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Crewe and Nantwich: Beginning of the End


2:20 pm - May 22nd 2008

by Alan Thomas    


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If the polls are to be believed, today’s by-election in Crewe and Nantwich will deliver a widely expected drubbing to New Labour. Indeed, following a juvenile (at best) and deeply unpleasant (at worst) campaign run by Birmingham Hall Green MP Steve McCabe, it’s precisely what they deserve.

It does however raise the ongoing problem for “heartland” working class Labour voters of being stuck without a viable alternative to arrogant and ossified local Labour machines. If Tamsin “the hereditary MP” Dunwoody is beaten, it is likely to be by patrician Tory Edward Timpson.

Timpson may well be a nice man, jolly charming at parties and a regular giver to charity or whatever, but he is still a Tory and thus no more capable of representing working class voters in Crewe than the various Blair/Brownite pillocks who have spent the past few weeks either running around the city in top hats and tails, or else handing out shameful leaflets which come at the Tories from the right on immigration. The Labour campaign is utterly disgraceful, as commentators have rightly pointed out.

What it does mean, however, is the beginning of the end for this government. The Tories have not taken a by-election seat from Labour in decades, and certainly not one so rock-solid as Crewe and Nantwich, which does not even rank inside the top 150 Labour “marginals” in the UK. As someone originally from Southampton, whose first real experience of a general election was watching Labour sweep the board in 1997, it hardly bodes well for the party’s few remaining outposts on the south coast if it cannot even hold on to its northern heartlands.

What is more, defeat in Crewe will offer proof positive (if any more were needed) that Gordon Brown is not a credible leader for what was one the political party of the working class in the UK.

The sad thing is, the structures of the party have been so successfully destroyed by its dominant Blair/Brownite wing that it is impossible to see a way in which the internal forces to its left could come back, even if they weren’t so shattered and directionless as they are. Which leaves the likes of the average Crewe voter stuck where they always were – between a rock and a hard place.

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About the author
Alan Thomas is a regular contributor to Liberal Conspiracy. He is a blogger, a political activist and a lay member of Unite-TGWU. His main interests outside of UK left politics are in Turkey, Kurdistan and the USA. And is also always delighted to write about wine and fine food when he's in less of an intellectual mood. Also at: Shiraz Socialist
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Story Filed Under: Blog ,Labour party ,Westminster

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Reader comments


If your first election experience was 1997, you will not remember the years of Margaret Thatcher, who did more to help the poor than any other post-war prime minister. She gave council house dwellers the right to buy their homes, thus releasing them frrom dependency on the state, and she lowered taxes to encourage the poor to work and keep the money they earned.

And before you bang on about closing the mines: she didn’t do it. They were unprofitable. That’s why they closed. If she had continued to prop them up with state subsidies it would have taken this country’s economy further on the socialist path to ruin. The industrial and manufacturing base of this country has declined at least as much under the current government as it did under the Conservatives as a result of globalisation and the fact that the chinese can mine coal and make things for a tenth of what it costs us.

I haven’t been following this bye-election much because, well, just because.
But I did see Tamsin Dunwoody and the Libdem candidate (I can’t remember her name) on Newsnight the other night and was not impressed at all.

Tamsin, looked all smarmy and smug, sat there grinning and being proud of her negative campaign and the Libdem woman struggled to answer the first couple of questions and had to have the other Libdem chap bail her out.

I got a bit bored after 5 minutes of these two clowns and turned off.

dominant Blair/Brownite wing that it is impossible to see a way in which the internal forces to its left could come back,

Why does it have to be forces “to the left of” the authoritarian corporatist tendency? Can’t the liberal, decentralist reformist tendency (like, say, Unity of this parish) do something to reclaim the party?

The modern Labour party is a broad church of unions, corporatists, social democrats and radicals—would be nice to see the radicals get a chance for once.

Alan, my first general election experience was 1945. The victors believed that New Jerusalem had arrived, and the losers thought they were going to be hanged from lamp posts any minute. Both were hilariously wrong!

As a matter of historical fact, the Tory Party has always depended for its successes on a substantial working class vote. From the 1840s onward there was an alliance between the landowners and industrial workers against the unregulated greed of the ‘free trade’ mill owners who fought against the Tory Lord Shaftesbury’s efforts to limit working hours for children and regulate factory conditions. In later Victorian times, the ‘Tory Democracy’ of Disraeli and Lord Randolph Churchill had a strong base of working class votes.

As Chas says, even the Left’s hate figure Thatcher did some things which benefited poorer people. Politics isn’t a matter of all black and white, and at this juncture when we need constructive change I hope that liberally minded people will use independent judgement and not just chant tribal slogans.

Oh, Chas? This little non Labour supporting liberal would like to point out that without Attlee’s Govt there wouldn’t have been any council houses to sell off, let alone the much bigger bonus of the NHS. Hyperbole is sometimes useful, but if you want to do it with history, try and do it with perspective as well. (and as this is completely off topic I’ll leave this as an aside)

Chas,

The Chinese may well be able to mine coal cheaper than the people of South Yorkshire and South Wales. However, they still needed to import 51 million tonnes in 2007 to satisfy their demands, so there is clearly a market for coal.

