NO SURPRISES

Lib DemIn their former guise as non-Democrats, the Liberals once presided over one of the most celebrated results in by-election history – and it happened exactly 60 years ago, when Eric Lubbock overturned a Tory majority of 14,760 in Orpington and transformed a safe Conservative seat into a 7,855 majority for the Liberal Party. The Tories had been in government for 11 years at that point, yet had already acquired the weary detachment from the electorate that is often a by-product of a decade in office; the familiar whiff of a sex scandal that can accompany such tired longevity was just round the corner, though in 1962 the name John Profumo had yet to become a household one; ditto Christine Keeler. Last night in Tiverton and Honiton, it would appear history was going through one of its routine habits of repeating itself as the Lib Dems inflicted one of the most comprehensive and humiliating defeats on the Conservative Party ever seen at a by-election as former Army Major Richard Foord triumphed over the Tory candidate, wiping out a majority of 24,239 in a seat that had never been free from Conservative hands since its creation. And the by-election only happened because the sitting Tory MP Neil Parish was forced to quit after he’d been outed for watching porn on his phone in the Commons.

On the same night a second Tory seat fell, this time to Labour; Wakefield, one of the ‘Red Wall’ constituencies captured by the Conservatives in 2019, returned to its traditional home. This by-election was also provoked by a resignation connected to a sex scandal; fittingly, the last time a government suffered simultaneous defeat in two by-elections was during the John Major era, which was also the last time such a sleazy collection of reprehensible individuals constituted the ruling Party. Even by past standards of sleaze, however, the case of Imran Ahmad Khan is especially unpleasant; Khan was found guilty of sexually assaulting a 15-year-old boy, though he didn’t resign his seat until convicted. He’ll be spending the next 18 months being detained at Her Majesty’s pleasure. Considering Wakefield voted Leave in 2016 (as did Tiverton and Honiton in its Mid Devon guise), it was no great surprise its voters spurned Remoaner Labour in 2019; yet a Tory reverting to type is perhaps as predictable an outcome as last night’s results, and Wakefield turned red again whilst Tiverton and Honiton turned orange for the first time.

According to some sources, the Tory defeat in Tiverton and Honiton is officially the largest majority ever to be overturned at a British by-election, one that even exceeds the Lib Dems’ huge victory in North Shropshire last year. However, only the most gormlessly deluded Tory wouldn’t have seen this coming; most Conservative MPs returning to the Shires during the extended Jubilee Bank Holiday were confronted by angry constituents who’d had enough of the leadership, yet only 148 acted on their constituents’ behalf by registering their dissatisfaction with Boris in the confidence vote a couple of weeks ago. With a majority of Tories deciding to keep the PM in a job, it was left to the Lib Dem’s victorious candidate to say out loud what the 148 who voted against Boris declined to. He declared the voters of Tiverton and Honiton had spoken for the whole country by sending out a clear message. ‘It’s time for Boris Johnson to go – and go now,’ said Major Foord. ‘Every day Boris Johnson clings to office, he brings further shame, chaos and neglect. Communities like ours are on their knees. I also have a simple message for those Conservative MPs propping up this failing Prime Minister: the Liberal Democrats are coming.’

Okay, so there’s a slight element of ‘go back to your constituencies and prepare for government’ about that last statement, though in the thick of Lib Dem euphoria, it was probably understandable. This was one hell of a blow inflicted on a sitting administration, with the even-more predictable defeat in Wakefield the icing on the cake. The Liberal Democrats under the leadership of Ed Davey have been fortunate that the far-from enthusiastic response to Keir Starmer’s lacklustre Labour Party has enabled them to reinvent themselves yet again, emerging from the disastrous shadows of Jo Swinson’s Remain crusade and capitalising on widespread disillusionment with the two main Parties; it’s precisely what the Lib Dems did so well under Charles Kennedy, and when the alternatives are as uninspiring as Boris and Sir Keir – not to mention the motley crews assembled on the respective front benches of the pair – it’s no wonder the tide has turned for the Lib Dems again. Considering the likes of Dominic Raab and Michael Gove have smaller leads over the Lib Dems than that which the Tories had boasted in Tiverton and Honiton until last night, perhaps the new Lib Dem MP’s melodramatic warning should be heeded after all.

Boris had wisely kept a low profile during the by-election campaigns in the two constituencies; as with the increasingly-unpopular Ted Heath during the October 1974 General Election, the Prime Minister was noticeably absent from the promotional literature delivered by the hapless footsloggers trying in vain to court votes on behalf of their doomed candidate and attempting not to mention the Party leader on the doorstep. A not-dissimilar policy was tried by Labour canvassers in 2019, as I found out when I made my feelings on Corbyn and his cronies clear when confronted by one at the time. Anyway, Boris wasn’t at home to make excuses; at the moment, he’s in Rwanda, officially to attend the Commonwealth Heads of Government shindig, but it’s possible he might be checking out the Kigali B&Bs earmarked for those pesky illegal immigrants. In his absence, the Conservative Party co-chairman Oliver Dowden became the latest Tory to walk a plank Boris refuses to countenance even exists.

Dowden’s resignation is the most high-profile response to two heavy defeats irrefutably linked to the ongoing fallout from Partygate. ‘We cannot continue with business as usual,’ wrote Dowden in his letter, though the PM is unlikely to receive that statement as advice. On the eve of an anticipated wipe-out at the two by-elections, Boris simply said ‘Governing parties generally do not win by-elections, particularly not in mid-term.’ Not the most encouraging message to the troops, but at least one rooted in realism; the Tories were seemingly prepared for defeat, if not what turned out to be the scale of defeat in Tiverton and Honiton. The Wakefield loss was no more of a surprise than the other seat, though tactical voting at Tiverton and Honiton saw Labour lose its deposit. There was also pre-by-election unrest at Wakefield’s Labour constituency branch when the entire committee resigned in protest at their preferred candidate, trade unionist Kate Dearden, being excluded in favour of a candidate parachuted in by the NEC; not that Keir Starmer will be bringing that up as he attempts to bask in the glow of his winner, Simon Lightwood.

When one considers the Labour and Lib Dem perspectives on Brexit, they’ll no doubt adopt a ‘don’t mention the war’ attitude now that two Leave constituencies are in their hands; even without the Partygate revelations, it’s possible the promise to ‘get Brexit done’ that enabled the Tories to triumph in the two seats in 2019 was regarded by voters in Wakefield and Tiverton as a done deal in 2022 and it was time to move on to other pressing issues, such as the cost of living; maybe they figured the Tories couldn’t deliver on that, considering the Tories’ policies in the pandemic provoked it. But it’s hard to escape the undeniable influence of what Boris and his cohorts got up to during the most testing period for the public in post-war British history when it comes to this pair of results. Let’s face it, though, Boris Johnson is a very lucky Prime Minister; he doesn’t have to call another General Election until 2024.

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LOCAL HEROES

BallotOn one hand, yeah, it looks like carelessness – the Conservative Party has lost two MPs in the last couple of weeks and now stands to definitely lose another whenever the next General Election comes around. On the other hand, there’s something inevitably familiar about the reasons for all three quitting: Sleaze. After being exposed as the Tory Member whose in-House search for tractor websites naturally led him to online porn, Neil Parish was faced with little choice but to voluntarily walk the plank. The MP for Tiverton and Honiton’s grubby escapades in the Chamber have prompted the same old calls for a reform of Parliament and its ‘institutional misogyny’, just as we had five years ago when Michael Fallon’s resignation as Defence Secretary after admitting to touching Julia Hartley-Brewer’s knee prompted the circulation of a clandestine and eye-opening ‘hit list’ of MPs behaving badly that some of us perused at the time. If anything had been done to sort the problem out back then, we maybe wouldn’t be where we are now; but there you go.

