Sergio Aguero has a golden reputation as a penalty taker and has scored 78% of his shots from the spot throughout his career. Manchester City may have sat back with confidence last week as Aguero stepped up against Chelsea to secure their Premier League title. The attempt sailed gracefully into the arms of the keeper. Starmer stepped onto the spot two days prior with confidence to match the Argentine. After a year of missing continuous open goals, Labour’s result should come as no surprise.
Thatcher famously claimed New Labour as her finest achievement. It appears the current generation of Tories have stowed the same trophy in their cabinet, and the cabinet opposite them for that matter. Insults of being a ‘red Tory’ have been flying in Starmer’s direction for some time, whilst his supporters claim his priority is repairing the damage done by his predecessor. What we see today is the ugly reality of the latest chapter in Labours long history of civil war.
Under New Labour and the traditional Tory model, parties are funded by big donors who expect a return on their investment. Famously, Blair came under fire after Bernie Eccleston tried to use his newfound political leverage to allow cigarette advertisements in F1. Under Jeremy Corbyn, membership grew by over 200%, peaking at around 600,000. This made the Labour Party the richest party in the UK. Corbyn failed because he refused to play the game. He promoted those who opposed him including the current leader of the party and he failed to sack the protagonists of a coup that succeeded in thwarting the party in two elections.
When Corbyn lost his first general election in a landslide, it was proclaimed as the final testament to his failings as a leader and his unelectable ideologies. Whilst Corbyn’s baggage was beyond reprise for the electorate, there was no doubt that his movement was still motivated and engaged. Starmer knew this and promised to make the Corbyn vision a tangible possibility in the polls, whilst bringing back the heartland seats lost in 2019.
The reality is barely a tepid semblance of his blandest commitments.
In late February, the Tories proposed an increase to corporation tax slashed to the lowest rate of any G7 economy during the Osbourne/Cameron era. This was a proposition supported by 67% of the public and by business leaders themselves who were “largely relaxed” about the increase. Bafflingly, Starmer aggressively opposed this proposition. This directly contradicted his leadership promises and was a feeble and futile attempt at combating Labour’s image as the party of tax hikes. Concern over their own image came before ensuring an equitable economic recovery which ought to have been the centre piece of their proposition to the public.
In his first year, Starmer has ruthlessly bludgeoned the left, profoundly patronised the working-class and baffled the centre with his erratic judgement and clumsy planning. Corbyn’s catastrophic 2016 local elections saw the worst opposition result in 40 years. Starmer’s losses in his first test were 7x greater. Beyond snappy sound bites on PMQs, Starmer has done almost nothing to oppose the government on their shambolic handling of the Coronavirus. If a period where tens of thousands died preventable deaths is ‘no time for opposition’ we may as well be living in a one-party state.
The loss of Hartlepool is the headline humiliation of these elections and Starmer and his team have tried to place the blame on the previous leadership. The same leadership that won this seat with a record margin, twice. Corbyn was heavily criticised for his failure to unify the party behind a clear remain or leave message in the lead-up to the Brexit referendum. Starmer placed a remain candidate in Hartlepool; a seat that voted for leave by a margin of over 70%. This was stupid at best and vindictive at worst.
Whilst Labour offered focus groups, the Tories have offered airports, hospitals and a Brexit deal. This is not the austerity government of 2010. The Tories are spending and doing so tactically in seats they believe they can win. In spite of my own leanings, I would have been more likely to vote for a Labour Party in favour of Brexit. This would have at least taken away the salt rubbed into the already gaping wound of doubt in Labour’s capacity to offer a real alternative in forgotten Northern towns.
A London centric champagne socialist like me might be bewildered by a town like Hartlepool or Lees in Greater Manchester voting for a government that has nothing but contempt for their welfare. This is the greatest open goal of all. The lack of vision is one thing but the failure to shout about the corruption and crass lack of respect for the general public openly flaunted by the Tories is the miss that could have saved Starmer. Perhaps he will score if he’d pick a goal. Until then he’ll be shooting into the back of his own net.