Posts Tagged ‘David Talbot’

Keir Starmer is attempting to do in 4 years what took Kinnock and Blair, fourteen. It’s time media narratives reflected this reality

08/05/2022, 08:30:11 AM

by David Talbot

New Labour is back in vogue. Judging by the sleek BBC documentaries and a buttonless Blair marking 25 years since his landslide victory, there has been much to savour for those who wish to bathe in nostalgia. None more so than the media, who in a bout of coalescing has decided that the only way elections are now won is if ‘Things Can Only Get Better’ is the theme tune.

As the 2022 local election results filtered through, much of the commentary fixated on Labour falling short of a 1997 Blair-era victory for Sir Keir Starmer. Few suggest that Labour is about to replicate the political meteorite that hit the British political landscape in the late 1990s. For one, Labour’s base is 70 seats lower than what Blair inherited in 1994. The party must win 124 seats – only twenty seats shy of its historic gains in 1997 – at the next election to have a majority of 1.

Labour has, though, fitted the angst of its internal struggles throughout the 1980s and into the 1990s into the spasm of four short years. Which other leader of a major political party would have to inform its membership, as Starmer did at party conference last September, that power “is the object of the exercise”.

Moreover, if general elections over the past decade or so have underlined one trend at all it is that – apart from the Conservative juggernaut of 2019 – the nation has struggled to come to a verdict at all. There is now a patchwork of peculiar local results; national swings broke down in the 1970s, and now even regional swings are a metric of the past.

This new electoral landscape has yet to filter through to the media’s framing of elections held in the twenty twenties. In the 1990s, it was ‘Essex Man’ and ‘Worcester Woman’ that were the mythical and much sought after floating voter. Today, it is of course the ubiquitous Red Wall, which extends as far down as Thurrock, according to some commentary, and 1990s re-trends such as ‘Workington Man’.

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The biggest danger for Labour is to believe “one more heave” will be good enough

01/02/2022, 10:40:13 PM

by David Talbot

A Conservative government mired in sleaze and hapless incompetence, a jostling, ambitious Cabinet plotting against a bloodied Prime Minister and a resurgent Labour with sustained poll leads. For the Labour Party, after 12 long years in opposition, some of it spent in sheer shame, and a lot of it wasted, it is tempting to view the disintegrating spectacle of the Johnsonian premiership as its best chance to win a general election in almost two decades. It is a moment of opportunity, and extreme hazard.

The danger for a party that has become so accustomed to losing, as Labour had done by the 1990s, is that each and every wound inflicted upon the Conservatives is met with a raucous grin and a slouching of the shoulders. Many within Labour three decades ago were so desperate to put the party in government by any means, but the dominant philosophy that emerged post 1992 was that of “one more heave”.

It was a disastrous signal not only to the electorate, but to the party itself. Attaining power is never a given. This incremental, cautious approach attracted increasing ire as Labour waited somewhat listlessly for the next general election. A forceful warning came from a traditional foe, the pages of the Spectator, in 1994:

“Labour are so used to enjoying the Tories troubles that they have stopped thinking about their own. If the current line is held to the election, the ducking and diving of Labour will be as big a turn off as the deceit and dissembling of Conservative ministers”.

Alastair Campbell, the article’s author, would of course go on to play a leading role in changing the course of Labour’s trajectory for the better part of a decade.

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This was a self-serving reshuffle designed only to level up Boris Johnson’s standing in the Tory party

16/09/2021, 10:32:38 PM

by David Talbot

For someone who supposedly dislikes upsetting people, the Prime Minister has a unique way of showing it. During his twenty six months in power, Johnson has sacked twenty seven Cabinet Ministers – an attrition rate worse than Donald Trump’s tumultuous administration.