Crispin Blunt, MP for Reigate, isn’t on his way straight away – thus sparing his party another by-election; but he’s announced he will be when this current Parliament runs its course either next year or the year after. An MP since 1997, Blunt has been dogged by calls for him to quit ever since he somewhat foolishly defended fellow Tory, Imran Ahmad Khan, who has only just surrendered his seat following his recent conviction for sexually assaulting a 15-year-old boy in 2008. Khan was part of the new intake of Tories who smashed the ‘Red Wall’ in 2019, turning Wakefield blue for the first time. Questions over his original selection as a candidate have been raised (when rumours about his dubious behaviour were apparently circulating beforehand), but his conviction has led to him being appointed Crown Steward and Bailiff of the Chiltern Hundreds, which is a very polite Parliamentary description for the sack. Actually, perhaps this quaintly meaningless title should be bestowed upon anyone being fired from any job. ‘How come you’re home early from work, luv?’ ‘Bloody boss called me into his office and told me I’d been appointed Crown Steward and Bailiff of the Chiltern Hundreds. Bastard.’

All of this comes in the wake of Barnard Castle and Matt Hancock and ‘Partygate’ and Rishi’s missus and a pervasive, putrid stench of rotting reputations, not unlike the same odious odour that emanated from the Conservative Party in the early 1960s and – especially – the mid-1990s. All parties that have been in Government for a decade or more slowly see their mortal remains begin to decay and disintegrate after that length of time, but the Tories always seem to do it so much better than anyone else. And now the electorate has the opportunity to make its feelings known towards the governing party at the ballot box, with the local elections taking place tomorrow. The previous occasion in which most of the seats up for grabs on 5 May were contested was way back in 2018, and it’s fair to say a hell of a lot has happened since then. And yes, folks, that’s what they call an understatement.

Last year’s local elections were undertaken at the time of Covid restrictions and left the Tories in a relatively strong state after their first test since the sweeping victory of 2019; at the time, their impressive gains were attributed to a post-vaccine bounce, when the speed and success of the roll-out gave people the impression the end of the pandemic was nigh. By contemporary standards, it was a fairly optimistic moment. This time round, the mood of the nation has altered yet again and it’ll be interesting to see how much of the ire directed towards the party during a cost-of-living crisis will be reflected in the way people vote. Only the most diehard and deluded still see Boris as an electoral asset, yet one could argue the Tories’ (and the PM’s) most effective electoral asset remains the Labour Party. The shadow of Brexit, the toxic legacy of Corbyn, and the scourge of Identity Politics are three factors that continue to drive a deep wedge between Labour and its one-time hardcore support base in the old Northern heartlands. Labour may well score points on campus and amongst the metropolitan middle-classes, but until the party reconnects with the far greater numbers that always stood by it in less affluent locations it’ll never be returned to power. Local elections tend to be an interesting means of gauging how far Labour has come or how far it has continued to fall behind actual public opinion rather than the minority opinions of MSM mouthpieces and broadsheet elites the party seems to use as an ill-advised yardstick.

The one thing in Labour’s favour is the fact that London – which appears to be its new heartland – will see the contesting of every seat in every borough, meaning there are over 1,800 of them to fight for, and the omens are good. However, success for Labour in the capital when it comes to these local elections could present the party with one more superficial impression of its resurrection as a potential party of government, as it doesn’t yet appear to have realised that what happens in London largely stays in London. The rest of the country remains unmoved by what Labour has to offer. A year ago, the party performed badly in the local elections and lost the Hartlepool by-election as a pre-match warm-up, but even if it does better in 2022 than it managed in 2021 – and it would take something special to do worse – the fact that the majority of the seats on offer tomorrow are in Labour-leaning areas will again give the party a distorted picture of its popularity if it does as well as expected; after all, in the 2018 local elections, Labour gave the Tories the best bloody nose it had landed since 2012 and yet was still trounced at the General Election the following year.

Perhaps the Tories needn’t be too concerned about Labour and should instead concentrate more on the Lib Debs, whose post-proroguing ‘detoxification’ and return to their familiar protest vote status could be perceived as more of a threat. That said, the Tories are lucky that few of the locations where their traditional popularity is waning are on offer this time round; the sense of relief in Conservative circles that the Home Counties will only constitute a tiny portion of the battleground on Thursday means worries over a potential Lib Dem challenge will be minimised. Labour’s failure to reconnect with its ex-Red Wall regions has also left Tory support staying fairly strong in the old blue collar ex-industrial towns Labour abandoned, so the party should be safe in those areas.

Regardless of Thursday’s events, the Tories are already looking ahead to the next General Election, devising what they have called an ‘80-20 strategy’, which refers to keeping the 80 marginal constituencies they hold and capturing a further 20 they’ve earmarked as potential gains. With the threat of Rishi Sunak as the most likely contender to stand against Boris now seemingly neutralised, the PM can breathe a sigh of relief that his ninth life has proven to be as jammy as the eight before it. He is the most fortunate of Prime Ministers, a man entirely unsuited for the prestige of his office yet surrounded by mediocrities in his own party and confronted by an Opposition comprising a fair share of its own mediocrities, none more so than the man who leads it.

This week’s local elections may well contain a sizeable amount of protest votes that serve as a comment on the way the Tories have been performing at a national level, but even if Labour and the Lib Dems do well, it’s still a long way from a General Election. That the governing party is led by a serial philanderer and liar who was charged by the police for committing a criminal offence and yet has simply kept calm and carried on without fear of losing his job is something that says everything about where we are and how we get the politicians we deserve. Then again, if you’re concerned about bin collections, cast your vote.

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SNATCH OF THE DAY

Sharon StoneOver the past week, the corridors of power seem to have been transformed into the cheesy plot of an ‘erotic novel’ penned by Edwina Currie; perhaps John Major’s former bit-on-the-side was on to something after all. Then again, it’s not so long since a quick grope beneath a CCTV camera by Matt Hancock was splashed across every front page on Fleet Street, so none of the current wave of ‘revelations’ are especially jaw-dropping. Granted, unnamed MPs watching phone porn in the Chamber is a new one, though why anyone would want to view porn in public when the accompanying physical response to it cannot be entered into without the risk of arrest on the grounds of indecent exposure is beyond me; yet, maybe the brazen thrill of watching it in a public place is part of the appeal for those who indulge in it – like dogging. Added to this grubby incident there’s also the alleged tribute to Sharon Stone on the part of Labour’s Deputy, Angela ‘Thingle Mother’ Rayner; considering how damaged every VHS copy of ‘Basic Instinct’ being returned to Blockbuster back in the day must have been whenever it came for that notorious scene to be played (and played and played), it’s a relief the camera crew working for BBC Parliament exercise a little more discretion.

I’m not quite sure if the suffix ‘gate’ has been attached to the saga of Angela Rayner’s crossed/uncrossed legs yet, but to do so would elevate it to a significance it doesn’t deserve at a time when one might say there are a few more important issues for our elected representatives to deal with. Perhaps it’s just a deliberately distracting story after an endless slew of relentlessly depressing heavyweight ones, and a convenient chance for Labour to play the sexist card when they appear incapable of chiming with public opinion in any other way. However, as it naturally slots into a certain feminist narrative, it’s being held up by some as emblematic of ‘institutionalised sexism’, which is as prevalent a presence as ‘institutionalised racism’ when it comes to our institutions in the popular imagination. The fact that Ms Rayner has been accused of joking about flashing her pins in the PM’s eye-line – supposedly overheard on the terrace of the Commons – suggests if the alleged flash actually happened it could well have been intentional.

Anyone who doubts that some women are not beyond occasionally weaponising their sexuality by deliberately exploiting men who are vulnerable to such cheap tricks evidently doesn’t get out much. If Angela Rayner did intentionally give Boris a peek in order to put him off his stride, she at least did so in the knowledge she couldn’t have picked a better target. After all, the PM has had his Benny Hill moments, as his numerous wives and mistresses will testify. Mind you, as a speech bubble in the current Private Eye points out in a photo of Rayner addressing the Government benches, she’s the one who has to look across at a twat every day, not Boris. At the same time, the sense of this story being used as a point-scoring exercise by Labour is kind-of ironic considering the Party can’t even define what a woman is; laughable Labour logic implies that the PM could just as well have been confronted by a dick should his gaze have wandered over to a lady on the Opposition benches – and, let’s face it, there’s no shortage of dicks on either side of the House.

