election messages about council tax and Labour mismanagement.

            Yet on one of the biggest broadcasting slots afforded to the party on the eve of the local elections, one of the Conservative party’s leading figures instead devoted their energies to talking about toilets.

            In a typically spiky performance on LBC, the Business Secretary and current favourite to become the next Conservative party leader, Kemi Badenoch berated the host about her use of the term “culture wars” while repeatedly failing to substantiate her claims about the prevelance of non-gender specific toilets in schools and their impact on the number of urinary tract infections currently being experienced by girls.

            Meanwhile, in local government wards across the country, Conservative councillors and activists struggled to persuade voters that there was any substantial reason for them to stick with the party after 14 years of low growth and failing public services.

            The result is that, according to the early results we are now seeing, the Conservatives are on course for a truly catastrophic set of defeats, just months away from the next general election.

            According to the first tranche of local election results, Rishi Sunak's losing around half the seats they are defending, with Labour regaining councils both in their former heartlands and in Conservative strongholds in the South.

            According to Britain’s leading pollster John Curtice, the numbers point to Rishi Sunak’s party suffering “one of the worst, if not the worst, Conservative performances in local government elections in the last 40 years”, with the party doing at least as badly as the current national opinion polls suggest.

            In the Blackpool South by-election, where the former MP Scott Benton was forced out over a lobbying and corruption scandal, Labour scored the fourth largest swing away from the Conservatives in history, with Keir Starmer’s party also winning back support the party lost in it’s former northern heartlands, as well as in formerly safe Conservative areas in the South.

            It’s not all good news for Labour. In areas with large Muslim populations, such as in parts of Newcastle, there have been large swings to the Green Party, as voters unhappy with Keir Starmer’s weak response to the war in Gaza vote look for an alternative.

            Some of the results in the upcoming mayoral elections due to be declared over the next couple of days could also prove disappointing for Starmer’s party. Those around Sadiq Khan suggest the results in London will be much closer than the large poll leads suggest, due to changes in the voting system and voter dissatisfaction over crime and the mayor’s clean air policies. 

            Labour could also face an upset in the North East mayoral election, where the former Labour mayor turned independent, Jamie Driscoll, looks on course for a potential victory after being blocked from standing by the party.

            This could all be a sign of things to come under a potential future Labour Government, with splits on the left and voter dissatisfaction quickly souring the elation of any general election landslide.

            But for a party on the cusp of going from one of the worst general election defeats in history in 2019 to one of their greatest ever victories in 2024, these are crosses they will be more than willing to bear.

            And while Downing Street have been desperately trying to focus journalists’ attention on the rare expected chinks of light from these results, such as Andy Street and Ben Houchen potentially clinging on to their mayoral seats, the truth is that the only Conservative candidates likely to do well in these elections are those who have most successfully distanced themselves from the party they still nominally stand for.

            Meanwhile the party’s core strategy of trying to ignite a series of “culture wars” over issues such as gender and immigration, are continuing to fail for the party.

            Despite spending this week marshalling immigration officers and the civil service behind a pre-local election push on its Rwanda policy, the early results suggest that the Conservative party’s focus on such issues is only helping to serve the interests of Nigel Farage’s Reform party.

            Meanwhile, the broader focus on niche culture war debating issues, appears to be merely alienating voters far more concerned with other issues, according to research by the pollster Luke Tryl, who suggests that such rhetoric about "woke" issues "significantly reduces the likelihood to vote Conservative".

            In fact despite all of their best efforts, all the signs suggest that the Conservative party’s strategy of attempting to win the general election through what their former Deputy Chairman Lee Anderson describes as “a mix of culture wars and the trans debate” is going swiftly down the (gender neutral) toilet.

            Labour’s ‘Punishment’ of Jamie Driscoll May Hand Him Victory in the North-East

            Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 03/05/2024 - 7:05am in

            Anger and apathy defined what could be a bruising day for Labour in its traditional north-east stronghold.

