Keir Starmer has listened. He has heard what you’ve been saying. For too long, ordinary, working men and women up and down the country have said, “Angela Rayner’s job title is far too short” and for too long those ordinary working men and women’s voices have been ignored. Well, not anymore.
Arise Queen Angela. Deputy leader, Shadow First Secretary of State, Shadow Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, Shadow Secretary of State for the Future of Work, Lord of All the Beasts of the Earth and Fishes of The Sea, Queen Angela Stormborn of the House Targaryen, the First of Her Name, Lady of the Seven Kingdoms and Protector of the Realm, Breaker of Chains and Mother of Burgons.
This will definitely sort it. On Saturday night, Keir Starmer was considered mad for sacking Angela Rayner from her role as party chairman and national campaigns coordinator. Labour has lost Hartlepool for the first time in 60 years. It’s going backwards. It’s losing its connection with northern working class voters, so it would be mad to get rid of northern working class woman Angela Rayner, even though, without getting rid of her, northern working class voters were beating down the doors of the polling stations to vote for an absurd, performatively posh old Etonian who buys golden wallpaper for £800 a roll.
So he’s kind of semi-unsacked her now, which is to say, pissed her off and then apologised with some new job titles, which will definitely sort everything out.
That’s not the only thing he’s listened to, and learned from, by the way. The people of Hartlepool, it turns out, were also saying, loud and clear, that they didn’t think Valerie Vaz was doing a very good job opposing Jacob Rees-Mogg in his crucial role of reading out next week’s agenda for the House of Commons. So that’s been taken care of, too.
Anneliese Dodds has gone as shadow chancellor, which is at least good news for anyone who’s been meaning to get round to googling who she is and now won’t need to bother.
In her place is the shadow chancellor, Rachel Reeves, who it is hoped will do a much better job opposing what the government is up to. What the government is up to, generally speaking, is spending astronomical amounts of money directly paying people’s wages and bailing out practically every sector of the economy, much to their relief and delight. (It is extremely hard, at the moment, even in the arts and theatre industry, to light upon anybody with a bad word to say about the government.) But this will all be sorted once Rachel Reeves is on the case to explain why Labour would never have got into this mess.
Still, in some ways, the task for Keir Starmer is now clear enough to see. Having shown normal working class people that he’s listening, he now needs them to listen to him. He needs them to listen to him when he says something like the following: “Look, I know, 20 years ago, we told you all, you normal northern people, in your normal northern towns to go to university, and we’re pleased that you listened. But what we should have said was that you really do need to go back to those normal towns afterwards.
“If we’d known you were going to up and leave for good we would never have said a word. Because we’ve got a real problem here. We’re still calling them northern working class towns but I don’t know if you noticed they haven’t really got anybody working in them anymore. You’ve left your parents and indeed your grandparents behind, in their homes that they own, with their comfortable pensions and their socially right-wing values, and they’ve got absolutely no reason to vote for me.
“It’s you lot, with your degrees, your sense of social justice, your disgust at the Windrush scandal and the immigrant-drowning wave machines in the Channel we need. It’s no good for us you hanging around in London or Manchester or wherever. You need to get back to Hartlepool and sort this mess out.”
Naturally, Labour’s hammering in Hartlepool has now fully reignited the internal party forever war. It’s disappointing, really. Keir Starmer seemingly going backwards should at least make clear that what’s happening is that the left and the moderates are slugging it out on the deck of a ship that’s going down anyway.
But maybe, maybe, there are glimmers of hope. According to the weekend newspapers, Boris Johnson’s stampede of the Red Wall has compelled him to make even more promises to his new favourite place. Skilled jobs, he reckons, are coming to what were once Labour’s northern heartlands, so that people will no longer need to leave their home towns to find high paid work. It’s a noble idea but, well, might it backfire? On current evidence, it is Tory neglect, Tory decline and the resulting exodus of the ambitious that has made these places backfire. The pandemic has already had two-bed flat-dwelling Twickenhamites gazing at Rightmove in wonderment at various Cumbrian castles on sale for half a million quid.
If Boris Johnson is going to sort out a decent job up there, too, well they’ll be zooming the family up the A66 faster than a former special adviser in a Land Rover full of Covid. And who knows, they might even take their Labour votes with them?