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Editorial Labour must set out an alternative to consensus politics and sleaze

THE defection of a Tory MP to Labour looks like a momentous event.

If, in reality, the short walk from one side of the Commons to another represented a profound transformation in the personal politics of this otherwise entirely unremarkable Tory MP — and if it changed the political balance of power — then it would.

But Sir Keir Starmer’s welcome for what he bizarrely called the “honourable” member for Bury South sits uneasily with the truth visible to all that the only hope this turncoat — a disreputable chancer if there ever was — has of retaining his parliamentary salary is to change his colours.

He was elected by the narrowest of margins only because the disgraced former Labour MP — suspended from the party subject to an investigation into alleged sexual harassment, who himself had resigned from the Labour Party in protest against Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership — first stood as an independent and then, before the poll, advised his former constituents to vote Conservative.

It now looks like the deceived Labour supporters in Bury South have swapped one untrustworthy right-wing MP for another while both Labour and Tory voters have been defrauded.

Speculation has it that the principal effect of this defection is a strengthening of the Prime Minister’s position as a clutch of Tory MPs withdrew their letters calling for an election of a new leader.

Maybe. Boris Johnson’s premiership is in desperate enough trouble with disunity and the poor and electorally problematic character of all other contenders for the job of party leader delaying a challenge.

Maintaining the discredited incumbent in office may appear to Labour’s back-room team as the best outcome, but this analysis only bears examination if we accept that Labour, as presently constituted, has neither the capacity nor the intention of mounting a direct policy challenge to the Tories.

The logic behind Starmer’s embrace of the duplicitous Tory is that he thinks it sends a message to the groups of people that the present Labour leadership thinks are critical to its electoral strategy. In summary, these are middle-of-the-road electors, mainly in England, in swing constituencies.

If this is indeed the case, and Starmer and his advisers think this a viable strategy, they fail to recognise that for very many people the narrow opportunism and venality of such parliamentary performance brings discredit on all involved.

There is ample evidence that voters in all parts of Britain — and of all political views — have higher standards and hold still to a diminished expectation that their parliamentary representatives might behave with honesty, probity and transparency.

The whips’ office in the Tory Party, no less than in Labour’s, operates on the contrary expectation and thus maintains a carefully consolidated dossier on every MP, the better to influence their behaviour.

So when William Wragg, the Tory chair of the Commons public administration and constitutional affairs committee, accuses government enforcers of “blackmailing” those Tory MPs who were pressing for a confidence vote in Johnson, he lifts the lid on the rough house reality of parliamentary politics.

In objecting to No 10 staffers feeding the press with stories to discredit the Prime Minister’s critics — coupled with the threat to deprive the constituents of critical MPs of state funding for local projects — he says these “would seem to constitute blackmail. As such, it would be my general advice to colleagues report these matters to the Speaker of the House of Commons and the commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, and they’re also welcome to contact me at any time.”

Labour achieved its best electoral performance in recent years exactly when its manifesto set out a real alternative to consensus politics and sleaze.

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