But if Angela Rayner gave Boris an accidental flash, it would support the notion that the Commons is not really the right environment to wear a skirt that leaves little to the imagination; it’s only a couple of years or so ago that the now-‘Mayor of West Yorkshire’ Tracy Brabin made a speech in the Chamber dressed in an off-the-shoulder number that one wag said made her look as though she’d just been done over the dustbins round the back of her local KFC at the end of a hen night; and if Parliament didn’t have some sort of dress code, then male MPs could theoretically turn up for a debate dressed in T-shirts, shorts and baseball caps. Nobody is accusing any female MP of dressing ‘provocatively’ and therefore ‘asking for it’, but an awareness that they are in a workplace and should at least make the effort to dress accordingly is probably required. They’re not on a pissed-up day-trip to bloody Aintree, when all’s said and done.

It goes without saying that accusations claiming Angela Rayner was overheard bragging about putting Boris off by doing a Sharon Stone have been sidestepped by Labour, which has instead chosen to adopt the familiar victim line, with the Mail on Sunday – the paper that broke the story – singled out as a peddler of archaic misogynistic muck-raking. The article contained comments from the usual anonymous sources stating that Ms Rayner ‘knows she can’t compete with Boris’s Oxford Union debating training, but she has other skills which he lacks’. In a way, the most offensive thing about that line is the implication that, by virtue of his privileged background, the PM is somehow in possession of a verbal dexterity that the low-born Rayner can’t match and therefore has to resort to the tactics of a back-street slapper to outwit him rather than employing a highbrow luxury like intelligence.

Whatever one’s opinion of Angela Rayner, it cannot be disputed that making it all the way to Deputy Leader of a major political party has been a considerable personal achievement on her part; but she is her own worst enemy. Her infamous ‘Tory Scum’ rant merely handed ammunition to opponents who had a far smoother ride to the top, and by playing the sexist card she is once again confirming her enemy’s view of her intellectual limitations. Of course some male MPs, particularly those schooled in the gladiatorial arena of a single-sex environment like Eton, are insensitive towards their female colleagues in the Commons – largely due to their lop-sided impression of what women want – and a fair amount of genuine, old-fashioned sexism can be endemic in such characters; yet, at the same time, there are some female MPs who play upon this misogynistic ignorance and manipulate it to their own political advantage in a manner that is just as shameless and serves to render them no better than their opponents.

Responding to the story Angela Rayner said ‘As women, we sometimes try to brush aside the sexism we face, but that doesn’t make it okay…it can’t be women’s responsibility to call it out every time. I don’t need anyone to explain sexism to me – I experience it every day. Every time I do a PMQs somebody has an opinion on what I wear.’ Probably true, but many similarly critical column inches are also devoted to the appearance of an MP such as Michael Fabricant and his hairpiece, just as they once were to the gargantuan bulk of Cyril Smith, long before less apparent aspects of his personality were made public. Yes, women are confronted by forms of sexism on a daily basis, and they don’t have to be Members of Parliament; just ask any woman who’s ever driven her car into a garage or has had to suffer a handyman in the house recruited to fix repairs; female MPs are in a unique position to rise above this, and playing the sexism card is a cop-out when they could do so much more.

The most worrying element of this sublimely frivolous story is the fact that the Speaker of the House considerably exceeded his authority by demanding that David Dillon, the Mail on Sunday editor, be summoned to appear before him. Mr Dillon rightly refused the summons, as did his political editor Glen Owen; even Boris Johnson – a former journalist himself, lest we forget – supported the stance of the Mail on Sunday, stating that journos should ‘not take instructions from officials of the House of Commons, however august they may be.’ This statement was added to by a Downing Street spokesperson, who said ‘The Prime Minister is uncomfortable at the idea of our free press being summoned by politicians.’ He went on to say that the PM wouldn’t want ‘any perception of politicians seeking to in any way curb or control what a free press seeks to report.’ Indeed. In these troubled times, both politicians and political journalists should be focused on issues of far greater importance than the height of a hemline.

© The Editor

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SHIRE PURCHASE

Lib DemsIf ever a county could be labelled a traditional Tory Shire, surely Shropshire has always ticked the requisite blue boxes. Still unique in that it remains a sizeable landmass in the middle of England without a single city, Shropshire is the largely rural border between the West Midlands and Wales, with its sole concession to post-war redevelopment being the Newtown of Telford. A familiar feature of 19th century novels penned both before and after the 1832 Reform Act, the campaign trail of the landowners’ chosen candidate is so entrenched as part of the archaic fabric of English political life that it’s revealing to discover such a system survived the termination of the old Rotten Boroughs. The Parliamentary constituency of North Shropshire was established the same year as the Reform Act, yet continued the practise of electing two members to Parliament, initially divided between the Tories and the Whigs. Within a couple of years, both victors represented the Conservative Party and the dual members remained that way until further reform in 1885, when the constituency was abolished and split into four separate constituencies electing one member each.

In 1983, the constituency of North Shropshire was revived and upheld the traditions of a century before by remaining a Tory seat. John Biffin was the first MP to represent North Shropshire in the modern era, replaced by Owen Paterson fourteen years later; Paterson’s recent…er…difficulties provoked his resignation at the worst possible time for the Government, and a by-election coming so hot on the heels of revelations of last year’s restrictions-busting Christmas parties left the ancient ownership of this constituency up for grabs for the first time in living memory. Whilst it was still unimaginable to envisage North Shropshire falling into the divided hands of the Labour Party, the Liberal Democrats clearly fancied their chances as the resurrected protest vote for the disgruntled Tory voter now that UKIP no longer poses the threat it once did. And, despite the constituency voting Leave in 2016, the one-time cheerleaders for a second referendum were deemed the only option to a deeply unpopular administration masquerading as the lifelong leaseholders of the constituency.

At the final count, it was a chartered accountant by the name of Helen Morgan who took the seat from the Tories with an impressive swing of 34 percent. At the last General Election in December 2019, Owen Paterson had retained the seat he’d held since 1997 with 62.7 percent of the vote and a majority of 22,949. North Shropshire is the second safe Tory seat in a row to fall to the Lib Dems in a by-election, following the overturning of the Chesham and Amersham constituency from a 16,000 Conservative majority earlier this year. Whilst nobody would foolishly claim either victory is comparable to the legendary Orpington by-election of 1962 – which served as a devastating blow to Harold Macmillan’s crumbling authority – there’s no escaping the fact that two by-election blows in a row can be read as a humiliating rejection of the current shower running the show.

Perhaps the difference between now and Eric Lubbock’s shock triumph almost sixty years ago is that the Liberal revival of the early 60s proved to Harold Wilson (when he took charge of Labour a few months later) that there was a widespread groundswell of dissatisfaction with the Tory Government which Labour was in a far better position to capitalise on than the ill-prepared Liberal Party. Labour managed it in 1964, yet even though the party finished runner-up this time round in North Shropshire, it’s still difficult to picture Keir Starmer replicating Wilson’s achievement a couple of years from now. The political landscape is far more fragmented in 2021 than it was in 1962 – and it’d take a supreme optimist to see that altering by 2023 or ’24.

Boasting a majority of 5,925, the newest Member of Parliament was understandably overjoyed at evicting the governing party from one of its oldest backyards. She claimed many Labour voters opted for her as the best bet to oust the Tories, and this is a pattern we can probably expect to see regularly in the run-up to the next General Election, when so few Labour candidates inspire enough confidence to seriously threaten the Government outside of the remaining Labour constituencies that didn’t fall to the Tories last time round. ‘Tonight the people of North Shropshire have spoken on behalf of the British people,’ said Ms Morgan. ‘They have said loudly and clearly: “Boris Johnson, the party is over”.’ She went on to add, ‘In rural Shropshire today – just like Buckinghamshire in June – we have won the support of people who have always voted Conservative and people who have always opposed them…thousands of lifelong Conservative voters, dismayed by Boris Johnson’s lack of decency and fed up with being taken for granted – and thousands of lifelong Labour voters, choosing to lend their votes to the candidate who can defeat the Conservatives.’

