Thursday 23 February 2023

On "Trusting" Keir Starmer

Why undertake one mission when five will do? Speaking in Manchester on Thursday morning, Keir Starmer set out his plan to transform Britain. For a politician not normally associated with excitement and exuberance, by his standards the speech was soaring and ambitious. Imagine a firework display where every rocket, streamer, and fountain explodes in sparkles of grey.

It's long been argued here that "Starmerism" is a project of state modernisation, though unlike his December speech with Gordon Brown this was more philosophical, more about the vibes and contours of his government instead of specifics. His five missions - secure the highest sustained growth in the G7, build an NHS fit for the future, make Britain's streets safe, break down the barriers to opportunity at every stage, make Britain a clean energy superpower - offer a set of themes that will structure his reform programme. Anyone who has sat in corporate planning meetings making plans about plans will be familiar with the approach. Concrete policies and state money will fill in the gaps as the missions are implemented, and progress toward the missions goals will get measured along the way because, as Starmer acknowledged, none of these are quick fixes. Asked about whether it could take longer than one term, Starmer was unapologetic. Long-term thinking underpins long-term stability, and that is what the country is crying out for.

With no policies to shout about, there were some interesting remarks fleshing out what Starmer's government will look like. Having done the authoritarian hard yards on plenty of previous occasions, the talk today was of partnership. Half-inching the "what works" rhetoric from Tony Blair's past speeches, he said state spending - fully costed and accounted for, of course - would be deployed in a way to encourage more private investment. Rather than "doing stuff" to people, Starmer wanted to ensure everyone came along for the journey. That economic rejuvenation of the country's neglected cities and regions won't be top down but involves all residents in all localities. The heavy emphasis was on inclusive growth and making life better for everyone, which at times sounded like a 10 year old one nation vintage disinterred from Ed Miliband's cellar. This sounds like vacuous piffle, and undoubtedly already is written off as such by many comrades.

Given the trust issues surrounding Starmer vis a vis dumping his leadership campaign pledges and the subsequent dreadful treatment of his predecessor, it might be surprising for some that I think Starmer can be trusted to roll out his "missions". Their "vision" speaks to his managerial imagination. Can he therefore be trusted to set about reforming institutions? Yes, especially where it doesn't involve new money. And all the stuff about decentralisation, trade unions, levelling up, and long-term plans for state renovation and improvement? Also yes. Chapters in the next manifesto will appear around the missions, policies listed in them, and the first six months of a Starmer government will be a flag fluttering jamboree of mission statements and policy crusades. But this says nothing about the content. Today, the Labour leader continued his polemic against sticking plaster politics, and pointedly denounced "partnership" schemes with business where they creamed off the profits while the risks and the costs were socialised. I would be more inclined to believe Starmer's genuine intentions here were he not so determined to press ahead with using private services in the NHS. An early test before he's had a whiff of government and already the results are not looking good. Where a policy sounds radical and transformative, like the direction of travel on trade unions, watering down is to be expected.

With Labour so far ahead in the polls, received political wisdom suggests that whatever Starmer says now he will do. There is no electoral compulsion to promise things he has no intention of delivering, especially when the Tories have nothing to offer apart from more misery and scapegoating. But as far as our movement is concerned, history tells us Labour governments have to be pressed from below to make modest improvements. It's never a case of you look after the industrial sphere while we take care of the politics, as per the old Fabian assumption. On this, I can safely guarantee Starmer will be no different. Therefore, Labour are going to disappoint, but that's no reason to be despondent. It's the way of the world and we need to using our rising tide of struggle to prepare for it.

Image Credit


David Timoney said...

There's an obvious tension between modernising the state and decentralisation, so I don't share your confidence that Starmer will deliver on the latter. I'd characterise his brief as being less about modernisation (which is just boilerplate Labourism) and more about restoring the dignity of the state after the populist outbursts of Brexit and the Corbyn interregnum. We also need to bear in mind the inertia of a state that has been centralising since Henry VIII. More recently, Starmer's treatment of the Labour Party itself does not suggest he instinctively believes in empowerment.

Old Trot said...

