The Uncuts: 2021 Political Awards (Part I)

Political Comeback Of The Year: Keir Starmer

On the morning of Sunday May 9th , Keir Starmer was on political life support. Labour had lost the Hartlepool by-election the previous Thursday and then his attempted reshuffle had been blown up by Angela Rayner refusing to go quietly. The headlines for Labour and its leader were dire. There seemed to be a real chance that Keir Starmer might not make it to the end of the year in post.

But here we are, at the back of 2021 and Labour has a solid lead in the polls with its leader ahead of Boris Johnson on just about every metric. Keir Starmer even delivered a reshuffle that has reinvigorated the shadow cabinet, marginalised the left and palpably diminished the power of his turbulent deputy.

What went right?

Boris Johnson obviously has played a large part in the shift. Few could have anticipated the missteps over Owen Paterson, the video and photos of lockdown breaking Christmas celebrations in 2020 and the loss of a 23,000 majority in North Shropshire.

But these mistakes have only accelerated a trend that was evident back in the dark days of May.

At Uncut, on May 19th, we wrote that the vaccine bounce was obscuring the underlying position in British politics – namely that the parties were likely level pegging, a reality that would become evident once the vaccine bounce subsided.

And so, it has come to pass.

Keir Starmer’s achievement has been in holding fast to his basic approach. Unlike the voices in May who called for an immediate new direction, for tomes of policy to be rushed through, for panic measures, he has demonstrated a rare skill in modern politics: to wait. He remained calm, at least outwardly, waiting to make his case to the public until the worst of the pandemic was in the rear-view mirror.

The news cycle for a major event moves from reporting of the facts to the first wave of comment within a couple of hours. There’s then a further wave of comment reacting to the initial comment within another few hours, generally crystallising around a set of demands for action in a third wave of comment, which is then pitched at politicians for a binary yes or no answer. Should X be sacked? Do you disavow your position on Y? Will you resign if Z happens?

A cycle which would have taken several days to unwind twenty years ago, now occurs within hours. It’s a rollercoaster where the imperative is on politicians to act ‘decisively’. And then do so again the next day on the next issue, and again later that week and on and on. Keir Starmer is a rather an old fashioned politician who doesn’t.

It’s a strategy that carries risk. Persistently rejecting demands for instant action, over weeks and months, builds a meta-narrative of inertia and weakness. It’s a story that the Labour left have done their best to tell to undermine and topple the leader.

But the polling over the past month doesn’t lie and ultimately Keir Starmer has called it right. He’s moved on his own terms when the timing and circumstances were propitious and put himself in the best position to capitalise when Boris Johnson’s manifest failings became electorally evident. More please in 2022.

International Politician of the Year: Olaf Scholz

Germany is under new management. Labour’s sister party now leads Europe’s economic powerhouse and political centre of gravity. Olaf Scholz is our international politician of the year for ending the Angela Merkel era with this sea change victory.

It is a win that mixes reassurance and radicalism – with echoes of Joe Biden’s US presidential triumph a year earlier. Scholz won plaudits for his service as a minister in Merkel’s last coalition. This role, as well as Scholz’s serious and sober style, provides reassuring continuity with Merkel.

These qualities made it impossible for opponents to pigeonhole Scholz as a threatening agent of the “radical left”. Similarly, attacks by Donald Trump in 2020, which would have wounded a less establishment figure, failed to land on Biden. Nonetheless, Scholz’s administration will bring radicalism: 80% of electricity from renewals by 2030; a €12 minimum wage; and 400,000 new homes each year. Biden’s presidency has also seen a radical reinvention of the role of government in America – with, for example, tax credits that halved child poverty overnight.

This cocktail of reassurance and radicalism could be mixed by Keir Starmer. Someone knighted for their services to the law promises a safe pair of hands. If these hands were to craft a UK-version of the radical platforms that have fired Biden and Scholz, Starmer could repeat their successes.

Scholz has an intimidating in-tray – from the security threats of Putin to securing a monetary and fiscal architecture that will drive Covid recovery in the Europe. Hopefully, he finds time for a catch-up with Starmer.

Political backstabbing of the year: Joe Manchin

Fox News constantly drips poison into American life. Its fully vaccinated presenters encourage anti-vax conspiracies. Its supposedly patriotic hosts parrot Putin’s line on NATO. It is an unusual place for a Democratic politician to send a message to fellow Democrats.

But that is where, just before Christmas, Joe Manchin delivered his devastating message to a Democratic president and the Democratic majorities in the House and Senate that he could not support President Biden’s Build Back Better Bill – thus, rendering it, at least for now, unable to pass. Biden hopes that this signature legislation will include universal, free preschool for 3- and 4-year-olds; the largest effort to combat climate change in American history; and expanded access to affordable healthcare.

Manchin’s intervention is the latest turn in a complicated and fraught legislative journey. Previously, this legislation was part of a larger package that included harder infrastructure, serving transport and energy systems. It became possible to pass an Infrastructure Bill on a bipartisan basis, but the remainder depends upon Democratic votes, including Manchin’s in a knife-edge Senate. Left-wing Democrats agreed to pass the bipartisan Infrastructure Bill and to trim the remaining package to pacify centrist colleagues with fiscal concerns – on the basis that this compromise version of the Build Back Better Bill would retain sufficient Democratic support to pass. Now Manchin has withdrawn this support.

A sense of betrayal by Manchin is pervasive among Democrats but salvaging some version of Build Back Better depends upon reproachment with him. In 2022, Biden needs to find a way to pass as much of Build Back Better as possible – and utilise this win to campaign with as much energy and unity as possible in the midterms.


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3 Responses to “The Uncuts: 2021 Political Awards (Part I)”

  1. John P Reid says:

    The end of year polls will show Tories have lost votes to thd libdems doen south snd z reform, labours gained votes from
    greens libdems
    Blue wall libdems and reform will go back to Tories at a election

  2. Anne says:

    Starmer has the ability to be PM – he looks and sounds like a PM. He now has a great team around him.
    Johnson is an absolute total embarrassment

  3. Landless Peasant says:

    Starmer is an Establishment stooge, probably working for MI5, his mission is to destroy the Labour Party and ensure there is never a Socialist government.

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