Monday 27 September 2021

On the Starmerist Manifesto

According to the Fabians, Keir Starmer's essay was downloaded tens of thousands of times. Out of them, I wonder how many will languish in folders on flash drives, never to be opened let alone read. Deservedly so, many might say. All the charges about it being vacuous are right, but what it isn't is pointless. Recalling the build up to the piece, this was trailed as a 15,000 word statement of beliefs for the benefit of Labour Party members. As the intended audience, I can only imagine the unambitiously wonkish and the most limited political imaginations would find something here worth getting their teeth into. But then again, as with so many of Keir Starmer's "accomplishments", the intended audience are the gatekeepers and mouthpieces of capital's interests. And there isn't much here that would worry most of the vested interests Starmer has gone out of his way to court.

But is there more to it than that? Yes, if you happen to be interested in the lineage of Starmerism, its trajectory, and where this jerry-rigged sack of platitudes are likely to end up. As political credos go, this is as much thin gruel than anything Ed Miliband and Tony Blair served up, but it is suggestive of a certain mindset, of habits of mind and inclinations we've seen play out during the last 18 months and we're going to see in office on the off chance Keir Starmer becomes Prime Minister.

There are a few good things here. There is an outline of an extension of workers' rights in the first 100 days (p.23), which would be the first substantive enhancement of collective workplace powers since the 1970s. The measures promised come nowhere near the mark of the Corbyn era, but it's not a lapse back to 2010-2015 which, despite exhibiting more of an overt concern with equality, never had much to say on building up trade union strength. The green new deal is in there without using those form of words, but without much in the way of detail. And, most interestingly, what the essay does get right is the importance of security. Longtime readers might recall this was a major bee in this blog's bonnet during its detour (and therefore, mine) into soft left decency. Again, Corbynism took it up and dinstinguished itself by addressing the interests of the the rising class of workers. Starmerism steps back from this and, in the moments it affects to be interested in winning elections, is set on building a different voter coalition with large swathes of former Tory voters and without the millions who supported Labour during its last two outings.

Recognising the problem of security doesn't necessarily mean one has the right solutions, and Starmerism certainly doesn't. Genuflecting towards the problems faced by younger workers will get lost in the noise when the emphasis is on appealing to the insecurities of older cohorts of voters using Tory themes. Instead of talking about interests, we resort to recycled anti-crime populism of the Blair years, and getting more police on the street (another unacknowledged borrowing from Corbynism). In other words, make people feel secure at home in the knowledge the state is out there giving ne'er do wells a good hiding - a classic Tory ruse.

The other string to the Starmerist bow is the bastardised strand of Blue Labour running through it. Starmer doesn't quite evoke images of Spitfires and old maids cycling through the mist, but there's a lot about patriotism, values, and place. All classic themes and, if one was feeling generous, might out this down as an oversteer to counteract the media's confection of Corbyn's Labour as being anti-British. This is the lead in to his big wheeze, the "contribution society" in which everyone knows their place and does their bit. In the context of emerging from lockdown, he writes,
They want to see a contribution society: one where people who work hard and play by the rules can expect to get something back, where you can expect fair pay for fair work, where we capture the spirit that saw us through the worst ravages of the pandemic and celebrate the idea of community and society; where we understand that we are stronger together. (p.22)
Making the world less scary is a noble political endeavour, but doing so by mixing patriotic homilies with a revived "tough on crime, tough on the causes of crime" strapline and being beastly toward designated outgroups isn't going to win converts over when the next Tory election campaign, just like the last one, heavily runs these lines. The best way of cutting across this support is an appeal to interests, and this is where Starmerism mangles Blue Labour. While it is socially conservative and has an embarrassing reverence for institutions that have kept our class down, at least as Maurice Glasman originally articulated it, its conservatism extended not just to the preservation of working class identities, but its community institutions and tradition of (often militant) self-activity. The kinds of thing that would make a manager like Starmer nervous, such as protests, strike action, occupations, etc. And for a decade before he came to prominence, Glasman did his bit encouraging community organising alongside what became Citizens UK (a model that deserves its own critique, some other time). Starmer's Blue Labourism evacuates this stuff. He even pays no mind to Labour authorities who do value place and locality through their community wealth building efforts, because factionalism. For him, the sense of belonging is secured administratively, a unity - and your contributions - enforced from above.