            With Conservative ratings at rock-bottom across the rest of the country, Labour may have had reason to be hopeful of a stroll to victory in the region’s inaugural mayoral contest.

            But as polls opened on Thursday morning, the party found itself on shaky ground, with independent challenger Jamie Driscoll hailing a “people-powered political earthquake”, which has reportedly left him neck-and-neck with the official candidate of his former party.

            Driscoll, the incumbent North of Tyne Mayor – the rump authority formed when four of the north-east’s seven local authorities rejected a previous devolution deal – was barred from Labour's selection process to head the revamped body, which will now take in the entire region from the Tees to the Tweed, after he shared a platform with filmmaker Ken Loach.

            Labour opted to endorse Kim McGuinness, a former Newcastle city councillor and current Northumbria Police and Crime Commissioner (PCC).

            But in Driscoll’s Newcastle base at least, there were plenty of voters who said they planned to shun the party in the mayoral contest over the handling of the row.

            Liz O’Donnell, in the city’s leafy Gosforth, said Driscoll had been “shamefully treated by the Labour Party”.

            She added: “I haven’t voted for the Labour candidate for that reason. I think he has been an excellent North of Tyne Mayor, Kim McGuinness has been a bit of a shadow figure and I feel we need someone who will stand up for the region.”

            Alex Slack, right, with wife Ciara and dog Ruby at the polling station. Photo: James Harrison

            Just down the road in South Gosforth, the same sentiment was echoed by Alex Slack, who headed to vote with wife Ciara and dog Ruby, declaring an “amazing” devolution deal had been “marred by the politics and Labour’s treatment of Jamie Driscoll”.

            Liberal Democrat Councillor Wendy Taylor, a consultant at the nearby Freeman Hospital, summed up the contest as it stood, saying: “A lot of people thought Jamie Driscoll didn’t have a chance... but that looks different now.”

            PCC Who? 

            While there has been plenty of interest in whether or not McGuinness will fall flat, especially given the campaign cash lavished on front page adverts in the local press, less thought has been given to who will replace her as one of the region’s three PCCs.

            Northumbria had a strong start to the PCC regime with the election of Dame Vera Baird, a former Labour MP who came to prominence in the 1980s, defending striker miners who clashed with police at the Battle of Orgreave, in South Yorkshire.

            But voters have been less impressed with the list of candidates this time around.

            Imogen Mould, who graduated from Newcastle University last year, voting in Gateshead, on the south bank of the Tyne, admitted she “didn’t really know who the PCC candidates were” before polling day, except that “the Labour candidate for mayor used to be the PCC”.

            She added: “I’ve found it hard to find information about different candidates’ policies, especially for the PCC contest. I just want to know what they’re going to do.”

            Emily Robb and Charlotte Hick, right, at St. Hilda's Church, Jesmond, polling station. Photo: James Harrison

            Students were also disappointed not to know more about the PCC election.

            Emily Rob, a politics student at Newcastle University, admitted that she was “a bit confused when it came to the PCC election”.

            “I’ve not had much campaigning come my way about it,” she said, “but as a student it affects you, because you go out a lot and you want to know what they [the police and PCC] are doing. We had more stuff about the mayoral election come through.”

            No Love for Voter ID 

            Many voters also had their first experience of mandatory voter ID. Voter Liz O’Donnell told Byline Times: “I think it [voter ID rules] is politically motivated by the Government, because they know many people who might not vote for them might not have the right ID. 

            “There were hardly any cases of electoral fraud picked up, it’s just an obstacle to people voting.”

            Liz O’Donnell believes making voter ID mandatory is a "politically motivated" decision by the Government. Photo: James Harrison

            Jess Hepburn added she didn’t agree with the policy, saying: “I think it would make sense if there was a Government enforced ID, like other countries have."

            "I don’t understand why it was necessary, certainly in areas like this – was there a lot of fraud? It’s not something I’m aware of,” Sue Shilling added.

