A week ago, Sir Keir Starmer was enjoying record breaking success in two by elections. Never mind the red wall, Labour was taking middle England. The swing in Tamworth was the second highest ever. The record breaker was Dudley West in 1994 which I reported on for the BBC. Mid Bedfordshire was the biggest majority overturned.
These stats led to ridiculous hyperbole about Starmer winning a majority as big as Blair’s in 1997. Labour needs to win 123 seats for a majority of one. They are unlikely to hold Tamworth or Mid Beds where the Reform Party vote was bigger than their majorities. Furthermore, thousands of Tories stayed at home and were not won over by Labour’s cautious offer.
However, the Tories keep on giving. Hardly have the ballot boxes been stacked away, than comes the prospect they will be out again in yet another middle England seat where, yet again, a Tory MP has misbehaved. Peter Bone made himself famous by telling the Commons what, the then, Mrs Bone felt about things. His Commons suspension is likely to lead to a by election in Wellingborough with a Tory majority of 18,000. That is eminently winnable by Labour on its current form.
But just to prove that “black swan” events can arise to put a spanner in the works of even the best maintained political machine, the Gaza tragedy is causing problems in Labour ranks. The desire to rid the party of antisemitism undoubtedly led to Sir Keir Starmer’s decision, not only to fully back Israel but also to support its full blockade and blitz of the Gaza strip. War crimes have been committed by both sides and the attempt by western politicians to equivocate on this subject is embarrassing. Party discipline has broken down with Lancashire and Manchester councillors resigning. Bolton South East MP Yasmin Qureshi, who is Shadow Women and Equalities Minister called for a Gaza ceasefire in front of the Labour leader in the Commons this week. Precedent dictates she should be sacked. Fear of inflaming the situation further dictates otherwise.
It needs to be stated that the economy, housing and health will trump any foreign issue when people come to vote, but the Gaza crisis points up that the General Election is still a year off and a lot of unexpected things can happen to change the picture painted in Tamworth and Mid Beds last week.
A SAD TIME FOR FOOTBALL
This has been a sad month for football, with three major figures in the game in the North West passing on.
I can add little to the outpouring of praise for the dignified Sir Bobby Charlton, except to give you this personal anecdote. After he retired Sir Bobby did a huge amount of charity work. In 1974 he turned out in a half time game at Maine Road against my Piccadilly Radio side. At one point I spotted Sir Bobby miles away in his penalty area and, unmarked, I signalled arrogantly that I wanted the ball. Before it even reached me Sir Bobby had steamed up the pitch and whizzed past me hair streaming in the breeze. What a man!
Francis Lee had his finest days on that pitch and Sir Bill Kenwright brought joy to millions as a theatre entrepreneur and no one doubted his passion for Everton. Rest in peace all three.