On Getting the Tories Out

Labour have won a historic result in Selby and Ainsty. They won despite the Tories having a majority of more than 20,000 votes. Labour now have a majority of 4,161 and the youngest MP in Keir Mather, aged only 25. All the portents are good for Labour, all of the outlook for the Tories is dire. But as the fanfare dies-down it’s worth two notes of caution. The first is that the results will accelerate the rightward shift of the Labour Party by Starmer – the second that this will inevitably mean his victory will be a pyrrhic one.

Here’s some reasons why re-creating Blairism won’t work and why ‘Getting the Tories Out’ is a failed meme.

Tony Blair has been seen hovering about Sir Keir Starmer unsure whether he’s Banquo, Jacob Marley, or Timothy Claypole. But certainly Blairism haunts the Labour Party even more than Jeremy Corbyn. As writer and musician Darren McGarvey has written: “Blair is a political father figure whose presence they find reassuring because he always sounds like he knows what to do in an age where top-flight politicians appear so out of their depth … and this speak to the delusions of voters who now claim to be politically homeless in the absence of such a transfixing figure – they want a politician whose rhetoric reassuringly obscures the class conflicts and inequalities which entrench their economic advantages and cultural sensibilities.”

Clearly Starmer is not up to the job in that task of trans-fixation – his abilities as a snake-oil man are not of the calibre of Blair – and his ability to provide the necessary ‘reassuring obscurity’ is lacking. But this is not about the relative personal skills or charisma of Tony versus Keir, it is about the social conditions and time we live in which makes the regurgitation of a re-energised New Labour a fantasy. But McGarvey’s point is also well made, that voters are complicit in self-deceit: make climate change disappear but make sure no change ever effects me; make the air cleaner but don’t stop me driving everywhere; make public services better but don’t increase taxes; take away nasty child poverty but remember to punish the feckless scroungers.

But choices and circumstances are far harsher today than anyone prematurely celebrating Labour’s victory are realising.

As the economist James Headway has pointed out, Starmer’s Labour team have effectively boxed-themselves in to spending commitments predicated on ‘future growth’. They have ruled out taxing the rich and they seem unaware of where we are.

Meadway writes: “Probably needless to say that this is social and political calamity waiting to happen. This isn’t the 1990s and early 2000s, where a few tight spending years could be borne out and living standards were largely improving. We are set to get “reformism without reforms” with a vengeance, in conditions of unprecedented ecological stress and turmoil with an increasingly organised and funded radical right waiting in the wings. The stage is being set for a further authoritarian lurch. It indicates, in sharp relief, the general crisis of social democracy which, since WW2 and in all its forms, has depended on sustained economic growth to balance otherwise potentially competing claims of capital and labour. Hence Labour’s clinging to “growth” now. But what if growth is going to be much harder than in the past? What in a world of recurring and worsening extreme weather events, crop failures, food and water shortages, and the conflicts all these help produce, would make anyone think “growth” in general is guaranteed?”

We live then in times of political churn – an ahistorical ageographic ascientific era. We (rightly) slag off the post-truth politics of America, but we here too have a version of it where people want a form of Magical Politics delivered with a smile and a twinkle in the eye. None of the structural problems – the long-term social-ecological issues that have been allowed to fester for decades with a combination of tweaks and victim-blaming, misdirection and co-optation – are going to be addressed here. Just Stop Oil are just people to be battered, poverty campaigners are just people to be bludgeoned with ‘pragmatism’ and ‘real world’ politics. This week alone we hear from Sudan there are biblically desperate scenes as more than 3.1 million people displaced by war. But the U.K. is not accepting applications for asylum any more from anyone unless it issues prior visas. As the Illegal Migration Bill passes into law Rishi Sunak triumphantly tweets “You can’t claim asylum.  You can’t misuse our modern slavery protections.  You can’t make false human rights claims.  You can’t stay. I’m leaving no stone unturned to stop the boats.”

What will Labour do about that? Nothing at all. On 24 October last year Starmer admitted that there was little difference on immigration between Labour and the Conservatives. On the 6 December he said he supported tagging migrants via GPS. On 17 June this year he said he was happy to be branded a fiscal conservative and refused to commit to increased public spending. The result from Selby and Ainsty will only embolden Starmer’s team.

Casting aside the question (for now) of whether ‘growing the economy’ (endlessly, forever and ever) on a finite planet is a good idea, Meadway’s point is that it isn’t currently possible. Blairism can’t just be re-animated from the 1990s in post-covid Britain where politics and the economy have been fundamentally altered. Dressing up as Conservatives to get into office while celebrating “getting the Tories out” has always been a terrible idea, now it looks like a suicidal one. Among the triumphalism it is not clear what the consequences of replacing a Tory government of unrivalled brutality with a Labour one of unrivalled self-deception will be. We seem to be suffering a collective short-term memory loss where nothing sticks. No political lesson seems to be retained. We’ve all been here before. Blair’s resurrection is a blur of political amnesia as if we’ve all had a blow to the head.

Yet a good part of the trauma we’ve experienced under Conservative rule was due to New Labour. Ed Miliband wasn’t the heir to Blair, David Cameron was. Part of this experience is to pretend that the social consequences of austerity, the covid pandemic and an eternity of Tory rule just hasn’t happened, hasn’t really changed things and doesn’t need a response, or to believe that the geopolitical results of Russia’s invasion  hasn’t destabilised Europe, or that the climate breakdown is just about inconvenient protestors. This is to live in a  delusion. Until Labour means anything about any of these issues it’s not worthy of celebrating.