If tactical voting of this nature proves to be a recurring trend that is extended into the next General Election, such a situation will still not ensure a Labour victory; a narrower Tory triumph will be the only predictable outcome, despite a significant improvement in Lib Dem fortunes since the dark days of Jo Swinson’s disastrous misjudgement of the national mood on the subject of Brexit. A merger between Labour and the Lib Dems – a far more permanent arrangement than a mere coalition for convenience – is the sole way forward if either party expects to oust an immovable party even as sunk in sleaze, corruption and outright dishonesty as the current Conservative crop. The blatant absence of a genuine opposition to Boris’s rancid administration is emphasised by the endless support provided to his pandemic policies by Starmer’s barmy army; rather than flocking around the red flag, voters in seats such as North Shropshire are registering their complaints in the ballot box by ticking the Lib Dem candidate as opposed to the Labour one. This is not a recipe for overturning a sizeable Tory majority across the country.

Labour’s problems are manifold in winning back the confidence of the electorate. With over a decade having passed since Gordon Brown’s brief tenure at No.10, the legacy of New Labour can’t even be blamed anymore as the source of the public’s mistrust in the traditional alternative to the Tories. Through the uninspired Emperor’s New Clothes of Ed Miliband to the asylum-taking revolution of Jezza’s lunatics, the Labour Party has struggled to connect beyond its hardcore fan-base over the past five or six years and still hasn’t flushed out the toxic remnants of the Corbyn era, with the Identity Politics domination of the frontbench remaining a deterrent to the wider electorate. Following a similar flirtation with minority pursuits, the Lib Dems have experienced their own rejection by voters and appear to have addressed the issue of late by switching focus to the genuine concerns of the many rather than the First World obsessions of the few. Labour could learn lessons from that, but they won’t do so by denying only women have cervixes or propping up Boris every time he goes back on his word and introduces ever more draconian curbs on civil liberties.

Yes, the loss of North Shropshire is a blow to the Tories – and an embarrassing one, at that; but a governing party losing a by-election when it has held power for over a decade isn’t necessarily an indication that the governing party’s days in office are numbered. For that to be the case there has to be a mass conviction that the opposition is a government-in-waiting, as was found in 1964, 1979 and 1997. Right now, despite the car crash that is Boris Johnson’s administration, who really believes Keir Starmer has the best pair of hands to take control of the steering wheel? Well, certainly not the Labour voters of North Shropshire.

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PARTY LIKE IT’S 1939

Telegraph CartoonStrange days produce strange heroes. Amongst the unlikely few standing up to be counted today include such left-wing Labour luminaries as Diane Abbott, Dawn Butler, Clive Lewis and Rebecca Long Bailey; and even though he’s now technically an independent, even old Jezza himself can be added to the list of those who rejected the latest hysterically authoritarian response to a variant more infectious yet less dangerous than all the other convenient variants that have conspired to extend restrictions till the end of time. Of course, their rebellion alongside the 99 Tories who voted against the Conservative Government’s introduction of draconian measures dismissed as conspiracy theorist hyperbole just a few months ago ultimately counted for nothing in terms of preventing legislation; but their stance marks them out as being in possession of a pair of bodily articles Keir Starmer sorely lacks. The Labour leader’s terminal inability to grow said articles is no great surprise; he’s the Deputy PM in all-but name, having enthusiastically supported every pandemic proposal like an even more supine Nick Clegg.

Last week, Sir Keir declared it was the public’s ‘patriotic duty’ to support ‘Plan B’ and the mandatory booster, so I guess those who weren’t prepared to queue up for hours at the crack of dawn like lemmings are guilty of treason – ditto those in Parliament who refused to sign-up to the strengthening of restrictions. These new rules make it compulsory for the vaccinated to produce papers and passes in order to gain access to specified venues, whilst those without are excluded. Yet, according to far more reliable medical testimony than can be found emanating from the likes of SAGE and their Communist manifesto, any vaccine is effectively ineffective against the Omnishambles Variant – which means the treble or quadruple-vaccinated who can mix and mingle at will are more likely to pass on the virus than the un-vaxxed looking in from the outside. Makes sense dunnit.

A majority of 243 – MPs voting 369 to 126 – was more than enough to give the Government a comfortable margin of victory to go ahead with everything they once swore they’d never introduce; but when one takes into account the sizeable number of backbenchers who chose to go with their conscience rather than opt for party loyalty, the humiliating scale of the rejection of their leader’s policy is telling – as is the fact none of this would have been possible without Boris’s lousy administration being propped-up by the so-called opposition. Other notable non-Tory MPs such as Caroline Lucas, Tim Farron, Layla Moran and Ian Paisley Jr combined to form the most surreal of coalitions, yet it is the party that is supposed to provide the main alternative to this lying, cheating, corrupt and thoroughly immoral Government that has missed every open goal presented to it, open goals that would have earned the electorate’s respect and – more crucially – their vote come the next General Election. But what else can Labour expect when led by such a contemptible cuck as Keir Starmer?

It goes without saying that the traditional way to assert one’s unhappiness with the leadership of one’s party is to register one’s disapproval during a crucial Commons vote, and it’s perhaps true to say the likes of Chris Grayling, Iain Duncan Smith, Liam Fox, Damian Green, David Davis, Esther McVey, Theresa Villiers and Andrea Leadsom were motivated by more than merely a sense of injustice when confronted by the further removal of civil liberties; there were undoubtedly old and long-standing axes hungry for grinding. At the same time, their votes need to be counted and remembered. None of those mentioned would have received an invite to last year’s Christmas non-party at Downing Street, yet their separate stances add up to a greater whole than just sour grapes at being excluded from airing their specialist subject whilst Boris got to play Magnus Magnusson.

As further evidence emerges of the abuse of restrictions the Government imposed on the rest of us in 2020 whilst they carried on regardless, the fact that prominent members of the governing party voted against even more punitive measures when confronted by one more variant while the majority of the main opposition party – bar a mere EIGHT opponents – saved Boris’s skin is a damning indictment of this nation’s political class. As if we needed another reminder. Shadow Health Secretary Wes Streeting – yes, the famous Wes Streeting – crowed at the PM’s loss of face within Conservative circles by claiming Boris’s authority is ‘shattered’ and went on to add, ‘This is an extraordinary, extraordinary rebellion. The Government has lost its majority. I think the size of that vote is a reflection of the shattered authority of Boris Johnson.’ Just in case you were wondering, the Wes Streeting voted with the Government. No alternate agenda there, then.

I saw a headline on the eve of yesterday’s Commons vote in which the ‘official’ Deputy Prime Minister (i.e. not Starmer) Dominic Raab was quoted as saying families could meet up at Christmas; I don’t know precisely when it was decided that the festive arrangements of people were dependent upon the say so of a Government Minister, but I think we all ought to raise a toast to Mr Raab after the Queen’s Speech on Xmas Day to thank him for his graciousness in allowing us all to gather together – even those who’ll be on their own. We are truly ‘umble. Of course, it’s thanks to the likes of the gracious Mr Raab that the quadruple-vaccinated will be spared the privations of last year; lest we forget, last Christmas I gave you my heart (even if the very next day, you gave it away) – not to mention the fact that last Christmas was also a time when most of us were subjected to the tiers of a clown and the instigators of the tiers were partying on behind closed doors; back then there was much talk of ‘social bubbles’.

In case you’ve forgotten, the bubble system was based upon limiting the number of folk one was allowed to come into contact with and mix amongst in one’s home. Conservative Party workers and MPs weren’t included in this system, naturally, even if we weren’t aware of that at the time, but many went along with the bubbles and rarely ventured beyond them. Some were already in them and had been long before any Chinese scientist ‘accidentally’ dropped a test tube, and the increasing unpleasantness of the wider world as this lamentable century progresses will probably see an ongoing reliance on the perceived safety of such bubbles. Speaking personally, mine is the sole source of comfort I can depend upon, and I guess I’m not alone.

The world beyond the bubble appears to be careering towards a very dark place indeed, resembling a runaway train on which the brakes aren’t working, with the pandemic being the oil on the wheels contributing towards its ultimate crash. I can’t look forward five, let alone ten years because all I can see is the once-free world reborn as the Soviet Union or North Korea. The seeds have already been sown in Australia and New Zealand as well as past offenders like Austria and Germany, and it’s creeping closer to England via Wales and Scotland. People are resisting in small doses, but they’re up against the weight of the State, the mainstream media and every imaginable corporation – none more so than big tech and big pharma. Right now, it seems as though we’re living through our very own 1939, and we all know what comes next. I’m just thankful I’ve only got about 25 years left at best. I think the worst thing in 2021 would be to be 18, knowing you’ve got perhaps 75 to go. No wonder I’m forever blowing bubbles.

