Starmer’s response to Hancock tells us a lot about his long-term strategy to win

by Tom Clements

No doubt that you are appalled at the failure of Matt Hancock to publicise the details of the Covid contracts that his department handed out. But I doubt that you were surprised. You might, however, have cocked an eyebrow at Keir Starmer’s refusal to call on the Health Secretary to resign.

But you shouldn’t be. We should take it as a clear signal that the new leadership of our Party has a strategy to win in 2024.

Predictably, there was much outrage for the extremes of our Party at Starmer’s perceived weakness. The electoral sage of the NEC, Laura Pidcock, even took to Twitter to ‘profoundly disagree’ with Keir and his lack of anger.

But this criticism misses the point.

To be clear, this is in now way a defence of Matt Hancock. Indeed, it is incredible how low a minister in this government needs to stoop before they will be expected to do the ‘honourable’ thing. Instead, it is a defence of the strategy that is in play in LOTO.

What do Ken Clarke, Jeremy Hunt, George Osborne, Theresa May and Boris Johnson have in common? All of them faced calls from either Ed Miliband or Jeremy Corbyn to resign. And none of them did.

Whilst this might tell us a lot about the decline in ministerial responsibility during the 21st century, it tells us much more about interventions from the Leader of the Opposition. To be successful, they must reflect the public mood and they must carry weight.

I am sure that you remember the period when Ed Miliband was Leader of the Opposition and he seemed to call for an enquiry or a resignation on an almost weekly basis. As the calls piled up with no action taken, the public’s interest rapidly faded along with Ed’s credibility.

Keir Starmer has clearly learned from this. He knows that when he takes a shot at this government, he cannot afford to miss.

And he correctly realised that the public’s gaze would be quickly diverted from Hancock’s failures. Not only was the story a minor footnote in the weekend’s media coverage but it is about to be swamped by coverage over the Prime Minister’s roadmap out of lockdown.

Not only was Starmer’s call smart in the short term but it offers potentially bountiful opportunities for strategic success later in the Parliament.

We must remember exactly what the story that broke over the weekend was. It was about Matt Hancock’s failure to publish details of PPE contracts within 30 days. It wasn’t, crucially, a story about cronyism or Tory donors. That story is yet to come out.

And it is that story that Boris Johnson’s failure to banish Matt Hancock from his government will allow us to tell over and over again once we are out of this initial crisis phase. Shifting the narrative on this government will require patience, resilience and a real grasp of the detail.

This is something that Starmer can rely on Rachel Reeves to deliver. Reeves, operating in her free role shadowing Michael Gove, has already started to press the government on the outsourcing chumocracy that they have created during this pandemic.

Not only will her command of the facts strike fear into this unprepared, shallow, facile excuse for a cabinet, but Reeves’ tenacity will make sure that these stains stick. You only need to look at the way that she pursued Carillion in her former role as Chair of the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy select committee to be excited for the possibilities.

And it will also allow us to put clear red water between us and the Tories. By talking about insourcing, we can make an argument for our vision of the role of the state. One that invests in services and provides a firm foundation for the next generation of businesses and individuals to succeed in the future.

The £2 billion coronavirus contracts handed to firms with limited experience of producing PPE but with tangible links to the Tory government is not a story that will simply disappear. Once the dust settles and society returns to a semblance of normality, questions will start to be asked and it is then that opportunities will open for Labour.

It might not be seismic change that the twenty-four media culture expects but Starmer’s decision not to call for Hancock’s head this weekend is a strategic move that will allow Labour to score later in the Parliament. By ignoring the Tory pawn today, Starmer has maintained his focus on seizing their Queen tomorrow.

Tom Clements is a history and politics teacher in Leeds

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14 Responses to “Starmer’s response to Hancock tells us a lot about his long-term strategy to win”

  1. John P Reid says:

    Yes there’s a difference between illegal and unlawful, Drunk and Incapable or non crime hate incidents are illegal, not unlawful, Hancock may have messed up but its’ not criminal

    as for the fact Labour HQ won’t let the left have their preferred choice as the Liverpool Mayor, good and the fact the toy town revolutionaries think the Labour party belongs to them says it all

  2. Anne says:

    It just doesn’t seem to matter anymore if politicians are honest ‘whiter than white.’ We have Patel still has not been sacked over bullying, Williamson inept performance as schools minister, failing Grayling over non existent ferry contracts and Hancock giving contracts worth millions to his pal and then saying there was no shortage of PPE – what an insult to NHS workers – how many NHS workers died from Covid? Now what was the cry from these Brexiteers -‘take back control’ when in effect we had unelected people running the show – Cummings and now we have Carrie calling the shots above the shop. There will certainly have to be an inquiry into the handling of this pandemic.

