Sunday 3 December 2023

Embracing Thatcher?

On this Sunday's Laura Kuenssberg, our eponymous host asked business shadow Jonny Reynolds if Keir Starmer's Telegraph article was "trolling the left". To be fair to Starmer, he wasn't. But the Tory house journal certainly was, with their cover piece appearing under the bannerline "Starmer heaps praise on Thatcher as he woos Conservative voters". Not that the leader's office is going to complain about the framing. They want to give Labour the appearance of responsible right wingery, and the Telegraph have duly obliged.

On the point about Margaret Thatcher, it's a very small sentence. Starmer discusses the stagnation and decline of Tory Britain, and that meaningful change only happens when politics is in alignment with the wishes of the people. A banality some undoubtedly celebrate as a profundity. On the Tories' blessed pin-up, he writes "Margaret Thatcher sought to drag Britain out of its stupor by setting loose our natural entrepreneurialism." And that's it. This is followed up with a couple of tributes to Tony Blair (optimism!) and Clement Attlee (duty and patriotism). But we should contest Starmer's enthusiasm for Thatcher. Her counterrevolution destroyed communities and funnelled billions in state aid (and oil money) into the pockets of the wealthiest. Her attacks on the working class wrecked countless small businesses that helped tie our communities together. And the kind of entrepreneurialism she was most successful in promoting was that of the poorest having to stretch every pound to make ends meet. As if hard knocks, suffering, and misery are worthwhile celebrating. It's especially bad taste doing so when it was not your own lot.

Apart from that, this is the sort of article any Tory leader since 2010 - excepting Liz Truss, perhaps - could have written. The opening paragraph signals where we're going. Among Starmer's brief survey of a broken Britain, he notes "crumbling public services that no longer serve the public". An interesting phrase that buys directly into right wing framing of the state. Everyone can agree that the public sector is on its knees, but suggesting they no longer serve the public recalls Blairist broadsides that public services primarily serve themselves. The old producer vs consumer conflict is never far away and is ready to provide a rationale for more for-profit involvement in running state institutions. Which we have seen in Starmer's invocations of public sector reform as a cure-all, and appointment of Liz Kendall to the DWP shadow brief.

Starmer also goes out of his way to emphasise how changed his party is. The spectre of Jeremy Corbyn is present through his absence, as the article stresses Labour's hard won sensible sensiblism. We listened to those who did not vote for us, writes Starmer, and we have moved toward the voters. Except on issues like nationalising utilities. Or committing to public spending that can fix broken institutions. Or questions of war and peace in Palestine. In other words, Labour are "now ready to deliver" on anything but what public opinion desires. And so we get the tedious reiteration of the "iron-clad fiscal rules", which has "stick to beat us with" written all over them. We also see Starmer keen to play politics with immigration and small boats in the Channel. A bit of a gift considering Rishi Sunak has no intention to address the issue. But because this is Keir Starmer, we see no attempt to move the dial on migration and asylum. The pledge to reverse that Tory policy on allowing business to recuit overseas staff on wages up to 20% lower than the going rate is a welcome one, but also promising to smash "criminal gangs" that facilitate Channel crossings does nothing to address the concerns that exist out there about immigration. Concerns that exist because everyone in front line politics has cultivated and pandered to them. Not least Labour governments of the recent past.

And then we have the final rhetorical flourish. Order. Stability. Security. Protect and preserve. National renewal. The kind of vibe, as recently noted, that used to be the unsolicited advice proferred by this blog during my unfortunate soft left phase. Useful for a Tory-loyal audience, and nothing too worriesome provided one is ignorant of or indifferent to Starmer's authoritarian politics.

Since becoming leader, Starmer has gone out of his way to court The Telegraph. Certainly more so than dwindling mass market tabloids like The Sun and Daily Mail. Therefore, his concern has not been one of chasing Tory votes. Instead this is a strategy of elite reassurance. Only the most dyed-in-the-wool Tory can possibly think Starmer's going to into office, undo the Thatcherite settlement abd squeeze the rich until the pips squeak. With the election in the bag, when Starmer tacks right he absolutely means it. Yes, there might be some progressive-sounding policies. Despite the daft self-imposed rules, there might be more wealth taxes. But in all fundamentals Britain at the start of the 2030s will be little different to the Britain of the early 2020s. The rich will carry on getting richer. The asset price bubble won't be deflated. And absolutely under no circumstances is there going to be a hint of leftism. The political legitimacy of British capitalism requires its B team to step up and protect its interests, and Starmer isn't about to disappoint.

There will be some that think this "audacious" pitch in The Telegraph is a masterstroke, but it only if one's politics is a parlour game, of determining which set of managers get to manage. Should it be Starmer with his nice haircut, or Sunak and his suits and briefcases? But this is not the whole story. Labour's self-fancied boffins and politics understanderers are making the same sorts of assumptions once subscribed to by Blair. That the core support has nowhere to go. Unfortunately for Labour, as the party powers ahead in the polls we are seeing signs of fragmentation among this base - as forecast on here more or less since Starmer became leader. And though it doesn't matter much this side of the election, when Starmer is in Number 10 his lack of a loyal hinterland, apart from only a portion of his own natural base, will cost him and the party dear.