            Levi Croom, 26 said voter ID “leaves a bad taste in the mouth” through excluding people who lack the right identification.

            Southern Weak Spot

            Meanwhile, Jamie Discoll’s apparent surge in the polls – the latest putting him roughly neck-and-neck with Labour – has at least partly been driven by an active grassroots operation, with activists continuing to canvas in the city centre – particularly near Haymarket Metro Station, close to two university campuses and Newcastle’s main shopping street. Campaigners for other candidates were less evident.

            But campaigning has taken different shapes in other areas. Driscoll is much less known south of the Tyne and such was the confidence in Sunderland, activists had reportedly been ferried down to Bishop Auckland, in the south of County Durham, to help shore up McGuinness's chances.

            Regaining Bishop Auckland is understood to be a key target for Labour at the next general election, particularly following news incumbent Conservative MP Dehenna Davison, who helped chisel the seat out of the so-called ‘Red Wall’ in 2019, is due to step down.

            “Jamie Driscoll doesn't mean anything to anyone here,” said Phil Tye, chairman of Sunderland City Council’s Labour Group.

            But Antony Mullen, leader of Sunderland’s embattled Conservatives, painted a different picture of local politics: “The local elections are demonstrating the gravitational pull of Jamie Driscoll’s radicalism and Reform’s radical right position.

            "The only posters in windows that I’ve seen this year are Driscoll’s – and that is exclusively south of the Tyne.

            “The centre of politics has created a state of apathy that is causing people to stay at home, particularly Conservatives.”

            Meanwhile, in Heworth, just along the river from Gateshead, automotive industry worker Lee Scorey echoed the views which have scared the Conservatives, and which Labour thought they had finally left behind.

            “At the moment, there’s no one worth voting for – Reform UK is the only way forward, the others are just a waste of space,” he said. “There’s no way I would ever vote Labour for anything, I can’t trust them on anything. It’s time for a change.”

            Spotted something strange or face issues voting in the local elections? Fill in our VoteWatch survey. If you have a political story or tip-off, email josiah@bylinetimes.com.

            Caroline Lucas Warns Labour Could Form ‘One-Term Government’ If Starmer Isn’t Bold

            Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Mon, 29/04/2024 - 10:21pm in

            The Green Party’s only MP Caroline Lucas has told Byline Times she is confident several Green MPs will be elected in the next general election, saying that her party will put pressure on Keir Starmer’s Labour to be “bolder, braver and better”. 

            Speaking to this newspaper from Bristol ahead of Thursday’s local elections – where the Greens hope to gain a majority on the council for the first time – the outgoing Brighton Pavilion MP suggested that gains for the party will pressure Starmer to shift Labour's positioning to the left if it wins the next election.

            “There will be a huge amount to do to press a Labour government to be bolder and braver and better because, right now, there is no sign that they are ready to rise to the real challenges of this moment,” Lucas said.

            “This is a really, really critical time in terms of climate, in terms of nature, but also in terms of the broader democratic picture in this country. What's happened under the Conservatives is so dangerous."

            “So many basic rights have been undermined – if not downright removed in some of the rights to strike, rights to peaceful protest, the independence of the Electoral Commission, even the right to vote with the requirement now for photo ID,” the former Green Party Leader added.

            Green Party Co-Leader Carla Denyer, a parliamentary candidate for Bristol Central, hopes to oust Labour’s Thangam Debbonaire in the seat in the general election. This would be dramatically boosted by Greens taking control of the council, as the first administration since Labour Mayor Marvin Rees’ mayoral post was scrapped in a referendum. 

            The Greens currently have 24 councillors in Bristol to Labour’s 23.

            “[We’re] aiming to have a new record number of councillors in Bristol," Denyer told Byline Times. "It's possible we will gain a majority. But it's a stretch target… I am pretty optimistic that we're going to make some substantial gains in these local elections.”

