Why are tensions rising within both Labour and Tory parties again?
- Credit: PA Wire/PA Images
Politics in the UK is starting to feel increasingly “normal” as political gaffes and infighting within parties start to feature more and more in the life of the country.
Over the last week the leaders of both the main parties have made major political blunders which have irritated some of their supporters – and have even prompted resignations from their parties.
Sir Keir Starmer lost his reputation as a “safe pair of hands”, maybe only temporarily, by blunderingly describing the Black Lives Matter movement as a “moment” in a BBC interview in which he explained why he opposed the concept of “defunding the police.”
I fully understand his argument on the issue of police funding, and I’m sure most Labour supporters will too. However there are those within the BLM movement who do see this as a crucial aim of their campaign. Sir Keir later said he meant their movement was a DEFINING moment in the struggle for equality – but that’s not what he said and it opened him up to criticism from those unhappy about the new direction he is steering his party in.
Locally it prompted the departure of former Labour candidate Jane Basham who said she could no longer remain a member after his comments and she is clearly not the only member to leave recently.
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However other party members have pointed out to me that the number of people who have joined, or rejoined, the party is far greater than the number who have left since Sir Keir was elected.
I suspect Sir Keir has done a great deal to defuse this particular row by calling in experts to advise on “unconscious bias” – and will start by taking a course himself. But I suspect this incident will be remembered by his opponents in the party and will be dragged up when they want to embarrass him.
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Because the tensions are now there. We saw that a couple of weeks ago when Rebecca Long Bailey was sacked from the shadow cabinet in a row over anti-semitism. This was a rather convoluted issue, and to many people it looked as if Ms Long Bailey was trying to engineer her own sacking – and Sir Keir was happy not to disappoint her!
And the interesting thing all this shows is that there’s nothing really new in politics. A few months ago supporters of the then Labour leadership were going around moaning about those in the party that they did not feel were giving total loyalty to Jeremy Corbyn.
Now many of those people are going around sulking about the new leadership and are wondering why they are being asked to show loyalty to Sir Keir. It’s a classic case of what goes around comes around!
One thing Sir Keir is doing, though, is putting the wind up the government – forcing the Prime Minister to up his game (although he’s still showing a marked tendency to put his put his foot in by blaming care homes for the death of the residents from Covid-19).
A leading Suffolk Tory told me this week: “It’s good to see a competent opposition leader. Strong opposition forces the government to be more careful. Boris can’t just get away with bluster and bonhommie any more!”
And there are pressures in the Conservative Party too. The purge of those who were not prepared to vote hook, line and sinker for the Prime Minister’s EU deal last year has not been forgotten.
At a local level I’ve detected tensions rising between traditional Tories in rural Suffolk and the more strident, right-wing populists who now rule the roost in Ipswich.
For months “normal” politics has been more or less suspended. It’s a bit like lockdown really, we are emerging in gentle steps. First the big parties started skirmishing with each other. Now they’re starting to really lock horns with each other.
And now the factions within the parties are starting to throw their weight around – that means life for political hacks really will start to feel more normal.
Because while factional fighting is likely to be more organised within the Labour Party – I wonder whether Momentum will start to be seen more and more as a “party within a party” like the old Militant Tendency of the 1980s – it is likely to become much nastier and more personal within the Tory Party.
And when I hear Tories saying “Boris needs to up his game,” I do start to wonder how long it will be before they start wondering if someone else might be better placed to be wearing the captain’s armband!