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27 June 2008

Brown’s Henley Nemesis and the Anti-Messiah Complex

The result of the by-election in Boris Johnson's old seat was no surprise, but the symbolism surroun

By Martin Bright

The Henley by-election result was crushing, but at least the Labour Party had the guts to stand a candidate. Labour’s Richard McKenzie came fifth, behind the Greens and the BNP. He gained a little more than 1,000 votes and I don’t know why, but somehow being in four figures just about saves him from being a joke candidate.

But I am beginning to get the terrible feeling that people are now embarrassed to vote Labour, much as they were embarrassed to vote Conservative in the run-up to 1997. Over the past year Labour has just become terminally unfashionable. When more people in Henley are happy to vote for the BNP than the Labour Party then you know you’re in trouble. Although Henley should hang its collective head in shame that four per cent of its polulation are prepared to vote for neo-fascists.

The terrible reality is that while much of the negative campaigning against the Tories may be true, it makes no difference to their electoral popularity. The party is, indeed, dominated by toffs. Cameron is much more right-wing than he lets on and Osborne is an old-style union basher. But not enough people care enough to get out and do something about it.

The fact that the man who used to occupy the Henley seat now sits in City Hall as London’s mayor is a terrible warning of what might yet happen nationally. Everything resonates horribly for anyone with an ounce of class resentment. Henley, Boris, Eton, the Bullingdon Club, Oxford, braying Tories in the ascendancy. It really is too much to bear. This is the 21st century, but it feels so 1980s.

The trouble for the class warriors within Labour is that the British public is clearly turned off by the apparent chippiness of the party under Brown. To a lot of people (including former Labour voters), David Cameron seems like a rather nice young man who gives the impression of being sympathetic to the needs of ordinary working men and women, despite his privileged background.

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The Tory lead in the polls is starting to look decidedly solid. Even David Davis’s idiosyncratic resignation and the growing difficulties of Conservative Party chairman Caroline Spelman have done nothing to boost Labour’s popularity.

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At the moment, things are so bad for Brown that even if he turned water into wine he would be blamed for Britain’s binge drinking crisis.