Tuesday, 7 September 2021

How to Ruin an Opportunity

In the interests of scrupulous fairness, Keir Starmer gave a good account of himself in the Commons. Replying to Boris Johnson's punitive plan to soak relatively comfortable pensioners to protect the wealthy from spiralling care costs, there were glimpses of what an effective parliamentary opposition might look like.

Starmer's response was hardly soaring, but it did the job. With the Tories protecting wealthy pensioners and landlords, and making everyone else cough up here was the shiniest of golden opportunities for Labour. A moment the party could demonstrate the Tories haven't changed, despite their levelling up con and the thousand and one pledges Johnson has made to build a blue Jerusalem in this green and pleasant land. A moment for showing up the Tories for standing with the classes, while Labour was with the masses. And in his own ponderous way, Starmer defied terribly low expectations and managed it.

The Labour leader being the Labour leader, there were the correct process criticisms. The money going to care isn't about improving quality or uprating the pay of this most undervalued of professions. There was no relief for unpaid carers in the family, nor a plan for the social care needs of disabled people. He attacked the Tories for breaking their manifesto commitment to not raise taxes. He even veered into left populist territory, noting how this is a tax rise on supermarket workers, nurses, and young people, sections of the workforce not known for being flush with cash. Landlords aren't affected but their renters are. Starmer mentioned how Labour would have approached this with a proper plan, and one that would not tinker with the funding but change it entirely. His favoured solution was expecting more from wealthy people by taxing stocks, shares, dividends, and property more effectively.

Has someone replaced the Leader of the Opposition? These lines would play well to the tens of millions hammered by the Tories, but unfortunately a lot of people who need inspiring and a reason to support Labour aren't likely to be enthused by the sound bite chosen to get pushed on social media.

When it comes to modern political speeches, standard practice is a series of bland statements with emphasis placed on the one-line message the writer and/or speaker wants to get across. And so while Starmer's reply to Johnson was borderline Corbynish in content, this talking point was designed to steal the show:
Mr Speaker, read my lips. The Tories could never again claim to be the party of low tax.
Not many people would appreciate (or for that matter, notice) the call back to George Bush Senior's 1988 tax promise, but as with everything else half way oppositional Starmer has uttered, it conforms to right wing framing. As if former Labour voters and Tory-leaning floaters were attracted to the Tories in 2017 and 2019 on the basis of tax promises. Small statism is not the battleground for winning over the Starmer-curious. What is is a credible plan that would properly address and reverse the class war policies the Tories have presided over for 11 years, and undo baleful legacies left by the last Labour government too. This is the prospectus that can win an election. What isn't is a platform that adopts Tory language and is more comfortable attacking the Tories from the right. It won't win over Conservative voters, but it will almost certainly put off sections of Labour's existing coalition it needs onside if the party is to stand a chance.

Overall and despite the bluebottle in the soup, is Starmer's leftish response a sign that the era of factionalist-driven policy and the Labour right's habitual attachment to the comfort zone of opposition is over? It takes more than one swallow to make a spring, and more than one good day in the Commons to establish a shift.

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Patrick Kirk said...

"Overall, despite the rightwing bluebottle in the soup a sign perhaps that the era of factionalist-driven policy and the comfort zone of institutionalised opposition is over? "

I read it a few times now and have no idea what this means.

Phil said...

I shall rephrase!

John said...

I think I understood it Phil. It's a sign that the attacks on the left are winding down and focus is turning to attacking the Tories.

David Lindsay said...

No one who was not already avoiding tax would bother to do so merely in order to escape a tax of, say, 10 per cent on their wealth above five million pounds. Still less would they flee it by fleeing the country. It would hardly be the threat of the poorhouse. But it is good to see that the wider problem of tax avoidance is being acknowledged by those who had never previously accepted that it was a problem at all. What is the point of tax avoidance? If you can afford to do it, then you would still be rich if you didn't, but you would be able to enjoy your wealth in a far more civilised country.