Thursday 4 January 2024

Stirring Up Apathy

In the post-festive quietude of the political cycle, Keir Starmer's New Year speech gathered a momentum of press previews. We heard how he was going to plead with voters to turn out and not get complacent. And there was going to be another attack on Jeremy Corbyn to put clear water between the two. This might be enough to get friendly journalists excited, but voters? What the Labour leader treated us to was a retread of his party conference speech. Something that would look good after running it through a word cloud, but no downpours of solid reasons for voting for his party. What we got, again, was a collection of vibes.

There's nothing wrong with trying to get a buzz about politics, but how you go about generating enthusiasm for the programme on offer depends on two things. What the party is selling, and what the wider mood is. Starmer, or at least his speech writer, has grasped the obvious. Politics and politicians are held in contempt. But their response is ham-fisted. Stung by criticisms from wide-eyed leftists like John McTernan that have criticised Starmer for offering nothing, it appears 'hope' is the new watch word. We should be hopeful that Labour can change things. Not "grandiose hope" or utopianism, or the glib quick fix, but what Starmer calls "credible and frank" hope. A hope that "levels with you", that needs patience and hard work, but that is tangible and deliverable. It is the hope of a national renewal that only Labour can and is offering.

Starmer recognises that building hope means recasting politics. He wants a politics that isn't about gesture or cynical positioning, which is the character and purpose of Tory politics. The best way to crush them is to make politics that centres service - a theme Starmer has banged on about for more than a year now. This contrasts with what Sunak's done (or, more accurately, has refused to do) and the "vanity dressed up as virtue", which is how the Labour right style the Corbyn years these days. He said politics is embedded in everything from the money we earn to how our communities feel about themselves. Working people [sic] don't want the earth (more's the pity), but will settle for "stability, security, fairness". They want politics to "tread lightly". The politics of division, the populisms and the nationalisms rely on the permanent mobilisations against, of ho do we hate this week? Starmer's service politics are about consensus building, moderation, patience, pulling together and making moves in the right direction that takes everyone with them. There were no fresh details about what the new "light politics" involve, except for the usual - by now ritualistic - evocations of "mission-led government" and his five missions. There was more about how economic growth is the magic bullet for everything, but this would be different to Tory growth because Labour would make sure it benefits "working people". He promised that there would be no more denigration of public service, that the 2030 clean power generation target was non-negotiable, and that growth would be powered by stronger workers' rights. He also said that the "dark side of Westminster" would not be tolerated. If politics is to change, so must politicians. "I will restore standards in public life by cracking down on cronyism" and "No one above the law in a Britain I lead." Ultimately, the next election comes to a simple choice. Five more years of Tory cynicism, or national renewal with Labour?

The Q&A didn't have much of interest to say. He dodged a question about Peter Mandelson's associations with Jeffrey Epstein, confirmed he was still in favour of votes for 16 year olds. He didn't say anything about tax apart from growth, growth, growth, and how closing nondom loopholes and ending private schools' charitable exemptions are going to pay for everything he wants to do in the NHS and education. Apparently, stopping small boats in the channel is as easy as cracking down on criminal gangs, and he did not commit to reversing any measures the Tories might make toward abolishing inheritance tax. Hope? Starmer's audience could barely contain themselves.

This speech tells us two things. The first reconfirms what was written here three years ago: that Starmer's politics are Fabian at best. Wanting politics to "tread lightly" is the same as leaving the questions of how things should be, whose interests should be prioritised, and what policies should be legislated for to the "professionals". The proper place of everyone who isn't a politician is to get on with their lives and simply turn out and vote when elections come. Trust the politics specialists because they know best.

Returning to enthusiasm, yes, Starmer does understand where the public's mood is. His speech was written to intersect with it and offer solutions, but hope and a belief that politics is the road to a better place cannot have mass appeal if all it does is regurgitate sound bites and rote phrases. Especially when the politician appealing to the sense of optimism has spent three years undoing hopes for positive change. Writing for a Tory paper to make easily misconstrued comments about Thatcher doesn't suggest you're in the change game. Nor does giving Israel a free pass as it carries out ethnic cleansing in full view of the world's media. Nor suggesting the NHS uses every winter beds' crisis as an "excuse" to ask for more money. Nor does performative and try-hard embraces of national symbolism, and the reiterating the inviolability of stringent "fiscal rules" in a poor imitation of George Osborne. Nor does looking at Labour's 10 million voters in 2019 and spitting on their aspirations. Words count for nothing if they're at odds with one's actions. People have no affection for Starmer or for Labour because he's responsible more than anyone for stirring up apathy.

The election win is locked in because of how the Tories have behaved. But because there is no hinterland nor reservoir of genuine support for Starmer, either he or the people around him have got to know that when things go wrong, they're going to go very wrong.

Image Credit


Old Trot said...

Happy New Year, Phil. I see you , thankfully, haven't quite managed to avoid posting yet, despite your recent claim that your posts were to be in future much less frequent !

Good post on the utter vacuity of yet another Starmer ' big policy speech' . The sheer cynicism and deliberate content-less feel good sloganising drivel of all of Starmer and co's 'policy' , 5 missions, aspiration, etc, pronouncements , are now fully in the realm of pure 'Thick of it' style satire. Tired old empty re-tread cliches from Barrack Obama's unfulfilled Presidential campaigns verbiage cynically replace any attempt to present any real solutions at all to the UK's ever deepening social and economic crisis.

