Following on my first set of observations from the ever-worsening disgrace that is the Batley & Spen by-election, Kev suggested BTL: "... the Labour movement (and nearly all left wing institutions) control the agenda..." and I replied that it could be argued differently. That's very specifically as regards Labour qua political party, but more widely as well. Let's take the first of these, and start with ...
Caution: pick your words carefully when commenting on this BTL - particularly to the extent you agree with Kev's point above - because (consistent with what he says) Social Meejah are wont to close accounts down these days.
In fact, this is a post I could have written more than a year ago, but have held back from doing so for that very reason. Why has my "discretion" been shaken off now? Because B&S provides at least some topcover.
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After their 2019 GE debacle there were several post mortems coming out of Labour, some of them lengthy and produced after much deliberation. They mostly all said this was no time for taboos / sacred cows / mincing words etc; and they fearlessly (more or less) debated the impact both the personality of Corbyn and the shifting Brexit stances with which they'd tied themselves up in knots. Antisemitism came up a bit too - although at the time they they were fairly hamstrung by the pending EHRC thing and legal considerations around that. They even touched on some culture-war aspects, although that wasn't quite the term of art it's become over the past 12 months.
But there was one aspect potentially having some explanatory value, that I didn't see any of them daring to broach (just like me, in fact). It's been well and truly aired now, however. How might a party fare with the electorate as a whole, if it was perceived to be The Party of The Muslim Vote?
Now because the ranks of the Voluble Left are stuffed with very clever, analytic people, it's inconceivable they hadn't mulled this one over: they must therefore have decided it was off-limits. In many respects it's the same issue as the one that had everyone running for cover when the paramilitary uniforms came out in Brixton last summer, which we discussed along similar lines at the time. The Labour leadership knows it cannot be even loosely associated with that stuff in the public's mind and will take pains to put great distance between themselves and whatever is out there: an absolute strategic imperative.
But Batley & Spen has unleashed every sordid aspect of this in 3D technicolour, complete with highly plausible accusations that "Labour is ashamed of these voters": and (from Li'l Owen Jones) that the Labour leadership is willing to "throw [the Muslim community] under a bus" (sic).
Problematic, or what? And the consequences have also now been explicated by the Left. In sum: Labour needs the Muslim block vote in seat after seat: but it just can't be seen doing what might be needed in order to retain it. A dilemma for Labour as acute and as existential as (with different dynamics) Scotland is for them. I can't imagine the LibDems or the Greens are exactly comfortable right now, either.
And they're all faced with an opponent - the Tory Party - that needs do nothing but remain silent which, in the rancid circumstances of B&S, looks like the dignified position anyhow. When they've finished shedding each other's blood (and that might not be for a good while yet) the Left won't be slow to complain loudly about that, too. Look look: the Tories are not saying anything!
This is an issue of far more import than just the tactical party politics of 2021. Also, to my mind, none of it speaks to the Left having a particularly firm grip on The Agenda, even if there's a strong argument to say they once did - at least up until 2016-ish. Looks more to me like the bar of soap is squirming in their unsteady hands, fit to shoot out of their grasp. There's another hot example offering more evidence for this, which I'll float in the next few days.
Having said that, B&S might continue to be a wholly diverting spectacle for some time to come - for those who don't stay with the altogether healthier option of the footy ...
Footnote after polling day:
Labour Batley campaign source says: “Basically built a new electoral coalition in six weeks. Lost the conservative Muslim vote over gay rights and Palestine, and won back a lot of 2019 Tory voters” “This result shows we’re reconnecting with the wider electorate again”
PS: this is a great essay on the overall mess Labour is in. Some very well-crafted writing within.