Keir Starmer’s task is to show how the Tories’ choices left Britain so exposed to the ravages of the crisis. Just like David Cameron did to Labour in 2008

by David Talbot

When Gordon Brown took to the despatch box for Prime Minister Questions in late 2008, his slip of the tongue – that he had “saved the world” – was, of course, mercilessly mocked by his many detractors. Brown’s handling of the financial crisis, both actual and perceived, went on to form the nucleus of the Conservatives’ electoral strategy for the election two years later – and to dominate British politics for the next decade.

History has since judged the efforts of Gordon Brown to recapitalise the world economy in a rather more favourable light. Indeed, a rather noted economist may even agree with his assessment. But it provided a perfect wedge opportunity for the then opposition Conservative party who, as history has also rather forgotten, had hitherto pledged to match Labour’s spending plans.

The Conservatives’ ruthless exploitation of the global recession, and its central accusation that Labour’s profligacy had largely caused it, was the platform on which it fought the 2010 and 2015 elections. It was a conscious and potent choice to blame Gordon Brown and the Labour Party as being solely responsible for the recession and to continually fuel fears that the country was on the brink of bankruptcy. ‘Borrowing’ became the bogey word in British politics and the deficit the fulcrum in which all political decisions were taken. In a perfect illustration of how it is the victors that write history, the budget deficit today is exactly double what David Cameron and George Osborne were apparently so apoplectic about in 2010.

What, then, are the lessons to be applied to today’s, COVID-dominated, politics? Sir Keir Starmer marked his year in post with a missive in the organ of the left, the Observer, stating that the Prime Minister’s “slowness to act at crucial moments cost many lives and jobs”. It was possibly Starmer’s most damning assessment to date of the government’s handling of the pandemic, but it was mentioned only in fleeting, and not as a central thread of an event that, as the Prime Minister himself has admitted, the country will be dealing with for a lifetime.

Politics as usual has been suspended for over a year but it will soon turn to the ‘new normal’ and, with the inevitable public inquiry, a moment of acute weakness for the government. The government’s strategy is clear, to dissemble and delay as long as possible to – in all probability – ensure the report’s publication conveniently misses the next general election.

The public understands that the government faced an almost unprecedented crisis. The story will be familiar, but the details will surely shock. Blaming Labour won’t work this time; the Conservatives will have to own the response to the crisis and many of the decisions that exacerbated the country’s feeble response to COVID-19 were taken, or not, during the austerity-driven coalition, minority and majority Conservative governments.

Narratives matter in politics. Many enthused in 2008 that the excesses of global capitalism would be curtailed by victorious centre-left parties imposing a more regulated, socially democratic economic agenda. It didn’t happen. The Conservatives ultimately chronicled a more powerful narrative that not only misidentified the problem but ushered in years of austerity, and then blamed it on Labour.

A year into Starmer’s leadership and the consensus has formed that he has failed to detail any sort of vision, if indeed, his critics go, he has one at all. The emerging landscape is an opportunity for Starmer and the Labour Party to detail its vision for a post-COVID Britain. Replicating the strategy which the Conservatives so successfully deployed post the financial crisis, by detailing how over the past decade the Conservatives took the decisions which left the country so brutally exposed to COVID-19, will start to shape the political fallout post-crisis.

Labour’s failure to tackle the idea that it was responsible for the financial crisis damages the party to this day. The Conservatives saw and took the opportunity, in the midst of the crisis, to scar its foe for a generation. Labour will shortly have that same opportunity.

David Talbot is a political consultant

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9 Responses to “Keir Starmer’s task is to show how the Tories’ choices left Britain so exposed to the ravages of the crisis. Just like David Cameron did to Labour in 2008”

  1. The missed opportunity was in the first three months of last year. That was when the government made its massive mistakes. Instead of ‘constructive opposition’ which quickly became ‘no opposition’, a quick look at how the Southeast and East Asian countries were handling the outbreak of another corona virus outbreak should have pointed to a much more sensible approach.

