4 May 2018

Barnet shows that Labour’s poisonous politics don’t work


The Conservative victory in Barnet (which includes Mrs Thatcher’s Finchley crib) was more than a relief for a leafy, beautiful, rus-in-urbe borough’s doughty citizenry (among which my husband Keith and I count ourselves). The London borough was Corbyn’s number one target council – apparently so easy to take that they didn’t even pretend it was going to be hard.

The last local elections left the Tories with a majority of just one, which they managed to lose to No Overall Control over the course of the intervening four years. But Labour took no chances, and Barnet got the works: the Owen Jones mass canvass, complete with the self-aggrandising semiotics on social media, as well as the shrieking, spiteful hatred of Anyone Who Votes Conservative that flows in the wake of such happenings like effluent from a burst sewage pipe. The stream of hateful invective which characterises Labour campaigning in 2018 is something against which we’re at risk of becoming inured. We shouldn’t.

It’s not the job of a mild-mannered Tory to point out to “moderate Labour” that it probably wasn’t the most felicitous electoral tactic to release a horde of quasi-pathological obsessives onto the streets of a peaceful suburb, and use social media to magnify their contempt of the bourgeois values that make places like Barnet such havens in the first place. (Labour appears convinced it has a free pass to share its hatred of mainstream Tories on social and broadcast media. For a party that’s supposed to worship Bevan, it appears to have learnt nothing from his “Tories are lower than vermin” remark. It’s not a slogan for, like, a woke tee-shirt at a Hackney pop-up: it was a dreadful electoral tactic that never worked.)

As I say, such backfiring tactical choices are a matter for Labour. But it is the job of any liberal (I mean liberals in any party; really I just mean anyone who believes in pluralism as a public good) to declare that the state of the Labour Party, the unspeakable values it now succours, the grotesque tactics it deploys — the weaponisation of the Windrush cock-up and the Grenfell tragedies spring to mind — and more than anything else, of course, its “Nothing to see here! Baroness Chakrabarti says we’re fine! But best use the back door, Smeeth” approach to the virulent anti-Semitism that disfigures the British Left; that such a combination is toxic to the country’s political health. And it must end.

It’s insupportable for a party to field openly anti-Semitic candidates. It’s unacceptable for Labour MPs to call the Conservative Party “institutionally racist” on national television. It’s unbelievable to look at the racist Twitter feeds of Labour supporters on the appointment of Sajid Javid as Home Secretary. It’s intolerable to have plausibly-deniable arms-length Labour-supporting thugs vandalising Tory offices and sending hate mail to Tory candidates.

So, “decent” Labour members, learn this. You can tell yourself that you’re moderate, you can repeat ad nauseam that racism (and especially anti-Semitism) can’t have anything to do with you “because I joined the Labour Party to fight that sort of thing”, you can look on in shocked disbelief as your internal Corbynite opponents delegitimise your centre-left position in exactly the same way that you’ve spent decades delegitimising mainstream Tories (this is the key point I suspect you’ll never learn, to be honest: Momentum are only doing to you what Blair taught you to do to everyone else) but while you’re enabling Jeremy Corbyn, while you are actively campaigning for him to become Prime Minister: you’re lying. You can be a promoter of Jeremy Corbyn’s party, or a moderate. You cannot be both at the same time.

Lying to yourself, and lying to the voters. Voters in Barnet, at least, could smell your toxic self-delusion a mile-off. The knife-edge borough is now under comfortable Tory control. Blaming Jewish voters – it’s all there, on Twitter – for not turning out for Labour is grotesque beyond the point of mere irony. It’s morally bankrupt.

So enough, now. Put your media cheerleaders back into whichever box you took them from (Channel Four News, if memory serves). No more “Nothing to do with us, guv” excuses about your responsibility for Corbyn; he is entirely your fault, because you could remove him in the blink of a floating voter’s eye.

Reform yourself, quite literally re-form your party, or shrivel back into the various demented Marxist sects from which the bulk of your much-vaunted activist base appears to have originated, and stop bothering the mainstream with your endless denials about your evident culpability. As in Barnet so throughout the country: sunshine, thank God, continues to win the day.

Graeme Archer is a statistician and writer.