That Starmer and his neoliberal cronies, all recipients of largesse directly from the multinational healthcare privatisers, have the sheer gall to claim they intend to end 'cronyism', is laugh out loud hilarious -- until one remembers this corruption will cost huge numbers of lives and endless deprivation for our poorer citizens as our social infrastructure collapses . And , given the huge damage already done under the Tories from 2010 onwards this collapse of the physical infrastructure (School and hospital buildings, water and sewage facilities, power generation) , and any prospects of genuine , productivity-increasing, economic growth and real wage growth , and collapsing social cohesion, will probably happen during the forthcoming, one-term only, profoundly authoritarian, NuLabour government.

As John McDonnell correctly stated in his recent , statements of the bleeding obvious, Guardian opinion piece (a typically slippery and clear Left alternative strategy-empty piece as it was overall: John isn't going to endanger his comfy MP's job for life by being too critical ), a neoliberal, austerity backing, privatising, Starmer led Labour government will usher in a nominally 'radical', Far Right government in its wake as sure as night follows day. As is looming in the USA with Trump 2, and has just happened in Argentina, and across Europe.

Blissex said...

«Ultimately, the next election comes to a simple choice. Five more years of Tory cynicism, or national renewal with Labour [...] He wants a politics that isn't about gesture or cynical positioning, which is the character and purpose of Tory politics. The best way to crush them is to make politics that centres service [...] but will settle for "stability, security, fairness".»

I guess that this is our blogger's summary of his understanding of Starmer's positioning because those and other statements are really weird because:

* “Gesture or cynical positioning” may be the superficial “character” of right-wing politics (whether Conservative, New Labour of LibDem) but certainly not its “purpose” which is as our blogger keeps reminding us (“whose interests should be prioritised”) the class interests of property and business owners, which interests are pursued by right-wing politicians not with gestures or cynicism but with massive amount of public money, huge interventions in markets, and zealous persistence across decades.

* The “stirring up apathy” with “politics that centres service” to achieve “stability, security, fairness” is targeted exclusively at "Middle England" property owning, affluent middle class voters who want a well-managed thatcherism, because they think "Blow you! We are alright, Jeremy and Liz", and don't want anybody to make wake waves. whether for mild social-democracy (Jeremy) or noddy libertarianism (Liz).

Our blogger however seems to me to keep underestimating how definite and committed the politics of Starmer (“regurgitate sound bites and rote phrases”): the tone is indeed just about boring continuity thatcherism for the comfort of "Middle England" voters, but he has come out with strong positions in favour of NIMBYs, extreme police powers, mortgagees, brexiters, NHS "rightsizing", support for wars abroad, etc.

«how closing nondom loopholes and ending private schools' charitable exemptions are going to pay for everything he wants to do in the NHS and education.»

He wants to do very little for NHS and education, and then there is a magic acronym: PPI.

Anonymous said...

More of the same policy albeit slightly lite (which is a bit better) - But no thanks - not good enough by a long way. Need some plans for longer term economic renewal. I will be voting Green for the first time.

Anonymous said...

After what Wes Streeting said about the NHS where do you go from there... Is Labour a hopeful prospect? What do you do with your vote?

Anonymous said...

This Starmer?:

Blissex said...

«Need some plans for longer term economic renewal.»

The fortunes of "Middle England" have been indeed renewed by Thatcher and Blair and that neoliberal renewal has been very successful: "Middle England" has been doing splendidly since 1979, even if with some minor hiccups. All major government parties since 1979 have been "two nation" ("scrounging, greedy" workers, "wealth creating" property and business owners) thatcherites, and one of the nations has done very well indeed. Our blogger is one of the very few who acknowledges that for example by his somewhat recent post about the book about the "Petty Bourgeoisie".

«I will be voting Green for the first time.»

Many of them are "Middle England" thatcherites of the "I got mine, it would be a catastrophe for the environment if younger and poor people got theirs too" variety.

«After what Wes Streeting said about the NHS where do you go from there... Is Labour a hopeful prospect? What do you do with your vote?»

"There Is No Alternative" "You can vote as you want as long as we nominate all those we want".

If one day there might be an alternative it will only come from a movement, not a party, just like 100 years ago, as long at that movement is resilient to being infiltrated, undermined, compromised, repressed by the TINA clique.

Anonymous said...

I find myself agreeing with the above post. After my 54 years membership of the Labour Party ended when the Establishment plant together with his Friends of Israel sabotaged JC's chances of turning over the Tories in 2019, my card went in the bin. Maybe in hindsight, we needed to pay much closer attention to those merely pretending to be of the socialist persuasion.

Blissex said...

«After my 54 years membership of the Labour Party»

Hattersley wrote well over 20 years ago:$
“It's no longer my party”

“It has been a difficult four years for the Labour Party's unrepentant social democrats. One by one, the policies which define our philosophy have been rejected by the Prime Minister. [...] In fact, success has emboldened the Prime Minister to move further to the Right. [...] Now that the Labour Party - at least according to its leader - bases its whole programme on an alien ideology, I, and thousands of like-minded party members, have to decide if our loyalty is to a name or to an idea. [...] The certain knowledge that the Conservative Party would be a worse government than Labour is not enough to sustain what used to be a party of principles. [...]

At this moment Labour stands for very little that can be identified with social democracy. We could resign or we could sulk in our tents like Patroclus. Or, believing that the party does not belong to Tony Blair, we could rise up against the coup d'├ętat which overthrew the legitimate philosophy. Too many party members have chosen to retire hurt.”

My advice for those who haven't left already is to stay, and work patiently to restore the Labour Party and take it back one day from the Mandelson Tendency.

Brother John said...

Far too late for the "mediocrity forum" which Starmer and his fellow-Right wing traitors have now created to replace that once vibrant democratic assembly of members and activists striving to deliver social change and the ongoing pursuit of collectivism. Activism is the very last thing the usurping Establishment "plant" ever wishes to see again in the emasculated and much dwindled assemblage he still has the effrontery to call the Labour Party!!