Thursday 2 February 2023

What Might a Keir Starmer Government Look Like?

Since the all-too-brief glory days of Liz Truss's government, the Tories have lagged well behind Labour in the polls. Projections of majorities greater than anything Tony Blair enjoyed are so routine they've become mundane. Unless there's some unforeseen catastrophe, the next election is in no doubt. Labour will win a majority and the Tories can look forward to evisceration. An unexpected comeback is less wishful thinking and more a matter of delusion. But what about the replacement? While most of what Labour is promising awaits the outcome of policy consultations and manifesto drafting, has "Starmerism" revealed enough of itself to anticipate what his government might look like?

There are two themes. The first is a Starmer government will be a reforming government. The attitude to trade unionism and the unveiled plan to renovate the state indicate as much. As managers first and politicians second, Starmer's front bench are fascinated by and fixated on finding fixes to political problems. They share the exasperation of millions with the fact the state is falling to bits and its most basic functions, like issuing passports or having enough ambulances, are seemingly beyond its power. Sorting it out, creating new agencies, making the state an efficient dispenser of services, on the rare occasions Starmer talks about social justice this is pretty much what he means. It also explains how, in the NHS for example, the place of private provision can sit alongside the usual promises to hire more nurses and doctors without getting troubled by the tension between the two. It's a return of "what works", with the public defined and positioned as (passive) consumers of services.

Similarly on economics, the idea of devolving more powers to local government with a vision that's suggestive of letting a thousand Keynesian flowers bloom is about serving business. This vibes with the emerging common sense among business, and one that even Boris Johnson had to reflect with his talk of levelling up. They know support is needed following the triple blows of Brexit, Covid, and the inflation crisis. A happy consequence for Starmerism is the creation of new and potentially influential layers of bureaucrats and technocrats at local levels now every authority will have teeth, and these new graduate positions are going to owe their existence to the Labour Party. When unveiled back in December, Gordon Brown discussed different economic clusters based on local economic profiles. Stoke-on-Trent, shock, horror, is considered a centre for ceramics, for example. If councils have the financial clout to back "their" businesses, the thinking goes that untapped potential will get unlocked and regional inequalities start eroding away. As such, there's no need for direct state intervention to mitigate inequalities - regulated and supported markets overseen by councils with strategic direction provided by the state will do the job instead.

But a Starmer government would also be an authoritarian government. Starmer has basically banned oppositional positions on NATO and the Israeli occupation of Palestine from the parliamentary party, stood by when spy cops legislation went through the Commons, has indicated his support for the government on criminalising "disruptive" protest, and attacks the Tories for not being efficient in dealing with refugee small boats in the Channel. We see Starmer's approach to change the Labour Party. It wasn't just about putting the right back in charge, but treating the party as an administrative machine slaved to a set of norms around "decency", political expectations on candidates, and forcing constituency parties to kowtow to appointed officialdom. As Starmer routinely lies about his record, lies about his predecessor, and lied to the members when he ran his leadership campaign, there's no reason to believe dishonesty won't be a feature of his government either. Though this is likely to be bad faith attacks on opponents and calumny tied to political objectives rather than personal enrichment and cronyism, as per Johnson's case. Anyone thinking Starmer is going to undertake electoral reform, reverse the civil liberties attacks of the last 40 years, challenge the power of the press, and restore access to the judicial system denied by savage cuts to legal aid are as blinkered as those few Tories anticipating a fifth term in office.

The contours of Starmerism are different to decaying Toryism. Because Starmer seeks to incorporate the labour movement into his modernisation project, there are opportunities for us to push, break, and remould politics on our terms. His project is not without risk for him. After all, every government regardless of political colouration opens up its own opportunities. But we need to be crystal clear. Getting the Tories out remains the immediate political objective, but that doesn't mean Keir Starmer is preparing a bed of roses for us post-election.

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Zoltan Jorovic said...

It isn't clear from this analysis why this should be viewed as something to work for. We will simply get the perpetuation of a dysfunctional system. Deep, meaningful reform of the political system is necessary, and anyone who seeks to paper over the cracks and carry on with business as usual is no friend of the majority of the population. It could be argued that a hung parliament, or a very slender majority might be better. It could even be argued that a returned very weak Tory government would at least offer the possibility that a more radical opposition might emerge as Starmer would probably not survive such a failure.

If you are right, then we are facing more disruption, destruction, disaster and despair. While in the longer term this sort of chaos that might eventually force genuine change, it is a bleak prospect. Surely even someone as lacking in imagination as Keir can see that this system is broken and change will come, whether he wishes it or not. Better to be the person who brings that than the one who resists it, I'd have thought.

Old Trot said...

whilst making some (quite true) critical comments on Starmer and co's authoritarianism and serial dishonesty, Phil really apparently believes here that a Nulabour2 government has something really progressive to offer us . This is sadly, sadly, mistaken.

