Keir Starmer: both the cause and the symptom of Labour’s electoral problems.
More than a year after Jeremy Corbyn handed over the Labour leadership to Keir Starmer, the party has fallen to a new low in the opinion polls, 18 points behind the Conservatives.
The situation is almost the exact opposite of what so-called ‘centrists’ said would happen with “Anybody But Corbyn” as leader; they promised a 20-point lead.
So, what went wrong?
The new poll, conducted by YouGov and released on Saturday, had Labour on just 28 per cent – down four points on Jeremy Corbyn’s disastrous 2019 general election result, and down 12 points on his 2017 result.
The opposition leader was publicly accused by one of his MPs [Ian Lavery] of lacking substance and being “invisible” as Labour continued to reel from a series of disappointing elections.
The new front bench team has so far failed to break the narrative that the party does not have distinctive policies or have fixed principles.
If this is the start of a leadership bid by Lavery, This Writer reckons it will be welcomed by the party membership and by voters.
Of course, the poll is be Tory-run YouGov and is therefore suspect. We’ll have to see what Survation has to say before we can be sure.
As far as comments are concerned, strangely I can’t find it at the moment but someone put a satirical remark on Twitter to the effect that, if leftists had only refrained from calling him “Keith”, Labour might be only 16 points behind.
… oh, and among working class voters, that’s a whopping thirty-six points behind:
Starmer THIRTY-SIX points behind Tories among working-class voters – and FIFTY-THREE among working-class leavers https://t.co/s7Teg44u3B
Have YOU donated to my crowdfunding appeal, raising funds to fight false libel claims by TV celebrities who should know better? These court cases cost a lot of money so every penny will help ensure that wealth doesn’t beat justice.
George Osborne: During the debate on the Charter for Budget Responsibility, one person on Twitter suggested, “George Osborne would be better off coming to the despatch box & folding a towel into a swan than talking economics.”
The only difference is that, in 2015, a Conservative had suggested it.
Tuesday’s ‘fiscal charter’ debate in the House of Commons was full of these hilarious U-turns.
The one that’ll be in all the news media will be John McDonnell’s decision to reverse a policy he announced two weeks ago and oppose George Osborne’s Charter for Budget Responsibility. It is bitterly unfortunate for him that, trying to be heard over the usual Tory catcalls and childishness, he repeated the word “embarrassing” four or five times. That’s what the right-wing media will quote.
And that’s a shame, because he also put to bed – definitively – Tory claims that Labour was responsible for the financial collapse of 2007/8/9 and the global crisis that came with it. He said (boldings mine): “Over six years, the Conservatives have managed to convince many people that the economic crisis and the deficit were caused by Labour Government spending. It has been one of the most successful exercises in mass public persuasion and the rewriting of history in recent times. Today I am going to correct the record.
“The Conservatives backed every single penny of Labour’s spending until Northern Rock crashed.
“The average level of spending under Labour was less than it was under Mrs Thatcher.
“It was not the teachers, the nurses, the doctors and the police officers whom Labour recruited who caused the economic crisis; it was the recklessness of the bankers speculating in the City, and the failure of successive Governments to ensure effective regulation.
“In opposition, this Chancellor and his colleagues wanted even less regulation of the banking sector that crashed our economy.
“The deficit was not the cause of the economic crisis, but the result of the economic crisis.”
John Redwood tried to claim the Tories had warned about the possibility of collapse but, having read numerous accounts of those times, This Writer finds his comment unconvincing. For the record, he said: “I chaired the economic policy review for my right hon. Friend the Chancellor and there was strong advice that tougher regulation was needed on bank cash and capital. We expressly warned that the banks were over-borrowed and over-geared and that the whole system was very shaky, and I remember the Opposition constantly warning about excess debts in the system.”
An economic policy review does not necessarily equate to Conservative Party policy, but nevertheless his claims will have to be checked. Isn’t it interesting that nobody has mentioned this in seven years since the crash happened?
Mr McDonnell also warned us about the consequences of Tory economic policies. Responding to criticism by former Chancellor Kenneth Clarke, he said: “His Budgets balanced, but when they balanced, there were 40,000 homeless families in London. People were dying on waiting lists before they got their operations. Those were the consequences of his economic policies.”
He said if he were Chancellor, he would reverse tax cuts that favour the richest.
He would empower HM Revenue and Customs to chase tax avoiders and end the ridiculous situation that allowed Facebook to pay just £4,500 in its annual tax return – less than many low-income earners.
And he would invest in the UK economy to grow us out of debt.
Let’s have another U-turn – the SNP. According to Stewart Hosie, it now opposes the Charter for Budget Responsibility again. That’s nice, after Nicola Sturgeon’s little speech in support of it on May 26.
