According to the science of Red Wall pollsters and focus groupers, Labour can only get permission to be heard again by voters in the North if it first proves it has spent a long time hearing the people’s anger against Labour and internalising the great gospel of Daily Mail headlines which native Northern humankind is born and bred to believe. Step forward, top Red Wall pundit and incoming Labour strategy director, Deborah Mattinson.
Hope not hate
And yet, along comes instead a woman who has lived all her life in her West Yorks constituency and retains the seat for Labour against the choreographed onslaught of a vicious, well-funded Trump tribute performer, boosted by the narrative of a media baying for Starmer’s blood, by arguing for what? “Hope not hate”, community values, decency, kindness, fairness, unity, diversity, social justice. Labour values in contemporary terms.
Of course, this glitch is now quickly being re-spun. The by-election was called a referendum on Starmer, but that was because he was meant to lose. Now all bets are back on again, and Starmer, condemned to inevitable failure by the narrative, is swiftly redirected back to the last-chance saloon where he belongs. It’s almost as good as having a Labour leader you can smear, year on year, as an anti-Semite.
Our question is, might we not take some time out to learn from Kim Leadbeater’s way of being successful? Maybe there is mileage in those “woke” Labour values which the pundits teach us that real people despise? Maybe the director of strategy should visit the area for some refresher focus grouping? And maybe triangulating tabloid echo-ideologues don’t know everything about politics after all?
In an astute blog on the by-election, Yasmin Ali praises a new generation of women Labour campaigners, including Kim, who stay closed to the subtleties of the local terrain, and gave a platform to local voices like Batley’s Muslim women, which don’t obediently repeat the HQ comms narrative. Was there a chorus on the Pennine doorsteps demanding to “get ‘get Brexit done’ done”? Not very noticeably, it seems.
Serving the national interest?
On the other hand if, as appeared over the weekend, Labour instead of taking this opportunity to authorise a less timid policy, sticks with the back-office focus-groupers’ advice to brand itself as an alternative party of populist economic nationalism, it may discover two years later that imitation flag-waving Brexit-masochism does not win much moral or electoral leverage when competing with the original xenophobic version.
Labour’s “buoyant” weekend relaunch, following the surprise win, is almost certainly none other than the patriotic “bounceback” it had prepared as its response to an expected repeat Red Wall thrashing. There clearly wasn’t enough time for the Leader’s comms team to rewrite their narrative, but maybe they might now think of daring to imagine an economic policy that actually serves the national interest. We have one suggestion…