Now that polling stations have closed, the SKWAWKBOX can reveal that Labour’s HQ, in complete contrast to the aggressive, energetic campaign of the party’s leader, mandated a purely defensive strategy for this election – and cost Labour the keys to 10 Downing Street.
The Blairites at headquarters – national and in many regions – presumably either not believing Labour could win seats from the Tories, or in some cases even hoping for a poor result, decided to circle the wagons around existing seats, particularly favouring those occupied by so-called ‘centrists’.
This meant that – at the instigation of senior HQ figures and right-wing NEC members – almost no resources were made available for the fight to win Tory-held marginals or even to defend Labour-held ones. Seats with a majority of below 3,000.
In and around Merseyside were two extremely marginal constituencies. One, Wirral West, had an excellent Labour MP facing the double challenge of the UKIP candidate stepping down to give the Tory challenger a clear run and a self-funded Green candidate likely to divert some otherwise-Labour votes.
The other, Weaver Vale, was held by a poor Tory MP with a strong Labour challenger.
Labour’s north-west region ‘whipped’ all Labour’s city councillors in nearby Liverpool – against the protests of some – to help – not in either marginal seat but in the safe seat of Progress director Alison McGovern.
Up in Bolton West, the Tories won the seat in 2015 by 801 votes. Labour’s Julie Hilling had an excellent chance of ousting Tory Chris Green. Ms Hilling received so little support that she had no funding even for Labour garden stakes. She did not even receive a campaign manager from Labour central – her campaign had to be run by volunteers with no experience. Ms Hilling fought a brave campaign but, on a night where Labour was making even astonishing gains like Canterbury, she lost by the narrow margin of 936 votes.
Meanwhile, down in the East Midlands, ex-MP Chris Williamson looked to win back a seat he lost in 2015 by a mere 41 votes. He received no support from HQ.
Fortunately for Williamson – and for Labour – he had a source feeding him information about the support his Derby South Blairite neighbour, Margaret Beckett was receiving. This allowed him to twist the arm of HQ contacts to get increased support. With this and assistance from Momentum and other volunteers, Williamson was able to win by 2,015 votes – a far bigger majority than he won by in 2010.
The triumph and the missed opportunity
Thanks to Corbyn’s tireless campaign, the inspiration he created among voters and the efforts of volunteer activists and Momentum, Labour were able to confound critics and naysayers to increase the number of Labour MPs by 30 seats and is now by far the strongest figure in Parliament.
But because of the lack of vision and spine – and because of a possible desire to see Labour do badly in order to facilitate Corbyn’s removal – Labour HQ caused an enormous missed opportunity.
If Labour HQ had not chosen to protect right-wing candidates in preference to pro-Corbyn candidates, Labour could have swept the board in marginals on Thursday, at least in England and Wales.
Together with the ridiculous behaviour of Blairite Kezia Dugdale in Scotland, who told voters to support the Tories to weaken the SNP’s Nicola Sturgeon (a breach of Labour rules that should see her automatically expelled for at least five years), this decision was responsible for the fact that Jeremy Corbyn is not in 10 Downing Street today, starting to rescue the country from the damage the Tories have inflicted on it.
Corbyn’s personal drive and authenticity, the efforts of his official team, Labour’s incredible policies and of an army of volunteers were able to offset some of the disadvantage the ridiculous, craven funding decision caused.
But not quite enough – a mere 2,000 or so votes more across other marginals and Labour would be in government.
And this was all while Labour was in its healthiest financial position for years.
Labour’s 40% share on Thursday – its best since 2001 – is a triumph for Corbyn, his team and his supporters.
But if the whole Labour machine had gone on the offensive, Labour would be in government this morning.
For that decision, for that missed opportunity, for prolonging the suffering of the country and allowing Theresa May to cling to office with the support of the paramilitary-linked DUP, General Secretary Ian McNicol bears the responsibility.
McNicol has consistently worked against Corbyn’s vision for the party – and he is now responsible for it not yet being implemented in government.
If he does not ‘fall on his sword’ without delay, he must be removed. His craven unwillingness to get behind the democratically-elected leader’s vision permits no other result.
Certain figures within Labour were actively hoping – and even working – for a Labour disaster on Thursday. Even though their idea of what is electable has clearly been completely disgraced, some are still agitating and claiming Labour could have done better with some uninspiring centrist drone as leader.
That has to stop now – whatever steps are needed. And the first step is McNicol’s removal, for helping or failing to stop the saboteurs.
McNicol has no further place in the Labour Party. He must go.
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