Monday 10 April 2023

Never Apologise, Never Explain

That rotten smell filling the nostrils is not the aroma of unsold overpriced Easter eggs, but the stench emanating from that Labour attack ad. The absence of politics programming this weekend has not made the issue go away, and as far as the Labour leadership are concerned this is a good thing. Taking the furore on the chin, on Monday morning Keir Starmer took to the pages of the Daily Mail to press home, what he obviously sees, is an advantage. There's an undeniable relish as he brands the Tories this "soft on crime government", and links it to the general decrepitude fostered by 13 years in office. He argues you can't expect Rishi Sunak to do anything much about ne'er do wells and wrong doers as he and other Tory politicians don't live in the sorts of places where crime matters. They're insulated from its effects. Which is true enough.

And then, because no one hates the Labour Party quite as much as those who lead it from the right, he turns on internal critics. "Too many people treat this [crime] as trivial, unimportant or something Labour shouldn't talk about ... Try telling the people I meet who are scared to go out at night because their communities suffer the brunt of failures to tackle crime, that law and order doesn't matter. They will give you short shrift. I make absolutely zero apologies for being blunt about this. I stand by every word Labour has said on the subject, no matter how squeamish it might make some feel." Those who are feeling "squeamish" include Yvette Cooper, whose studied silence on the advert earned her an aggressive attack (off the record, of course) from "someone" close to the leadership, and former Home Secretary and appalling right winger David Blunkett. Neither of whom are known for their liberalism nor their anti-racist politics.

This is fabulous stuff as far as Starmer and the Labour right are concerned. We're still talking about the advert, and Starmer himself was invited to put the case for his authoritarian politics in The Mail no less, giving him a platform to communicate directly with some of the most unhinged and backward elements of the Tory base. The detail, that the Tories have been working to guidelines on jailing paedophiles that he himself authored and endorsed while Director of Public Prosecutions, won't register, they believe, because all the punters are seeing is a row about the Labour leader wanting to lock up kiddie fiddlers. And here we also have Starmer "standing up" to his critics in the tradition of 'no reverse gear' posturing beloved of mainstream politicians. The dishonesty and hypocrisy won't matter as no one in the media apart from the usual suspects are going to tackle him over it.

But what about this being an intervention to the Tories to open the doors of hell and hit Starmer with every smear going? Having tried to get him over BeerGate and Jimmy Savile and those attacks not amounting to anything, the thinking in the leader's office is they've already fired their big guns and while the shells churned up the political landscape, none of them scored a hit. Nor are they likely to in the future as more smears simply look like smears. Starmer and co. are banking on the press, even the Tory press, not going along with everything that comes out of Number 10. And nor will the public, whose mood is largely anti-Tory an aren't likely to drift back to them.

There is one big risk with this strategy. By going after Tory voters in Tory clothing, he is toxifying the Labour Party in the eyes of millions of its voters. It's not fashionable to talk about Labour's real base, considering Starmer and the commentariat have convinced themselves this consists of racist pensioners who last voted for the party 17 years ago, but the new working class that was consolidated by Labour during the Corbyn years are unlikely to be impressed. Socially liberal in outlook, and their interests dumped on by the Tories, Starmer has showed little to no concern in addressing them - apart from vague gestures about "sustained growth" and wonkish-sounding missions. The result? Working age people, the "working people" Labour harp endlessly on about, won't be inspired to turn out on local election day, or if they are are just as likely to register their protest against the Tories by voting Liberal Democrat or Green seeing as Starmer's not giving them reasons to endorse him. And it will also store up trouble in the marginals in the future, unless Labour changes course. Which has as much chance as Corbyn standing as a Labour candidate.

We're therefore at this curious moment. According to all the puff pieces written about Starmer, he often likes to tell the shadow cabinet that Labour can take nothing for granted, that every vote has to be earned if the party's to win the next election. And yet the strategy, if it can be dignified with such a term, is the authoritarian flex he manifested at the Crown Prosecution Service. His pitch is aimed first and foremost at state bureaucrats, managers, and the press pack - his incredibly thin but influential natural base - and Tory voters who share these inclinations. There's nothing here that consolidates Labour's vote, nor reaches out to the new layers who might be brought into the party's orbit. Starmer's is comfort zone politics at its most refined. Carrying on like this might see him over the general election finish line, but after that this will not serve him, or his state modernisation project well.

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Duncan said...

The polls are narrowing a little, however not by large Tory increases - there have been few Tory recent numbers 30% or above (mostly high 20s), but the main narrowing effect is Labour shedding points (from high 40s to mid to low 40s).
Something to ponder regarding consolidating Labour's real base?

Jim Denham said...

A betrayal almost as rotten as his embrace of Brexit.

Richard Morse said...

Looking at the local election by-election results also shows the foolishness of thinking that natural Labour voters have nowhere else to go. Very few results mirror the opinion poll election leads and indeed many of them show a tendancy to vote for anyone but Tory and labour with massive swings to Lib-Dem, Greens and Independants. Also after pushing out hundreds of thousands of the most active members who is going to do all the canvassing. In the end loving up to the Tory press is idiotic too. The Tory press will always prefer a Tory government over a right wing Labour one.