Labour leader Keir Starmer’s new “vision” essay is a return to the politics of Tony Blair.
Instead of being named The Road Ahead, it should have been called The Road Backwards.
The essay, published ahead of Labour conference this weekend, is another attempt by Starmer to signal to the ruling class that the party has broken decisively with Jeremy Corbyn. And to show that he represents not the slightest threat to the rich and powerful.
It pleads to the chief executives, the generals, the police chiefs and the media owners not to oppose Labour because it can deliver more for them than the Tories.
Starmer criticises the Tories for “the erosion of our defence and military capabilities”. He declares that “business is a force for good in society” and that “business has been let down by a Tory government”.
Starmer’s hope is to make Britain “the best place to do business because it has a government that works in partnership with the private sector”.
Want more for business? Back Labour.
Meanwhile, virtually every proposal on crime is longer sentences and harsher laws. The only problem with the police, Starmer says, is that there are not enough of them.
They are our bulwark against what Starmer says is “a wave of anti-social behaviour, with staggering levels of vandalism, fly-tipping and threatening behaviour”. The word “police” appears more often than “climate”.
One of the essay’s central themes is the “contribution society”. This, he says, is one where “If you work hard and play by the rules, you should be rewarded fairly”. The unspoken part is that those who might be deemed not to have contributed—such as refugees or benefit claimants—had better not expect any favours from Labour.
Already Labour has refused to guarantee that in government it would reverse the £20 a week cut to Universal Credit.
The language is the same as Blair’s in one of his first speeches after he became prime minister in 1997. “The basis of this modern civic society is an ethic of mutual responsibility or duty,” he said. “It is something for something. A society where we play by the rules. You only take out if you put in.”
Starmer’s “ten principles for a contribution society” are either warmed-up Blairism or they are empty.
One is “Your chances in life should not be defined by the circumstances of your birth.” Really? No more royal family, no more private schools and private healthcare, no more inheritance, no more privileges for the rich.
Of course, Starmer doesn’t mean any of those things because he is out to cement the present system, not change it. All the rest is waffle.
As the Blairite political commentator John Rentoul writes, “The cynic might say that these are designed to overwrite the ten Corbynite pledges on which Starmer was elected leader.” And he points out that “none of them bears any resemblance to his leadership manifesto”.
In this essay, Starmer attacks the Scottish National Party for divisive nationalism while trumpeting British nationalism.
In his almost 12,000 words, there is just one reference to social class—”Does a working-class child in Britain today have the same opportunities my generation did? It is hard to think they do.” That’s it.
There is no reference to the rich who have plundered so much during the pandemic. There’s no anger about the wrecked lives under the Tories. Boris Johnson doesn’t appear.
Socialism? Not mentioned. It’s wholly uninspiring, but it’s not designed to inspire.
Former shadow chancellor John McDonnell said Starmer’s essay was “like the Sermon on the Mount written by a focus group”.
It’s worse than that. It tells us that Labour is not going to lead real resistance to the Tories. And if Starmer does become prime minister, he would rule in the interests of the bosses and the present system.
The rhetoric would change, but nothing fundamental would alter.
The question for the Labour left is whether they are going to stay in a party that offers no future for working class people.