The long-mooted reshuffle was previewed as “uniting and levelling up the whole country”. The reshuffle confirmed, though, if nothing else, that the only levelling up the Prime Minister is preoccupied with is with himself. Johnson has never sought to assemble the strongest possible Cabinet to the benefit of the country. He is perpetually afraid of being outshone, which has directly led to the lack of clarity on the central purpose of his government. Despite most of the media gushing that the Prime Minister was ‘ruthless’ he has still surrounded himself with Brexit and personal loyalists.

The Prime Minister fell back on his oldest tried and tested trick; to please the party faithful. Nadine Dorries may well have been an effective and diligent Health Minister during the pandemic, but her views on cultural issues are well-known and demonstrably offensive to many. Indeed, if her promotion was based on the success of her book sales, as the Defence Secretary has suggested, then – to use a Johnsonian turn of phrase – one can object purely on literary grounds alone.

This is a government which, having taken credit for the successful vaccination rollout that the NHS devised and then implemented, is bereft of ideas and purpose. If, as reports suggest, the Prime Minister truly is intent on fighting the next general election on Brexit – and supposedly how the dastardly EU would scupper ‘freeports’, for instance – then this repeat will be much like the digital ABBA concerts for once popular concepts which should have long since been retired. Leave won the argument, many years ago, it needs to own it, and start delivering on its promise to voters which either backed it in 2016 or wanted rid of the ongoing trauma of it in 2019.

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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

06/04/2021, 10:35:20 PM

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.

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The latest government NHS reorganisation is an unprecedented admission of the failure of the Lansley reforms. Labour needs to be careful in its response

10/02/2021, 08:45:46 AM

by David Talbot

In a grey side-room at the Royal College of Nursing conference in early 2011, a grey-looking Andrew Lansley attempted to defend his controversial reforms of the NHS. In what was surely an unintended ‘Nicola Murray moment’, the then Health Secretary, in the moments after the Congress had unanimously passed a vote of no confidence in him, uttered: “I am sorry if what it is I am setting out to do has not communicated itself”.

It was a gift to Ed Miliband’s Labour Party. It repeatedly called on the reforms to be scrapped, with the now King of the North, Andy Burnham, burnishing his credentials as Labour’s saviour of the NHS. It wasn’t just politicking, though, with healthcare professionals labelling it as “the wrong reform, not just now but at any time in the future”. The bill’s passage didn’t get a smoother time in Parliament either. The House of Lords alone tabled 374 amendments and it was debated for over 14 months with with 50 days of parliamentary debate, in what was – and still is – the most scrutiny that any bill has had in the history of Parliament.

Lansley was sacked less than a year and a half after his nuanced apology in Liverpool. His ambition to reconfigure the NHS, nine years in the making, had derailed the coalition, stultified and appalled vast swathes of the NHS and, ultimately, cost him his job. He left a toxic legacy within the NHS profession towards the Conservative-led coalition, with the more affable Jeremy Hunt moved into place with the (sole) brief to dampen the NHS as an election issue.

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Ignore the teenage scribblers on the left, Keir Starmer has got this

23/12/2020, 10:36:38 PM

by David Talbot

As dusk falls on the most punishing of years, the political fortunes of the Government has oscillated from “a fantastic year for Britain” to Christmas being cancelled across a country decimated by COVID-19, economic collapse at home, ostracisation abroad and uniform exhaustion at life being halted as we know it.

For the Prime Minister, who ushered in the New Year with what can now rightly be seen as one of the most macabre of reassurances, his bombastic optimistic, jingoism and bravado – which were all either once lauded or played significantly to his base – have become his wickeder traits as reality finally catches up with his fantasies and self-obsession.

For the Labour Party, the direction of travel has been diametrically opposed but no less difficult.
Jeremy Corbyn’s influence on the Labour Party had been profound. Corbyn, and Corbynism, was ushered into a party rootless after 13 years of power and the failure of Ed Miliband to carve out distinct ground to the left of his predecessors, whilst still appeasing a membership and trade union base yearning for “transformative” policies. The 2019 election result was the final sorry denouement to that particular thought exercise.