© The Editor

Website: https://www.johnnymonroe.co.uk/

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MISSION OPPOSITION

StarmerIf ‘Make America Great Again’ was the political slogan of the 2010s that not only served but exceeded its purpose, the ones that stick in the head from this side of the pond during the same decade tend to be remembered because they ended up as sticks with which to beat those who spouted them. Sure, ‘MAGA’ was swiftly turned into a term of abuse when in the hands of the anti-Trump opposition, but for the devoted it was a virtual mantra; by contrast, no crowd on the campaign trail greeted Theresa May in 2017 by passionately chanting ‘Strong and stable! Strong and stable!’ In the disastrous Tory aftermath of that year’s General Election, if the uninspiring phrase that had been endlessly repeated up until polling day was uttered again it was done so with a sneer, a snigger and a shake of the head. During the Coalition, George Osborne declaring that we were all in it together was patently untrue, so it was a phrase universally mocked beyond the safe space of the conference hall; and Old Mother Cable’s embryonic Biden-ism of gloriously hilarious incoherence, ‘exotic spresms’, was both punch-line and punch-bag within seconds of tumbling out of the befuddled dodderer’s mouth.

A different phrase from the Con-Dem era has been exhumed this week, though as with Jeremy Corbyn recycling Blair’s old slogan, ‘For the many, not the few’, Keir Starmer has half-inched it in the belief his target audience will be ignorant as to the source of the plagiarism. I only know of it myself due to the pure serendipity of encountering it when revisiting my old ‘25 Hour News’ YT series. Uploading another five-minute spoof of news headlines from 2014 to my Patreon channel, up popped a clip of David Cameron from that year’s Conservative Party Conference in which every sentence I put in his mouth contained the word ‘hard-working’; he spoke mainly of ‘hard-working people from hard-working families’, constantly repeating it so that it was rendered as mind-numbingly meaningless as the actual usage of the phrase by Cameron in the real world. And, lo and behold, merely days after renewing my acquaintance with a soulless sibling of Nick Clegg’s ‘Alarm-clock Britain’, there it was cosying-up to a grateful Sir Keir, so desperate for any ear-catching buzzword on the eve of his first in-person conference as party leader that he had rehashed a Cameron cast-off.

An evident absence of inspiration when it comes to slogans or catch-phrases is something of a minor concern for the Labour leader, however. After the conference season was reduced to a glorified Zoom chat in lockdown-riddled 2020, Starmer now finally has his opportunity to address his party face-to-face and give them the kind of performance his abundance of charisma has been threatening ever since his election as leader. And it is the subject of elections that has presented the anxious Auton with a pre-conference flop that doesn’t exactly generate confidence in his authority. Keen to prevent a future repeat of the leadership coup that put his predecessor in charge, Starmer seeks to change party rules on internal elections and return to the electoral college system that Labour used to elect its leader for a quarter of a century until Ed Miliband introduced the ‘one member, one vote’ method. By putting power back in the hands of the Parliamentary Labour Party, Starmer clearly hopes to neutralise the threat of the Left; but his meeting with union leaders to garner support for the proposals has been described as a ‘car crash’.

Keir Starmer appears to have badly misjudged the mood within the unions whose support he depends upon when it comes to the NEC. Arrogantly expecting to receive the green light from them to take his rule change proposals to the NEC for approval (and then onto conference), the Labour leader has instead had to return to the drawing board at the eleventh hour. Unsurprisingly, the proposals were criticised and condemned as an ‘attack on democracy’ by the Labour Left – who, after all, stand to lose out the most should they be accepted; but the fact that union leaders publicly panned them as well effectively killed the idea and ensured the so-called Blairite Right will continue having to contend with the Momentum wing. Had Starmer been able to have these proposals approved by the NEC, they would’ve been brought to conference and served as a means of making the Labour leader come across as a man capable of flushing the unelectable elements out of his party. To be fair, though, that would have been an impression restricted to the faithful; there are far more elements to the Labour Party that make it unelectable than merely Momentum or even the far-from inspiring Starmer himself.

Starmer’s deputy, Angela ‘Thingle Mother’ Rayner, has once again exhibited her immaturity and ultimate disqualification from holding high office by pre-empting the party’s conference with a juvenile rant worthy of a Jezza groupie. Ever since Team Corbyn seized control, Labour seems to have encouraged an adolescent mindset amongst its newer recruits that just looks retarded to outsiders, like the grownups have permanently left the room and the alternative to ‘Tory Scum’ is a foot-stamping brat whose default mode of attack is to hurl childish insults that are toe-curlingly embarrassing to anyone over the age of 14. Every time this kind of behaviour is broadcast to the nation, the amount of potential Labour voters lost must be sizeable, yet someone like Angela Rayner can’t help herself; even Keir Starmer winced over the latest example of his deputy’s infantile attitude. Rayner, like Lisa Nandy and Jess Phillips, has also long-since soured any credibility beyond the diehards by excessively playing to the minority gallery.

Rayner may as well have the fatuous hashtag of #BeKind attached to her every statement, which is the hypocritical hallmark of what Julie Burchill refers to as the ‘snow-fakes’, those irredeemably unpleasant online Labour activists forever condemning the other side for being guilty of every ‘ism’ and phobia available whilst dishonestly portraying themselves as sensitive paragons of virtuous inclusivity. Their vicious assault on Labour MP Rosie Duffield – a former darling of the victim mindset who then had the outrageous audacity to declare only women have cervixes – has resulted in the Member for Canterbury declining to attend her own party’s conference because of the ongoing abuse; and the silence from the likes of Angela Rayner, who once showered Duffield in praise for her feminist sentiments and Remoaner rhetoric, is deafening.

The Labour Party’s nihilistic embrace of Identity Politics comes at the expense of any wider understanding that such issues only matter to a minority chattering class that carries no clout in old ‘Red Wall’ seats; the Tories were able to steam in and clean up because there was no other alternative to a party that spends most of its time obsessing over first-world trivialities and demonising its former supporters as ill-educated and unenlightened racist bigots. The inadvertently iconic image of Starmer and Rayner rushing to take the knee when last year’s BLM protests had barely even got going just made the pair of them look like trendy parents desperate for their kids to see them as ‘cool’ when the kids themselves were cringing.

That photograph seemed to sum up so much of what the Labour Party and its leadership keeps getting wrong, and it’s hard to see how it can get it right at the moment. When the Labour leader claims it was wrong for Rosie Duffield to state the biological fact that only women have cervixes – ‘It’s something that shouldn’t be said. It’s not right’ – it’s no wonder the nation shakes its head and rolls its eyes in unison. This is the alternative? The party can’t even be regarded as a fragile coalition of competing interests in the way it was under, say, the stewardship of Harold Wilson, when its rival wings could at least sacrifice their individual visions for the greater good of governing the country. Right now, the country needs a strong Opposition more than at any other time in living memory – and it simply hasn’t got one.

© The Editor

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LIVING HISTORY

MinersAnyone familiar with social media will be aware that one’s Facebook newsfeed can be a little like the virtual equivalent of passing a long, long sequence of billboards on the street. Some of the products being plugged have been memorised by the algorithms as items one has previously favoured whilst others appear out of nowhere; these appear because FB thinks they’ll appeal to the demographic it calculates the user belongs to – a calculation generally based on age, noted preferences, sex and so on. They’re routinely way off the mark for me personally and I tend to feel quite satisfied that this smart arse technology doesn’t know me as well as it reckons it does. Imagine your other half buying you an album for your birthday by a band that you’ve made it clear for years you absolutely hate. Well, it’s kind-of like that, but funnier. Mind you, videos, ads, links and promo material for charities or websites I sometimes don’t even remember ever giving the thumbs-up to regularly materialise in my newsfeed.