The Tory press and TV interviewers, not least on Radio 4's Today prog, have been having great fun with the empty , jargonised, dross served up by the Starmer and his consultants as their BIG Ideas 'Five Missions' relaunch mark 20. In places the management-speak mumbo jumbo does indeed represent what the Today prog interviewer called "a crime against the English language" ! The sheer contempt shown to the electorate by the utter dross churned out in Starmer's Five Missions speech is a solid indication of just how awful the next Labour government will be.

I think Phil's analysis is stuck somewhere in the 1970's, with his "we can press from below" to get good things from a Labour government, line. Nulabour 2 is even more firmly right wing than the Blair/Brown one, and the economy and our social infrastructure, and wage levels are now in dire straights (in Blair's day the economy was booming). Privatisation is far advanced - and the damage done in 13 years of austerity by the Tories to our civil society would require a massively transformative, high taxing of the rich, government to sort it out. In fact a new , utterly bought by Big Business lobbyists , Labour government, actively still enthusiastically purging its 'Left' wing , including the pathetic PLP 'Left' , is going to be a profoundly un-reforming (in real terms, rather than cosmetic deckchairs on the Titanic trivia) government - which will be in direct conflict on a huge scale with the working class facing real ever-growing deprivation now. It's only ally outside the mass media and state machine of repression will be the equally corrupt trades union bureaucracy - who will, as today , try to subdue rising mass strike action on that hoary old pretext of "give Labour a chance" . Starmer and his corrupt , bought, NuLabour cronies are merely willing collaborators with the ever-rising capitalist offensive to impoverish us all as they grow ever richer. All Phil's stuff about a 'modernisation'agenda from the Starmerites is irrelevant, diversionary, and merely sows illusions in the potential of the next Labour government to have some 'upside' for the majority of us.

PurplePete said...

"It's (Labour's) only ally outside the mass media and state machine of repression will be the equally corrupt trades union bureaucracy - who will, as today , try to subdue rising mass strike action on that hoary old pretext of "give Labour a chance".

Let's not forget in was during a Labour Government that:

* the police repeatedly attacked anti-fascists at Lewisham in 1977, in order to allow the National Front to march through a multi-ethnic community;
* sent in the SPG to attack the picket lines on Chapter Rd during the Grunwick strike;
* created the conditions for igniting the conflict during the so-called 'Winter of Discontent' (1978/79) - conditions that are not too dissimilar from today's public sector strike action.

Like his ruling Labour successors, I'm sure Starmer wont be slow-of-the-mark in removing the velvet glove, to reveal the iron fist of State repression, if (and when) the uppity working class start to kick up dust.

Jim Denham said...

Is "Old Trot" in favour of even voting Labour at the next GE? Just asking.

Old Trot said...

It is probably vital that Labour does win the next General Election, Jim, but not because any clued up socialist should expect anything but class treachery and continued austerity from the corrupt, utterly bought by Big Business , Nulabour crew. Surely , on experiencing such a dire government this will be the final end (as across most of European politics) of mass working class support for the corrupt careerists of 'Labourism'. It is what follows such a guaranteed disastrous (for workers) government that is the huge worry.

Have a read of the excellent analysis this week by Tribune's, Grace Blakely , ie ' Keir Starmer's Sticking Plaster Politics' for a likely accurate forecast of what to expect. Tell us in what way her prognosis is wrong , Jim. Do you even care , as you mouth those tired old unanalytical slogan mantras - "better a Labour Government on any basis, than a Tory one". But what if the two are essentially identical nowadays, Jim ?

McIntosh said...

Some other mission statements that Kier could make:

We will be less corrupt and discredited that the Tories.

We will give even more uncritical and unconditional support to NATO.

We will privatise a bit less of the NHS than the Tories.

We will support Israel ding whatever it wants and still claim to favour a 2 state solution.

My Cabinet will be on average taller that Rishi's.

CottonFoxGlove said...

Surely, every government since the beginning of civilisation has pursued policies which take time to come to fruition and are "structural". Calling them "missions" doesn't change anything. The key question from the perspective of the Left, is whether the government has the social power to enforce a re-distribution of resources. For example, if you are going to invest more in the North, you will invest less in the South-East, and must have the social power to command that outcome. Likewise with all the other stated aims. I think Starmer is sincere, but will fold. Everything points in that direction.