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The Bruges Group spearheaded the intellectual battle to win a vote to leave the European Union and, above all, against the emergence of a centralised EU state.
The Bruges Group spearheaded the intellectual battle to win a vote to leave the European Union and, above all, against the emergence of a centralised EU state.

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Spearheading the intellectual battle against the EU. And for new thinking in international affairs.

Is Labour now a “serious party of government”?


After a lengthy period of mediocrity (even to the point of substantial anonymity away from London) since winning the leadership of the Labour Party, Sir Keir Starmer's fortunes have taken a substantial upturn since the Owen Paterson debacle.

Whilst Starmer with his forensic, albeit leaden footed questioning at PMQs has from time to time landed a bloody nose on Boris Johnson, opinion polls stubbornly refused to budge and after losing the Hartlepool by election, he would have faced a leadership challenge had Labour not held Batley & Spen by a wafer thin 323 votes.

Trade unions remain lukewarm at best to Starmerism, which to date has combined modest opposition on the government's handling of COVID-19 (Labour would typically be more draconian) with identity politics. Not the sort of mortar needed to rebuild the red wall.

Privately, Starmer would probably admit that the upturn in the polls and his improved performances both at PMQs and party management have more to do with the Tories inability to move forward from inter alia allegations of sleaze, breaking of pandemic restrictions and the migrant crisis in the English Channel.

His second cabinet reshuffle in 7 months, without informing his deputy, Angela Rayner, showed a ruthlessness, flexibility and nimbleness that hitherto had been elusive.

A review of the Shadows for the Great Offices of State, suggests at the despatch box at least, Labour may well be able to cause the government, which continues over the last 6 weeks to look increasingly like Sir John Major's mid 90s vintage in terms of haplessness, some uncomfortable moments.

Rachel Reeves, who served in Ed Miliband's Shadow Cabinet but was deemed surplus to requirements by Jeremy Corbyn has already shown a cool head and incisive questioning as Shadow Chancellor, not least in response to the Budget in October, when she stood in for Keir Starmer.

Reeves has a strong CV both in industry and on the Labour front bench and since replacing Anneliese Dodds in May, during which time Rishi Sunak's star has begun to fall, despite his protestations of being instinctively a "low tax" Chancellor, hers has continued to rise.

By bringing Yvette Cooper back to frontline politics, Starmer has potentially found a nagging thorn in the side of Home Secretary, Priti Patel. Prominent in newLabour, Cooper opposed tooth and claw the Nationality & Borders Bill and will use every parliamentary machination to block any attempt to exit the European Convention on Human Rights. A staunch Remainer, Cooper has been rewarded for consistent performance leading the Home Affairs Select Committee and her vast experience in her 25th year in parliament will make for interesting debates with Patel.

Where Starmer may have overplayed his hand is in handing David Lammy the opportunity to shadow Liz Truss. Lammy is a black supremacist, race baiter in chief and has previously referred to Tories as Nazis. He is the proverbial loose cannon who manages to view everything through the prism of racial inequality against the Black community.

Truss on the other hand is enjoying stellar popularity amongst the Tory faithful (with an approval rating of 84, amongst Tory members, compared to Boris Johnson on -17). Her work in securing 60+ post Brexit trade deals, (albeit many of them rollovers) led to her replacing Dominic Raab and she has already ensured her profile (including the Thatcheresque tank picture) remains high.

There are also some interesting match ups in other portfolios. Sajid Javid has been unconvincing at Health. Wes Streeting, on the right of the Labour Party and fully recovered from his own health problems will be an interesting adversary. Michael Gove at Levelling Up can expect regular criticism from Lisa Nandy, a Northern MP if the department fails to deliver meaningful progress in the coming years.

Labour's performance in the Old Bexley & Sidcup by election, where the Conservatives secured more than half the vote on a 33% turnout, reduced a 19,000 majority to just under 4,500 with a swing of 10%. On paper, a commendable result against a (temporarily at least) government under the cosh 2 years into their term in office. Until that is the result is compared with Batley & Spen, Jo Cox's constituency until her senseless murder in 2016, when it loses its lustre.

It will be interesting to see how Labour perform in the forthcoming by elections in North Shropshire and Southend West, both theoretically safe Tory seats and more so if there is a recall petition to force a by election in Leicester East, following the conviction of Claudia Webbe.

There are then some positives in the Labour ledger. However, this collection of Remainers, former Blairites, Corbynistas, identitarians and the time bomb that is Angela Rayner is just as likely to implode as Boris Johnson is to get a visit from the grey suits (the optics on the Downing Street Christmas Party(s) that we all know happened are not good at all). As for plan B, I'll leave it there.

Momentum still has a vice like grip over Labour's NEC. The Trades Union Congress fear that socialism is being usurped by identitarianism. Virtue signalling may shore up the enormous majorities in safe London seats but it does not play well with the majority of the electorate Labour needs to win over to prevent the Tories from winning a fifth term.

It would be churlish to say that Labour is not slowly turning their fortunes around after the low water mark of the 2019 General Election. Equally, the party is a long way from being "a serious party of government". They will (already are) inflict damage on this government who need to regain a semblance of competence for a sustained period or expect their poll ratings to continue to lag.

2022 will be a seminal year for Boris Johnson. It will be interesting to see if BoJo can rediscover his mojo.

Despite the omnishambles he inherited (and the propensity for the likes of Angela Rayner, Richard Burgon and David Lammy to engage mouth before brain), Sir Keir Starmer's security of tenure as Labour leader looks much the more assured of the two. 

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