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OP-ED: Labour has lost the plot

  • Published at 12:45 am October 11th, 2021
labour party uk

The party’s stance on certain issues has greatly affected its electability

Boris Johnson’s Conservatives have been in office for nearly two years now. During that time many, including a sizable number of its own supporters, have seriously questioned his and his government’s competency.

The Tories’ handling of the pandemic was mired in allegations of sneeze and cronyism. And as noted in this column last Saturday, domestic gas prices are set to rise dramatically, petrol stations are running out of fuel and, as a result of a shortage of delivery drivers due to Brexit and Covid, supermarket shelves are beginning to empty.

The popular £20 per week temporary supplement to benefits that was paid to the poorest households is shortly to be scrapped and next spring the majority of British taxpayers will see a hefty rise in their National Insurance contributions.

So, you would think that the Labour opposition would be riding high in the opinion polls and having a field day holding the government to account for its dismal record in office. But they are not. Instead, they have been engaged in a very public uncivil war.

Last week, Labour held its annual conference in Brighton. This is the first “in person” conference to be held under its new leader Sir Kier Starmer. It should have been a cause for celebration, but instead has turned into an unholy scrap between the left and right factions of the party.

Under its previous leader, Jeremy Corbyn, Labour moved very markedly to the left and, two years ago, suffered its worst election defeat since 1935. Since his elevation as leader, Starmer has tried to nudge the party back to the centre ground but has faced strong opposition from the many Corbyn supporters still in the party.

The new leader has a very difficult balancing act in trying to keep the left wing of his party on board while at the same time trying to devise policies that will make Labour electable again -- particularly in those so-called “red-wall” seats in the north of England where they lost so heavily in 2019. So, from time to time, Starmer will toss the left some red meat to keep them on side. 

One such juicy morsel was the recent announcement that, if elected, Labour will scrap the charitable status currently enjoyed by independent and private schools. This means that in future these schools will have to pay Value Added Tax (VAT) like any other business on everything they buy, from school stationery to desks, textbooks, and computers. Starmer hopes that this will raise an extra £1.7 billion per annum for the Treasury.

For the better off schools, like Eton and Harrow, this will not present a problem. But for smaller schools, which make up the vast majority of independent schools in the UK, this will prove a real hardship and will see many of them close. Most are run on a shoestring and barely survive as it is. 

At present, only about 7% of children in the UK are privately educated. But when you consider that is about 615,000 children, then the figure becomes significant. If only a quarter of these schools were to close, which is, at best, a conservative estimate, then over 150,000 children will have to return to the state sector to be educated. Extra schools will need to be built and extra teachers recruited and paid for, and that is going to leave a very large hole in any bounty Labour hopes to raise from the ending of charitable status.

A great many working class or lower middle-class parents forgo foreign holidays or new cars to educate their children at these smaller independent schools. And these are precisely the sort of voters Starmer is hoping to win over at the next election.

Another issue likely to alienate potential Labour voters also surfaced last week. Rosie Duffield, the party’s MP for Canterbury, “liked” a tweet from a woman who said that “only women have a cervix.”

Duffield, like many female MPs, is concerned with the growing demands from the left that transgender women should be allowed into female only spaces like changing rooms and women’s toilets. Anyone who questions the wisdom of this is immediately labelled by them as “transphobic.”

Ms Duffield was so concerned for her own safety that she decided not to attend last week’s conference.

This would have been a perfect opportunity for Sir Kier to have supported his beleaguered colleague, but he declined to do so. When asked in a recent TV interview what his reaction to Duffield’s “like” of the original was, he replied that she “shouldn’t have done it.”

The outrage from women -- who, let us not forget, make up 51% of the UK’s population -- has been loud and clear. Many of them who were former Labour voters have vowed never to return to the party while it supports such unscientific nonsense.

If Labour wants to win back their traditional voters, who find the party’s stance on this issue frankly baffling and ludicrous, then they will have to stop pandering to the minority “woke” left of the party and step out into the real world.

Kit Fenwick is a freelance journalist and historian.

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