OPINION - Labour’s doing curiously well — but it’s a long time until the next election

Labour Party leader Sir Keir Starmer delivers a speech during the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) annual conference at the Vox Conference Centre in Birmingham. Picture date: Tuesday November 22, 2022 (Jacob King/PA) (PA Wire)
Labour Party leader Sir Keir Starmer delivers a speech during the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) annual conference at the Vox Conference Centre in Birmingham. Picture date: Tuesday November 22, 2022 (Jacob King/PA) (PA Wire)

It’s a weird experience being a Labour supporter right now. Everything appears to be going well. Suspiciously so. Those big poll leads are holding up. The arrival of Rishi Sunak hasn’t created the dent many feared. The Autumn Statement only highlighted how much poorer middle and lower income families will be for the foreseeable future, and reminded people of those 50 days of mayhem under Liz Truss.

Tory MPs can see the writing on the wall. Many are sounding out head-hunters and looking for escape routes from politics. Just yesterday two relatively young MPs, Chloe Smith and William Wragg, announced they would stand down at the next election. Meanwhile, Labour is attracting top-flight candidates like economist and broadcaster Miatta Fahnbulleh and barrister Sarah Sackman, who have just been selected in Camberwell & Peckham and Finchley & Golders Green respectively.

The City is flocking to Labour. Its business day at annual conference had such a long waiting list that it’s holding another one in December, which I gather is pretty much sold out already.

Reform Party leader Richard Tice has declared himself a candidate in the Old Bexley and Sidcup by-election (Hannah McKay/PA) (PA Archive)
Reform Party leader Richard Tice has declared himself a candidate in the Old Bexley and Sidcup by-election (Hannah McKay/PA) (PA Archive)

Even arch-Brexiteers appear to want to help Labour beat the Tories. Richard Tice, leader of the Reform UK — formerly the Brexit Party — told me they will stand candidates in every seat apart from Northern Ireland. This has the potential to split the Tory vote. He told me he’s so angry with the Government he would happily hammer as many nails as possible into the Tories’ coffin. Yikes.

But before anyone goes giddy, starts measuring up the curtains or even thinks about dodgy wallpaper, it’s time for a reality check. There is nothing inevitable about a Labour victory. And being seduced by polls can be a fool’s errand. Look at Brexit or the 2015 election where Labour was set to be the largest party. And last night, at an event hosted by Field Consulting, some interesting research was presented on how voters in Tory heartlands see Labour.

It organised focus groups across eight Blue Wall constituencies with Conservative voters who were open to making a change. There was fatigue with the Tories and deep frustration at the cost-of-living crisis. But their views on Sir Keir Starmer were mixed. Most agreed he was “sensible” and much better than Jeremy Corbyn, but they didn’t really know what he stood for. They also felt that Labour was overly critical and negative about the Tories without offering anything positive or distinct. And, despite the turmoil of the mini-Budget, they still viewed Labour as “reckless” on the economy.

I don’t think any of this will come as a great shock to Labour strategists who are highly mindful of the challenges and stereotypes about the party, but it’s important to remember that if Labour wants a majority, they will have to win over former Tory voters in this Blue Wall as well as in the Red one.

That’s why two years away from an election, even though Sir Keir looks like a Lucky General, absolutely nothing is in the bag. Proceed with caution.

In other news...

Comedian David Baddiel announced that he would come off Twitter for a few days after his Channel 4 documentary examining anti-Semitism aired on Monday, proving why he made it in the first place. His thesis is that Jewish people are not seen as a “proper” ethnic minority and that many have a blind spot over anti-Semitism, which is racism.

David Baddiel recorded the classic England football song with Frank Skinner and rock band Lightning Seeds in 1996 (Dominic Lipinski/PA) (PA Archive)
David Baddiel recorded the classic England football song with Frank Skinner and rock band Lightning Seeds in 1996 (Dominic Lipinski/PA) (PA Archive)

He’s right. Yesterday I tweeted a photo of myself and my good friend, the former MP Luciana Berger, and now my timeline is full of anti-Semitic vitriol.

One of the most uncomfortable moments in the documentary was Baddiel confronting his history of being horribly racist about the black footballer Jason Lee and apologising for it 25 years later. The grace with which Lee accepts it is incredibly moving. We all have blind spots or prejudices. We can try to educate ourselves. But a simple rule applies. Try not to be a ****.