For example, over the last four or five years I’ve been receiving daily videos from a dog-walker in there – usually very charming and inoffensive shorts featuring the lady’s pooches having fun and that’s all, nothing more dramatic than that. I’ve no idea how these videos turned up in the first place, but I could think of a dozen others that I must have once clicked ‘like’ on and they’ve never forgotten. A similar tactic is used in an older cyber medium, that of the email. I’m not averse to signing e-petitions if I feel a particular cause is worthy of attention, but I often receive emails from groups I’m pretty sure I’ve never given any indication I support. I remember during the lead-up to the 2016 EU Referendum I was constantly receiving emails from the Remain lobby and yet I’d never once declared what my preferences were via any online platform, not even on the Winegum. To be honest, I hadn’t made my mind up for the majority of that campaign, anyway; I guess they were just chancing their arm in the hope I’d nail my colours to the mast.

In a similar vein, throughout Comrade Corbyn’s fun-packed tenure at the helm of the Labour Party I received emails from ‘Team Labour’, most of which I deleted without even opening. To be honest, emails of this ilk aren’t much different from Jehovah’s Witnesses knocking at the door and not being able to take a hint when you don’t answer it. In fact, even though Jezza has gone, I’m still receiving occasional emails from Team Labour and received one today. This time I opened it solely on the basis of the headline, feeling I could refer to its contents in this very post. It came as no great surprise to see the message was related to a casual and characteristically clumsy remark made by Boris Johnson on the subject of the pit closures programme undertaken by the Thatcher Government way back in the 1980s. Boris spent a couple of days north of the border, and singing Maggie’s praises on Scottish soil perhaps wasn’t a great idea to soften the hostility of the Scots towards the Prime Minister; that was gaffe No.1. Gaffe No.2 was to imply the pit closures were inadvertently responsible for pointing the way towards a cleaner, ‘greener’ future. One can imagine how that went down in old mining villages, many of which languish beneath the broken bricks that once formed part of the ‘Red Wall’.

The post-war decline in heavy industry was a painful, protracted process for a country that had established itself as the workshop of the world via heavy industry. In many ways, that decline characterised the second half of the twentieth century for Britain, and though the inevitability of it was something that successive governments tried and largely failed to manage with a degree of delicacy, perhaps in the end it would take a less sentimental and ruthless approach to finally put the beast out of its misery. That ruthlessness was maybe at its most nakedly brutal in the mining industry, a drama that played out over a period of around 15 years, reaching a peak (or nadir) with the Miners’ Strike of 1984/85. I’m not going to paint a black-and-white picture of heroes and villains here, but I will say that it wasn’t so much the loss of the industry as everything that had been built up around it that drove the deepest stake into the heart of those communities, communities that in many cases have never recovered and were effectively abandoned when the local pit closed.

Because nothing of any equivalent meaning and substance superseded the industry that had served as the glue holding such communities together for generations, the incredibly potent legend of the elite working-class heroes that were the miners has continued to exert a powerful grip on those parts of the country most affected by the loss of the pits. It’s not unlike the memory of an ex-girlfriend lingering as the gold standard of girlfriends when those who came after her failed to live up to her lasting impact. For many people of a certain age in the north of England, mining remains ‘the one’ and shiny bland business parks and call centres occupying cleaned-up land once blackened by the pit just isn’t the same. Not only do such ‘replacements’ fail to provide their employees with the same sense of having earned every penny of a good job well done that heavy industry tended to give its workers, but none come with the extended social network that surrounded an industry like mining – all of which vanished when the industry did.

Of course, the majority of these mining heartlands were also Labour heartlands, and the Left loves its legends; indeed, everything the Left has to shout about usually happened 40 or 50 years ago. The Miners’ Strike was the defining battle of the class struggle for the Left in the 80s – and the fact the Left lost the battle somehow makes it all the more perfect because it means the struggle didn’t end there; even if Identity Politics have now replaced class, it’s important the struggle is perpetual. Just listen to how the 2017 General Election remains referenced by Labour MPs as though it was a great victory on a par with 1945; if Corbyn had actually won that would’ve ruined everything; he’d have been on level pegging with Tony Blair, FFS!

Anyway, for those who were actually on the picket lines during the Miners’ Strike, the passage of time hasn’t really happened. I heard an ex-miner and veteran of Orgreave speaking on the ‘Today’ programme in response to what Boris had apparently said and his response was littered with references to Ted Heath, Thatcher and Arthur Scargill; but he evoked those ghosts as though they were all still contemporary political figures, as though they and the battle for that industry remained present tense. At one time, the likes of ‘the Germans’ were spoken of in a similar way by the generation that had fought the Second World War, decades after Peace in Europe had been declared.

The day after the last General Election and the complete collapse of the Red Wall, I saw a left-leaning friend who couldn’t comprehend the fact an acquaintance of hers had voted Tory. ‘And his father was a bloody miner,’ she said. The fact that, at that time, the Miners’ Strike had been 35 years before was irrelevant; this was clearly something each successive generation had to carry with them, even if the Tory turncoat in question had been born after 1984. Lest we forget, though, the Strike itself had exposed fault-lines in the social structure of pit villages as demonstrated by the divisions it opened up in families, divisions that have often never healed since then. Leave/Remain, Pro-vax/Anti-vax, Striker/Scab – perhaps the legacy of the Miners’ Strike is more relevant to modern Britain as a whole than just inherited bitter memories of betrayal and defeat in specific corners of Yorkshire. All of which means public servants of a certain colour still need to tread carefully when evoking it, even if treading carefully is beyond such an ungainly individual as Boris Johnson.

© The Editor

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BATLEY VARIETY CLUBBED

GallowayProbably wrong to call it a standard-bearer, but the yardstick by which all subsequent by-elections have been judged on the grounds of unpleasantness is undoubtedly the unedifying little rumpus that took place in South London way back in February 1983. A Labour seat held by the same sitting member since 1946 (whatever name the constituency went under), Bermondsey came to be regarded as a microcosm of the death of the post-war consensus in British politics when it was suddenly up for grabs via the resignation of Bob Mellish, whose disillusionment with the way his Party was going in the wake of the SDP defection and Labour’s capitulation to the hard-left embodied the familiar recurring crisis in Labour ranks when out of office. Labour nominated a leading light in what Fleet Street used to call ‘the Loony Left’ as its candidate, the openly gay Peter Tatchell, a man who had risen to local prominence as a militant member of the left-wing faction that had taken control of the constituency party; his main opponent in the contest was the Liberal Simon Hughes, a barrister parachuted in when the Liberals smelt blood in a seat that was hardly going to fall into Conservative hands.

The Bermondsey by-election may have marked the public debut of Screaming Lord Sutch and the Monster Raving Loony Party as a regular fixture of 80s political events, but it also highlighted prejudices indicative of the time that seem unimaginable in today’s climate. An undeniable strain of blatant homophobia permeated the promotional material of Tatchell’s opponents, including that of Simon Hughes. Leaflets bearing Tatchell’s home address and telephone number, along with graffiti and numerous reported derogatory remarks made by other candidates on the doorstep, all contributed to an unprecedented smear campaign. Whilst Tatchell’s association with Militant Tendency (the hardcore group of activists serving to make Labour unelectable in the eyes of the electorate) certainly worked against him, it’s impossible to avoid his previous connections to the Gay Liberation Front as not exactly endearing him to many of Bermondsey’s socially-conservative constituents. We may now live in a society in which the rainbow flag is more conspicuous than the Union Jack, but even in a period as relatively recent as the early 80s being gay was still largely regarded as subversive and suspect; and this was even before AIDS ramped up the tabloid paranoia.

In the end, Bermondsey experienced a staggering swing of 44.2% to the Liberals (who had yet to become Democrats) – a result that still stands as the largest swing in a British by-election…ever. Moreover, Simon Hughes also bucked the usual trend by remaining an MP for a seat won in a contentious by-election for the best part of three decades. Many years later, he and Tatchell were reunited on ‘Newsnight’ and, to his credit, Hughes personally apologised to his one-time Labour opponent for some of the dirty tricks used during that notorious campaign; and to his own credit Tatchell accepted the apology without a trace of rancour or bitterness. Both had come a long way since 1983. One would like to think society as a whole has also advanced in the intervening decades, though the Batley & Spen by-election of 2021 has perhaps shown we may well have gone backwards. Being gay is rightly no longer an impediment to being elected an MP, but other prejudices and fresh strains of bigotry have simply superseded the old ones.