Comments (12)

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  1. Alasdair Macdonald says:

    Sh! Don’t mention the result in Uxbridge. But, if you must, it was all due to the Ultra Low Exclusion Zone being proposed by the lefty Sadiq Khan, who, unfortunately, is a Labour member. However, our team is combing through tweets and other statements he has issued to find one which will allow us to ban him from standing for re-election. We did the same with that Tyneside Corbynite. Of course we support reducing emissions, but ULEZ is not the way to do it. People need to be able to drive their cars whenever and wherever they want. It’s a free country, not like China and its one-child policy, as her Dameness Jaikie Baillie said when we opposed the two child cap which we don’t do now, but we will remove it if we find the money by ways that do not involve taxing of wealthy people. We are just going to disown our policy about private schools.

    1. Drew Anderson says:

      “…the Ultra Low Exclusion Zone being proposed by the lefty Sadiq Khan…”

      This isn’t the case Alasdair.

      ULEZ, in London, was proposed by none other than Boris Johnson; the rollout was forced on Sadiq Khan by Grant Shapps. When he was minister for transport, Shapps made the rollout a precondition for extra funding for TfL, as it was in financial difficulty.

      Classic Tory: blame someone else for an issue they created.

      1. Alasdair Macdonald says:

        Drew, yes, indeed Low Emission Zones were introduced by Johnson when he was Mayor of London. My point, as you appear to have taken, was that the Tories and The Kid Starver blame Sadiq, knowing that rather than challenge them, the media will amplify the lie.

        In a few days, Uxbridge will be being presented as a ‘resounding triumph’ for the Tories and the other two bye elections will not be mentioned. Labour will announce a policy to provide extra funding for private schools because they are centres of excellence. They will have to offer bursaries to children in poverty whose family only have no more than two servants.

  2. Graeme McCormick says:

    all the more reason for the SNP to embrace dissolution of the Union the day after the General Election

    1. Alan C says:

      Don’t hold your breath, the devolutionists are happy with the status quo and the pay cheques.

  3. Leslie Ross says:

    Love the Freudian slip in your first paragraph:

    of or relating to burning

  4. Not-My-Real-Name says:

    I think some voters in Scotland are (willingly or otherwise) being led down the garden path by Labour, and thus some may be , as voters, considering ‘lending’ their vote to Labour to oust the Tory party at the next GE, believing that somehow Labour will offer some respite from a Tory government if they do win the next GE……while also they are (conveniently) forgetting that a vote for Labour in the next GE is not a forever vote….and thus, the subsequent GE after next year, could very well place Scotland back at square one with once again another Tory UK government that it, Scotland, did not vote for.

    Others in Scotland can see that Labour, via both their rhetoric and planned policies, are not in any shape or form the real alternative to the Tory party but instead are very much just a different version of them. Indeed they have evolved as such to appease and to appear more palatable to those voters who , like Labour, rejected Corbynism and who embrace so called Tory values that Labour seeks to emulate.

    It is obvious that there is someone pulling Starmer’s strings and too leading him down the (Tory) garden path…..as well as his dependence on focus groups and their subjective opinions, but I do hope that more people in Scotland, before it is too late, can distinguish that Labour are not the party for “change” but instead are a party who seem to be offering us nothing more than a ‘continuation’ of what we have all already suffered under this and previous Tory UK governments…..Hell slap it to them if they do not….alas we all too will need to suffer…..as New New Labour are clearly not going to be the solution, as in the panacea to the problem that IS the Tory party , but I fear they themselves will be the (new) problem (or rather the same problem we have now) which I pray may then hopefully finally be the cathartic moment that sees more Scots then deciding that the only solution left for Scotland is to seriously consider independence as being the best and indeed the only way forward for us…… in order for us to get any real change but also to try and solve the (many) problems that currently exists because we are a part of the UK…..independence ?… how do we then achieve that…well that’s another story is it not…..hopefully one with a happy ending….FGS it has to happen eventually…..surely to God.

    1. Bill says:

      Maybe a revolution is the answer. Bloody and violent if necessary. The 45 per cent increase in the budget for the Royals may well precipitate some response and if the Labour party miss the chance then Scotland may well capitalise


    2. Niemand says:

      For many it is a lesser of (two? three?) evils. Despite all the blather, Labour are not simply the same as the Tories and most voters realise this, and God knows how much better it would be if the difference were much more obvious. The most obvious thing to back that up is that whatever is coming out of Starmer’s mouth, there are many, many more Labour MPs and those in waiting who have a far more enlightened politics than you will ever find in the Tory party. Obviously there are significant differences between Scotland and England but the GE result will almost certainly be decided in England if the predictions of a voting sea change happen.

      1. John says:

        General Election results have always been decided in England since 1979. Basically the votes of electorate in Scotland are meaningless under Westminster FPTP system.
        The mantra of voting Labour in Scotland to get rid of Tories is not applicable unless there are any Tory/Labour constituencies left – which I doubt there are.
        The best way to stop Labour marching further right and becoming more centralist is for them to be a minority government requiring support from SNP, Lib Dem’s & Greens.
        I find it amusing how commentators are throwing their hands up in horror at Tories using ULEZ as a wedge issue when it is a devolved issue. What have these commentators been doing for last 18 months – certainly not observing how Tories have weaponised issues such as GRA & BDS at Holyrood while Keir Starmer has demanded ‘Scottish’ Labour MSP’s sit on their hands and take orders on how to respond from Westminster.

  5. SleepingDog says:

    Rentaghost didn’t charge Blair-level rates.

    Presumably the unanswered question was how many more votes would the Greens have got under a more proportional system, given their current potential to be a third party (at least) at Westminster.

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