Image Credit


Blissex said...

«They want to give Labour the appearance of responsible right wingery, and the Telegraph have duly obliged.»

In my weird parallel Earth it is astonishing that right-wing newspapers have been attacking Conservative leaders over small issues (wallpaper...) and are supporting Starmer over tiny ones like the little phrase he uttered here. In the main reality very few people seem to be astonished by the behaviour of the right-wing media over the past two years.

Nut I have found more proof that in the main reality is so different from my weird parallel earth, in the Book "Tory Nation" by Earle I have found this typical quote:

“The Conservatives’ programme of austerity, launched by Cameron and perpetuated by every Conservative prime minister since, has starved and overstretched public services, created one of the stingiest and most punishing welfare states in the developed world and contributed to the longest period of wage stagnation – for many, wage regression – since the Napoleonic Wars. Life expectancy is down, child poverty has soared and there are few signs of a reprieve on the horizon. Life under the Tories has become nastier, poorer, more brutish and shorter. The fact that the Conservatives show little sign of changing course, and still attract support, allies and donations, tells us more about the nature of the Conservative Party than the character of any one leader.”

Where in my weird parallel earth they have had rising electoral success by competently delivering huge capital gain on property year after year (by screwing hard the "servant" classes) so ity is not far from surprising that they “still attract support, allies and donations”. Obviously in the main reality it is indeed astonishing that 14 million voters chose them to keep making them poorer.

«Thatcher. Her counterrevolution destroyed communities and funnelled billions in state aid (and oil money) into the pockets of the wealthiest.»

And here we go again with the main reality in which 20-40% of families have not been “very grateful to Thatcher” for the huge profits they have been redistributed from the "servant classes", but keep voting for thatcherite politicians to make them poorer to the sole benefit of “the wealthiest” only.

«Her attacks on the working class wrecked countless small businesses that helped tie our communities together.»

In my weird reality too in the "pushed behind" areas she wrecked many tory small business owners, but you can't make an omelette without breaking some eggs. :-(

Blissex said...

«And the kind of entrepreneurialism she was most successful in promoting was that of the poorest having to stretch every pound to make ends meet.»

They would not vote for her and her successors, so tough for them. But in my alternate reality she did not just do that, she also made fortunes for people with "different entrepreneurialism", like lazy rentiers:
“Margaret Thatcher’s successful brand of entrepreneurial capitalism in the UK in the 1980s. Through privatisation, she turned ordinary savers into shareholders. Through the sale of council houses, she turned tenants into property owners.”

and criminal fraudsters:
“ When I was a detective at the Fraud Squad, we had regular meetings with civil servants from the Department of Trade and Industry, which was just about the only other agency in those days that existed to deal with City fraud. Under Margaret Thatcher, the Government of the day wanted to encourage a ‘climate of enterprise’, and they did not want criminal cases being brought which might give the impression that the City of London was a hotbed of criminality. So any case which needed to be referred first to the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry (like Insider Dealing, or Fraudulent Trading) before charges could be laid, would join a long list of similar cases which were gathering dust while the time-wasting experts in the Department of Timidity and Inactivity did nothing to prosecute them. My brother officers and I quickly learned how to charge City suits with ordinary criminal cases of theft and false accounting, charges which did not need ministerial approval to bring to court, and we began to get convictions, but they soon stepped in and stopped us doing that.”

Duncan said...

Perhaps this appalling article from Starmer, was - as Jeremy Gilbert has suggested - a subtle means of driving more left wingers from the party, judging from the angry (rightly so) reaction to Starmer's Telegraph article.

BTW - I look forward in the future (considering demographic changes), to an opposition Tory leader writing in the Guardian as to how 'progressive' they are. No, I don't think that will happen either!

I am now following many others in considering voting Green - despite (up to now) urging friends to vote Labour to get the chance to remove a Tory MP for the first time in my constituency - Bury St Edmunds - since the 1880s. Electoral Calculus latest prediction is that it is a Labour gain by a whisker.
(There are plenty of left wing progressives in 'true blue Tory' East of England - despite my near neighbouring MPs being Truss, Hancock, Jo Churchill - my local MP, and Patel and Badenoch to the south.)

Rodney said...

It's very unlikely Starmer gives the rump left that remains any thought at all, the right have total control of all mechanisms within the party and the crop of nepo babies and Blairite headbangers set to become MPs at the next election means there's no worry of a socialist ever being elected to lead Labour. Even the likes of Mick Lynch have kissed the ring.

The only thing encouraging left wing members to leave does now is reduce the amount of loot to distribute to his backers and cronies.

Phil's analysis seems much more plausible.

David Lindsay said...

They called us every name under the Sun when we talked about 40 years of Thatcherism, but now Keir Starmer positively revels in it. The Labour Party wants to cut the minimum wage to £10 per hour. Having taken oodles of cash from the American healthcare companies, Starmer and Wes Streeting want to privatise the NHS in England.

