A new dawn has broken, has it not. But the difference between 1997, Cuándo Tony Blair famously greeted victory with these words, and the rather more anticlimactic muddle of this year’s local elections, is that this isn’t quite the dawn Labour was after. The good news for Keir Starmer is that there is a profound if very unpredictable realignment under way in British politics, with the ground starting to crack beneath the Tories’ feet in their southern strongholds much as it once did for Labour in their northern ones. If the next general election were 10 or even five years away, things would be looking very sunny indeed. Como están las cosas, Britain may well go to the polls while Labour is still in an awkward transitional stage, trying to make sense of a past seemingly dead and a future yet unborn. Not so much glad confident morning as one greeted half-dressed and hopping about, with one foot caught in your trousers.
Cierto, toast will have been dropped over Tory breakfast tables at news of Wandsworth and Westminster falling to Labour. There were breakthroughs, también, in places such as Cumberland – home to Workington Man, archetype for the 2019 red wall voter, and split between three Labour target seats – or Chingford on the border between London and Essex, part of Iain Duncan Smith’s seat. Labour canvassers in some parts of the south particularly are gleefully reporting the return of the “I’ve always been a Conservative, but …” voter, Tories who simply can’t condone the behaviour of their own party. (Even those who swallowed their doubts about illicit partying aren’t happy: 53% of those voting Conservative on Thursday thought their government hadn’t done enough to help with the cost of living, de acuerdo a una TUC/Opinium poll that suggests something in the Treasury must surely now give.) Liberal remain-voting Tories, who have felt like a persecuted minority in their party ever since Brexit, are meanwhile starting to snap.
The divide first noted in 2016, when older and less well-educated voters voted leave while younger ones and graduates voted remain, looks to be consolidating and cutting across tribal loyalties. In Chingford, Labor campaigners found City workers worried about their jobs now that Brexit is pushing banking business out to rival European cities, plus the kind of priced-out young urbanites now turning suburbs and shire towns into more favourable Labour territory. Like the three marginals overlapping in Barnet, where Labour recaptured the council, this is exactly the kind of seat that should fall under a “don’t frighten the horses” Starmer leadership. And if unhappy Tories aren’t always swinging directly to Labour – in rural west Oxfordshire, and most likely in parts of Surrey still counting at the time of writing, it’s the Liberal Democrats who have benefited from irritation with Johnson plus longer-term anger about new housebuilding – that’s not necessarily a problem for Starmer. Demolishing such a huge Tory majority requires a pincer movement by progressive parties, each attacking parts the other can’t reach. But while the Lib Dems seem to be delivering on their side of what isn’t quite yet a deal, Labour is lagging on its.
With much of Inglaterra, Scotland and Wales still yet to finish counting en el momento de escribir, there are glimmerings of recovery in so-called red wall seats but signs in some parts of 2019 Tory voters doubling down. Any spike in support for the Greens, small independent or local candidates – classic plague-on-all-your-houses votes – would suggest that disillusioned 2019 Tory voters won’t just meekly return to Labour overnight, but will try other options first. All of this adds up to a new and fiendishly complicated electoral picture, demanding new leaps of political imagination yet to emerge from Labour.
Perhaps the most worrying aspect of Labour progress, Entretanto, remains its fragility. If Starmer is never going to set the heather alight, the great advantage of his decent-but-dull public persona is that mud doesn’t easily stick. Despite the news this week that Durham police will investigate him for having a takeaway curry and a beer at the end of a day’s campaigning, nobody looks at Starmer and sees a party animal. But as a test of Labour’s performance under pressure, Beergate was more worrying. A week of harrying saw Starmer looking sometimes reluctant to answer questions – probably because he doesn’t think they’re fair, but in an election they won’t be – and his office occasionally muddling details.
An election campaign in which Tories genuinely feared for their survival would be this magnified a hundredfold, with every half-true rumour that could conceivably be dug up on any Labour candidate simultaneously upended over his head. To win under such a barrage, Labour will have to be slick, confident and miles out ahead from the off. So far what we’re looking at is a party that, even under conditions in which Boris Johnson was practically daring voters to kick him, has recovered from the near-fatal collapse it suffered at Jeremy Corbyn’s lowest ebb and perhaps progressed a little further than Corbyn at his highest ebb, but remains basically stuck in Ed Miliband territory: nearly there, but not quite nearly enough. A new dawn has broken, but something about the day doesn’t half look familiar.