Labours Counsel of Despair – 18 August 2022

Angela Rayner’s comments that Scottish independence would leave England “to perpetual Conservatism” were both factually inaccurate and, what’s worse, a counsel of despair.

Even if every seat in Scotland had voted Labour in 2019, Johnson would have won, as Thatcher managed in her day. The problem therefore lies in England not Scotland and tactics to win there are what should matter for Labour.

After all, the historic election victories for Labour were all delivered largely by votes from south of the Border. The 1945 landslide and even the highest vote, albeit in an electoral defeat in 1951, were predicated on England not the Celtic fringe of Scotland and Wales. Those results show that it’s winning there that matters.

That no doubt explains the shift of so many in the English Left to supporting Scottish independence as a catalyst for change there. But even without that impetus for a re-evaluation of what England and being English means, change can be made and that’s where Rayner and her colleagues are shamefully failing.

England’s not a Tory country. After all, whether Johnson or Thatcher, they’ve not been returned by a majority and rarely even breach 40 per cent, but the electoral system sees them romp home. As past results show, and even Corbyn nearly achieved, a radical agenda can galvanise support.

Critical to that though is electoral reform. England is awash with rotten boroughs where it seems there’s no point in voting as the return of one or other party’s assured. Radical voters in the Isle of Wight are as unrepresented as the few Tory voters in Toxteth.

Electoral reform’s key to that, yet Labour rejects overtures to achieve it. A non-Tory alliance predicated on electoral reform and a wider progressive platform could bring change and one that would be permanent.

Instead Starmer’s Labour prefer to hold out for a political Buggins’ Turn. But it’s not even two terms a piece as in the USA or even every second or third election and it’s now a widening gap before a return.

Labour have only won a majority under three leaders, Atlee, Wilson and Blair in a century. All won on a radical prospectus to what had been before, not an amelioration of Tory rule. But hope of a shot of power trumps the push for permanent change.

It’s not only electoral reform that could come from a progressive alliance but radical change on other aspects that institutionalise Tory control. Labour pledges on changing the House of Lords are becoming laughable. Keir Hardie was genuine in his demands, now Starmer just goes through the motions while appointing a few more Labour Lords and Ladies.

But it’s not just on policies that Rayner’s Labour is failing England. It has a radical history and a lot more than Wat Tyler or Peterloo.

However, rather than champion it, they prefer to sign up for the English/British ‘Exceptionalism’ agenda. No wonder in areas left behind and even devoid of a knowledge of their own history, racism and nihilism have flourished and democratic participation’s scorned. Changing that requires championing, not running from, radicalism in the style of Chartism or the anti-Poll Tax movement. That can inspire where currently there’s despair.

Rayner doesn’t even know her own country, let alone Scotland.