No-one is going to pretend that Laura Smith and Ruth Smeeth inhabit the same point on the Labour spectrum: one is firmly on the left, the other more soft left. But Ms Phillips was not picking and choosing depending on how left or centrist they were: they were Labour candidates, she was Labour, all were standing on the manifesto agreed beforehand, and that was that. It is a lesson some on the left are most reluctant to take on board.
Which brings us to the Batley and Spen by-election, taking place this Thursday, and a campaign that Labour candidate Kim Leadbeater is finding difficult and often not pleasant going, not least because some who claim to be Labour are actually willing her to lose.
Why this should be is not difficult to understand: party leader Keir Starmer has been a disappointment to many of those who knocked doors in late 2019, and took a significant amount of abuse for so doing. He has given the impression that a war on the Labour left is not only a priority, but also a vote winner. The thought as to which wing of the party provides all those activists who canvass and leaflet is not allowed to enter.
Moreover, it is maddeningly difficult to get the current Labour top team to spell out what the party now stands for. But while that may cause some supporters not to turn out to canvass or leaflet, it should never, but never, make them support the opposition.
That opposition is not just the Tories, who are in effect just sitting pretty and waiting to have the constituency delivered to them on a split vote, but more significantly George Galloway, who recently urged his fellow Scots to vote Tory, and has been hanging out with the likes of former Brexit Party Oberscheissenführer Nigel “Thirsty” Farage.
Galloway is doing his man of the people act well: he is also benefiting from a campaign of aggression aimed at Ms Leadbeater, which may be coming from his supporters, but is not supported by him, although he is the prime beneficiary of it. Those with long memories of Galloway interventions may recall something similar happening in 2005.
He opposed sitting Labour MP Oona King in Bethnal Green and Bow. Ms King “described the contest as ‘one of the dirtiest ..we have ever seen in British politics’ and complained of ‘quite disturbing’ anti-semitic and racial abuse”. Ms Leadbeater has faced a campaign of homophobic abuse, including some of those non-attributable leaflets.
Worst of all, the male aggression being meted out to Ms Leadbeater - in the constituency where her sister Jo Cox was brutally murdered by a neo-Nazi just five years ago - appears not to be being seriously challenged by Galloway, whose campaign is attracting favourable coverage from those on the left opposed to Starmer’s leadership.
I asked the question earlier as to whether Galloway, in view of his Parliamentary voting record, was a serious candidate. Those on the left who have effectively given him a free pass have not yet addressed this issue. It is high time they did so.
Meanwhile, consider this: if it was wrong for one wing of the Labour Party to deliberately undermine Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership in the run-up to the 2017 General Election - and it was - then it is equally wrong to deliberately undermine the candidature of Kim Leadbeater. If you are Labour, you should support her, and what you should not, repeat not, REPEAT NOT be doing is to trot out sympathetic coverage of George Galloway.
You oppose what Starmer is doing as party leader - fine. But to will the party to lose a Parliamentary by-election as a way of weakening his leadership is wrong. The time to argue over the effectiveness, or otherwise, of the current party leadership is not during a by-election campaign. The Tories wouldn’t do it. Nor should Labour.
You oppose Labour, then you are not Labour. Someone needs to give their head a shake.
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