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Editorial: What’s the takeaway from Starmer’s curry contretemps?

WHAT can we take away from the Keir Starmer curry controversy? Is it that his late-night nosh is comparable to Boris Johnson’s carnival of conviviality? 

Only if measured by the mindless metric of Starmer’s own suggestion that Johnson should resign because the premier was ”under investigation” by the police.

Even if Starmer is caught in a trap of his own construction, this is mostly a media stunt to “relativise” Johnson’s behaviour and muddy the electoral waters. 

Attach what significance you may to the Durham Police decision to delay their announcement that Starmer is under investigation until after the polls closed.

The real takeaway is that after years of proving himself a reliable guarantor of “things as they must remain,” two years of backtracking on Labour’s radical manifesto commitments, and the institution of a police regime directed at the Labour left, he is getting just a whiff of the treatment Jeremy Corbyn endured for years and with which he connived.

The reason is not that the forces that shape the media management of our nation’s politics have taken against Starmer the man. He is, after all, their creation.

No, it is because the potential of Labour to present a threat to the established order means that even as compliant a figure as Starmer gets a warning of what lies in wait if that threat realises.

Starmer knows — because he was the instrument by which Corbyn’s clear-sighted commitment to honour the Brexit vote was challenged and dissipated — that every departure from principled politics pays a price. 

Substantial numbers of Brexit-leaning voters have not forgotten that interlude and today Labour continues to pay that price in votes.

Now that the local elections are over, we can make a more balanced assessment of the political mood. Labour’s victories in the former Tory boroughs of Westminster, Barnet and Wandsworth are somewhat negated by the losses in other, more substantially working-class, London boroughs.

There are particular conditions in each of these former Labour-held councils. Spectacular financial mismanagement is the reason in Croydon, and in both Harrow and Tower Hamlets, Labour’s loss of contact with the Indian and Bangladeshi communities was a factor.

The Greens won more English seats from other parties than did Labour, which demonstrates that disillusioned left-wing Labour voters have somewhere else to go.

The London losses and disappointingly low number of seats won elsewhere in England show that in the absence of a radical policy offer from Labour that other parties prosper. As always, Lib Dem policies appeal mostly to Tory voters.

The last Tory council in Wales has crumbled as Welsh Labour, with a progressive offer that distinguishes it from the national party, rules in agreement with Plaid Cymru.

Labour’s partial recovery in Scotland — even though the Scottish National Party’s councillor count also went up — means it has displaced the Tories as Scotland’s second party.

Northern Ireland really is another country and the only general conclusion for the politics of the British state that we can draw is that we should make that official and Britain should signal its intention to return sovereignty to the Irish nation.

However, outside of England — where the constraints the first-past-the post (FPTP) election system imposes on democracy are strongest — proportional representation continues to damage the Tory Party and its allies past and present.

Like it or not, Britain’s various electorates show that the retention of FPTP makes for an increasing mismatch between voters’ intentions and election results.

To the extent that Labour cannot promise a progressive programme without right-wing sabotage or splits, the case for an electoral presence to its left will necessarily endure.

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