‘Candy from a baby’, ‘shooting fish in a barrel’, ‘a knocking bet’ – choose your metaphor, and that’s how certain it should be that Labour would be leading the polls against this shambles of a government.
But no. Since his election in April, far from being the ’20 points ahead’ that Corbyn critics have been telling us we would be with ‘any other leader’, Keir Starmer’s Labour Party has not led one single poll against arguably the worst Tory government in history, during a national crisis which said government has mismanaged to the extent that 65,000 UK citizens have died.
In fact, the Labour Party was actually sliding backwards in the polls at the height of the pandemic – and is doing so again at the time of writing. Backwards. Against a clueless government whose incompetence has actually killed its own citizens...
On the face of it, Keir Starmer should have been enjoying a rose-tinted ‘honeymoon period’ during his first months as leader. ‘New management’. A unifying force to take Labour forward. Hope?
But instead, as well as driving away large swathes of Labour members, he has also abjectly failed to tickle the electorate’s fancy. Seen as boring, lacklustre and, basically, political vanilla in comparison to a bungling idiot whose sole ‘selling point’ is being a ‘character’.
The Starmer/Rayner leadership’s stance of supporting the Johnson government in virtually everything it does, or at most voicing mild objections ‘constructively’, has succeeded in framing Labour as a party which would be content to stay in opposition for another ten years.
Which might go some way to explaining the voting population’s lack of enthusiasm – what, after all, is the point of supporting an Opposition which doesn’t oppose?
And why on earth would the Red Wall seats which turned Tory as a result of the disastrous Starmer-endorsed Brexit policy be won back by a leader they perceive as having betrayed them once already?
Starmer’s leadership campaign centred on a list of 10 ‘pledges’ to the membership – much publicised during the campaign, but strangely, barely mentioned since his accession. Perhaps because he appears to have broken every single one...
Economic Justice Starmer pledged to retain the manifesto promise of a tax increase for the top 5% of earners, but has backpedalled – in July a spokesman told the media “we’re not calling for tax rises, we’re calling for growth”. ‘No stepping back from our core principles’ he said. ‘A clampdown on tax avoidance’ he said – but his own campaign was funded by, among other wealthy businessmen, Sir Trevor Chinn, who has defended low income tax rates and the loopholes used by the wealthy to avoid paying tax.
Social Justice ‘Abolish Universal Credit’ he said – well, that’s not had a mention. And ‘Stand up for universal services’ – but Shadow Secretary of State for Work & Pensions, Jonathan Reynolds, has stepped back from the core principle of universal benefit provision, endorsing the idea of a contributions-based system instead, which likely means the poorest and most vulnerable – those who Corbyn’s manifesto prioritised – would be worse off under a Starmer government. Very ‘just’...
Climate Justice ‘Put the Green New Deal at the heart of everything we do’ he said. But his recent policy consultation has relegated the Green New Deal from Industrial to Environmental policy – the Trade section of the National Policy Forum document does not mention it at all. It has also been suggested that the 2030 net zero climate change target – the cornerstone of the Green New Deal - could be dropped altogether.
Promote Peace and Human Rights Where do we start? One would think a former human rights lawyer would find this as natural as breathing, but in his months in office, Starmer has failed to call for an end to Israel’s illegal occupation of the Palestinian West Bank (a 2019 manifesto pledge) and more recently has said precisely nothing about Israel’s continuous bombardment of civilians in Gaza, now into its third week. He also prioritised trade with India over the human rights of the people of Kashmir – which he described as a “bilateral”, not universal human rights, issue – contrary to international law.
Common Ownership Renationalisation of public services and utilities was one of the most popular pledges of the 2019 manifesto, and Starmer promised he would “support common ownership of rail, mail, energy and water; end outsourcing in our NHS, local government and justice system,”. But The National Policy Forum consultation, which aimed to ‘reshape’ Labour policy, suggests that a Starmer government might not repeal the structures of privatisation within the NHS, introduced by the Tories in 2012. How then should we believe he will make good on his promise to renationalise other industries?
Defend Migrants’ Rights He promised ‘an immigration system based on compassion and dignity’ but has had nothing to say at the recent demonization of desperate migrants risking their lives to cross the Channel in search of safety for their families. And while Starmer did call for the scrapping of the NHS surcharge for migrant workers in the health and social care sectors, he failed to call for the abolition of the charge for people in all types of employment. This has created a two-tiered policy in which some human beings are valued more than others. An attitude you’d expect from Tories, not Labour...
Strengthen Workers’ Rights and Trade Unions Starmer promised to “work shoulder to shoulder with trade unions to stand up for working people”, but sacked Rebecca Long-Bailey as Shadow Secretary of State for Education, reportedly after she listened to teaching unions and challenged his position on the early reopening of schools during the pandemic. And shamefully, Starmer’s Labour Party tried to curtail its own staff furlough scheme, ending it at the earliest opportunity, only to be forced to back down by organised resistance from the trade unions that were originally instrumental in forming the policy.