With its large Muslim community, there has been considerable pandering by all interested parties to a demographic the Labour Party has long assumed with a degree of complacent arrogance will always lean to the left. Turning a shameful blind eye to the plight of the local teacher still in hiding from hardline Islamist bigots, everyone competing for the constituency instead sought to court the Muslim vote without once challenging the prevalent prejudices within it; what Labour MP Navendu Mishra called ‘dog-whistle racism’ was in full flow during the campaign as routine and deliberately divisive anti-Hindu and anti-Semitic sentiments reflected the Identity Politics agenda all political parties with a stake in the constituency decided to go with. Labour didn’t bank on one of its former sons exploiting dissatisfaction with the current leadership by storming into town and capitalising on the ugly climate with hackneyed pro-Palestine sloganeering, but George Galloway has a track record of this. His performance as Workers Party candidate resulted in him slashing the Labour vote, but also probably did as much damage to the Tories, who undoubtedly fancied their chances with national Labour support in freefall.

The far-right were also present on the hustings by all accounts; stories of Labour workers being pelted with eggs and physically assaulted were abundant throughout a campaign that has seemed as nasty as any since Bermondsey in 1983. Labour’s insistence on sticking to the Identitarian approach – patronising ethnic ‘victims’ and demonising ethnic groups to have transcended such limiting labels through no-nonsense hard work – appeared to pay off in the end, though it’s difficult to see how one can celebrate such a narrow victory when one’s main opponents enjoyed a record swing (for a governing party) of 2.9 and the winning party experienced its lowest-ever majority and lowest-ever percentage of the vote. Labour’s victor was Kim Leadbeater, a political novice whose connection to a tragedy that put the constituency on the map five years ago (she’s Jo Cox’s sister) must have figured as a selling point; but it still didn’t produce anything other than a stay of execution for both Keir Starmer and the Labour Party itself.

A majority of 323 was the slimmest of margins for Labour in Batley & Spen last night; Leadbeater’s tally of 13,296 votes gave her a hair’s breadth lead over the Tories at 12,973; Galloway was third with 8,264. Leadbeater could lay claim to 35% of the vote, which is the smallest share of the vote any victorious candidate in the constituency could boast since its creation in the somewhat, ah, ‘memorable’ year of 1983 – down from the 42.7 % Tracy Brabin won it by in 2019. In terms of votes cast, the new Mayor of West Yorkshire & Neverland managed 22,594 at the last General Election, and it’s due to Brabin’s appetite for superficial power that this by-election had to be fought in the first place – and at the worst possible time for Labour. Yes, Galloway’s intervention undeniably enabled Labour to scrape through by the skin of its teeth, but if the Tories hadn’t sat back in the hope the bolshie maverick’s efforts would do all the work for them in the wake of negative publicity courtesy of Matt Hancock, perhaps this ‘Red Wall’ seat would now be added to the long list in blue hands. But the truth is none of them would have been worthy winners, all having played their part in what has been yet one more nadir in recent British political history.

If Batley & Spen had fallen to the Conservative Party – or even the Workers Party – the accusations that could legitimately be levelled at Labour during the by-election campaign would be equally valid. Just as the Bermondsey by-election of 1983 exploited contemporary paranoia over gay issues and militancy on the far-left fringes of the Labour party, this by-election in oh-so sophisticated 2021 has seen similarly bigoted and divisive tactics applied. All played the Identitarian card in one way or another; all deserve condemnation for sinking to lowest common denominator politics. Rather than seeking to genuinely unite – too much like hard work? – all sought to capitalise on divisions already present by widening them just that little bit further. The only unifying element of this ghastly exercise in democracy was the communal pot all the participants pissed in.

© The Editor

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AS YOU WERE

LabourAs they used to say back in the day on ‘Big Brother’ eviction nights, the votes have been counted; and what do the votes tell us about the electoral map of the UK following last week’s local, mayoral and devolved elections? Well, it’s essentially as you were. One can talk about a vaccine roll-out effect, I guess; but it seems the negative publicity metered out to the Tories and SNP in recent months had little impact on the voters – or perhaps they saw the excuse for an alternative and figured it was yet another case of ‘better the Devil you know’. It didn’t affect the London Mayor either; Sadiq Khan’s indisputably useless record on combating crime in the capital and his infatuation with Woke virtue signalling didn’t count against him when he was confronted by numerous vanity projects on the part of actors and other self-publicists with no political experience. Similarly, north of the border it appears the far-from flattering revelations to emerge from the prolonged Alex Salmond farrago – not to mention the SNP’s unnervingly authoritarian approach to governance – didn’t persuade the Scottish electorate to invest in something else. The only real losers on Thursday and Friday would seem to have been the beleaguered Labour Party.

Amazingly, Keir Starmer sweeping into Hartlepool and scoffing fish & chips with a pint – just like all northern working-class folk do in between being darn t’pit and walking t’whippet – didn’t convince the voters in the North-East, and they handed a traditionally safe Labour seat to the Tories for the first time. Fancy that. One could argue that Labour’s defeat in the Hartlepool by-election was the only result that really mattered last week, though Nicola Sturgeon and Mark Drakeford would probably disagree. Wee Ms Krankie needed another mandate from the Scottish electorate to legitimise her tedious second referendum obsession and hope it would paper over the corrupt cracks in her appalling administration. It’s not as though anyone other than the most blinkered, anti-English redneck is under any illusion now that the party is somehow morally superior to any of its rivals; enough dirt was exposed beneath the manicured Caledonian fingernails by the recent investigation into the Salmond affair to open the eyes of voters, yet Sturgeon’s clan still retained power. With opinion polls suggesting a second independence referendum will probably result in the same kind of split as the last ‘once-in-a-lifetime’ plebiscite, Sturgeon will wait for the right moment to strike, but she’ll keep harping on about it until that moment arrives, for she’s got nothing else to harp on about in the meantime.

Mirroring the pyrrhic victory of Nicola Sturgeon, Welsh Labour leader Mark Drakeford received the thumbs-up from voters following months in which he’s revelled in his role as the puritanical lockdown overlord for the Valleys. He no doubt imagines the backing of the Welsh electorate vindicates his stance over the past year, just as Sturgeon views her re-election as a resounding endorsement of her equally totalitarian idea of rule. In the afterglow of the final count, however, perhaps both should consider the quality of competition on offer and the fact that ancient prejudices and bigotries towards parties other than the one yer ‘da’ always voted for continue to count for something in the constituent countries of the UK other than England. That Mark Draper’s party beyond Wales was up against a similar piss-poor alternative and still had a disastrous showing maybe paints a more accurate picture of where we are outside of the enclosed tunnel vision that devolution invariably engenders.

Sir Keir hasn’t pissed about, mind; his immediate reaction to the results in England was to instigate a Shadow Cabinet reshuffle – an action akin to a wife of 30-plus years changing her hairstyle in the vain hope her disinterested husband will suddenly find her attractive again. The few that noticed Starmer’s response took note of the fact that Angela Rayner lost her job as party chair as well as carrying the can for the disastrous campaign as national campaigns coordinator; a minor storm in a neglected teacup followed Rayner’s removal, but the former ‘thingle mother’ has actually been promoted, now shadowing Michael Gove; it may sound like the least appealing promotion imaginable, but Rayner can at least be consoled by the fact that nobody outside of Westminster Village really gives a shit. Talk of the Party relocating from its London base in order to reconnect with its lost heartlands is merely another PR stunt as meaningless as the BBC shifting its operations from Shepherd’s Bush to Salford. The Labour Party could set up shop in the Outer Hebrides and it would still venture no further than the boundaries of the metropolitan bubble it took with it should its hands be soiled by contact with uncouth locals whose vote it nevertheless craves.

Something that will be looked upon by few other than the Labour hierarchy as one of last week’s few ‘success stories’ was the election of Batley and Spen MP Tracy Brabin as West Yorkshire Mayor – arguably one of the more vacuous exercises in self-indulgent bureaucratic pointlessness local government has yet to dream up. Beyond the euphoric electorate of dynamic Northern Powerhouses Leeds, Bradford and Wakefield, Brabin’s election to the latest vapid office of no interest to anyone who cares about life that stretches further than the end of their street wouldn’t register at all if her ‘promotion’ didn’t necessitate a further nightmarish by-election prospect for her party. The former constituency of Jo Cox will now be vacated and fought over sometime in the summer, as the police and crime responsibilities that come with Brabin’s shiny new status disqualify her from remaining an MP under electoral commission rules. The Batley and Spen seat is a marginal one, with Brabin’s majority at the last General Election slashed to 3,525, so I should imagine the Tories are looking forward to that particular by-election more than Labour.

