Starmer seeks to cheer miserabilist Labour

by David Talbot

One of the many dangers for Labour following its devastating 2019 general election defeat was that, if the pattern from the previous three election defeats were a guide, rather than learning the wrong lessons, it would learn no lessons at all.

The seemingly one constant for the Labour Party since 2010, though, has been its unerring miserabilism. It has relentlessly lectured the country that its future is bleak, its prospects poor and its decision to return four Conservative-led governments wretched.

“The trouble with Ed [Miliband] is that he is just too miserable” so uttered a Shadow Cabinet member in 2015, shortly before the party went down to a second resounding defeat. Miliband had much to say about the travails of the previous five years, attacking austerity, most notably, but his introspection, subdued and ultimately quite gloomy outlook was bettered by Cameron’s innate optimism.

Jeremy Corbyn’s torrent of miserabilism sums up the party’s recent woes. Labour has won, all too rarely in its history, when it has been optimistic about the country it seeks to govern, when it inspires people, understands and enables their aspiration, and when it projects confidence both for now and the future.

The hectoring over austerity, the sheer angst and self-pitying on Brexit, this miserabilist tendency that exudes from the party’s rhetoric, tone and policies has whittled it down to its core. If now is not the time to ask whether this doom-laden strategy has been effective or not, then surely when is?

Labour must reach out from its ideological core, or it truly will face the existential crisis that has oft been threatened in the past decade. As Labour surpasses a decade in opposition, the need for a new thesis to appeal to the millions of Britons would do not subscribe to a torrent of miserabilism has never been clearer.

It must regain the trust of not only Red Wall voters but attract new voters in the Conservatives’ seemingly impenetrable blue base.

The early throes of Keir Starmer’s leadership suggests he understands the landscape before him, and the wreckage which caused it behind him. He moved at pace and with strength to remove Corbyn’s toxic acolytes and has installed new, and returned old, talented colleagues.

Starmer’s strategy is deliberate: consensus-seeking, where possible, partly to adhere to widespread public wishes for political cooperation, and a willingness for the government to succeed, and partly to avoid accusations that Labour used the pandemic for cynical party political purposes. It also plays to another gallery, one which the Labour Party has frequented little of late – Conservative voters.

62 per cent of respondents on LabourList’s recent survey said the party had “not been critical enough” of the government’s handling of coronavirus. But Labour supporters and Tory-sceptics are not the voters Starmer needs to convince right now. The performance of Corbyn and his media operation were so low that the most visual courtship Starmer has made thus far – that of a positive Daily Telegraph front page, no less – on Conservative voters shocked Westminster and beyond. But it at once told you where Starmer and his team were aiming.

Starmer’s early and repeated calls for political consensus on an exit strategy inoculated Labour from likely attacks and also set a trap for the government, which it duly fell into. Starmer wanted the strategy so it could face public scrutiny and, as his advice was neither sought nor heeded, he can now attack it as lacking political consensus. Throughout, his motifs are building a case for the inevitable public inquiry that Labour was, where possible, constructive.

Starmer has inevitably been criticised by the last remnants of the Corbyn brigades for being too forensic, too unwilling to criticise the government and too far behind in the polls five weeks into his leadership. But it is his willingness to ditch old orthodoxies, to seek consensus, not only because it is the right thing to do, but because voters have tired of Labour’s despair, and to present “a vision for a better society” which suggests he has learnt the hardest lesson of all.

David Talbot is a political consultant

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7 Responses to “Starmer seeks to cheer miserabilist Labour”

  1. Alf says:

    Starmer is a Tory. The Labour members have been mugged.

  2. Anne says:

    Well – where to start. Johnson most certainly is being found out for his incompetence big stile. He jumped on the band wagon which was the leave Brexit bus, and the public mood followed him – leave voters don’t want to see incompetent Johnson- for he is the one who promised millions for the NHS. Actions, I’m afraid, have consequence and the very serious result of voting in Johnson and his chums is a second rate government- not that the Tory Trolls/scammers want to admit to any failings – they are entrenched in their very blinkered views.
    We now have a situation for having a more competent shadow cabinet than government – this too will have very serious consequences for our country.

  3. John says:

    What we are going to get from MiLord Starmer is a return to the neo-liberal days of Labour past.
    King Blair is dead (though his ghost still moans) Long Live King Blair the Younger.

  4. RobinM says:

    I suppose anyone can just set themselves up as a “political consultant”? But from the evidence provided in this little “think piece,” I doubt I’d be willing to pay this one much. Look, for instance, at his loaded language: criticism of austerity is referred to as “miserabilist” “hectoring,” no less. I’d at least expect a reputable “political consultant” (should such an animal actually exist) to offer alternatives in language that wouldn’t press the consultee into opting for the consultant’s own preferred position. If he wants to push for a particular policy approach, then he should stop hiding behind a self-adopted title and just call himself a politician. As to what kind of politician this one is, it’s pretty evident he’s just a tory trying to disguise himself as neutral, politically wise, and well-intentioned. I doubt it’ll wash. May his conscience come to haunt him, and soon.