And this brings us back to where we've been before mapping out the contours of Starmerism. It was fitting the Fabian Society published his pamphlet, because this fits entirely in their tradition. Enlightened managers know best, progressive social change is something that is done to people, there's no role for politics outside of parliament except for vote catching activity, and absolutely central - the thrust of his critique of the Tories - is the need to restore popular trust in the state after it has been frittered away by the Tories. Restoring trust in state institutions is fair enough as political projects go. It's certainly not my politics. But the objective is a non-starter when a leadership, Starmerism, systematically undermines trust in and talks down the institution - the Labour Party - that is supposed to restore this trust.

At one of the Labour fringes, John McDonnell quipped how this was supposed to be a 15,000 word essay and supposed the 2,500 missing words contained all the politics. A good line, but all the politics are there to see in its 30 short pages. It's not a politics for winning an election, nor a prospectus set on firing up millions of voters. It's a summation of Starmerism so far, an elitist boss-knows-best outlook, married to a list of vague sounding policies and aspirations designed to keep Labourist politics in this managerial mould. It might be better than the Tories, but when they're busy letting tens of thousand get ill and hundreds die of Covid every week, these days that's a very low bar.

Image Credit


Blissex said...

The politics are condensed here:

The role of government is to give every person, every community, and every business the tools they need to contribute to our success

That "tools" embodies liberal "pull yourself up by your own bootstraps" rhetoric of meritocracy. The use of "success" as a keyword is another tell that this is "Orange Labour" (as in "Orange Book").

But marbled here and there with "Blue Labour" handwaving, as our blogger notes, to appeal also to the socially conservative voters in the "red wall".

BTW the starmerite theme that our blogger notes about restoring the primacy of top-down state institutions could be a relatively minor point, but what Starmer seems to want is to restore the primacy of the *thatcheritism* embodied in state institutions.

The way class interests are pursued (e.g. more or less participatory) is not irrelevant, but what really matters is which class interests are pursued, and as to this Starmer's "Orange Labour" is clearly targeted at the class interests of affluent property and share owners, even if it has been clear for a long time that they switch their vote not on "competence" or other secondary issues, but on the continuity of property and share based redistribution to them from the lower classes.

Blissex said...

«this blog's bonnet during its detour (and therefore, mine) into soft left decency»

There is nothing wrong with that "soft left decency" as long as it is aimed at furthering the class interests that Labour is supposed to represent; even if often "soft left" actually means furthering the interests of rentiers, never mind employers.

Anyhow I have noted that recently Andy Burnham has renounced "electability" by betraying "There Is No Alternative" thatcherism:
«Burnham [...] has more clarity on what he is about as a politician and explains to The House that, in essence, that is “rolling back the 80s”. “I feel like [the 80s] was when things changed for the worse in this country, both in terms of the demise of certain industries, the loss of affordable public transport, council housing,” he says.” I believe you trace a lot of our problems back to then and the sadness for me is that New Labour didn’t fix those things. It did some good things, don’t get me wrong, but it didn’t fix those things.”»

He has obviously given up on his chances of becoming leader of New Labour.

Blissex said...

«during its detour (and therefore, mine) into soft left decency»

That article about security and mandelsonian/neoliberal politicking did not mention much "property" which has become more prominent in your writing.

What has given security to much of the "Middle England" rentiers of the upper-middle class are property profits redistributed from the lower classes, which are not only huge, but also clearly guaranteed by the government, as in the 1990s and 2000s crashes the new governing party restored them as a priority, because “There Is No Alternative”.

While the employment relationship has become less secure for most people, property rentierism has become much more secure for enough "Middle England" voters to give a permanent seat majorities (even if it was just a plurality in 2017) to thatcherites, whether New Labour, Conservatives or LibDems,

BCFG said...