The Conservative Party shouldn’t become complacent, however; just because the Tories trounced a terminally weak opposition doesn’t necessarily mean the electorate were giving their full endorsement to Boris’s mob. It’s unarguable that they enjoyed a remarkably impressive showing for a party in office for over a decade – and in the wake of a unique situation in which they haven’t always acquitted themselves admirably; but the supposed success of the vaccine, which the MSM never tires of telling us about, is being credited with building on the gains made in 2019 and suggests no amount of ‘sleaze’ headlines make the slightest bit of difference once the voter enters the polling booth. That said, the triumph of the party definitely owes something to the nature of the pandemic narrative; that the public have to receive the permission of Michael Gove that it’s now okay to embrace again says a great deal as to how the Tories have moulded public opinion through their relentless campaign of fear and intimidation over the past year or so; convincing the electorate that the Tories know best when voting comes around is merely a natural by-product of this tactic, and it has paid off.

These elections weren’t really the ‘giving the powers-that-be a bloody nose’ type that the EU Referendum offered us five years ago; they weren’t even comparable to the shock experienced by the wannabe powers-that-be in 2019. Perhaps it shouldn’t come as a great surprise that the end results changed little with the exception of a bit more ground being gained by the Tories; after all, people have had other distractions from party politics during this last twelve months, and maybe figured this wasn’t the time for a seismic shift. The apple cart has been upset enough of late.

© The Editor

NORTH-EAST OF EDEN

MonkeyOn those rare occasions when the football season is a two-horse race, it’s often a case of who’ll blink first; one of the two teams chasing the title bottles it at the eleventh hour and the other ends up being crowned champions. Is this because the winner is the better side or because the loser blew it on the last lap? The record books simply record who won and who didn’t, though it may be said at the moment of the final whistle that the champions didn’t win the title so much as the runners-up lost it. Should the SNP remain in power north of the border or Sadiq Khan retain his regime south of Watford this week, would it be fair to say neither won but the competition lost? The Conservative Party under Boris Johnson seems capable of every cock-up imaginable without fear of being thrown out of office, for a weak alternative to a weak Government will inevitably result in the continuation of the incumbent party, however much of a mess it has presided over. Similarly, the first real post-pandemic test of the electorate across the country tomorrow will see local, mayoral and devolved administration elections take place that may well end with parties and individuals worthy of being booted out simply staying where they are because the alternative was even worse.

Amidst the regional nature of the so-called (permission granted to cringe) ‘Super Thursday’, there will also be an election affecting the national picture courtesy of a by-election in a Red Wall seat. It’s in Hartlepool. Yes, Hartlepool, where the people infamously strung-up a monkey during the Napoleonic Wars because they were convinced the poor primate was a French spy. As is so often the case with small towns struggling for claims to fame, this bizarre legend has to a degree put Hartlepool on the map and its local football and rugby teams have adopted the monkey as mascot and logo respectively. Even stranger is the fact that a man dressed in simian costume going by the name of H’angus the Monkey stood in the town’s mayoral elections in 2002, with free bananas for Hartlepudlian school-kids key to his manifesto; against all odds, he won – and was re-elected by a landslide three years later. By the time he was in office, H’angus had reverted to his real name of Stuart Drummond, though Hartlepool is now nationally known as somewhere that once executed and then later elected a monkey.

As far as I know, no monkey is standing in 2021, but the town that was home to Brian Clough’s first faltering steps into football management could well provide the match of the day tomorrow. Hartlepool was a classic northern Labour stronghold for decades, supplying the town’s MP in every General Election since 1964, yet like so many Red Wall areas in England the 2016 EU Referendum proved to be a watershed for this unchallenged dominance. The North-East was broken down into 12 voting areas in 2016, and of the 12 only the region’s one big metropolitan city – Newcastle – followed all the other big metropolitan cities in the country by voting Remain; the rest of the North-East more accurately reflected the indigenous mood by voting Leave. Hartlepool did so with a margin of 69.6%, the highest margin in the entire North-East area. We may be five years removed from that resounding finger gesticulating in the direction of the political class of Westminster, but it’s fair to say subsequent events have not turned the electorate back towards the Remain-friendly Labour Party.

A Parliamentary constituency that was once in the hands of Peter Mandelson just about remained Labour-held at the 2019 General Election, though with a dramatically reduced majority from 2017 (3,595) as the Brexit Party grabbed 25% of the vote; and Mike Hill, the man who retained it stood down in March this year, prompting tomorrow’s by-election. Hill resigned his seat in the wake of allegations of sexual harassment and victimisation, something that caused his temporary suspension from the Party in 2019 and something for which he will face an employment tribunal later in the year. It has not been an auspicious exit, yet perhaps reflects the low standing in which Labour is now held in the region. Paul Williams, the Party’s man hoping to succeed Hill, is faced with pre-election polling claiming less than 40% of those who voted for Labour in 2019 will do so again this time round. Neighbouring traditional Labour councils in Durham and Sunderland also appear under threat at a time when the Tories at a national level have hardly endeared themselves to the public; that Labour is struggling to regain ground lost in 2019 even after the bungled handling of the pandemic by the opposition demonstrates just how much the Party has summarily failed to address its dwindling working-class support in areas it could once win with its eyes closed.

Hartlepool is the kind of dyed-in-the-wool Labour seat that might have once fallen to the Lib Dems if it was ever going to fall to anyone – though the one-time ‘protest vote’ party has paid the price for throwing its lot in with metropolitan minority interest Identity Politics even more than Labour, so we now have the once-unthinkable situation where the Tories are the credible alternative to North-East traditions. Keir Starmer may have tried to address the anti-Semitic legacy of the Corbyn/Momentum era of the Party, but the leader’s rush to take the knee for BLM, his perceived dithering over Covid, and his support for endless lockdowns hasn’t exactly won back the working-class vote that has been deserting Labour for decades as the leadership has taken it for granted; one would think the disastrous example of Scotland would have alerted Labour to what was going on in its northern backyard, but whilst Trans-rights and gender pronouns have been preoccupying those gathered round the dinner-party tables of Islington, those who loyally stuck with Labour until roundabout Blair’s second term have been abandoning the Party as swiftly as the Party itself has abandoned them for first-world problems that don’t mean a jot when you’re forced to claim Universal Credit in Hartlepool.

Six of the neighbouring North-East constituencies to Hartlepool fell to the Tories in 2019, and morale amongst the ground-force foot-sloggers entrusted with door-stepping floating voters and trying to persuade them to come home to a party that appears to view them with barely-concealed contempt hasn’t been helped by the realisation that cost-cutting measures will result in around 90 clipboard-carrying party activists being made redundant the day after polling day. Rather than winning voters round with convincing promises of what Labour will do for them if returned to power, the party reeks of desperation unprecedented in one that should be way ahead in the polls after more than a decade of Tory rule in one shape or another. The Batley and Spen Labour MP Tracy Brabin – holder of the constituency once held by Jo Cox – has only just been cleared of allegations accusing her of bribing the electorate with brownies during campaigning for the utterly meaningless post of Mayor of West Yorkshire; regardless of the fact the last thing such a region requires is another layer of bureaucratic local government, the actions of Brabin – whether legal or not – make Labour look cheap, like a budget supermarket laden with BOGOF offers on every aisle.

Keir Starmer is already attempting to pre-empt the expected loss of Hartlepool as well as a sizeable chunk of local government control north of Watford Gap by claiming Labour’s ‘recovery’ will take more time, playing down Party hopes ahead of ‘Super Thursday’; nothing quite like encouragement from the leadership to generate confidence, is there? But at least one could say Starmer is being realistic; if Hartlepool is added to the lengthy list of Labour’s one-time heavy-industry heartlands that now constitute the backbone of Boris Johnson’s 80-strong majority, few will be entirely surprised. Indeed, I suspect those who formulate Labour policy a long way from the land harried by William the Conqueror almost a thousand years ago couldn’t give a monkey’s.

© The Editor