Monday 6 March 2023

A Bureaucrat First and Foremost

We saw the other day their ham-fisted efforts at trying to make political capital from Keir Starmer's appointment of Sue Gray as his new Chief of Staff. The Tory little helpers over at Guido splashed on Jacob Rees-Mogg referring to Gray as a "friend of the socialists" in the Commons, and others have gone with how her son, Liam Conlon, chairs the Labour Irish organisation. Devastating attacks, I'm sure you'll agree. But is this affair the usual Westminster pantomime, or is it something worth paying attention to?

As noted on Friday, Gray is absolutely ideal for the Starmerist project. When he was Director of Public Prosecutions, he diligently acquitted his role and served the Coalition government well. As Oliver Eagleton painstakingly outlined in The Starmer Project, he didn't even have to be told by the Tories what to do. He leant into their objectives as an "enterprising" civil servant - the very sort Michael Gove wanted to encourage. During the 2011 London riots, on his initiative Starmer ran the courts around the clock to lock people up. It was Starmer who voluntarily committed the DPP to pursuing the maximum penalties possible against social security "cheats". And it was Starmer who took the DPP global, offering all kinds of unsavoury regimes and authoritarian governments the kitemark of British probity for their justice systems. Since becoming the Labour leader, he's treated the party just like a state bureaucracy, even to the point of getting the management consultants in to advise on electoral strategy, branding, and internal party organisation.

Starmer noted in his car crash LBC interview, Gray was someone he'd tete tete with at receptions and the like before he became an honourable member. He was impressed by her work and professional-mindedness. In the Cabinet Office, where the work was especially sensitive and often politically embarrassing, Starmer appreciated her discretion and, crucially, ability to walk the delicate tight rope of managing the tensions while ensuring the smooth running of the executive. It's the kind of skill set a bureaucratic imaginary can appreciate. And for Starmer's core support, which is the small but politically influential layers of the senior civil service, academia, broadcast media, other senior public servants (police, prison governors), and politicians themselves, the move to recruit Gray is as welcome as it was audacious. The vibes are perfect. Gray is one of them, Starmer is one of them, and her appointment is confirming that Starmer means business. And business here means, for want of a better phrase, the take over of the state by the state. Hence his politics is an exercise in modernisation. So much for Labour as a moral crusade.

But for "Mr Rules", there was obvious discomfiture when it came to answering elementary questions about Gray's appointment. Here the Tories have a point, even if they've shown scant respect for conventions and codes in the recent past. The rules are clear in that someone in Gray's position has to report communication with opposition politicians to the relevant minister. If Gray had done this with Starmer's approach, then that would be out and about in the columns, talking points, and social media threads already. Starmer also knows the rules and knows there was an "oversight". And so on this, as distasteful as it is, the Tories have him bang to rights. Starmer's reaction is what happens when someone gets found out: a disassembling and, as per Monday morning's LBC broadcast, the refusal to answer Nick Ferrari's reasonable question about when Starmer and Gray first spoke about the Chief of Staff job. Repeating "there's nothing improper here" didn't sound particularly convincing. Like all senior bureaucrats who know best, Starmer feels the rules don't apply to him and he has a certain dispensation. But, unlike Boris Johnson, he isn't daft enough to try the innocent face routine. Awkward evasion, which has worked before, works to move the subject on. As well as an assumption that most aren't watching, don't care for this political theatre, and have more pressing concerns.

Here is Starmer's problem. He has a habit of being economical with the truth, to put it mildly. He's far from alone in this where the upper reaches of the Labour Party are concerned, but there's only so much the media and, by extension, the public will swallow. His grey man with a grey personality routine, the being boring shtick can only carry him so far. And this dishonesty is a massive problem when a core objective of the modernisation project is the restoration of trust in state institutions. The duplicity with which he's treated the left, his seeming amnesia as de facto head of the second referendum campaign, and the evasions over Gray's appointment don't matter much now, but over time they will be added to. Every time he's dishonest, he's giving the Tories and their press more and more chisels to chip at the edifice he's trying to construct. My advice would be to stop doing stuff corrosive of political culture and democratic norms if he wants to avoid these difficulties in the future, but Starmer won't. He is a bureaucrat first and foremost.


Old Trot said...

Good article, Phil. If anyone on the Left really wants to understand what a monstrous serial liar, authoritarian opportunist, and groveller to the capitalist status quo state Starmer is , they really should read Oliver Eagleton's detailed book. A man who wants to send an autistic young internet hacker to the US to face a huge prison sentence, but is overruled by both Theresa May and Boris Johnson on humanitarian grounds (yep, really) , is a truly dreadful human being. Afterwards Starmer flew to the US to apologise to the US State Department for failing to send the young lad to his doom !

I have some disagreements with Eagleton's 'take' on one key issue in particular , ie, he thinks it was manipulative genius that enabled Starmer to guide the Party into its disastrous 2019 confused, dishonest, position on BREXIT and a Second Referendum. But it wasn't - the Labour 'Left' were already fully paid up uncritical fans of the EU without Starmer's manipulations. Nevertheless 'The Starmer Project' is overall a shocking exposure of the utter amoral, constantly lying, creature that now heads the Labour Party - now ably assisted by a Chief of Staff, Gray, who is not just a 'top civil servant', but almost certainly,( as covered in many mainstream as well as Left social media sites since) in the 1980's an Intelligence Service agent masquerading as a pub landlady in 'Bandit country' in Northern Ireland ! Gray is therefore a perfect Chief of Staff for the Starmerite Labour Party - as merely a 'Potemtkin Village', pseudo alternative party for the UK electorate to vote for - but guaranteeing nothing changes.

FlexibleHex said...

Here is Starmer's problem. He has a habit of being economical with the truth, to put it mildly.

Like TB, he's a slippery lawyer who shouldn't be trusted an inch. And I think that, like TB, he doesn't have the slightest interest in serving the ordinary folk he pretends to care about.