Three very different results and lessons to learn.
First off, Somerton and Frome. For the Labour Party it is as if this stunning defeat of the Tories didn’t happen. Trawl the party’s media and statements not a dicky bird. Not one mention, a news blackout. It’s as if the party is fearful of admitting yes, other opposition parties can defeat the Tories. For a party where apparently ‘the grown- ups have taken over’, this reveals an extraordinary level of insecurity producing an ungraciousness. The direct result of Labourism’s inability to countenance pluralism, it produces an intolerant party culture.
Dishonest too: next to no Labour resources deployed in Somerton and Frome, no shadow cabinet minister visits, no MPs acting as full-time campaigners. Quite unlike Uxbridge and Selby. Good, so why not have the honesty to admit what was under way?
My own constituency, Lewes in East Sussex is a Tory-Lib Dem marginal. Labour has never won the seat, didn’t come even close in’45 or ’97, been third, or fourth since ’74. Yet the illusion remains Labour must fight the seat with all it has. To resist the temptation to expel me, I’ll choose my words carefully. Labour can’t win here, the Tories can lose here. My position, is very simple, celebrate the latter; and as in ’17 and ’19, campaign where Labour can win in Sussex, Hastings, Crawley, and the new Worthing seat. Forget about Lewes. Leave it to the opposition party that can win here, and when they do have the good grace and self-confidence to congratulate the Lib Dems for doing so.
Second, Uxbridge and South Ruislip. Labour’s response to the failure to win this one , heaping all blame on Sadiq Khans Ultra Low Emission Zones (ULEZ) doesn’t augur well. Anything resembling a serious response to the climate emergency demands a whole range of changes that require winning popular consent. How we heat our homes, short haul and holiday flights, our diet, the current mode, of the farming industry, widespread afforestation, ending dependency on fossil fuels, and yes what powers our cars. All this and more will have to change, and fast. Anything less equals environmental breakdown. And yet Labour beats a headlong retreat after losing by 495 votes on largely spurious grounds. Perhaps not imposing a candidate on the local party might have got Labour over the line, or persuading half those 893 who voted Green that Labour can be trusted with the reversing climate change, or just 10% of those who voted Labour in 2019 but didn’t vote this time it was worth backing Keir.
Third, Selby and Ainsty. A stunning victory. If this proves to be the template in 2024, a Labour landslide beckons. It would be churlish therefore to suggest that everything Keir does is wrong. Another new seat since 2010, a much bigger Tory majority than 2010, contested by an identikit Labour candidate from party central casting, straight out of university to work as a Labour MP’s parliamentary researcher, then the CBI , links to constituency pretty tenuous, when asked supports Child Benefit limit to two children. children. But he won, and the very obvious tactical decision by the Liberal Democrats not to campaign here and put all efforts into Somerton and Frome is another good portent for tactical campaigning in 2024. As for the Greens: as in Somerton and Frome, and Uxbridge and South Ruislip, despite their very good showing in this year’s local elections, their voters when it comes to a parliamentary election have the good sense to ‘lend’ their votes to the opposition party most likely to win the seat. The win then is a good sign for Labour, a sign too that this would be a Labour government a bit better than the Tories, not hard, but not a lot.
So a mix.
One difference I would have with my friends in Compass is forget about a ‘Progressive Alliance’. Its not going to happen, don’t make impossible demands that can only disappoint. Instead make tactical voting as easy to follow as possible, reach out way beyond the ‘Guardian-reading, tofu-eating, wokerati’ to turn this into a popular movement from below. And persuade Labour’s activist base, the Lib Dems’ too, to go to campaign where each of us can win, not where we can’t and even worse our activism stops a fellow opposition party from winning.
Which is a lesson too for the rising of the Green Party. Finishing a distant third, or even a distant second, will make no useful contribution to your cause or our shared aim to get the Tories out. Saving your one seat, Brighton Pavilion, will be a big enough victory. If saved and a Labour coalition Sian Berry should be invited to join it with open arms. Taking this seat off the Greens should be so low down Labour’s list of priorities to be close to non-existent (when asked to canvass in Brighton Pavilion my diary always seems to be full with campaigning in other Sussex seats Labour can win off the Tories.)
Learn these lessons and General Election ’24 starts to look hopeful because not only because a Labour win becomes more likely, but they may open up chinks in the culture of monopoly-Starmerism and the intolerance of difference which unchallenged will serve to minimise the potential of what such a victory might change.
Mark Perryman is the organiser of Lewes Labour’s Saturday 18 November Festival of Ideas ‘Mission Possible’and the author of Corbynism from Below available here.