And Thatcher did close the pits. And she did it out of political vindictiveness, not economics. I agree the de-industrialisation of Britain has continued, but with the decimation of the steel industry, the closure of the mines, and Thatcher’s oft-stated remark that Britain should become a service industry “like Taiwan” the important steps were taken under her watch.

The poor who can not get social housing must be eternally grateful that their parents generation bought their council homes at knockdown prices so that they now have to scrabble around for 120% mortgages for a Barratt’s box.

She gave council house dwellers the right to buy their homes, thus releasing them frrom dependency on the state

That may or may not have helped that particular generation of working poor, but it’s buggered things up for those who came afterwards – given that for most working people nowadays even the housing ladder’s lowest rungs have become unattainable, rents are sky high and council houses are rarer than hens with driving licences.

If you think she made councils sell off their housing stock (without being allowed to invest the proceeds in building more) to help poor people, by the way, you’re sadly mistaken. She did it because she (rightly) figured that people paying mortgages are far more likely to toe the line where employment’s concerned than those with (relatively) forgiving council landlords. Another element of her largely successful drive to destroy the unions – generally more of a voice for working people than toff-dominated Labour, old or nu, ever was.

Like me, there are a lot of Labour supporters in Crewe who are thoroughly pissed off with the party. You can almost smell the sense of betrayal in the air, and it stinks; however these people must think very carefully about where they place their votes today.

Make no mistake, things are very bad right now, and it looks as if they could get a hell of lot worse by this evening. Even then, from a personal level, the thought of Labour supporters voting Tory is beyond my comprehension. This is something that I could never, EVER dream of doing; to be honest the very thought if it disgusts me!

Various sources tell us that the Lib Dems will benefit as a result of the governments retreating support. Now, I would admit that I’ve voted Lib Dem in the past; in fact I did a few weeks ago at the local elections. This is totally different though.

By switching to the Lib Dems, the only thing that will be achieved is a Tory victory. Lets be honest here – there is a far greater chance of Scarlet Johansson phoning me this afternoon and inviting me out for dinner then there is of the Lib Dems winning this seat. In their heart of hearts they know this – one only had to see the Cleggster at PMQs yesterday – he didn’t even mention the by-election.

Tim—my money, if I had any, would be Lib Dems in 2nd place—I reckon the Tories have it in the bag (such a piss poor Labour campaign has helped them FFS), and others will defect to Lib Dems, others will stay at home.

It’s only a by-election, and years of election watching says it’ll return to the fold at the next general (unless there’s a wipeout).

Lib Dem by-election wins need a few more weeks to campaign in, that’s one of the reasons Labour moved the writ so early. The Tories are a bit over-confident in Henley for Boris to not have taken the Hundreds already methinks.

I’m a Labour supporter, and I’m getting really fed up of all this hyperbole over our Crewe and Nantwich campaign. I reading far too much about how “utterly disgraceful” it is, I think that’s a serious exaggeration and I’m disappointed that so many people have jumped on this particular bandwagon.

Andreas—I don’t think it’s disgraceful. I think it’s both shit and counter-productive. Attacking Boris as a “toff” didn’t help and probably helped him, and doing so in Crewe isn’t going to do much there either.

I dont want Labour to get wiped out at the next GE, which is why I critique—a Cameron landslide is a horribly thought to behold. Ergo, if I see a shit campaign that’s losing you votes, I’ll say it.

Campaign on issues, attack on actual character. The class war rhetoric was outdated twenty years ago, now? It’s just a vote loser.

Of course, I might be wrong and you might still win—but the bookies don’t think so.

Andreas – it seems to be mostly Labourites who think it disgraceful.
The Tories love it!

Nothing wrong with calling the campaign “shit”,”crap” or “nasty”. I certainly don’t think it’s the kind of campaign Labour should have run. What I object to is the way so many commentators have decided to chip in and criticise the campaign, often going over the top with their criticsm. Just as the original poster does here with his “utterly disgraceful”.

Swiftboat Vets was disgraceful, Willie Horton was disgraceful. On our side of the fence, what Miranda Grell did was disgraceful, Crewe & Nantwich was just bad.

And Thatcher did close the pits. And she did it out of political vindictiveness, not economics.

No one seemed to want to buy them. Why not, if they were profitable?

Can’t the liberal, decentralist reformist tendency (like, say, Unity of this parish) do something to reclaim the party?

They never controlled it in the first place – certainly not in the days of Scargill etc. It occurs to me that vested interests within the public sector must also be represented within the Labour Party, precisely because it is so representative of the public sector. By implication, the best hope of a reformist tendency within Labour is a Cameron government which successfully destroys those interests.

In the same way that Thatcher destroyed the old union baronies.

Andreas,

It has been disgraceful, Labour have attacked the Tories from the RIGHT(!) on immigration and crime, they’ve said things that the modern Tory party wouldn’t even dare say.