Labour opposed the temporary ceasefire in Gaza, and it therefore supports, for example, yesterday's bombing of the Holy Family School in Gaza City, which could not have been mistaken for anything else, which had been sheltering hundreds of displaced persons, and which is maintained by the Dominican Sisters of the Most Holy Rosary of Jerusalem, which was founded by Saint Marie-Alphonsine Danil Ghattas, a modern Palestinian who died under the Mandate in 1927.

Labour is now the greater evil, worse than the Tories. We should no more want it to win the next General Election than most of its MPs wanted it to win the last two, or than any of its staff wanted it to win the last four. But when I tell you that there is going to be a hung Parliament, then you can take that to the bank. I spent the 2005 Parliament saying that it was psephologically impossible for the Heir to Blair's Conservative Party to win an overall majority. I predicted a hung Parliament on the day that the 2017 General Election was called, and I stuck to that, entirely alone, all the way up to the publication of the exit poll eight long weeks later. And on the day that Rishi Sunak became Prime Minister, I predicted that a General Election between him and Starmer would result in a hung Parliament.

To strengthen families and communities by securing economic equality and international peace through the democratic political control of the means to those ends, including national and parliamentary sovereignty, we need to hold the balance of power. Owing nothing to either main party, we must be open to the better offer. There does, however, need to be a better offer. Not a lesser evil, which in any case the Labour Party is not.

Sean Dearg said...

My favourite freudian slip of the day is @Bliss saying "Nut I". Bless.

In the last election, that delivered an 80 seat majority for the Tories, they received 43.6% of the vote, Labour, LD and SNP between them 48.2%. The rest was divided among a range of parties and independents. So that means 56.4% voted other than the Conservatives. In 2017 it was 57.7%, in 2015 63.2%, in 2010 63.9%. In fact, the only time in the past 100 years that it approached parity was in 1955 when 50.3% voted non Tory. The lowest Tory vote was in 1997 - 30.7%. Polls suggest we are in that sort of territory now. So, your thesis that the majority are fine with the Tories seems a little evidence free.

Of course it might be that if we plot house prices against vote % for the Tories we will find a perfect correlation. But, in 1983 prices had actually dropped compared to 1980, in 1992 prices had been falling for 3 years. Its true that prices had yet to recover in 1997, but in 2001 they had been rising steadily yet still Labour won. Again, in 2005, prices had risen hugely...but Labour won. In 2010 they had risen much more slowly, but still risen...and Tories won. House prices have been fairly static (in real terms) since 2017, but shot up as the Tory polls started to plummet. Its almost as if there is no connection at all between the two things...

Of course, that's in what you like to call the "main reality" rather than your "weird little parallel world". Nut I, indeed.

Blissex said...

«So, your thesis that the majority are fine with the Tories seems a little evidence free»

I have checked our blogger's post and the comments and nobody seems to have claimed that -- please quote where someone claims that or is that just your deranged hallucination?

«if we plot house prices against vote % for the Tories we will find a perfect correlation.»

Please quote from the post or comments any claim that there is a perfect correlation between Conservative vote and house prices, or is that your deranged hallucination?

«House prices have been fairly static (in real terms) since 2017»

Why would real house prices in general have any relevance here? Please quote any claim in the post or the comments about real general house prices or is that just your deranged hallucination?

«Nut I, indeed.»

You wrote it advisedly :-).

Anonymous said...


Pretty sure David Cameron did write for the Guardian before the 2010 GE, saying pretty much exactly that.

And die hard Tories lost their s*** then over it, too.

Ken said...

Re David.
I’ve had three bets on politics.
One, that Labour would win Mid-Beds, which was successful.
Two, that Sunak would call an election this year, well there’s still time.
Three, no overall control in the commons at the next GE.
As Meatloaf so elegantly put it, 2 out of 3 ain’t bad.
NB I was impressed by my bank almost immediately contacting me about whether I was in control of my gambling from 3 bets in one year.

Blissex said...

an opposition Tory leader writing in the Guardian as to how 'progressive' they are
«David Cameron did write for the Guardian before the 2010 GE, saying pretty much exactly that.»

Same, but for being in the "Daily Telegraph", M Fabricant, the other "blond menace" Conservative MP, who is a mainstream hard-right thatcherite yet describes his politics as "liberal", that is "progressive", in the american sense:
«When I entered the House of Commons, I voted for equality so that men could have sex with men at the same age as men could legally have sex with women: 16. I lost that vote back in the early 90s, but the age was dropped to 18 from 21. Eventually, equality was reached. I have consistently voted liberally on gay issues including gay marriage, on the age of abortion and alongside the Labour MP, Paul Flynn who recently passed away, on drug use. I describe myself on social media as “socially liberal”.»

As we all know after Clinton and Blair "the markets" are fair and just, so identity politics is the only "progressive" politics :-).

«And die hard Tories lost their s*** then over it, too.»

Since after universal suffrage the Conservatives have been a coalition of "whigs" and "tories", where in recent decades most of the leadership (same for Labour) except between 2016 and 2022 (for Labour except 2015-2019) are thatcherite "whigs" even if the members and most voters are thatcherite "tories" for the Conservatives and socially conservative social-democrats and socialists for Labour.