Keir Starmer: The Bystander’s unvision

Today (September 22nd 2020) Keir Starmer delivered a speech to Labour’s virtual conference ‘Connected’ in Doncaster. 

Supposedly, his speech outlined Labour’s intent if the party were to win the next general election, in 2024, and if Starmer was still the leader.  No-one but political careerists has any interest in an election that is four years away and the odds of Starmer retaining his position as leader until then are infinite.

He stated three proposals for action by the next Labour government 

  • “properly funded universal public services”
  • “investment in skills and a plan, working hand-in-hand with businesses and trade unions, to create high quality jobs”
  • “greener, cleaner society, where every policy is judged not just by how much it costs today but by what it does for the planet tomorrow”

None of the above is problematic but they are the absolute bare minimum that any government should provide.  Public services are, by definition, necessary.  Training and skills are necessary both for workers and for society as a whole.  Impact on the environment and consequences for climate change are necessary factors guiding all infrastructure decisions.

Starmer’s three proposals for a Labour government could have been stated by any other political party.  It would be bizarre if any party in a UK election campaign were to express desires to destroy public services, to deny access to skills training or to deny climate change.  Admittedly, the Tories do possess those desires but choose to lie about their intent; perhaps, Starmer meant Labour’s aim for the minimum is to not be as destructive as the Tories.  It’s a low bar.

Part of his speech concerned formerly traditional Labour seats that switched to Tory in December last year.  Brexit, including Starmer’s mixed messaging and his contradictions of then leader Jeremy Corbyn’s proposal for Brexit, was the key factor in Labour’s losses in those seats.  But, Starmer decided that patriotism and depictions of Corbyn’s perception of it persuaded people to chose the Tories.  Addressing former Labour voters who voted Tory he declared

We’re under new leadership.  We love this country as you do.” 

Starmer has neither the skills nor the compulsion to try to persuade people that extremist free-marketeers and racketeers in the Tories are enemies of working people, and he has nothing to offer the latter other than the basic minimum described above.  Thus, he was reduced to a lazy appeal to the cult of patriotism.  Whenever any politician starts waving a flag around to appease basest instincts it is a crystal clear demonstration that the politician is bereft of ideas, ideology and usefulness.

Starmer revealed his latest three-word slogan: “Opportunity, family and security.”  Those were three eclectic choices to juxtapose.  Starmer discussed nothing that was specific to families.  His inclusion of “family” was just to use a word that people like.  He said he wants Britain to be “a country in which we put family first.”  What does that mean?  Are there governments who hate families?  He said Labour would provide “security for our nation, our families and all of our communities.”  Again, he promised nothing except what would be assumed to be a given.

Adorned with rose-tinted imperialist glasses Starmer exclaimed, presumably with a hundred strong choir belting out all the verses of  ‘Rule Britannia’ in his head,

I can see in my mind’s eye the country I want us to be.  A country which would be an active force for good in the world, once again admired and respected.”

Why does Britain need to be “admired and respected?”  Desperation for admiration and respect is a weird residue of empire.

Starmer is determined to be The Bystander.  He is pathologically fearful of presenting anything that resembles vision.  He is an opponent of focussed ideology.  His words are a parody of a vacuous orator. 

Under his leadership Labour is not “in opposition.”

Recommended reading
Aaron Bastani on Starmer’s support for family
Ronan Burtenshaw for Tribune

Related blogs
Keir Starmer: The Bystander
Bridget Phillipson explained Labour’s anti-politics

Keir Starmer: The Bystander’s unvision

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