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Editorial: By-election bounce-back does not mean Starmer can stay

WAKEFIELD is the birthplace of the next Labour government, Keir Starmer announced portentously today, following Labour’s win in the by-election in the Yorkshire city. 

The truth, however, is more prosaic. The last time Labour came within sight of government, in the 2017 general election, it secured a bigger share of the vote in Wakefield than it did this week. And even then it still fell short nationally — Wakefield was safely Labour in many general elections which the party lost over the last century. 

It was only Starmer’s successful manoeuvring to impose on Labour a second referendum commitment to obstruct Brexit which lost Wakefield and other “red wall” seats in the first place. 

And so far his campaign to win them back is mixed, to say the least — Wakefield won, Batley narrowly retained and Hartlepool lost. In fact, Labour’s vote in Wakefield was its lowest in the seat since 1924.  

Such a victory is an anaemic achievement for a lacklustre leader.  

The only unambiguous takeaway from Wakefield and from the Liberal Democrats’ rather more dramatic win in Tiverton and Honiton, is that people in all parts of the country are exasperated with the Tory government, its lies, its corruption, its mishandling of the economy and its inane culture wars. 

Twelve years after they were placed in government by Nick Clegg and the Liberal Democrats — a circumstance which must not be forgotten — the Tories are overdue for a fall. The country is aching for a new government.   

It is unclear what the nature of that alternative government may be. Clearly, the next administration should be a radical Labour one.  As things stand, however, Starmer’s only visible signs of activity are in discarding any and every radical commitment Labour has had, an operation which has not brought a majority Labour government obviously closer. 

It is not irrelevant to note that Labour’s share of the vote in Tiverton and Honition fell on Thursday to just 3 per cent. It was over 25 per cent in 2017. 

Some might say — so what? It was never a seat that Labour could win, and people voted tactically to defeat the Tories. 

Nevertheless, the collapse in Labour’s vote share is surely in part due to the Starmer leadership abandoning large parts of the country to the Liberal Democrats and running only token campaigns in support of Labour candidates. 

This is the thin end of an undeclared pact with Ed Davey’s party. It liquidates the labour movement as a political force in many parts of the country. 

The “token campaign” arrangement was a one-way street on Thursday. The Liberal Democrats did, it is true, poll less than 2 per cent in Wakefield, but then they have not got more than 4 per cent in the last three general elections anyway, so their abstention from a real fight there made little difference. 

The danger is that this points the way to some form of “progressive alliance” lashing Labour, Liberal Democrats and Greens together in a Frankenstein’s Monster of a pact. 

Such a concoction would never deliver the change Britain needs. It could not lead to a socialist government — the Liberal Democrats, who last saw ministerial office imposing austerity alongside the Conservatives, would ensure that. 

It would only serve to advance Tony Blair’s longstanding ambition to fuse Labour and Liberals into one party, turning the political clock back to Edwardian days. 

In this, as in all else, Starmer is an enemy of socialism and an obstruction to the formation of a government that could really tackle the capitalist crisis. Like it or not, the left needs to be actively working for his removal. 

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