    PS. Can’t this site come up with a less obviously manipulative anti-spam question?

  5. John P reid says:

    People in their 60’s or those who read in a book & were told of the previous mythical romantic 0wen Jones view of a radical working class vote out there, think if labour can keep insulting the working class they’ll stop voting Tory to stop the insults

    The left has got to get away from the Idea the labour movement is a Romantic Ideal that will deliver the Working Class to the Utopia of them aspiring to be Middle class liberals, where They aspire to not want to have the Community of knowing each other and that if other cultures don’t move in an integrate that, destroying the traditional working class culture, which incidentally was always happy to sample other cultures
    Socially, But that said, having other cultures integrate never meant ignoring the A social rules that we should respect each other, even if having different values want that people don’t agree with each others life style choices

    The romantic idea the Union movement as it lifted the working class out of poverty were good economically at running the Country as they were invited to Downing street over Beer and Sandwiches to say what was best for the Finances, yet Union Barons wanting to show who was the toughest, Instructed members to strike even if they didn’t want too,It resulted in Nurses many of Whom from India or Caribbean backgrounds during the winter of discontent tearing up their union cards voting For thatcher, yet the left re write history it was always been on the side of the NHS and its workers Yet the Nurses strike, 10 years later of 1989(of which I was on the picket line) we won because we got the public on our side as those nurses worked for free then joined the picket line afterwards

    actually the Gordon Brown Gov’t was very left-wing government similar to the Callaghan Healey one, And the remain liberals who did this held the working class in contempt ,yet they continue to rewrite history of Labour saying the 70’s labour Gov’t wasn’t left wing, it was left-wing and had the public wanted A really want a left-wing government they wouldn’t have voted Tory win 79, its these people who want to re-write Michael foot lost night as it wasn’t left wing enough and the same in 83’ why we lost another election, as it wasn’t left wing enough yet now the Labour members won’t face the fact the public don’t want a left wing government of the sort of harold Wilson

    the white Romantic view of the left was accuse all the working class of being racist(even though there’s as many if not more middle class racists and that was it’ll get the BAME vote and the working class have nowhere else to go

    middle-class racist contempt play the elect up by about ed Miliband because I didn’t understand the working-class globalisation of Brexit the middle-class liberals hate the working class over Brexit
    Got to get away from the idea that labour is a source of good to deliver the working-class a better way of life through financial stability education and delivering them to utopia trade union barons using block vote to get their preferred choices by a beer and sandwiches at Downing Street run the economy of the country forcing people out onto strike through intimidation if I didn’t want to because they knew best that it wasn’t actually destroying the companies in industries but was creating a situation where a statement that they would then be able to persuade the bosses to their demands which were not the best for the company is an industry, but better for their keeping their own job is a junior barons Labour thing up

    with middle-class liberals thinking the working class aspire to become middle-class via Thatcherism class people are the ones from trade unions by the nineties been felt the way there was a massive court of minority ethnic who went the same views which was if we were to call the working class racist it would appear we were sparring to but there’s more if not as many middle-class you are racist ,but racism and anti-Semitism are a very middle-class thing within the Labour party resulting in losing the working class “justify the towards the working class and prejudice that new cycle group is this decide they were oppressed minority such as transgender is on stop being a lesbian a phobic holding the working class in contempt and getting to the stage where I think if I keep on calling the working-class racist eventually the working-class realise they are, and start voting labour excepting the fact that they’re all racists then

  6. Tafia says:

    Anne- he is the one who promised millions for the NHS. The NHS now gets far more money than was on the sideof the bus – which, as an Electoral Commission inquiryand two Parliamentary Inquiries found, diwas not all promised to the NHS. (you of course know this, because only anintellectual cripple doesn’t.) And always remeber, the choice on the ballot paper in december was Boris, or Corbyn/Abbott/McDonnell.

    Latest Opinion Polling, Opinium for the Observer, published in yesterday’s (17th),
    Tory 49%, Lab 33%. (Opinium were near spot on at the election, and theirweekly poll for the Observer sincethe electionhas been consistent within MoE). Starmer is not gaining traction, personality polling shows that the public regard him as dull, boring, long-winded, inanimated, takes far to long to get to the point. Soon, Parliament will beback andhe will have to put up withallthe jeering, mocking and constant interrruptions..

  7. Rallan says:

    Interestingly there’s no reference to democracy in this article or any of the comments above. Not surprising in a Labour blog I suppose.

    Starmer spent more than 3 years trying to overturn the biggest democratic vote in UK history and opposing the concept of democratic accountablity in a sovereign nation state. The electorate aren’t going to forget that.

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