Keir Starmer speaks at a Labour Friends of Israel event at the party’s conference (Picture: Keir Starmer/Flickr)

Rishi Sunak reeled from a series of reverses last week, although the full sting of his setbacks was partially obscured by Labour’s chaos over the Rochdale by-election.

Sunak lost two by-elections—and the Tories will be further humiliated in Rochdale on Thursday next week.

In Wellingborough, a contest triggered by the recall of Peter Bone MP after findings of bullying and sexually inappropriate behaviour, Labour overturned a Conservative majority of 18,540. It was the second biggest Tory to Labour swing since 1945.

In Kingswood, Chris Skidmore MP resigned in protest at the issuing of new oil and gas licences. The swing stood at 16.4 per cent as a Tory majority of 11,220 disappeared.

These devastating losses for the Tories aren’t the first and won’t be the last. They show that people have had enough over issues such as government favours to the rich, failure to hold down prices and the NHS crisis.

They have lost ten by-elections since the 2019 general election—six with Sunak in Number 10.

Despite this, Sunak said his “plan is working” and that midterm elections “are always difficult”.

Reform UK came in third in Wellingborough with 13 percent of the vote. It took over 10 percent in Kingswood. The racist right wing party came out of Nigel Farage’s Brexit Party.

The Tories now face a wider battering from Labour at the general election, as well as some of its voters heading off to Reform UK. But there’s no great enthusiasm for Labour.

Both turnouts were low—37.1 percent in Kingswood and 38 percent in Wellingborough. While dissatisfaction with the Tories is high, the urge to show up for Starmer is low.

In Wellingborough, the Conservatives suffered the largest fall in its share of the vote in by-election history—38 percent. In Kingswood it plummeted by 21 percent.

The rise in Labour’s share was around half this level—19.4 percent in Wellingborough and 11.5 percent in Kingswood.

The political crisis in Britain, the sense that nobody speaks for millions of ordinary people, whether on Gaza or gas prices, sees the Tories in a death spiral.

The main internal opposition to Sunak screams for ever more right wing measures, deepening the government’s racism. Sunak and chancellor Jeremy Hunt had talked of tax cuts in the budget on 6 March. 

But right wing newspapers last week said Hunt has shelved plans for a 2p cut to income tax as it was revealed the economy had entered a recession (see page 17).

The Labour left’s insistence that Keir Starmer could not win elections has proved false.   The Tory demise is so great and so relentless that Labour is most probably heading to be the next government.

But the real issue is not just whether Starmer will be prime minister but what sort of government he will head. It will be one that promises only the most meagre change.

And it’s not just Starmer. Deputy leader Angela Rayner’s article in the corporate Financial Times newspaper last week was headlined “Labour promises to work with business”.

Rayner wrote, “The impact of this government’s dismissive approach to business—doing seemingly everything it can to turn away investment and disincentivise companies from setting up in the UK—has been dangerous.”

What’s clear is that ordinary people’s demands, from rising wages and trade union rights to more money for the NHS, are not on Labour’s radar.

Unless there is a real fightback, it will be a much worse government than the rotten Tony Blair one that took over in 1997. It will come to office with a howling economic crisis and committed to “balancing the books”—stabilising capitalism by squeezing workers.

In that situation there will either be a resurgence of struggle or a growth of struggle of racism and the far right.

It’s right to rejoice at the Tories’ long-deserved demise. But waiting for Labour—and relying on change through the ballot box—cannot be the alternative.

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