Radical Devolution of Power, Wealth and Opportunity While in opposition Starmer does not have the means to ‘push power, wealth and opportunity away from Whitehall’, his attitude towards democracy within the Labour Party itself calls his commitment to fairness and democracy into disturbing question. He has: Cancelled meaningful CLP meetings, preventing members from fully engaging in the democratic processes of selections and being able to hold their leadership to account. Foisted his own choice of General Secretary on the party – David Evans, who has said "representative democracy should as far as possible be abolished in the Party" which he said would "empower modernising forces within the party and marginalise Old Labour" - without giving members the chance to ratify the selection either at Conference or through an online vote. Presided over a National Policy Forum process which was a rushed, disorganised mess, with many members unable to vote on their preferred policies, wholly undermining its claimed purpose of democratic engagement. If he won’t distribute power fairly within his own party, the likelihood of him doing so across the country seems slim...
Equality Oh dear. “We are the party of the Equal Pay Act, Sure Start, BAME representation”, he said. But he failed to immediately condemn the murder of George Floyd, and was offensively dismissive of the Black Lives Matter protests that followed, describing them as ‘a moment’, albeit claiming later that he meant to say ‘defining moment’. A lawyer chooses his words carefully, one who does not is either clumsy or uncaring – or meant to say exactly what they did... Starmer was shockingly slow to condemn the racist attacks on one of his own MPs, Dawn Butler – only managing to say he had ‘reached out’ to her 4 days later, after Boris Johnson had condemned the abuse! You couldn’t really accuse him of being too slow to act on the allegations of racism contained in the leaked report into Labour’s handling of antisemitism – because he hasn’t, to any useful extent, acted at all. The report claims that staffers deliberately ignored complaints of antisemitism in order to discredit Jeremy Corbyn, and racially abused both fellow staffers and Labour MPs. Far from condemning them, Starmer used members subs to pay off some of the named ex-staffers and settle the libel case brought as a result of the leaked report, which it is believed lawyers said the party was on course to win. Not only have BAME members been leaving the party in droves, but the percentage of BAME staff employed by Labour has declined under Starmer’s leadership, and his team is overwhelmingly made up of white men.
Effective Opposition to the Tories And there's the clincher - there is none. Facing the most incompetent Tory frontbench in history, a government in crisis, blundering from one shambolic mistake to the next, should have been a gift to any Labour leader worth his salt. But far from the ‘effective opposition in Parliament, linked up to our mass membership and a professional election operation’ that he promised, Starmer has offered little but capitulation and ‘constructive support’ to each and every one of the Johnson government’s succession of disastrous policies during the coronavirus outbreak – okay, the occasional polite murmur of dissent, swiftly muted. He has effectively marginalised the mass membership, with GS David Evans even writing to CLPs telling them what they are ‘allowed’ to discuss at meetings. He has replaced Conference with an online event which will feature ‘discussions’ about policy, but no opportunity for members to vote. Too much bother to make room for democracy? Much touted as a ‘unity’ candidate, Starmer’s first act to unify Labour’s ‘broad church’ was to excommunicate virtually every Corbyn-supporting member of the Shadow Cabinet. A purge of left-wing members also seems to have begun, with hundreds reportedly suspended or expelled from the party on flimsy or undefined grounds.
And what of Angela Rayner? Apologies for her seeming position as a footnote here, but frankly, she has merited no more prominent mention. Her contribution in her role so far has been less about her actions, and more about the total lack thereof.
‘I agree with whatever Keir says’ pretty much sums it up. The Deputy Leader is supposed to be the voice of the membership within the party, not just a support act for the headliner. Her failure to support her long-time friend and flatmate Rebecca Long-Bailey, or indeed to say one word about her unfair dismissal, does not bode well for any chance that she will stand up for Labour members in any meaningful way.
There are already rumours of a Labour leadership challenge brewing, as more members of the PLP come to realise that the ‘electable leader’ they were promised has failed to materialise.
In the wider country, the latest YouGov/Times voting intention figures show the Conservatives on 43% of the vote to Labour's 36%. This is from a Tory score of 40% last week compared to Labour's 38%. In August alone, Keir Starmer’s approval rating has dropped 6 points to 42%. We’re actually going backwards again.
In a ‘who would make the best Prime Minister’ poll, Keir Starmer was actually beaten by ‘Don’t Know’. Admittedly, so was Boris Johnson – but that’s hardly the kind of polling that says ‘government in waiting’, is it?
Love or hate Jeremy Corbyn, at least we always knew what he stood for. Keir Starmer is coming across very much as a man who stands for nothing – and has fallen for everything the Tory government has suggested.
If action to address this vacuum of leadership is not forthcoming from the PLP, it must come from the membership. Lobby your Labour MPs, put motions to your CLPs – this is the Labour Party, and it’s the members who make policy.
Don’t mourn for the things we’ve lost, ORGANISE so that we don’t lose everything – including the next General Election.