            Green council candidate Rob Bryher said that the party's prospects were the "best I've seen it in 14 years of campaigning".

            Speaking to this newspaper from a café in her Bishopston ward, the party's Bristol Council Leader, Emma Edwards, said the Greens would push for a 'workplace parking levy' in Bristol, should they gain control this week. The move would charge employers by the number of parking spaces they offer to go into a fund for boosting public transport. She noted its apparent success in Nottingham where it raised significant funds for transport improvements. 

            But her first main priority will be getting to grips with the new committee system, which she says will end the “toxic” partisan culture that had emerged between Labour and the Greens under mayor Marvin Rees.

            Byline Times joined Edwards on the doorstep as she pushed to secure commitments from locals. Several voters told her that they would back the Greens in the local elections, but opt for Labour in the general election – a split-ticket situation that appears to be increasingly common.  

            The party has also pledged to lobby for powers to introduce rent controls in Bristol – a power local councils don’t currently have and which Labour appears to have rejected. Greens are also, like Labour, pushing to build more social housing. 

            Councillor Emma Edwards says that the Greens will try to work cooperatively with other parties under Bristol's new democratic set-up, after the powerful mayor post was scrapped. Photo: Josiah Mortimer (edited to remove registration plate)

            However, the party has recently come under scrutiny over a number of local Green councillors opposing new housing developments (as well as some opposing new solar farms). 

            Denyer downplayed such examples, saying: “I'm aware that that's the Labour Party's attack line – it seems to be the best they can come up with, even though it's not very grounded in reality. There's been a handful of planning applications found across the whole country where Greens have voted against the planning application and usually when you actually look into it for very good reasons.” 

            The party says it is focused on building the “right homes” in the “right place.”

            Denyer added: “When Greens were in administration in North Herefordshire, they got the first council housing in a generation built. When Greens had the housing portfolio in York, they got some low carbon housing developments with a high proportion affordable. It was multi-award-winning.”  

            Lucas hit out at Keir Starmer for not being willing to repeal many Conservative changes: “Look at the U-turning on the green investment pledges. They say that the two-child benefit cap is obscene, but they've also said they're not going to do anything about it. 

            “My theory is that, by failing to live up to this critical moment, they will end up being a one-term government. And then the Tories that we might get coming back in at that point could be even worse than and even more dangerous than what we've had so far."

            Asked whether Starmer may be merely toning down his radicalism publicly to secure a majority, Lucas said: “There are very few examples in history that I can think of prime ministers being more radical in office than they were when they were campaigning for office. So I don't think that's terribly likely. And I also think more seriously that you need a mandate, if you're going to do genuinely transformative things.

            “You win that mandate by telling people what you plan to do if you get elected. And so it's very dangerous to somehow think that you can just pull out of your pocket and get all sorts of radical ideas, even if he had that in mind, which I'm fairly sure if he doesn't.” 

            On Starmer’s U-turns, the Green MP added: “You do get to the point where people just feel this is someone who can't be trusted.” 

            However, she still appeared clear that a Labour government would be preferable to a Conservative one. Asked if she was regretful to be leaving Parliament on the brink of a Labour administration likely being elected, she said: “It would certainly be very interesting to be a Green MP under a Labour government.” 

            Her advice to the next round of Green MPs – should Denyer in Bristol, and Sian Berry in Brighton be elected – was to “have really good people around you”.

            “[Denyer] won’t be on her own," she said. "She's going to have some other Greens with her. So that will make a world of difference."

            Thursday could prove a litmus test for the party’s chances at the general election. But it is more than that, of course. With nearly 800 councillors to Reform UK’s nine, the party is already – often quietly – plugging away locally. Often, that's holding Labour’s feet to the fire. Very soon in Bristol and elsewhere, that role may be reversed.

            Spotted something strange ahead of the local elections? If you have a political story or tip-off, email josiah@bylinetimes.com or the VoteWatch contact above.

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