Sunday 26 June 2022

Keir Starmer's Centre Ground

How to celebrate an essential by-election victory? If you're Keir Starmer, you take to the pages of The Observer and claim it as a victory for the centre ground. Was it? On Thursday, Labour and the Liberal Democrats were the beneficiaries of an anti-Tory protest vote rather than a positive identification with either party. Don't take my predictably left wing take on Labour's performance for it, John Curtice agrees as well. But there is a point Starmer makes about "detoxifying" Labour and the role it played. He writes,
... we have rolled up our sleeves and focused on listening to the public and changing our party. We’ve rooted out the poison of antisemitism, shown unshakeable support for Nato, forged a new relationship with business, shed unworkable or unaffordable policies and created an election machine capable of taking on the Conservatives.
Let's retranslate this self-serving waffle. Under Starmer Labour has restated its commitment to the US-led alliance and the national security state, and made great public display out of its acceptance of the rules of the political game. Labour's noted silence on policy, apart from when a proposal swims with the public mood, has (mostly) bought off press hostility. There's no running commentary on anti-black and anti-Muslim racism in the party, no outcry over appalling cases of misogyny, and gone are stories about sending homeowners to the gulag and other red-baiting nonsense. Starmer has done his level best to assure the establishment that he poses no threat to their interests, which is just about the only sincere aspect of his politics, and they have reciprocated with neutral-to-warm coverage. Apart from the hardcore Tory outlets, but even here the anti-Starmer stories are more tepid and less frequent than that endured by his predecessor.

The result? A more benign political environment for Labour, and more voters prepared to give the party a punt. But does this mean a victory for the much-vaunted and forever vague centre ground, as Starmer claims? He writes "That’s not a place of mushy compromise or a halfway house between unpalatable extremes, but a centre ground driven by ethical purpose ... a place that is dedicated to answering the clarion call ... of all those demanding real change." He goes on to say it's the place from which Labour will become a restless, reforming government. It would tackle the "stagnant economy" and the chief reason why it's in the doldrums: "a failure to make the most of the enormous talents and resources that we have here in Britain." Superficial piffle that, in less colourful terms, resembles Boris Johnson's levelling up wheeze. He's good at talking about a modernisation project but is stubbornly and structurally incapable of delivery.

Of Starmer's radical centre, all we've really seen of substance so far is the aforementioned windfall tax and the bastardisation of Rebecca Long-Bailey's Green New Deal, repurposed as a renewable energy PFI by Rachel Reeves designed to lock 'green' capital into Labour's political fortunes. But because most people don't pay much attention to politics, but are nevertheless more likely to locate themselves in the centre than being at any of the "extremes" (regardless of the content of their political views), he's hoping that an explicitly centrist pitch will help along the vibing strategy.

Can this be enough? I doubt it. Regardless of who leads the Tories at the next general election, the only political strategy available to them is to put back together the 2017 and 2019 voter coalitions. In the absence of Brexit and anti-Corbyn fearmongering, this is exactly what their deliberate stoking of wedge issues is all about. This runs the risk of firming up the anti-Tory vote too, which contributed to Labour's better-than-expected result five years ago. But by the same token, if Starmer doesn't offer anything to leftist and progressive voters it's not just the supermajorities in the big cities that will reduce, but also Labour's chances in the marginals. Anti-Toryim can carry Labour in a by-election, but not when power is at stake.

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PurplePete said...

I do hope that those naughty Labour MPs & spads who went on the RMT picket line have padded-out their 'nether regions' with a couple of exercise books before they receive their due punishment today from the chief whip (Sir Alan 'Bomber' Campbell).

Anonymous said...

Rachel Reeves, not Reed

Phil said...