Just looking at the updated wacipedia entry for the Labour party,

“The Labour party are a Zionist entity working out of Great and Fabulous (see footnote 1) Britain. Their goals are to show the Israeli settler state in the best possible terms and to harangue, demonise and demoralise the Palestinian liberation movement.

Economically they sit on the neo liberal Thatcherite hard right and promote an aggressive pro imperialist policy, to serve US and British interests. Which of course are the promotion of freedom, democracy and women’s rights, as well as protect vital strategic interests.

Culturally they follow a demented woke narrative. Some conspiracy theorists have suggested this narrative has been pushed to promote Israeli security technology, which is something Israel is a world leader in. The conspiracy goes something like this, in order to fulfill the concerns of this demented woke narrative a whole security apparatus needs to be erected to protect women, blacks, trans and gays from white, male, heterosexual, non binary people and their advocates in power.

Wacipedia does not endorse or deny this conspiracy.

Their current leader is Keir Starmer, who made headlines a few years ago when he was inexplicably given a knighthood, it turned out this was due to a mix up with Judith Charmers. Originally he was Dame Keir Starmer but this had to be changed to Sir when the mistake came to light. It was not possible to rescind the award as this is not possible under current rules. Sadly Judith Charmers never received the recognition.”

Footnote 1: In order to make gay citizens feel welcome the word Fabulous has been inserted into Great Britain, this is planned to be in a future Labour party manifesto.

Dipper said...

Take Back Control

Get Brexit Done

Build Back Better

Level Up.

3 words max, not War and Peace.

Starmer needs something similar.

To give him credit, he was pretty clear yesterday. Teachers and Nurses to be special people, entitled to go to the head of very queue, and he wants to bring in foreign HGV drivers to support bosses offering low wages and appalling working conditions. So that's clear folks.

Imagine the headlines now if Corbyn were PM said...

"He has obviously given up on his chances of becoming leader of New Labour."

Never was an untruer word said.

Blissex said...

«"He has obviously given up on his chances of becoming leader of New Labour."
Never was an untruer word said.»

After accepting and even praising Corbyn in 2015-2016 and betraying Thatcher and Blair in 2021, how can he still have chances of being selected to lead New Labour? He has burned his bridges with the Militant Mandelsoncy.

He may be thinking that he has better chances of becoming leader of Labour instead, as a non-thatcherite quasi-corbyinista.

Imagine what Dipper would now be saying if Corbyn were PM said...

“He may be thinking that he has better chances of becoming leader of Labour instead, as a non-thatcherite quasi-corbyinista.”

You obviously have not been paying close enough attention to what Burnham actually says in his cosy chats with Kay Burley etc.

He is not a non thatcherite quasi-corbyinista, or even posturing as one. He is currently posturing as a Brownite, which I admit is at least in the tradition of Labour. I suspect when or if he does get his grubby hands on the leaders position he will be seen to be a solid Blairite, a safe pair of hands.

Blissex said...

«not been paying close enough attention to what Burnham actually says in his cosy chats with Kay Burley etc.»

Indeed I have not been doing that, perhaps because I wish to keep my illusion that he really meant his "roll back the 1980s" betrayal of Thatcher and Blair. :-)

«posturing as a Brownite, which I admit is at least in the tradition of Labour.»

We can give thanks for small mercies giving us tiny hopes... :-)

Blissex said...

«“The role of government is to give every person, every community, and every business the tools they need to contribute to our success”
That "tools" embodies liberal "pull yourself up by your own bootstraps" rhetoric of meritocracy.»

It turns out that was a very optimistic interpretation of the use of the word "tools", something rather more disappointing:
There was also a vow to “give our young people the tools of the future” in terms of “digital” and “life” skills. Briefings ahead of the speech suggested that, on this, what Starmer had in mind was training young people to understand their credit scores, their private pension savings, and the contracts their landlords ask them to sign.