|There was certainly no garden party for the Labour Party leadership when the result of the Leave voting North Shropshire by-election was announced. The seat had been a Conservative seat for over 100 years with the Liberal Democrats coming second until Blair’s 1997 election victory, when Labour took 2 nd place. In 1997 the Conservatives polled 20,730 votes and Labour polled 18,535.
Labour continued to come in 2nd place, though with a declining vote until 2010, when Labour dropped to 3rd place behind the Liberal Democrats. In 2015, after 5 years of unnecessary austerity under the Conservative and LibDem coalition, the Labour candidate, Graeme Currie, came 2 nd though with only 10,457 votes. Graeme Currie was a Corbyn supporter and, when Labour fought the 2017 general election on a radical manifesto and commitment to enact Brexit, received 17,287 votes, close to the 18,535 votes of 1997. When Labour adopted Keir Starmer’s ‘Let’s Stop Brexit’ policy in 2019 its vote declined to 12,495 but it stayed in 2 nd place and the LibDem candidate Helen Morgan came in 3 rd place with 5,643 votes.
So it is somewhat unexpected that, in the December 2021 by-election, the LibDem candidate, who came 3 rd in 2019, should top the poll in 2021 and that Labour should come 3 rd with its vote reduced from 12,495 to 3,686.
Did Labour lose because of a complete lack of enthusiasm in the Labour electorate for the way the Labour Party is currently being run? The Party machine had removed the candidate who had fought the last two general elections and was a Corbyn supporter. This can hardly have endeared the Party to its local electoral base.
Or did the Labour Party machine decide that only a LibDem candidate could win the seat and so, there was a conscious but unstated position to engage in tactical voting and not to seriously contest the seat?
We suspect that what happened at North Shropshire is an early indication of how the next general election will be fought. Basically, Labour and the LibDems will not seriously compete against each other in constituencies where one of them has a serious chance of ousting a sitting Conservative member of parliament. With this strategy, neither Labour nor the Conservatives would have an overall majority but Labour might come out as the largest party and be able to form a minority government with LibDem and SNP support.
We are watching the ‘Strange Death of Labour England’. North Shropshire is the first indication of that. The preoccupation will be with stopping the Tories getting an overall majority by removing anything radical in what Labour present to the electorate, so that even a free market loving Liberal Democrat could vote for the Labour Party in a marginal seat.
The result is a minority Labour government unable to do anything useful. Anything useful would require regulating the free market and not being afraid of the size of the national debt. The LibDems with whom Labour would be governing (assuming they don’t yet again go into an alliance with the Tories) would oppose market regulation and demand balanced budgets. In a recent interview given by Shadow Chancellor Rachel Reeves in the Financial Times she ‘“vowed a Labour government led by Sir Keir Starmer would be profoundly “probusiness” and committed to fiscal discipline.” It will be virtually impossible to distinguish between the Labour Party and the Liberal Democrat Party who were such ardent advocates of austerity in 2010-2015.
Working people will yet again have been abandoned by all the political parties. Worse, if the electorate get the impression that Labour has abandoned hope of being the sole alternative governing party, they will cease to treat it as such. If the choice is between two liberal parties, they might well decide that continuing to vote for Labour is pointless. Worse still, the Labour Party would no longer offer anything distinctive to the trade unions, who might well decide to behave in an opportunistic and tactical manner towards political parties. Thus the death of Labour in England would indeed come about.