  3. Alf says:

    Starmer is a loser. A tin-eared wooden loser. Labour’s results in May are going to be dreadful. Nobody wants a Tory-lite Labour party.

  4. Tafia says:

    Starmer’s response over the Hancock doings was correct. There is absolutely no mileage in it. Even the Judge in his ruling was sympathetic to the position the government was in back then and wasn’t wasn’t particularly complimentary about the three MPs who were involved in bringing it (Abrahams, Lucas and Moran) basically saying they were show boating.

    Just so people are under no illusions, ALL contracts have been published. MOST contracts have been published within the 30 day rule, SOME contracts, right at the start took longer (average 47 days)

    In addition, Wales – ruled by a Labour government remember, has also had delays – some as long as 70 days, and contracts awarded without tender awarded to people who are key figures within the Labour camp such as Greg Jackson ( formerly a director of Labour List, former director of on-line media strategy for the Labour Party). The Labour Welsh Government uses exactly the same reason – in the early days of the pandemic, there were more important things to do. So Starmer would have to demand the removal of his own Drakeford if he were to do likewise for Hancock.

    Meanwhile, Starmer’s big re-launch has been a flop. Many reasons why, but one of the ones that stands out in the red wall seats is Starmer’s support for statue removal. That is regarded in the Red Wall as pandering to extremists.

  5. A.J. says:

    So, a unique insight into the way Keir Starmer’s mind is working. Or, quite possibly, it’s just another piece of wishful thinking.

  6. Tafia says:

    A motion was placed before the Senedd this werk calling for all unused funding to be used to expand free school meals to all children from families who receive Universal Credit.

    The Welsh Labour government rejected it.

  7. Andrew Williams says:

    From a Labour blog.

    “Since Starmer became leader in April 2020, Labour has lost more members than have been lost in any year in the party’s history. This has created a huge gap in the party’s finances, estimated at over £2 million a year in lost membership fees alone. Unite has also reduced its funding to the party by 10%, costing a further million pounds a year. In addition, Starmer’s refusal to defend the reputation of the party in court has cost Labour £650,000 on one case alone and has opened the party up to potentially millions of pounds more of legal liabilities.”

  8. John P Reid says:

    Tafia first comment well said and thanks for the link to the finances

  9. Mike says:

    Starmer is doing the best he can but he is forever a London metropolitan remainder and that doesn’t play well in the rest of England. Remember four regions of England (south, south west, east anglia and East Midlands) voted over 50% for the Conservatives (57% in the East Midlands) so England is Conservative country.

  10. Vern says:

    I don’t care if someone is late filing the paperwork during a pandemic and guess what, neither does any other decent right minded person. The case is an infantile effort of grandstanding and should never have made it beyond the “ive got an idea” stage….

    Country is knee deep in shit, and yes some bad decisions have been made but this has also shone a spotlight on the inefficiencies of our civil servants and best loved institutions. How many managers, procurement and admin personnel do we think the NHS employ who should take responsibility for this before it gets to Matt Hancocks desk? These civil servants are the ones Cummings warned us about as not being fit for purpose – he was right.
    There are reasons why Starmer didn’t back it;
    1. He thought it was pathetic
    2. That it would have alienated him against decent people who appreciate the extraordinary effort that is being made here.
    3. Calling for the head of people s child-like, reminiscent of Corbyn and McDonell’s approach. You remember, those 2 that promised kinder and fairer politics.
    4. Labour were in no position to preach
    5. He has now realised just how awful a team he has around him. He is plotting his exit strategy.

    Finally, Labour has to be a party that wants to get in to power, not one that resembles a bunch of pissy sixth formers.

  11. John P Reid says:

    Starmer caused untold damage with a 2nd referendum for remain as policy he won’t recover form it, in fact outside inner London it wasn’t even that popular

    Looking back when Romford ,and Hornchurch and Upminster labour parties didn’t agree with motions proposed sent to region that there should have been a 2nd referendum for remain, Both constituencies should have informed region they’d had votes proposed for motions for a 2nd referendum for remain, And both constituencies hadn’t voted to accept it

  12. John P Reid says:

    Looking back 2 years ago, when
    Romford ,and Hornchurch and Upminster
    parties didn’t agree with motions proposed sent to region that there should have been a 2nd referendum for remain
    Both constituencies should have informed region they’d had votes proposed for motions for a 2nd referendum for remain
    And both constituencies hadn’t voted to accept it
    It may have stopped the manifesto including a 2nd referendum for remain in the 2019 election