As for the rest of the campaign, if you aren’t going to campaign on issues you’d better make sure that your candidate has a very likeable personality. Tamsin Dunwoody might be a very nice woman, but she’s backed up by a very negative campaign which only serves to make her look a bit nasty added to the fact that she’s been parachuted in in an apparent attempt at a quasi hereditary coup (and what is it about woman in the Labour party looking permanently smug?). In this campaign of personalities rather than policies she’s up against Timpsom-nice-but-dimsum, every so charming grew up in a virtual orphanage and fights for the rights of the single mums.

To run a campain on personalities against that was utterly stupid.

Bob Piper

You seem to equate “there is a market for coal” with “UK pits were economic”.

Firstly there is a difference in tense. The Chinese economy in 1983 was run on Marxist lines. It’s a bit different to saying that they are importing coal now.

Secondly, even if they were importing coal then, so what? – would they want to buy expensive deep-mined coal from the UK or cheap opencast mined coal from other places?

Will be interesting to see if any of those leadership challenges rumours turn real tomorrow if today turns out to be a real disaster for Labour….

Leon

Bizarrely, I think Gordon will hoping they do.

An unsuccesful challenge by Charles Clarke, or someone else who really couldn’t be elected Labour leader in a month of Sundays, could be just about the only way Gordon can revive his premiership.

Andreas: Swiftboat Vets was disgraceful, Willie Horton was disgraceful. On our side of the fence, what Miranda Grell did was disgraceful, Crewe & Nantwich was just bad.

Yes, I’d agree with that.

Paul: An unsuccesful challenge by Charles Clarke, or someone else who really couldn’t be elected Labour leader in a month of Sundays, could be just about the only way Gordon can revive his premiership.

Agree with that too. I have a feeling Frank Field might try something…

Of course it was utterly disgraceful. Seeing any kind of left-wing, socially liberal or “radical” (an undefined term if ever there was one) party trying to come at the dominant party of the right, from the right on immigration, is disgraceful. I never thought I’d see the day when a Labour campaign went grubbing for votes based on attacks on one of the most vulnerable groups in society. How on earth else would you define such a thing, but as a shameful disgrace to progressive politics?

Aye, Brown and supporters should by now be regretting the coronation, and while it didn’t sort things for him, Major managed to quell a lot of critics after he fought of Redwood.

The big question of course is will a big enough figure to be a threat actually run? Field has no chance, Milburn’s been rumoured—would a Cabinet minister have the guts to give it a go? Harman’s looked very uncomfortable in a few TV interviews recently…

Alan, crossover again—I meant to capitalise, apologies, by Radicals I was jokingly referring to Mill’s description of the old Liberal party before it split three ways, Whigs, Liberals and Radicals:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Radicals_(UK)

Given that the modern Labour party absorbed a bunch of the Liberals, I tend to refer to those from that tradition as Radicals, although it’s a horribly obscure reference.

Cheers Mat I get you now 🙂

Similarly, when I talk about “left” I do mean people who are socially liberal and inclined to decentralise (in the sense of empower the populace) in terms of political power. For me, the two are and should be connected.

Alan, I disagree, there are plenty of people for whom immigration is a serious concern and a fair number of those are working class people who the Labour party should be representing.

Over the past few years we have seen the government unable to effectively answer questions on the number of foreign nationals and have also had government estimates called into question. As a result the government proposes the use of the forthcoming national identity register, as a method of keeping track of foreign nationals entering the country.

For all their tough talk, the Tories don’t have a leg to stand on when it comes to immigration and I don’t see why Labour shouldn’t point this out in it’s leaflets.

A leadership challenge from the party’s right (Milburn et al) would be helpful as it would force Brown to defend the party’s leftwing values and traditions (what’s left of them).

A challenge from the ‘left’ would be more likely, alas, to push Brown towards the triangulators and the Milburn tendency.

Although Brown would benefit from winning an internal challenge (as MatGB alluded to with the Major-Redwood reference), I think he’ll do everything he can to avoid one. The successful seeing-off of a leadership challenge (by scaring MPs from nominating McDonnell et al) last spring suggests that he’d be frit of any official challenge to his position.
I hope I’m wrong but I can easily imagine him deferring the election to the last possible days without changing course at all, desperately hoping, Micawber-style, that ‘something will turn up’…

Well it looks like no one has the balls the challenge Gordon despite the opportunity…

Bizarrely, I think Gordon will hoping they do.

An unsuccesful challenge by Charles Clarke, or someone else who really couldn’t be elected Labour leader in a month of Sundays, could be just about the only way Gordon can revive his premiership.

I’d largely agree with this but not sure Brown sees it that way!

My guess would be that McDonnell still wouldn’t get the nominations, from my perspective unfortunately so. Cruddas might, but it depends whether he’s inclined to launch what would inevitably be a doomed, “stalking horse” type challenge when I imagine he has his eyes on a career. Far more likely would be a challenge from the right, but actually I think all this is gravy when it comes down to it. We’ve seen one of those sea change moments in politics, much like the late 70s and mid 90s. There’s now not anywhere in the country where the Tories can’t at least mount some kind of challenge. Ergo I suspect we’re looking at a Cameron administration from 2009.


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