In seriousness, Hosie gave a cracking little speech. This Writer’s favourite part was the response to Tory James Cartlidge. Hosie said: “I will happily give way to the hon. Gentleman if he can tell me why he is going to support the economics of the madhouse.
Cartlidge’s reply was: “He talks about punishing the poor, but last week the Office for National Statistics showed that the number of workless households is at the lowest level on record. Does that not show that our strong economy is delivering not only stability, but social justice?”
Not according to Hosie! Without hesitating, he said: “I am absolutely delighted when workless households get one or more people into a job and have the opportunity to better themselves, but what I am not prepared to tolerate is people who work harder than us having £1,300 a year cut from their tax credits, which stops making work pay.”
Also U-turning were the Liberal Democrats, whose Tom Brake told the Commons the party would not support the fiscal charter. This is strange, since the Liberal Democrats helped introduce it, while in coalition with the Conservatives before the general election. Now reduced to just eight MPs, it’s a little late for them to have seen the error of their ways.
But the biggest U-turn was, of course, that of George Osborne and the Conservative Party itself. In 2010, quoting economist Willem Buiter, he said: “Fiscal responsibility acts are instruments of the fiscally irresponsible to con the public.” At the time, 181 of his Conservative Party colleagues agreed with him.
Yesterday, he said: “This budget charter provides the discipline we need along with the flexibility we might require” – and again led his Tory colleagues through the lobby in support of his argument, which was a clear and utter contradiction of their position in 2010.
Making hypocrites of themselves yesterday were:
Amess, Sir David
Bacon, Mr. Richard
Bellingham, Mr. Henry
Benyon, Mr. Richard
Beresford, Sir Paul
Blunt, Mr. Crispin
Bone, Mr. Peter
Bottomley, Sir Peter
Brady, Mr. Graham
Brazier, Mr. Julian
Burns, Sir Simon
Carswell, Mr. Douglas
Cash, Sir William
Clarke, rh Mr. Kenneth
Cox, Mr. Geoffrey
Crabb, Mr. Stephen
Davies, David T.C.
Djanogly, Mr. Jonathan
Duncan, Sir Alan
Dunne, Mr. Philip
Ellwood, Mr. Tobias
Evans, Mr. Nigel
Evennett, Mr. David
Fox, Dr. Liam
Gale, Sir Roger
Garnier, Sir Edward
Gauke, Mr. David
Gibb, Mr. Nick
Gillan, Mrs. Cheryl
Goodwill, Mr. Robert
Gray, Mr. James
Grieve, Mr. Dominic
Hammond, Mr. Philip
Hands, Mr. Greg
Harper, Mr. Mark
Hayes, Mr. John
Heald, Sir Oliver
Hollobone, Mr. Philip
Holloway, Mr. Adam
Howarth, Sir Gerald
Hurd, Mr. Nick
Jackson, Mr. Stewart
Jenkin, Mr. Bernard
Jones, Mr. David
Lancaster, Mr. Mark
Leigh, Sir Edward
Letwin, rh Mr. Oliver
Lewis, Dr. Julian
Lidington, Mr. David
McLoughlin, rh Mr. Patrick
Miller, Mrs. Maria
Murrison, Dr. Andrew
Osborne, Mr. George
Paterson, Mr. Owen
Pickles, Sir Eric
Prisk, Mr. Mark
Redwood, rh Mr. John
Robertson, Mr. Laurence
Simpson, Mr. Keith
Stuart, Mr. Graham
Swayne, Mr. Desmond
Syms, Mr. Robert
Timpson, Mr. Edward
Turner, Mr. Andrew
Tyrie, Mr. Andrew
Vaizey, Mr. Edward
Vara, Mr. Shailesh
Wallace, Mr. Ben
Watkinson, Dame Angela
Whittingdale, Mr. John
Wilson, Mr. Rob
I make that 92 Tories who are quite happy to throw their principles to the wind.
Oh… There was a question of whether a large number of Labour MPs would abstain in a gesture of defiance against the party’s new direction, and there were a very few abstainers – 21, in fact.
They were: Rushanara Ali, Ian Austin, Adrian Bailey, Ben Bradshaw, Ann Coffey, Simon Danczuk, Chris Evans, Frank Field, Mike Gapes, Margaret Hodge, Tristram Hunt, Graham Jones, Helen Jones, Liz Kendall, Chris Leslie, Fiona Mactaggart, Shabana Mahmood, Jamie Reed, Graham Stringer, and Gisela Stuart.
