Wednesday 24 June 2020

Keir Starmer's Softly-Softly

Some very quick notes on the Labour leader's approach to "responsible" oppositionism.

1. It's working. Or it seems to be working, if you're using polling as a measure of success. On the whole, they're demonstrating convergence as the gap between Tories and Labour narrows. Also, for someone who was only known to weirdo politicos and those who followed the Brexit process closely, the public are warming to him as they put him on a par with or slightly above or below Boris Johnson in the best Prime Minister stakes. Remember, Johnson still has the wartime crisis inflating his support. Last of all, as much as some Labour people are grumbling recent polling data shows many more Labour supporters approve of the strategy so far than disapprove.

2. While it's good to see the polls move, we're abutting one of those tensions at the heart of Labourism. Playing the statesman is obviously Keir's strategy, and believes keeping the criticisms of the government's awful record restrained will get him a hearing among some voters Labour has to win back. And you can see where this comes from. Before the election politics was paralysed and polarised by Brexit. A lot of ordinary punters were fed up of seeing politicians slanging and wrangling at each other over issues that were esoteric, technical, and appeared like procedural games for their own sake. Keir is desperate to avoid being perceived as playing politics in order to cut through to those who "protested" this by voting Tory.

3. This is still the beginning, and so Labour are peeling back the soft Tory vote. Reducing Tory support further requires much more than the softly-softly approach. Some think attacking the left is the route to the magic kingdom, or dumping commitments to universalism can get things moving. Yes, but at the cost of destabilising and dissipating one's base and making winning a general election more difficult.

4. Recalling Ed Miliband's leadership, for about the first two or three years Ed was very reluctant to commit Labour to anything. The danger for Keir Starmer is if he combines that ill-fated strategy (which, you might remember, appeared to work for a time as Labour led in the polls) with a reticence to criticise and condemn the government, the party runs the risk of acquiring a reputation for dithering. And, for its leader, the perception he can't do his job. In short, voters do expect opposition to be an opposition after a period of time. If it's not forthcoming, they'll have you down as weak, useless, and not worth bothering with.

Image Credit


David said...

From where I sit he's destroying Johnson very effectively. We do need positive policies - the small matter of the planet burning up for one - but plenty of time yet. In terms of criticising and condemning the government, an absolutely brilliant job.

Anonymous said...

I'll try to take comfort in this as a 2nd wave kills even more people and Starmer does nothing...

Shai Masot said...

Paul Mason adores Keir Starmer. His unquestioning love of the man exceeds that of the Blairites for Margaret Thatcher... even as Keir quietly drops Labour's commitments to universal social security and the GND.

Paul needs lots of our care and empathy, lots of specialist therapy, and lots of luvin' hugs.

Blissex said...

«It's working. Or it seems to be working, if you're using polling as a measure of success. On the whole, they're demonstrating convergence as the gap between Tories and Labour narrows.»

With a government this bad fronted by a slapstick PM "supported" by a cadre of clowns Labour should be 20 points ahead, if only it had a leader that was popular.
Instead the "closing the gap" has been due entirely to the own goals of the PM and other clowns.
I doubt that most people are even aware there is a new leader of the opposition.

Under Corbyn, and opposing a much better government than Johnson's (which faint praise indeed -- who would have known we would sink further), Labour was often ahead and if there was a gap it was usually much smaller. Until the PLP and their mass-media accomplices put their boot in for the 2019 elections, which were fought with the signature brexit policy of Keir Starmer.

Blissex said...

Indeed we kept being told that with a centrist "New Labour" style leader like Starmer, with centrist "New Labour" style shadow cabinet and policies opposing such a farcical May government, the Conservatives would have been 20 points behind,

We now have an even more terrible Johnson government, and this government has lost its "Get Brexit Done" main winning electoral appeal (by getting it done), and Starmer instead of bringing New Labour 30 points ahead is way behind, and all poll progress is driven by the own goals of the Conservatives. As our blogger says even Ed Milliband (never mind Corbyn), opposing a much more serious Osborne/Cameron/Clegg government, and with the mainstream media (and several in the PLP) attacking him constantly as a "trot antisemite", got better poll numbers up to 2015.

Andy said...

Starmer will not be allowed to fail because if he does then he is no better than Corbyn and there are a lot of people about who cannot bear to see Corbyn remembered as a remotely credible politician.

Hence all the preformatively positive "Real opposition starts here" comments (to which a small amount of childish glee can be had by replying "should be 20 points ahead by now") from the Guardianista faction and no total expressions of horror from the right.

His problems are that a) PMQs doesn't really matter and b) once the HoC is packed full of braying Tories again Starmer will need a new tactic to shine. His courtroom style approach is only working because right now the Commons resembles a courtroom.

He will of course be found to have solved Labour's 'antisemitism problem' for the same reason as above but here's the kicker, he won't have to actually do anything because there wasn't an 'antisemitism problem' in the way it was presented anyway. There were maybe a couple of hundred problematic people, some of whome have been/will be expelled and any that are missed will just be ignored from now on as they were pre-Corbyn. The casualties will be left-wing non-Zionist Jews being expelled for what Seamus Milne clearly understood as a political split between different parts of the Jewish community. I predict that that will be a sacrifice that the overwhelming majority will be very comfortable with making.

So my view is that yes, Starmer appears to be succeeding, mainly via his major selling point of not being Jeremy Corbyn and the old order closing in behind him. He hasn't actually done anything yet, his real test is yet to come.

Jimbo said...

Good to see he is dealing with anti-Semitism firmly.

Anonymous said...

I haven’t read the text that led to RLB’s sacking from the Labour shadow cabinet but I suspect that it will be a turning point in the direction of travel for the Starmer Army. I also suspect it will the jumping off point for many activists who joined the party in the early Corbyn days: it is a Clause 4 moment.

Anonymous said...

Yes, polls.

Jim Denham said...

From today's (online) Graun: "Peake’s allegation was based on a 2016 report from Amnesty International. The organisation later said that it had never reported that Israeli secret services taught a “neck kneeling” technique.

“For years, we’ve documented appalling crimes under international law and human rights violations meted out to Palestinians by members of the Israeli security forces, though the precise nature of the training offered to US police forces by Israeli officials is not something we’ve documented,” it told the New Statesman.

“Allegations that US police were taught tactics of ‘neck kneeling’ by Israeli secret services is not something we’ve ever reported and the article in question has rightly been amended to acknowledge that.

“The US police themselves have a longstanding record of using excessive force against members of the public – including Black Lives Matter protesters, something we reported on earlier this week.”

Anonymous said...

Interesting that the Tories get the softly softly while his own party's left gets the teeth. Almost as if he has more in common with the former than the latter.

Ken said...

Ah, if only JC had beeb a bit more “Leninist” with his internal opponents.

George Carty said...

It isn't that Starmer has more in common with the Tories than with the Labour left: it's that he has more fear of them (and specifically of the newspapers that they own).