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From: Labour Affairs: Editorials
Date: May, 0001
By: Editorial

Starmer's Strategy

On 4 th May local elections take place in England. These local elections should give some feel for how Labour under the leadership of Keir Starmer is perceived in the country.

Of particular interest is the fact that several of these elections are taking place in areas in which many Labour voters abstained in 2019.

They abstained because an elected Labour government would have held a 2 nd Brexit referendum. Keir Starmer had committed the party to this policy in 2018.

Starmer has attempted to bring these voters back into the Labour fold by unequivocally accepting that ‘Brexit is a done deal’. Will that be enough?

This strategy fails to recognize that, before 2017, many of these voters had ceased to even bother voting in elections. They felt their interests were being poorly served in the later Blair/Brown years. Then, in 2015, Corbyn arrived on the scene. Corbyn’s radical social democratic policies woke them from their apathetic slumber in the 2017 general election and the Labour vote increased dramatically. There was a clear feeling that a Labour Party under Corbyn might make a difference to their lives.

Will these voters have the same expectation of a Labour government under Starmer? We doubt it.

In contrast to Corbyn, Starmer’s Labour Party is still a party without clear policies.

Since he lacks policies, Starmer instead chooses to spend much of his time engaging in personal attacks. This was evidenced by the smear campaign against Rishi Sunak claiming that he was opposed to locking up adults convicted of sexually assaulting children. This was gutter level politics used to fill the vacuum created by a lack of good policies. From Starmer’s perspective, Boris Johnson’s casual attitude to meetings in Downing Street, Truss’s naive budget, and accusations of bullying against Dominic Raab are a godsend. He can pontificate on these issues at length to cover up for Labour’s lack of policies.

That lack of policies raises the possibility that voters in old Labour strongholds will revert to abstaining rather than voting for an uninspiring party. That will depend on how disenchanted they feel with the Tories. Certainly Sunak’s air of calm resolve is not doing the Tories any harm.

In recent months a large number of public sector strikes have taken place. Sunak has used these quite cleverly to appear strong in the face of union demands while accusing Starmer of being in the pay of the trade unions. That will go down well with the traditional Tory voter.

Labour has had remarkably little to say about these strikes. Starmer delights in highlighting the disruption that the strikes are making in people’s lives but gives no indication on how a Labour government No. 338 - May 2023

would have responded to the attempts of working people to defend their living standards caused by the war in Ukraine. Labour’s only recommendation is the rather obvious one, that the government should talk with the unions. These strikes are not just about wage rates. They are just as much about conditions of work. Again Labour has little to say on the matter.

When a member of his shadow cabinet, Sam Tarry, gave an interview while standing on a picket line he was removed from the shadow cabinet. Tarry has since been deselected as the labour candidate in his constituency in the next general election. We suspect that this indicates that public sector workers would fare little better under a Labour government fixated on fiscal rules and the size of the national debt.

When the Bank of England (BoE) raises interest rates, Labour dares not criticise a decision that will negatively affect those in debt – typically the poorer members of society. Rather they sanctify the independence of the BoE to determine the rate of interest even if that causes a recession.

The clear message emanating from the current Labour Party is that they will do nothing radical if they form the next government. That can hardly enthuse those Labour supporters who had been persuaded to start voting again by Corbyn’s clear radical agenda.

What is Starmer’s plan if he does not persuade those erstwhile Labour voters to support him? He hopes his conservative economic agenda, focussing on fiscal rules and national debt combined with enthusiastic support for law and order and NATO, will win over Conservative and Liberal Democratic voters in sufficient numbers in marginal seats to switch those seats to Labour.

In taking this path, Starmer is not only changing Labour’s electoral base. He is changing the Labour Party fairly fundamentally. He is creating a Labour Party that bears little relationship with the Labour Party that has existed since 1945.

It’s a strategy that might have had some chance of success if the Conservatives were being led by Truss and Kwarteng. It’s looking like an increasingly risky strategy with Rishi Sunak in charge. If Sunak continues to establish control over his party, Starmer’s strategy may fail dismally.

Starmer’s strategy is risky. Even worse, whether he wins or loses, British working people have little to be optimistic about.