Some of these names were expected, such as those of Liz Kendall, Tristram Hunt, Simon Danczuk – all of who have earned rebukes from This Blog for behaviour unbecoming of a Labour MP. Jamie Reed resigned as a shadow health minister, practically the instant after Jeremy Corbyn was named the new leader of the Labour Party. And Gisela Stuart covered herself in ignominy when she proposed a “grand coalition” of Labour with the Conservatives, prior to the general election. The SNP had a lot of fun with that one.
Clearly these chumps are out to cause trouble and their future behaviour – or misbehaviour – should be watched very closely. They need to be told in no uncertain terms that their future membership of the Labour Party may be jeopardised if they continue to be embarrassments.
What do their grassroots members think of these antics?
There is a problem with criticising people for failing to say what they mean in a straightforward way. It arises when you do exactly the same thing.
Frankie Boyle’s critique of the Labour leader candidates in The Guardianis very amusing but falls prey to exactly this problem. He makes several good points, but they’re a long way down the page. Why? So people will lose interest and stop reading before they get to them? Let’s pull them out and give them a proper airing.
Political parties are meant to have guiding principles. Frankie mentions this way down in the fifth paragraph, after revealing: “We’re told that they are responding to the concerns of voters. Labour keeps saying: ‘We’re concerned about immigration because that’s what people say on the doorstep’,” which is guaranteed to stimulate yawns as we’ve all heard it many times before.
Labour did have guiding principles once. They were intended to improve prosperity for everybody in the UK by raising the people who did the work out of the poverty that the leisure class (the people who profit from unearned wealth) force them to endure. So Labour used to stand for cheap accommodation, cheap – but nutritious – food, affordable utilities (gas, electricity, water), nationalised healthcare, a living wage, good government – all the things that helped Jeremy Corbyn score so highly in Newsnight‘s televised hustings a few nights ago.
Ah, but Corbyn, despite being lauded as “one of the few decent politicians remaining in the Labour Party”, is talked down as a candidate who caused “the left of the party to get quite excited that it is still allowed to lose”. He’s saying all the right things, Frankie. People are connecting with him. Don’t write him off so blithely.
Can it really be easier to convert Tories than to reconnect with your own core support? Of course not, but Frankie hits on one of the largest elephants in Labour’s room. It’s just a shame he does it in his concluding paragraph. He reckons Burnham, Cooper and Kendall get their information on what voters want from what businesspeople say (they’re desperate to be pro-business without knowing what it means), polls (which Frankie rightly says can be misleading) and the media (which are, again, rightly labelled deliberately misleading). As a result, they end up campaigning on all the wrong issues and turn potential supporters away, rather than attracting them.
Why does being ‘pro-business’ have to mean being ‘anti-worker’? The three leading – actually they’re not leading anything at all in the eyes of the public; let’s call them ‘preferred’ – candidates seem determined to disappear up their own rear ends, trying to explain how they will support the kind of people who couldn’t care less about anything other than building their own wealth, even though this creates misery for the workers on whose efforts it is built. Frankie hits it on the head when he writes: “I’m reduced to imagining that ‘pro-business’ is simply a rhetorical code for ‘right-wing’, and that we are watching leadership contenders wonder aloud whether they are being right-wing enough.”
We end up with a leadership campaign aimed at a public who hate benefits, immigrants and shirkers. Benefits and shirkers are in fact the same issue, but Frankie is right to highlight it. Labour introduced the most punitive benefit-cancelling system in British history – Employment and Support Allowance – in 2008 and the party line is still to say that there’s nothing wrong with it in principle, even though its implementation has led to many thousands of deaths that the DWP has already admitted – and who knows how many that it is covering up (see Vox Political‘s many articles on the subject). The simple fact is that Labour is afraid of newspapers saying the party is soft on ‘shirker’ benefit claimants, and is instead forcing itself to persecute people who desperately need help, just to stay alive. That is a Tory Party attitude.
There is a very simple case to be made against austerity, but Labour doesn’t have the guts to make it. Jeremy Corbyn did.
Still, they must know that they are not going to win the next election. This is the most damning claim of all. A decade ago, the Conservative Party was finished, washed up; a joke. All Labour had to do was keep a steady hand on the tiller and the Nasty Party would have been banished to history.
But Labour couldn’t do that. It had been infiltrated by neoliberal might-as-well-be-Tories who pushed harmful policies including ESA and the failure to regulate the banks that eventually sucked the UK into the global financial crisis and allowed the Tories to create a myth that Labour had messed up the economy. If Labour is unlikely to win elections now, it is that party’s own fault for giving the Tories a chance – by being too much like the Tories themselves.
Now we have three ‘preferred’ leader candidates who want Labour to be different from the Conservative Party only in nuance.
Let’s vote for the one who wants Labour to be the Labour Party again.
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