Looming Labour pains

Image: Wikimedia Commons

Staring into the political abyss, in this, the last fortnight of the General Election campaign, the British Conservative Party is probably asking itself: how has it come to this? The impressive majority won by Boris Johnson in the 2019 Brexit election across large areas of the midlands and northern England where Labour once reigned unchallenged, has dissolved into nothingness. The allegiance of those former Labour voters (the result of Labour abandoning the real workers in favour of a ‘smarter’ internationalism forged in the salons of central London) has boomeranged back to the party of prices-and-incomes policies and trades unionism. 

Reinventing Labour as an electable, reassuringly mainstream force for common-sense, whose delegates sing God Save The King at their conference and vote for increased defence spending, Sir Keir Starmer’s determination to pull his members away from the Corbyn years of grievance-Socialism (and from the Blairite legacy of free migration and easy credit) has pulled the rug from under his Tory opponents.

Combined with the catastrophic mistakes made by the Conservatives – shindigs in Downing Street during lockdown, a Liz Truss economic gamble that succeeded in doubling everybody’s mortgage payments, the present scandal about election-date gambling by senior Conservatives – Starmer has emerged to raise again the tattered and tarnished banner of trust – in politicians, and in the reliability of government. Curiously enough for an Opposition leader who mocked Truss’s ideology of growth-at-all-costs, Starmer has placed at the top of his agenda the very idea of those denounced free-marketeers – that the only possibility of clambering out of the United Kingdom’s slurry pit of debt and billion-of-pounds social spending is to shore up the real, productive economy. 

Yet can he ever achieve his growth-to-fuel-the-welfare-state objective? With the industries that Labour so relied upon from 1945 to 1979 now either pruned to their thinnest-possible capacity, or completely non-existent, can a Starmer Government ever hope to re-seed industry? After the 5th July, will the new ministers subsidise, nationalise Port Talbot steelworks, protect British jobs, rescue us from privatised price-rises in the (Tory-created) deregulated energy market by establishing a new Great British energy company? Economic experts such as the Institute for Fiscal Studies fear that no new government will have much chance to address Britain’s ever-growing state borrowing. 

There seems little doubt that Starmer will partially ramp up Britain’s defences, say the right things that will appeal to Middle England and the old Red Wall/Brexit seats of the North, and within the precincts of government will pay little attention to ‘woke’ – one of our few remaining growth industries. He will see planning regulations as being against growth – a curious similarity with Truss – yet will make the mistake of viewing housing development and wind farms as generators of wealth. He will pay little attention to countryside matters or rural voters’ concerns: he is, after all (like Jeremy Corbyn) a London politician, through and through.

Sir Keir also promises a new Border Command, to tackle the mass-migrant arrivals on the Kent coast – but just what does that mean? Just a renaming of the existing messy, ineffectual Border Force? His undoubted successes in Scotland will relegate the SNP, and that alone is a good thing for the Union of the Kingdom – so his victory will be a mixed bag. It will usher in, however, a long period of further detachment from politics: he and his team look technocratic and too-serious, even when they remove their ties at those irritating ‘let-me-level-with-you’ moments. And a year from now, everyone who voted for the Labour landslide is likely to be complaining about electricity prices, too-high mortgages, ‘Labour dictatorship’….

Starmer is in the real world – a world away from Corbyn and the recent Labour past – and he and his inner circle know that they will have to deal with Meloni and Le Pen, Russia and China. So his government – tested by world events – may reflect a new managerialism, not an old ideology. We drift into new waters, new times…