Sunday Best: Labouring in vain
A round-up of Sunday's key stories and things you might have missed this week.
Greetings, fellow enthusiasts of the worst system of government bar all the others,
Voters in Batley and Spen go to the polls on Thursday for a by-election to replace MP Tracy Brabin, who was elected Mayor of West Yorkshire last month. The campaign has been pretty ugly so far, with Labour’s candidate Kim Leadbeater chased in the street, and Leadbeater herself playing some divisive politics. Palestine and LGBT relationships education, not issues that typically dominate British by-elections, have been to the fore.
If Labour loses, Sir Keir Starmer can expect even more intense scrutiny of his leadership and, honestly, his critics wouldn’t be wrong. (Well, the left-wing ones are wrong. About everything.) Sir Keir was seen by the Labour right as the best man to take on both the Corbynistas and the Tories, yet despite a few early flourishes he hasn’t done much of either lately. He sold himself to the Labour left, hard though it may be to believe now, as a leftish candidate: more about unity than settling factional scores. Ask your average Labour leftist what they make of that now.
And to what end? The polls are bad. The left has been subdued but not driven out. And no one really knows who the Labour leader is or what he stands for. The line that the pandemic is distorting politics-as-usual has worn thin.
The campaign in Batley and Spen is emblematic of Labour’s wider problems. George Galloway is standing in the constituency and making his usual pitch to voters traditionally aligned with Labour. He could pull off an upset victory, or he could take enough votes from Labour to hand the seat to the Conservatives.
Across the country, Labour’s natural support is changing, becoming more concentrated in cities and university towns, more graduate-driven, and more socially progressive. (These changes mirror trends in the opposite direction for the Tories, with all the potential consequences for their ‘Blue Wall’, but we only have time to deal with one political party going through a breakdown today.)
For a party as steeped in sentiment as Labour is, losing seats in the north of England feels twice as bad as winning them in the metropolitan south feels good. Plus, there are rather a lot of Tory southern redoubts that, were they to fall over Brexit, planning reform, HS2 or resentment at being neglected in favour of the Red Wall, would fall not to Labour but to the Liberal Democrats. The most fascinating dynamic in British politics today is that the Tories keep winning Labour seats without fully understanding why while Labour don’t seem all that animated about picking off Tory seats or sure how to go about it anyway.
Losing Batley and Spen would be bad for Labour, but it’s far from their only problem right now.
The top stories from across the media.
You wait years for a national security leak to come along...
New health secretary gets our hopes up just like the last one.
Government to track down CCTV leaker. Probably not with Test and Trace, though.
Stories that might have slipped your attention.
It’s the ‘in Sussex’ that makes it.
Science makes welcome comeback.
Except for people who put their bags on the seats. They should hear nothing but announcements, plus random samples of howler monkeys for good measure.
Stories to file under ‘yeah, there’s gonna be a row about this’.
He says that like it’s a bad thing.
The comrades behaving in their usual comradely fashion, I see.
I’ve genuinely forgotten what this row is about.
It’s a small world after all
News from the international scene.
More tragic news from Miami.
45 people were killed in a crowd crush at the religious site in April.
Premier Gladys Berejiklian has defended her decision to delay restrictions in the Aussie state.
That’s just, like, your opinion, man
Op-eds, interviews, and general stuff that makes me go ‘ooooh’.
Sarah Vine on what it’s like to be a government minister’s wife.
James Forsyth on why NHS England’s chief exec can’t resign now.
Neil McCormick on the late singer’s inner turmoil.
Everything I wrote this week. Except ‘All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy’ over and over on a typewriter in a snowbound hotel in the Colorado mountains while a ghost keeps appearing in Room 237 and suddenly there’s an axe in my hands and then…
The working-from-home revolution isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. I explained why in my Scottish Daily Mail column.
Nothing good will come of Labour’s divisive campaign in Batley and Spen.
Why saying ‘not yet’ is the wrong response to SNP demands for a second referendum.
My sketch of First Minister’s Questions on a bad day for Anas Sarwar as Labour MSPs went off-script.
The Scottish Government waited 107 days before telling parliament and the public about a fatal error in cancer screening protocols.
Yeah, that’s weird
Concerning further evidence that this timeline might not be quite right.
Do I even have to tell you this was in Japan?
We’re gonna need an older boat.
I mean, what else is there to do in Solihull?
Tomorrow, the Countess of Avon will celebrate her 101st birthday. She is perhaps better known as Clarissa Eden, the wife of the late Sir Anthony Eden, who served as Prime Minister from 1955 to 1957. Eden passed away in 1977, making her not only the longest-living spouse of a prime minister but the longest-surviving, too. She also had a career in her own right. Several, in fact. She decoded ciphers during World War II before going on to work in the British film industry and later journalism.