    With no parliamentary opposition to Johnson’s ‘keep Britain open for business’ while he shook as many Covid patients hands as possible, makes Labour complicit in the deaths of 150,000 British citizens.

    Of course Keir Starmer had more important things to do such rooting out the left membership of the party. As they say ‘you get what you pay for’ but who paid for this?

  2. richard mackinnon says:

    “Labour’s failure to tackle the idea that it was responsible for the financial crisis damages the party to this day.”
    But what David Talbot conspicuously omits here is the completion of his statement. What he has chosen not to say is, why Labour is unable to ‘tackle the idea it was responsible for the financial crisis?
    The whole truth is:
    Labour’s failure to tackle the idea that it was responsible for the financial crisis damages the party to this day. The reason why Labour cannot tackle the accusation is because Labour was responsible for the crisis.

  3. Tafia says:

    Polling for March 2021. There were 20 polls carries ourt during the month, by all the major pollsters.

    Average for March is:-

    Con: 42.6%
    Lab: 35.7%
    LD: 7.0%
    Grn: 5.0%
    Oth: 9.0%

    Comment. Since GE2019, the Tories have led every month. Their worst month was Jan (Con: 39.6% compared to Lab: 38.3%, which was also Labour’s best month. Since GE2019, Labour have not pbroken through the 40% barrier for a monthly average, and the Tories only dipped below it one, in Jan, burt were still in front. The Tory lead so far for 2021 is 5.4%

  4. Tafia says:

    Wales. Wales will be holding a full Senedd Election this year. Polling average for March is (Const/List):-

    Lab: 32/31%
    Con: 30/28%
    Plaid: 23/22%
    LDem: 5/4%
    RP: 3/0%
    Grn: 2/3%
    AWAP: -/7%
    Oth: 5/4%

    This translates into seats as Lab:22, Con:19, PC:14, AWAP::4 LDem:1

    Comment. This is significant as this is Labour’s worst performance in Wales since devolution. They easily lose their majority and Plaid Cymru are making it fairly clear they will not go into coalition with nor provide a Conf & Supp arrangement unless Labour Wales backs independence and stops toe-ing the Westmibster line. No oither arrangemebnt can give Labour a majority other than working with the Tories (which suits Plaid as they can weaponise that – vote Labour, get Tory. Such a result will almost certainly lead to Drakeford having to resign as First Minister.

  5. Tafia says:

    Hartlepool by-election.

    CON: 49% (+20%)
    LAB: 42% (+4%)
    NIP: 2% (New)
    LD: 1% (-3%)
    RFM: 1% (-25% fm BXP/UKIP)
    GRN: 1% (New)

    Comment. This would be a psychologiocal disaster for Labour on a seismic scale, who are also on course to lose a swathe of council seats across the Red Wall and several northern Mayoralships and PCC elections. This is a Labour seat however the imposition of an extreme Remain candidate who is openly and avowedly ‘Rejoin ASP’ has gone down like a bucket of cold sick with both the electorate locally (this is a 70% plus Leave seat) and also the local Labour Party who bitterly resent having a candidate they didn’t want, who opposes their views, imposed on them.

    Should Labour lose this seat this will be only the third occasion in the last 65 years that an opposition has lost one of it’s own seats in a by-election. Personally, I believe Labour will hold the seat – just.

  6. Tafia says:

    Saving the best till last – Scotland. There were 9 Scotl;and-specific polls conducted during March. Averaged they show:-

    Yes: 50.3%, No: 49.7%

    Holyrood, Const/List
    SNP: 48.7/40.9%
    SCon: 22.0/21.1%
    SLab: 19.7/18.3%
    SLD: 6.7/6.4%
    SGn: 1.6/ 8.9%
    Alba: –/3.0%
    Oth: 1.3/1.4%

    Translated to seats that would give the SNP an overall majority.
    SNP: 66, SCon: 28, SLab: 25, SLDem: 5, SGrn: 5
    SNP Majority of 3, pro-Indy Majority of 8 and the majority of voters voting for an Indy party (SNP, SGrn, ALBA) – Sturgeons ‘dream’ of an SNP majority, a majority of Indy seats, and a majority of the first preference vote.

