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By-election snapshot: the current state of the parties

Updated: Jul 5, 2021

Taken together, the by-election results at Batley and Spen and Chesham and Amersham provide very mixed reading for both the Labour and Conservative parties. Each faces substantial challenges of its own in the months and years ahead as Paul Embery and Charles Moore argue in their respective articles below.

Paul Embery, a trade unionist and fire-fighter is withering in his assessment of the Labour party's prospects in spite of its narrow victory in Batley. His words will send a shiver down the backs of their activists:

"As far as I can see, the major political realignment which has been taking place in British politics for some years, and which was revealed most starkly at the 2019 general election, remains unchecked. Nothing that has happened since that election can be seen as giving Labour any cause for optimism that the outcome was merely an aberration — that the millions of working-class voters who, for the first time, turned to the Tories will at some point in the not-too-distant future realise the error of their ways and return to the fold.

"That the Labour Party is no longer an objection of affection for vast chunks of the British working class is beyond doubt. That millions among that cohort now actively dislike the party and everything it stands for is equally indisputable. And while, in matters of political discourse, it is important at all times to resist the temptation of hyperbole, it is still very difficult, even — perhaps especially — in the wake of Batley and Spen, not to draw the conclusion that the game might genuinely be up for the Labour Party; that the situation is now irrecoverable and we are witnessing the inexorable decline of an organisation that has been a fixture of our national politics for 120 years. In 27 years as a member, I don’t think I have ever felt such a sense of fatalism about the party’s prospects."

For his part Charles Moore is equally sceptical of Boris's Big State and its ability to deliver. Writing in the Telegraph he recalls an email he received from Conservative Party HQ on the morning of polling day in Amersham:

“Charles,” it said, “As we work to build back better from the pandemic, we have renewed our commitment to level up across the country, focused on the people’s priorities … And now we want to know what you think of the bold policies at the heart of this agenda.”

This was my chance, the email went on, to take part in the Conservatives’ Official Levelling-Up Survey: “Do you support our levelling-up agenda?” Out of curiosity, I pressed the “No” button.

Up popped seven questions. I definitely did not support number 4 – the return of 95 per cent mortgages – since that will reopen the dreadful negative equity trap of the early 1990s. As for the others, it seemed to me the obvious answer would be neither yes, nor no, but, “It depends”.

For example, do I support “our £14.4 billion boost to school funding to ensure every child has a world-class education”? Only if we could overcome the teaching unions who, during Covid, went to such lengths not to teach. Before you can be “world-class”, you need good classes.

Do I support the “£33.9 billion a year investment in the NHS, the biggest cash boost in its history”? Surely the reasonable answer is: only because of Covid and its aftermath. We have learnt, time and again, that more money is no guarantee of better NHS performance.

What about question 5: do I support “our £640 billion infrastructure investment to provide the roads, railways, broadband, schools and hospitals every part of the UK needs”? That is almost three quarters of all public sector receipts in 2020-21, so I want to know how we might pay for it. I might wonder if many of those billions are an almost wilful waste of money."

Both parties face gargantuan challenges: the Conservatives as the party in government promising to level-up in the face of multi-generational debt. And Labour as the principal party of opposition, in a fight for its very existence.

See both articles below with links to the originals beneath them.

Article by Paul Embery for Unherd - Batley won't save Labour - 03.07.21
Download PDF • 123KB

Article by Charles Moore for the Telegraph - Time for Conservatives to level with us - 18
Download • 141KB

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