Yesterday was a terrible day for the Labour Party as it faced what looks like another election defeat in Scotland and a disaster in England.
Labour’s loss in the Hartlepool by-election is being presented as an earthquake in British politics but the Tory win simply completes the collapse of the “red wall” in the north of England.
In some ways it is easy to explain – a quarter of the votes in Hartlepool in 2019 went to the Brexit Party.
But Labour, bafflingly, had a pro-Remain, second referendum supporter and failed MP as a candidate in the by-election.
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There was the vaccine bounce for the Tories, of course, but Boris Johnson is a skilled populist politician who cannot be underrated even if Scotland appears immune to his buffoonish charm.
If Starmer is to lift Labour off the floor, he has to become less cautious – and more radical – if he is to survive.
The simple Tory message of “getting Brexit done” resonated in Hartlepool, a town among the UK’s most deprived.
The Tories have also massaged funding into Tory-voting areas under the cover of the “levelling up agenda”.
That doesn’t wholly explain the biggest increase in a governing party’s vote in any by-election since 1945.
It has taken UK Labour two general elections to realise that Scottish Labour’s breakfast is UK Labour’s lunch.
Just as the 2014 Scottish referendum completely redrew political loyalties in Scotland, so did the Brexit referendum of 2016 in England.
For Labour to reconnect in Scotland and in England it must address the issues that matter in the real world.
If the Tories stand for Brexit and Brexit alone then Labour must stand for the reality of making life better for working people and their families.
That means creating security of employment in the gig economy and in the fluctuating retail sector. It is no good dreaming of going after Amazon’s global profits if you don’t go after their local working practices too.
The Labour leader has to move quickly and cast a shadow cabinet of can-dos, not also-rans.
More importantly, people have to know what Labour stands for, it has to have an identity and a vision that connects it to people and leaders able to articulate that message.
The clue is in the name, Labour. It should stand for working people whose values are shared across these islands.
In Scotland and England, Labour is caught in a constitutional trap. Two referendums have splintered the vote.
While Johnson thinks he reaps the benefit of that, it may be Nicola Sturgeon who gets the ultimate reward if Scots do not see the prospect of Labour coming back to Westminster.
Because it is only Labour – and the prospect of a just, fair and forward-looking UK – that will prevent more people flocking to the independence cause.
Boris and his Little England flag-waving will only convince more Scots to question whether the Union is worth saving.