    Comment: This was actually a bad month for the SNP. They wobbled a bit early and mid month with the Sturgeon/Salmond palavar, but were making a strong recovery towards the end of the month. Early polling for the first week of April shows they have bounced back stronger than ever as has the Yes! vote. Scotland will be basically a lost cause come May, and both Labour and Tory need to start accepting and coming to terms with it. Pathetic and belittling offers of Home Rule, Federalisation etc etc are openly treated by the Indy parties and the majority of Scottish voters with the contempt and derision they deserve.

  7. Tafia says:

    Labour is now hopelessly out of step with it’s suburban and rural Red Wall Labour Leave vote. Brexit – not Covid, is the major issue with them even now. They simply do not trust Labour or Starmer – no matter what he says, that they won’t try and drag the UK back into the Single Market or the Customs Union and it’s as simple as that. People like Lord Mouth Almighty Adonis and leading union leaders and ‘household name’ MPs are doing massive damage to the Labour’s hopes of winning back the Leave voters. Any sniff of the threat of closer EU ties and you can stick voting Labour up your arse is the prevailing opinion. Starmer is also seen as weak, seemingly always on the verge of tears, boring, takes to long to get to the point and dull as ditch-water.

    As for Covid, outside of the big metropolitan areas, up here virtually no-one in the ‘real world’ ghas been furloughed. Where I now live in the East Riding of Yorkshire, the predominant industry is massive logistical hubs, distribution centres and warehousing followed by agriculture, energy, construction and road haulage. They have all been working flat out since this started, plenty of overtime, actively recruiting even at the height. Short term contracts aimed specifically at the few that have been furloughed ( neither I, the wife nor the in-laws know anyone at all that’s been furloughed other than the odd small shop worker and leisure – and they’ve all gone into work for other employers such as warehousing).

    Labour Leave voters up here – LExiters or whatever the term is, would rather have a Tory government than risk a Labour one that would seek closer ties with the EU. And no, they couldn’t give a toss what Labour Remain voters in the metropolitan areas and down south think other than ‘bollocks to them’.

  8. Ann Onnimus says:

    You’re right, that is Starmer’s task. But he’s spent the past year making it abundantly clear that he has absolutely no interest in doing it. And even if he did abruptly start, it’s too late – the Tories have already won the politics of the pandemic, because Starmer let them win.

  9. Anne says:

    Just like there was an inquiry into the Iraq there should be an inquiry into the Government’s handling of the pandemic – this should be to expose mistakes made and to make sure that in the event of another pandemic there is better preparation.
    Johnson has been saved by the excellent roll out of the vaccination programme and also that the EC have made such a hash of their distribution of the vaccine giving Johnson the superficial belief that he was correct about the EU. However all is not well with some aspects of the EU deal – such as Northern Ireland. Starmer must be clear on what he would do to find solutions -very difficult and many have failed- The Good Friday Agreement came the closest to success. Same with immigration – what will he suggest/offer?
    As well as pointing out all the mistakes of the Johnson Government – including mismanagement of public money this will not work on its own. Look how obvious the Trump administration was so awful but his followers remained loyal. Starmer needs to demonstrate how his Government would do things better. He needs a plan, which should be comprehensive, and workable. The Green Party is Germany are holding the balance of power – they have developed workable policies. Starmer needs to combine some green agenda into policy. In some ways a ‘progressive’ alliance or coalition with The Green Party and the LDs might work.
    His plan should also include how would he fund developments in the NHS and education.
    Starmer should not ignore the left side of the Labour Party, but work at engaging them – it was Harold Wilson who said it takes two wings for a plane to fly.
    Many statements about the Labour Party are saying the do not know what the party stands for – clarity is required. A Labour government under Starmer would be fantastic for our country – we must work hard to convince the electorate what the Labour Party intends and direction to take – in the best interests of our great country.

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