Starmer placed a bet on Labour wanting to win again. It is time to double down on it

by Jonathan Todd

Tom McTague in The Atlantic paints a scenario that should worry Keir Starmer. While Britain’s Covid-19 death toll has risen above 100,000, it may be that a successful vaccine drive leaves a more lasting memory.

After this piece was published, the UK’s vaccine spat with the EU escalated. Poor handling by Brussels leaves the impression that the EU do not like the UK’s vaccine lead, making it easier to spin the UK’s rollout as a Brexit win.

Suddenly, Kate Bingham might seem as likely as anyone else to be the next prime minister. In the meantime, the incumbent has reason to be optimistic about the next 12 months.

While Brexit’s teething problems are painful for those directly impacted, the strong consensus among economic forecasters is that output lost to Brexit in 2021 will be more than offset by gains from lockdown ending and pent up demand being unlocked.

These forecasters have an average UK GDP 2021 projection of 4.4%. Not enough to recover all growth lost in 2020 but our fastest annual rate of growth for over 30 years. Sufficient to make many people feel better about themselves and possibly their government. The resumption of activities now prevented by social distancing – visiting family, drinking with friends, hugging strangers – will also trigger a pervasive positivity in wider senses than the narrowly economic.

Labour should not be complacent about the extent to which the prime minister might make more sense in this context. But – as Dan Pfeiffer often says on Pod Save America – we should worry about everything in politics but panic about none of it.

Now is the time for Starmer to reenergise his leadership’s founding purpose. This is to show that our party has changed from that decisively rejected in 2019 and deserves a mandate to lead our country in a new direction.

That change starts with Labour being clear that we like things that we have spent the past decade allowing voters to believe that we do not: the private sector – it is the engine of the jobs that many voters depend upon; the nations and peoples of the UK – we must exude pride in the country that we want to lead; and the last Labour government – it seems odd that Tony Blair and Gordon Brown make substantive contributions to current policy debates, more so than much of the shadow cabinet, at the same time as Labour remains more associated for many voters with Jeremy Corbyn (whose shadow cabinet Starmer served in) and Ed Miliband (who Starmer has brought back to the shadow cabinet).

Labour’s detachment from Blair and, to a lesser extent, Brown tells voters that we do not like winners, and we represent something different from the only Labour government to have been in power in my lifetime. To voters, especially those who remember when what to do with the Millennium Dome was the UK’s biggest problem, this is weird.

Labour always needs to work twice as hard as the Tories to convince that we back business and will not waste public money. As shadow chancellor, Brown worked tirelessly to improve relations with business and to highlight government profligacy. Doing the same now is more important than advancing complex fiscal rules that voters do not understand and which create hostages to fortune.

Labour should celebrate the private sector’s contribution to vaccines and take the EU’s vaccine missteps as a cue to stop banging on about Europe – as David Cameron once encouraged his party.

Cameron was partially successful in communicating that his party had changed and as Labour seeks our own transformation, we must decline Tory bait to fight culture wars that trap Labour in left-wing cul-de-sacs and Corbynite invitations to retreat to ideological comfort zones from which government cannot be reached.

We rejected that offer by not choosing Rebecca Long-Bailey as leader. We chose a harder, but more rewarding, journey with Starmer: taking the steps necessary to win.

The prime minister might benefit from a flurry of economic activity as lockdown recedes but Labour needs to find a message and message carriers able to persuade that sustained and broad-based improvements in prosperity depend upon a new national direction.

Joe Biden is US president because enough Americans believe that he will run the economy for the benefit of places like Scranton, Pennsylvania, the blue-collar town of his youth, and for main streets, not for Wall Street.

Labour should be braced for the Tories benefitting from vaccines, but the UK’s road of Covid-19 recovery is long and can bend towards a Labour government if Starmer crafts our own version of Biden’s inclusive patriotism and capitalism.

Jonathan Todd is Deputy Editor of Labour Uncut

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53 Responses to “Starmer placed a bet on Labour wanting to win again. It is time to double down on it”

  1. John P Reid says:

    Richard Burgon saying labour shouldn’t be trying of win back traditional working-class votes, saying the working class already have a party “the Conservative party”

    Okay I’m going to use the word that Maurice glasman said Labour should never use “progressive” with the argument that’s been made over the decades the Liberal Democrats have split the progressive vote with Labour, as if you add up the votes of both it comes to more than the Tories.
    of course this is nonsense

    Ed Milibands plan in 2015 was get ex liberal Democrat votes disillusioned with the Coalition and Nigel Farage splits the Tory vote, both of which work in Labour’s favour, and win by default with 35% of the vote

    that election (2015) saw the Tories get 37% of the vote, Ukip get 13% of the vote
    it was the first time if you add both right wing parties together it came to more than 50% of the vote.
    As the comparison of adding Labour and Liberal in the past would always be more than 50% of the vote, So Richard Burgon thinks it’s just the working-class who vote Tory and it’s not worth Labour doing it and Labour’s shouldn’t be getting additional votes by wooing them
    And he’s thinking the only way labour can win if it gets enough green and the Scottish National party votes it will increase the vote to more than 40% and also hoping that if Nigel Farage’s new party split the right vote then labour to win with another version of the 35% strategy

    and that 2 right wing parties of Tory and Farage Mark 2 having split the right vote would mean even though they combine vote of them would more than Labour its fine for labour to rule in less than 40% of vote.
    thinking it could somehow speak for a country when it’s only getting a third of the people actually vote

    Without Burgon thinking, the Tories and Farage‘s new party wouldn’t team up in the future to get a combined vote again to 50% or labour will never win but he is too stupid to know that though

  2. A.J. says:

    I wonder if Sir Keir Starmer is currently suffering from ‘a degree of churn’? I suppose a powerful laxative might help.
    That teenaged scribbler on the Left Owen Jones is at it again, reminding us just why it is sane people keep on voting Conservative. Young people, according to Owen, most of whom are now ‘university educated’ (hip hip hooray) have a social conscience and are likely to peel away from Labour in order to vote Green.
    It’s happened before. 1989 might it have been?
    I have a good deal of contact with young people – although admittedly less so than when I was attempting to shove some knowledge into their silly little heads – and I can tell Owen now that, although they receive the right to vote at eighteen – far too young an age – they often don’t know whether they have a clean pair of knickers for the morning. Their political impulses are often nebulous to say the least of it: a bit of ‘socialism’ mixed in with being vaguely pro-EU (therefore displaying a belief in neo-liberalism?) whilst taking the majority of their cues from the USA. I never met a child yet whose computer game involved anything to do with an interest in wine, decent food or the long tradition of European culture. Mostly they are interested in cash, sleep, junk food and drugs – in just about that order. Some – doubtless to Owen’s chagrin – will almost certainly end up, like everyone else, voting Conservative.

  3. John P Reid says:

    Keir Starmer just told the BBC the “vast majority” of Labour members back my leadership. Maybe it’s time for a confirmatory referendum on his claim?

    Can we change the anti spam Q? To want his number will be in prison in The Hague?

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