Labour MPs urge party not to get complacent despite by-election wins following ‘disaster’ start to week

It has been a mixed week for the Labour party, with by-elections success, but having to pull support for two candidates

Labour figures have urged the party not to get complacent despite inflicting a double defeat on the Tories at the Wellingborough and Kingswood by-elections.

Sir Keir Starmer’s party overturned large majorities of 11,220 and 18,540, delivering the Government’s ninth and tenth by-election defeats of this Parliament and securing its second largest swing from the Conservatives ever.

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However, it followed a miserable start to the week, after a backlash against the party’s pledge to spend £28 billion on green projects, a leader of a think-tank close to the shadow cabinet becoming embroiled in a spat with Scottish Labour, and an anti-Semitism row that forced the party to drop its candidate for another by-election in Rochdale in two weeks’ time.

New Labour MP Gen Kitchen after being declared winner in the Wellingborough by-election, in a mixed week for the party.New Labour MP Gen Kitchen after being declared winner in the Wellingborough by-election, in a mixed week for the party.
New Labour MP Gen Kitchen after being declared winner in the Wellingborough by-election, in a mixed week for the party.

Despite hopes from the Conservatives the scandals could reinvigorate his flailing premiership, Labour figures remain confident and insist there has been no blow to morale.

Warrington North MP Charlotte Nichols told The Scotsman that regardless of the by-election results, there was still a real desire for change among the public.

She said: “For all of us, you can never really put too much stock in any individual by-election as to what the national picture will be. We have been seeing how the conversations are going in our constituencies, and it is markedly different now from even two years ago. Not to downplay the damage of this week, but I don’t think it’s changed anything substantially, it hasn’t impacted morale or our hopes of a real seismic victory.

“The main feeling among the Parliamentary Labour Party is just how much of a zombie parliament we’re in, nothing is happening. To be able to come hopefully back in a new parliament, with a new mandate, a fresh agenda I think, we all kind of want that, that sense of purpose, that sense of mission.

“We all feel a really keen hunger to have the election, hopefully get a good result and come back into parliament with some kind of wings of change to be a force for good."

Rochdale by-election candidate Azhar Ali is alleged to have told a Labour party meeting that Israel had "allowed" the deadly attack by Hamas gunmen on October 7.

A senior Labour MP told The Scotsman it was a “colossal f**k up”, the MP expressed hopes it was a warning to the party to take nothing for granted.

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They said: “I know it took the party a long time to get sorted, but it could have been worse. The Prime Minister talks about standing for integrity and honesty, but Keir Starmer is delivering it, from U-turns to taking hard decisions on candidates.

“I don’t think the anti-Semitism is isolated, there is always more to do as a party. But by taking a clear stance, we are making our position clear. I think it makes us realise anything can happen that could jeopardise our chances of winning an election, and we have to make sure we learn that lesson.

“I think this has been a very steep learning curve [for those] who just thought we were going to coast to the general election. This isn’t a done deal.”

Another Labour MP on the left of the party admitted the start of the week had been “dreadful”, but took issue with the politicisation of anti-Semitism.

They said: “It feels very vintage, this whole thing about someone in the party doing something wrong, and everyone’s response going down factional lines. It’s all ‘ah well, he’s one of us, so what happened isn’t actually bad’.

“The hole we had got ourselves into as a party before the Equality and Human Rights Commission was the politicisation of how we deal with complaints and grievances and you are seeing all those rows borne out now.

“It’s not about Starmer, it’s not about Corbyn. Anti-Semitism exists in society and our membership is built on society. You will never get rid of it completely, but you have to find a way to handle it that’s robust and fair.”

The MP called for the party to go “further” in its offer to the public, but insisted the handling of issues such as the £28bn green investment climbdown wasn’t a misstep.

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“We are positioning ourselves at the moment as a party that can bring change, and it is important the public can see some clear blue water between us and the Tories on what our offer is,” the MP said.

“To spend £28bn in your first year is going to be basically impossible. As a target, sure, but it would have actually been quite difficult to do. The actual core of the policy and the specific areas that we were going to be looking at driving that investment in, hydrogen, nuclear, all that is still happening. The only thing that’s changed is the figure.”

Scottish Labour peer George Foulkes accused the Tories of trying to distract from their own failures, and defended the U-turn on the £28bn green investment.

He said: “There is a danger of us being spooked by things that are set up to try and undermine our position. That’s my own view about what’s been happening in the past week.

“The Tories have been so embarrassed by [Rishi] Sunak, firstly the challenge to his leadership from James Cleverly, Suella Braverman, Kemi Badenoch and Penny Mordaunt, and his £1,000 bet with Piers Morgan that they’ll be sending people to Rwanda. And also this embarrassing gaffe about trying to make a transgender joke, they have been so desperate that they’ve found something to undermine us.

“The [£28bn] problem was that it wasn’t explained properly. That figure was chosen at a time interest rates were less than 1 per cent, and now they’re over 5 per cent. To talk about borrowing the same amount of money was clearly something that had to be changed. I think it was a failure to explain it properly, it’s a logical thing.”

However, not everyone was happy, with a source on the left of the party accusing the leadership of lacking any kind of policy platform and struggling to maintain discipline.

They said: “The dearth of policy is absolutely glaring. We don’t see Starmer showing any great vision of what the country should look like.

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“The world is burning, this is the thing. We were told under the [Jeremy] Corbyn regime it was all so amateur and slapstick, but under Starmer, now the adults are in control. Well, it looks like an absolute shambles. On the same day the UN warned global warming has exceeded 1.5C across an entire year for the first time, Labour announced it is abandoning its green industrial investment plan.

“I don’t know who has been in control of the party, it looks more like Laurel and Hardy … people are desperate for someone to show a bit of leadership.”



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