May 9, 2021


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Why Keir Starmer has more to fear than Hartlepool on “Super Thursday”

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Keir Starmer no doubt it sounded like he was getting his apologies at first. Asked about one Survival survey suggesting the Conservatives would remain at home in the Hartlepool by-elections, the Labor leader said no one “realistic” thought he could turn his party “from the worst result of the general election since 1935 to the position of winning the next general election in a period of one year “.

In fact, people around Starmer have received their apologies long before this week. In January, when the Conservatives only had a two-point national lead, I reported that the top figures were already predicting a “bounce of the vaccine” for Johnson. They could see the writing on the wall and it made a simple correlation between pride in the deployment of the NHS and Johnson’s feeling good factor.

Some saw an attempt to manage expectations at the time, but it turned out to be an accurate prediction. Starmer’s words on Tuesday were not such a bald admission of defeat, but they contained a similar plea for patience in the face of the public’s concentration on the route outside the closure.

There is no doubt that all of Johnson’s upbeat personality fits in well with the good times. When things went wrong last year, everything from A-level failure to PPE shortages and testing and screening failures seemed fragile. But thanks to the vaccine and a prudent roadmap, he has found moderate optimism that seems to match the mood of the public.

In voting areas like Hartlepool, the Brexit factor can also be a powerful weapon for the Prime Minister. Not in vain, in last week’s PMQ, he effectively declared that it was Brexit, which won it both in the European Superliga (the UK could threaten to rewrite competition law on its own) and in vaccines ( delays and delays in Brussels). the fight made even the Remainers go white).

Several MPs and local Labor activists are no doubt baffled by the party’s chances on the seat. Many point to Hartlepool’s historically stubborn streak, as its anti-Labor forces have always been strong but divided. Labor was on the verge of losing it with Thatcher’s pomp in 1983, and the combined “Hartlepools” seat had a thin wafer margin even in Attlee’s 1945 landslide.

While there are many talks that even a small victory would be a defeat, I suspect Starmer will bite your hand for any kind of victory. Peter Mandelson, who said it our podcast recently, “I’d like a majority to be a bold sight bigger than one, thank you very much,” I’d probably breathe a sigh of relief too.

It remains to be seen exactly where 25% of the Brexit party will travel from this 2019 in this by-election. How many of them were former Labor voters who felt the Tory vote was a step too far? How many conservatives loved Farage? How many Labor voters stayed home because of Corbyn or Brexit and how many will now make the leap to support Johnson?

Well, even before he became prime minister, Johnson certainly caught a reality that some Labor members did not: divisions within the north (between large cities and smaller cities) were often as large as the divisions between north and south. This is exactly the point he pointed out in a speech in April 2019, when he was banking on a trip to support Teesside Mayor Ben Houchen.

Johnson was so in love with Houchen that he missed the last train back to London and had to be driven by a local sympathizer (as happens by a former Conservative candidate in Hartlepool) on a four-hour trip to the capital. And it’s Houchen’s broader success (an optimistic narrative of green jobs and investments) that should worry Starmer even more than any Hartlepool result.

In fact, it’s possible that Ben’s “bounce” counts as much as Boris ’“ bounce ”in the by-elections. With the mayor on the same ballot, putting a cross against a Conservative candidate is the starting drug to do the same for Hartlepool candidate Jill Mortimer.

An Opinium poll suggests Houchen may win in first preference (with 63%), but it also puts West Midlands subway mayor Andy Street at 54%. And here’s the lack of a “Brum bounce” that could cost Labor, some MPs tell me, as party involvement could be affected by the fact that Birmingham City Council, the source of a Labor vote normally solid, do not vote this year.

The pain can’t end here either. If MP Tracey Brabin wins the mayoralty of West Yorkshire this Thursday, Labor will at some point face other tricky by-elections, at their Batley and Spen headquarters. Some expect it to be retained for as long as possible, perhaps until the fall, when furlough begins to be removed.

There is some hope for Labor: Johnson’s chronic inability to plan ahead. When it comes to the concrete business of “leveling up,” the government is so far from knowing what it means that it has only appointed an adviser to the Prime Minister on this issue today (Neil O’Brien). Your “White Paper” is a blank sheet of paper and will not be delivered until the end of this year.

At least Starmer was frank enough to say Tuesday that he would “take full responsibility” for any failure at the polls. If there are some serious setbacks, it is possible that your shaded cabinet is also to blame. Starmer’s perception of “the innocuousness that drives the innocuous” could be as damaging as any other factor in the minds of voters.

A report member reports some good news from Hartlepool. “The people of 15 / ’17 / ’19 reported the furious rage against Labor at the door, which is no longer the case.” Still, Starmer has to transform from non-Corbyn into something positive. If the party loses the by-elections, “meh” voters (who stay home) could pass on to “yes” voters (who support the Conservatives).

Repeat this apathy in a general election, and Starmer might look more like William Hague than Neil Kinnock.