The Null Device

UK elections 2021

The results are mostly in on this Thursday's round of elections across the UK, but the dust is yet to settle.

A big upset was Labour losing a byelection in Hartlepool, giving the Tories the seat for the first time in 62 years. Which they had been bracing for, though the size of the winning margin was still shocking. Keir Starmer, Labour's post-Corbyn leader, initially accepted blame for the loss, claiming that Covid restrictions cramped his ability to get his message across, and/or blaming the lingering poison of Corbynism. (As one wit said, Jeremy Corbyn should do the decent thing and resign as ex-leader.)

Labour did well in other places; winning the first directly elected mayoralty of Liverpool, making gains in Wales, holding Greater Manchester, and so on. In all those cases, the victories seemed to be on the strength of a left-leaning grass-roots localism. Hartlepool, though, was a test of Starmer's Westminster policies, which have recently been tacking rightward to win back the “Red Wall” seats in the north of England; former working-class strongholds, now populated largely by the retired, their populations stereotyped as spiteful reactionaries, who, nonetheless, decide elections; hence stunts like posting St. George flags to voters in lieu of pamphlets. While it is conceivable that a chastened Labour could pivot towards presenting a sweeping social-democratic vision for building back better, it is more conceivable that they will come to the conclusion that they were insufficiently gammony, and move to aggressively remedy that. (One claim to look for is that Starmer hasn't won the people's trust because he has not yet sufficiently repudiated his past as a human rights lawyer, and every Daily Mail reader knows that human rights lawyers are very much not on their side.) Early signs bear this out; Starmer has sacked the party secretary Angela Rayner, a leftwinger, in what could be the opening salvo of a redoubled purge of Corbynista holdovers.

Meanwhile in Scotland, the SNP made gains, and while falling short of an outright majority, has one jointly with the equally pro-independence Greens, with the First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, vowing to push for a second referendum in the coming term. Westminster has already ruled out any such referendum, so the question may end up in court, or somewhere messier (possibly a Catalan-style standoff, or direct rule imposed), unless one side blinks. Meanwhile, Alex Salmond's rebel pro-independence party Alba (who, unlike the other two, oppose rejoining the EU, and also hitched their wagon early on to the reactionary side of the culture war, such as an anticipated groundswell of anti-transgender sentiment) fizzled, failing to win any seats.

And in London, Labour's Sadiq Khan has been returned as Mayor; the Tories did respectably, especially given that their candidate, Shaun Bailey, appeared to be clueless on a lot of issues. The plethora of protest/novelty/crank candidates who piled up at the bottom can console themselves with more hits for their YouTube channels and/or publicity for other projects (such as a mask-free pub serving only British food and hosting right-wing comedians). This may be the last London mayoral election held under the current system, as the Westminster government has made noises about replacing it with first-past-the-post.

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