Sunday Best: Labouring in vain

A round-up of Sunday's key stories and things you might have missed this week.

UK Parliament via CC BY-NC 2.0.

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.


Headlines

The top stories from across the media.

Classified MoD documents found at bus stop

You wait years for a national security leak to come along...

Return to normal ‘as soon as possible’, says Javid on first day

New health secretary gets our hopes up just like the last one.

Matt Hancock video leak will be investigated

Government to track down CCTV leaker. Probably not with Test and Trace, though.


Sidelines

Stories that might have slipped your attention.

Police swoop on ongoing illegal rave in Sussex

It’s the ‘in Sussex’ that makes it.

Vaccine hesitancy wanes despite thousands joining ‘Freedom March’

Science makes welcome comeback.

Infuriating train announcements will terminate here

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.


Battle lines

Stories to file under ‘yeah, there’s gonna be a row about this’. 

Salmond accuses Sturgeon of doing ‘nothing at all’ to deliver independence

He says that like it’s a bad thing.

Hard left and Blairites circle Keir Starmer ahead of Batley and Spen by-election

The comrades behaving in their usual comradely fashion, I see.

Don’t make travel row personal, Burnham tells Sturgeon

I’ve genuinely forgotten what this row is about.


It’s a small world after all

News from the international scene.

Four more bodies discovered in Champlain condo collapse

More tragic news from Miami.

Israel appoints former chief justice to head Mount Meron disaster probe

45 people were killed in a crowd crush at the religious site in April.

NSW records 30 new COVID-19 cases on first day of two-week lockdown

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’.

The problem with the wife who's been with you forever

Sarah Vine on what it’s like to be a government minister’s wife. 

The NHS needs Simon Stevens to stay

James Forsyth on why NHS England’s chief exec can’t resign now.

Ten years on from Amy Winehouse’s death, I’ve learnt the sad truth about our final meeting

Neil McCormick on the late singer’s inner turmoil.


Shameless plugs

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…

Recovery means going back to work

The working-from-home revolution isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. I explained why in my Scottish Daily Mail column. 

Labour’s worrying descent into communalism 

Nothing good will come of Labour’s divisive campaign in Batley and Spen.

Ever weaker Union 

Why saying ‘not yet’ is the wrong response to SNP demands for a second referendum.

Labour MSP wants Holyrood veto on going to war 

My sketch of First Minister’s Questions on a bad day for Anas Sarwar as Labour MSPs went off-script.

Did the SNP cover up a cancer crisis?

The Scottish Government waited 107 days before telling parliament and the public about a fatal error in cancer screening protocols.


Shameless pugs


Yeah, that’s weird 

Concerning further evidence that this timeline might not be quite right. 

Emergency services rescue 'drowning' sex doll

Do I even have to tell you this was in Japan?

Man who died 3,000 years ago is earliest known shark attack victim

We’re gonna need an older boat.

Solihull man breaks world M&M-stacking record

I mean, what else is there to do in Solihull?


And finally

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.


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