English local election results have continued right where General Election 2019 left off – namely, the Conservatives winning over the former Labour “red wall.” Councils that were once the safest of safe Labour areas are now Tory. Hartlepool, a constituency that has been controlled by Labour since its inception, now has a Conservative MP. Though the results are not yet calculated, it is widely expected the West Midlands and Teesside mayoralties will be held by the Tories. Many, especially in the Labour party, must be wondering, how did this happen? The continuing destruction of Labour by the Conservatives are down to both Labour folly and Conservative success.
Conservative success in this local election is because Boris Johnson succeeded in two main areas: Brexit and the vaccine roll out. Boris Johnson promised to get Brexit done at the last election and he did. The UK is completely out of the EU. Boris Johnson’s government then opted out of the EU’s vaccine scheme and now the UK is the most vaccinated country in Europe. Because of that decision, among others, the UK is set to come out of the COVID lockdown restricted economy with its fastest economic growth in 70 years. Meanwhile, the EU languishes behind. This new found British freedom from the EU was most recently shown by the Royal Navy literally dispersing a French attempt to steal British fish and blockade energy to the island on Boris’s orders. Brexit has been a triumph. Because the Conservatives, despite the bumps in the roads, achieved the two massive national projects of Brexit and vaccination, they are being rewarded by the voters.
Labour meanwhile is in an awful state. While Corbyn helped bring about the destruction of the party at the last election, Sir Keir Starmer hasn’t improved his party’s standing in the slightest – and not just for his lack of charisma. Specifically, Starmer made two strategic missteps in the past year.
Firstly, Labour, despite Starmer’s effort to (pretend to) make the party patriotic, it is still seen as a woke and out of touch urban party. Starmer and his deputy Angela Rayner deciding to do a photo opportunity “taking the knee” during the George Floyd protests of the last summer angered voters in areas they needed to win. This is addition to Sadiq Khan’s London woke posturing has made the party increasingly unpopular outside of urban cores. Secondly, and probably most importantly, Starmer made Labour into a fence sitting party that failed to actually be an Opposition. For example, on lockdown, a policy vigorously opposed by the Daily Globe, not only did Starmer’s Labour support the policy but the only time they did oppose the government was to tell them to lockdown harder. Labour’s farcical attempt at being “an opposition” was epitomized by Keir Starmer posing with John Lewis wallpaper to troll the Tories about “sleaze” or something that nobody cares about. Labour, on almost every issue, looks like an irrelevance, and the debate about the governing the country, whether on lockdown or fiscal policy, is almost entirely contained in the Conservative party. Labour is electorally lost.
This continued move to the Conservatives could and probably will one day be stopped. But there should not be masses of seats moving from the opposition to government after 11 years in government – in 2008 and 1990 for example, the opposition was on the ascendancy. For Labour to start winning again they will have to choose between their woke urban voters and their old core voters – they can’t have both – as the Remainer former Labour MP candidate in Hartlepool found out today.
While this was a bright day for the Conservatives, a storm is on the horizon with regard to Scotland – a place where the votes from today have not yet been counted. It is certainly possible the government may have to face down a Scottish Parliament with a pro-independence majority demanding another independence referendum. Further, the situation in Northern Ireland is concerning, with the disastrous protocol still in place and the split in unionist vote making a Sinn Fein First Minister possible after the Assembly elections next year. For today however, despite all the drama of the past year, Boris Johnson is a Prime Minister with the power of Margaret Thatcher or Tony Blair – a political force that cannot be stopped. A (in British political terms anyway) World King.