Labour claims, parroted by many well positioned commentators, that the party’s woes are all due to Jeremy Corbyn do not stand up to objective scrutiny (“Horror show in Hartlepool spells trouble for Starmer”, Report, May 8).
If you go back to Labour’s vote in 1983, when Margaret Thatcher roundly beat Michael Foot in the wake of the Falklands war, it was 8.46m. In Tony Blair’s last election in 2005, Labour won with 9.55m votes. Under Gordon Brown in 2010, when the party was outpolled by David Cameron’s Conservatives, Labour garnered 8.6m votes, whereas Labour under Corbyn in 2017 got 12.88m votes and 10.27m in 2019.
General elections follow a similar pattern in Hartlepool, where Boris Johnson’s Conservatives triumphed in last week’s by-election. In 1974, the year the constituency was created, the votes were 26,988 for Labour, and 22,700 for the Conservatives. By the time of the 2004 by-election when Peter Mandelson stood down as the local MP to become an EU commissioner, Labour held the seat with 12,752 votes. Labour under Corbyn twice won Hartlepool, securing 21,969 votes in 2017 and 15,464 in 2019, holding off the Conservative challenge, although in 2019 the Conservative and Brexit party vote combined was 22,472.
This is not to say that all was well under Corbyn but neither was it under New Labour. Moreover, Social Democrat parties are losing outright across Europe. The conclusion must be that Sir Keir Starmer is unlikely to find a way forward if he simply imitates New Labour. In fact, the loss of almost all the 56 seats won by Labour in 1997 in Scotland make a Labour majority government almost impossible in the foreseeable future.
However, the Conservatives could easily lose overall control and Labour and the smaller parties could take power in a coalition. But this requires a different kind of politics and there is no sign that anyone around Starmer is capable of thinking about this.