  13. John p Reid says:

    Masons love affair of Keir Starmer as Heir to Corbyn, when he’s closer to Heir too Nick clegg, is ( Spoliers ) like the kid who’s found out Santa Clause doesn’t exist) and won’t accept it so keeps making up fact she wants to be true to convince himself it still is true

  14. John P Reid says:

    We had a husting for Labour at rainham Essex for the 2019 election (
    And a Ex Libdem was saying she’d fallen out with Jon Cruddas over his liking for Paul Embery ,as to her Paul is a sexist as he always criticised Labour women 0n Twitter and when Paul had disagreed with Shami Chakrabarti who was saying Essex man was A wotking class Racist Alf garnett stereotype
    So after the  meeting I sat down with rhr Libdem lady and Tele said 2 things
    The first person Paul called out was Gordon brown over the Mrs Duffy incident( who’s not a woman)
    And we’d set up Havering racism a website about local racism and the incidents included a lad looking to buy A million pound house in the area, the previous owner
    Said to him “I’m glad you’re buying it I don’t want to sell it to a foreigner” someone else suggested a wife changing her surname from Hussain as it’s not wise to have the same surname as Saddam Hussain”. And a third half Jewish: black lad in a rich house in Upminster . who’s parent are antique dealers, and a local was shocked a black pardon so rich could live here
    So I said to the ex Libdem lady , surely this proved there are as many middle or upper class racist as working class people, if not more, So Paul Embery criticising Shami Chakrabarti or Jess philips is not racist or sexist,

    The feeling Of blue Labour of criticising Jess philips or Emily Thornberry is sexist as he feels their sneering at the working class is snobbery and she says they are justified in sneering at the working class, as it’s not unrealistic to say filing the st George’s flag is racist and showed The poor are thick and prejudice

    It reminded me of some other times the middle class liberals of Labour have shown contempt for the working class and feeling a need to justify their snobbery have made Up claims of the working class including those on the left of  bigotry
    as 4 years ago peter whittle who is gay(London assembly member at the time Ukip member), was standing for their leadership & supports ID cards (the 5 Ukip councillors in Harold hill at the time said they wouldn’t stand again if he got the leadership  as they are a libertarian party and were anti ID cards)
    As such local Labour, made up the local Ukip councillors had said they “wouldn’t put themselves up for Re election (in what would’ve been the 2018 council elections) as they hate gay people”
    It was nothing of the sort ( one of the Ukip councillors a lady (who recently passed away )had been a Libdem local councillor her years ago!!! ,for pity sake!

    It gets me that middle class liberal Labour hates the working class, such as the local Ukip candidates, they have to make up they’re racist and homophobic and sexist
    I’m sorry if Diane Abbott’s parents did suffer racism when they first came here
    But there’s as many middle class racist as working class

    And yes the Jim Callaghan/ len Mckusky working men’s club view of  the Labour  
    Party years ago would use block votes
    Of blue collar trade Union to get their preferred candidates And it would end up being mainly white heterosexual working class men
    But twice we’ve had all women shortlists for Labour In a Essex ward where women have dropped Out so men have got it ( first in 2002, 2 working class Ford of Dagenham trade Union reps & a female Blairite Got it,stopping previous councillor Also a working class trade Union man
    Then the female blairite dropped out, so (a male blairite) got it

    Then in 2010 a fords of Dagenham Methodist trade Union man came back to the council with The blairite and young frisked Corbynite got it to
    To stop a young trade Union working class lad who’d likely get the candidature
    Then The female ckrbyn it’s dropped out to let her dad (A Corbynite ) get it, also Like the blairite   into 2nd referendum for remain -student politics.

    The view that the blue collar trade Union Len Mcklusky style white men would use the block votes, to get their preferred white working class men voted in as candidates .Ignored that identity politics liberals be they blairites ot Corbynites / Student politics , Would break the rules to get their preferred male middle class candidates 
    Yet they scream -old Labour working class union members are the sexist ones.

    It’s like Sabrina huck at Labour official magazine Labour list
    Said blue Labour say “what working class men have a right to say is ‘can’t the the wife have the dinner in the table when I get home from work and would it kill her to have some make up on , for me”’

    Laurie penny said “blue Labour feels a women’s place is in the kitchen”

    Zoe Williams and Dawn Foster saying 
    Blue Labour view is that working class men should be allowed to be wfe beaters

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