The last 13 years of corrupt Tory banditry and endless ruinous austerity has left all the vital institutions and structures of civil society in ruins. Large numbers of our hospitals are about to fall down, as with state schools, and the NHS and education are bleeding nurses , doctors and teachers at a disastrous rate - as the deliberate fragmentation and underfunding of the NHS in England (plus chronic underfunding of the NHS in Scotland and Wales) drives better-off people into the private sector. Local government across the UK is in a state of profound collapse too, along with the prisons and court system. It will take a new government prepared to spend megabucks very quickly to stave off wide-ranging collapse - and one prepared to tax the rich and corporations to fund this . Will NuLabour do this ? No it won't.

Phil claims that Labour's dominant Right wing aren't corrupt like the Tories. This is fundamentally untrue. The corruption is more of the 'building up favours with Big Business for those cushy jobs later on', type of corruption - than the PPE scandal type gross banditry of the Tories, but it is still a fundamental driver of the behaviour of Labour Front Benches - as the sinecure jobs secured by ALL of Blair and Brown's Front Bench amply demonstrates.

The current funding by the usual crew of dodgy gambling and consultancy and private health care interests of the likes of Streeting , Cooper et al should give the game away for those prepared to look. All that 'giving power back to local level' stuff by Starmer is merely a continuation of the Osbourne Tory ruse to place the administration of everlasting defunding-based austerity down to local levels - rather than a commitment to a great new chapter in economic growth powered by new central government funding. As for that 'cluster strategy' idea .That is such a stale load of hokum - rolled out by consultants in every EU funded Objective One area strategy for twenty-five years now - and never ever working. Stoke on Trent as a 'ceramics hub' ? Please - that ship has sailed forever. In my own previous area of work in economic development , South Yorkshire was given , by consultants, the strange objective , around the now kaput, then new 'Robin Hood' airport, the daft task of creating a 'language school hub ' !

The next Labour government will be both endemically corrupt, beholden to Big Business, will continue Austerity ('balancing those books') , and will be at loggerheads with the entire working class. To believe otherwise is to engage in yet more Left magical thinking I'm afraid.

Anonymous said...

> Similarly on economics, the idea of devolving more powers to local government with a vision that's suggestive of letting a thousand Keynesian flowers bloom is about serving business.

Sounds a lot like a blank cheque for corrupt local officialdom... In other parts of the world, a traditional route back into power for the right wing after a period of governance by "the left".

Anonymous said...

> Getting the Tories out remains the immediate political objective

If Starmer gets in with the appearance of a really solid mandate, than that's probably the end for any hopes of his government doing much more than sticking a plaster on the worst of the Tory damage. As long as he manages to apply that plaster - however brutally he rides over opposition - nobody will be able to hold him to account. He can "reform" the organised labour movement in any way that he likes, should it prove troublesome to him. Then it's back to running the show as a pork barrel of crony capitalism. Business as usual!

We need Starmer to win by MUCH less than everyone expects, embarrassingly far below expectations. IMO the left had better focus tactically on that goal if it wants to survive. In marginals with no Tory contestation, Labour needs to lose, or hold a wafer-thin margin.

Zoltan Jorovic said...

Somewhat to my surprise, I find I agree with Old Trot.

Blissex said...

As previous commenters have said I reckon that a government by a Liberal pandering to tory interests (50yo property owning kippers) is not going to be that different from the governments of the past 40 years; Starmer's government will be not that different from a Cameron government.

«Similarly on economics, the idea of devolving more powers to local government»

If that is not just talking the talk it will be interesting to see how it plays out, because “devolving more powers to local government” without a matching budget is a long-term right-wing objective, to create a situation where most *taxing* and spending are localized so rich areas taxpayers only fund services in their own areas.

«Getting the Tories out remains the immediate political objective»

That some people think that is important really astonishes me, just like some people thought that getting Johnson out was important. Johnson, Sunak, version 2 of Cameron, does that really matter? They are all just slightly different thatcherites.

What should be the political objective, immediate and not, is to organize the left mass movement, around primarily lower housing costs by moving jobs out of congested areas to "left behind" areas, and secondarily better wages, and then decent central government services.

Blissex said...

«can see that this system is broken and change will come, whether he wishes it or not»

The system is not broken:

* It has been very successfully redistributing hundreds of billions every year from the lower classes to the upper-middle and upper-classes via booming housing costs.

* It has captured the leadership of all three major parties, just like in 1997-2015, and of all major legacy media.

* It has survived well deep troubles like the 1970s oil troubles, the 1980s strikes, the 1990s and 2000s recessions and the 2020s pandemic.

Things will change only when the system stops being able to pay for imports, argentinian/greek style (or was on the verge of doing in 1956 and subsequent years).

There are bad signs, related to that, but for now business-as-usual.

Shadeburst said...

We Anglophobes are actually looking forward to a Labour government to see the UK complete its slide down the tubes.

Zoltan Jorovic said...

I get that you think the system is working as designed - namely that a nefarious elite have carefully arranged it so that asset values rise while wages stagnate. But surely the lesson of the past 100 years is that you have to offer a glimmer of light and and at least an illusion of a share of prosperity to the masses, or face losing control of the process. We are facing a quadruple crisis - economic, social, environmental and climate - that is unprecedented in human history. You are free to assume that this won't have consequences for everyone if no effective attempt is made to address any of them. I believe that it will spin out of everyone's control and bring radical change, whether for better or worse will depend upon many factors, but one clear one is if the elite insist on trying to keep things going as now.