Wednesday 18 March 2020

Keir Starmer vs Coronavirus

It's doubtful the last minute intervention of Coronavirus is going to sway the direction of the Labour leadership contest and despite my best efforts, Keir Starmer is still the most likely to win. Therefore what he says and does about the crisis now matters because he will shortly be holding Boris Johnson to account, and making the demands the Tories "acknowledge" but pointedly refuse to do anything about. Unfortunately, worryingly, just as Johnson is asleep at the wheel, judging by his comments so far our would-be Leader of the Opposition is also napping on the job.

In Keir's most recent article we see the outlines about what needs to be done. He rightly calls for a finance package to help businesses and workers through the mess, and criticises the government for not doing so. "If the government fails to appreciate that what is now a health crisis will soon be a fully-blown social-economic crisis, then they will have failed to grasp the severity of the situation", he writes. He calls for regular financial statements, a task force comprised of experts, business, unions and others to determine what stimulus measures are required, and for the government to collaborate with international efforts at bringing down infection and collaborating toward a global response.

I've got some issues with this. Left wing supporters bristle at the suggestion Keir's some sort of centrist, and make a virtue of his Trotty past and good works done as a campaigning lawyer. Just don't talk about his time as Director of Public Prosecutions. Okay, accepting these arguments as good coin then why is his contribution to critiquing Johnson's crisis management diluted to the point of being homeopathic? From the off Jeremy Corbyn has offered concrete demands that will make the lives better for our people as Coronavirus rages. As has Rebecca Long-Bailey. As has Richard Burgon. And if these are not to your political tastes, even Lisa Nandy has branded the government's Coronavirus strategy shambolic. Keir here makes no concrete demands beyond the wonkish: a task force, a statement. Useful, yes, but not the point to emphasise when people are facing drastic cuts to income and dwindling shop shelves.

Want more centrism? Keir has it. You'll note that his criticisms of the government pussyfoots around the perimeter of the unfolding disaster, suggesting Johnson and friends haven't grasped the full weight of the crisis. This recycles the tired old assumption that, despite what the Tories do and the damage they inflict, in the end they're wrong and misinformed and a good bit of evidence and argumentation is going to make them see the light. For instance, the rhetoric Keir has used about austerity as a failed experiment (annoyingly oft-deployed by Jeremy Corbyn too) makes the assumption the last lost decade of cuts took because Dave's Tories were mistaken. Nothing else. This Fabian blindness that has done so much to blunt the Labourist critique of society and depress its intellectual curiosity spills out of the centrist doxa, and helps Johnson get off the hook by spinning his biopolitics of Coronavirus as honest errors. The truth is much more damning: their reaction to the disease is a mere extension ruling class politics. Denying the materialism of political argument is never an encouraging sign, and undermines the self-generated hype about Keir offering a "forensic" opposition.

This is not point scoring. It's deadly serious. If Keir is to lead Labour's response then he has to up his game. If he wants to be meticulous and detailed, it requires something more critical than ambushing Boris Johnson with buried stats. If he wants to inspire, he's got to go beyond wonkish platitudes and trying to be all moral by avoiding hard criticisms. For its part the left criticises Keir because we want an opposition that can articulate the common interest against the Tories, because we want an alternative and not a simulacrum weak on Johnson and clueless about the causes of Johnson. And crucially, a party and a movement that can defend our people and win. We want him to be successful. If Keir falls short and doesn't sort the politics out people will die. It's that straightforward.


Dialectician1 said...

Have you read Paul Mason's latest?

"What we need, both in the physical fight to stop the virus and the economic fight to stop financial contagion, is the very thing successive governments have destroyed and disavowed: a plan. Keir Starmer suggests the fight against the virus should be actively co-ordinated by the Civil Contingencies Secretariat. Do you know what that is? Nope, because it’s become a dormant function of government in the free-market era, when all problems were assumed to be controllable by market mechanisms, or through government tweaks. But Starmer is right: we need to activate the functions of the state, just as other countries have done, where necessary ordering – not requesting – behavioural change. "

"Like it or not, we are going to end up with a heavily state-backed economy, with the government directing the private sector and ensuring everyone has enough to live on: the sooner we accept that, and a generation of neoliberal-trained politicians learns how to perform this role, the better."

All that is solid........

Phil said...

the tired old assumption that, despite what the Tories do and the damage they inflict, in the end they're wrong and misinformed and a good bit of evidence and argumentation is going to make them see the light.

So much this. As if Corbyn didn't "go high" enough; as if Brown and Miliband didn't put enough trust in the good faith of the Right.

There is still a working class and it still has enemies. Viewed in that perspective, Starmer's capitulating before he's begun.

Anonymous said...

Keir Starmer will win, and he will quite possibly win the next GE. He may also become less dull and more inspiring. Can he do some good as a future PM? - Yes. Will he change the structure society or of inequality?- No. The thing is I think everyone knows this whether they are voting for him or not. Hope he becomes a bit more inspiring though. He might. As is the norm lots of advice and help will be given. Enjoyed the article.