Labour has now been out of power for 10 years, half of that time under Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership. The hegemony that he held over the party, particularly post the 2017 general election defeat, has now been ceded.

One of the many early tasks for the new Labour leader, Sir Keir Starmer, was to establish himself before anyone else could define him.

The Conservatives’ inability to define and sustain a line of attack on the Labour leader is self-evident; he most obviously is not, for one, a far-left sympathiser of Jeremy Corbyn, nor is he – as has been highlighted to no great joy – Captain Hindsight.

Starmer rightly recognised early on in his leadership that he needed to earn the trust of the British public to be listened to again. It involves a long-term commitment to listening to and understanding why communities moved away from a party historically created to represent them.

Policies are, of course, important in politics. But so are people. Labour presented a dazzling array of policies at the general election last year which, whilst collectively popular, were holed by a complete lack of credibility and competence by those espousing them.

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Corbyn’s toxic legacy lingers on in Unite

08/10/2020, 10:43:56 PM

by David Talbot

The seeds of Unite the Union’s recent act of self-immolation were sown in early 2018. In an article for the New Statesman, Len McCluskey opined that Labour MPs who were hostile to Jeremy Corbyn’s then leadership were using antisemitism as part of a “sustained smearing” campaign against the embattled Labour leader. Praising “the great advances” made in the previous year’s general election, the party’s third historic defeat in a row, he vowed that Corbyn’s critics would have to face the consequences.

The following morning the then shadow Brexit Secretary, and now leader of the Labour Party, Keir Starmer, popped up on the Today programme to disavow the party of the General Secretary’s comments. It was “obvious” the party had a sustained problem with antisemitism, Starmer said, and that “denying the problem is part of the problem.”

McCluskey, for all his written word to the contrary, has a repeated history of lashing out against opponents of antisemitism in the Labour Party. A longstanding Jewish Labour Member of Parliament, Margaret Hodge, was “disgraceful and despicable”, British Jewish leaders demonstrated “truculent hostility” and he was “disappointed” in the Jewish Labour Movement when it published a dossier full of testimonies of antisemitism in the party, noting rather darkly that it “doesn’t support Jeremy Corbyn”.

McCluskey had his rematch with Starmer over Rebecca Long-Bailey’s sacking from the Shadow Cabinet in June, calling the left’s fallen protégé sacking “an unnecessary overreaction to a confected row”.

In August, the Unite leader laid the foundations for this week’s announcement telling the Observer that he was infuriated with the Labour leader’s decision to pay substantial damages to seven former party staff who had appeared in the BBC’s Panorama documentary. As the Board of Deputies has rightly noted, it is both ironic and deeply shameful that the leader of a trade union should so disparage and attack party workers for the treatment they endured at the hands of their employers.

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Labour must beware the Tories’ ‘Miliband minority’ attack line – it worked before, it could work again

30/09/2020, 10:53:48 PM

By David Talbot

The country has become rather used to going to the polls. Three times in four years, no less. The hattrick of recent elections ushered in a Conservative majority for the first time in 23 years. The Conservatives were successful in turning the 2015 election into a de facto referendum on a minority Labour government. The attacks on Labour’s supposed dependence on the SNP gained wider resonance because of voters’ deeper suspicion of its leader and the party he led, but the Conservatives’ campaign created a palpable fear of a minority Miliband.

Fast forward two elections and Brexit has created a remarkable Conservative alliance. By making people’s identity, and the values they hold, the central tenet of the past four years of British politics, the Conservative party has fundamentally reinvented itself from Cameron’s modish liberalism.

From its traditional affluent, Shire-dwelling support to ripping through the Red Wall, it has taken the party to the highwater mark of British politics: 14 million votes. This is in and around the number of votes the Labour Party must achieve if it is to win the 2024 election.

The government’s electoral coalition, although mighty, is unstable. That is why it will continue to focus on socially conservative signalling and policies on law and order, national security and cack-handed attempts to reheat Brexit’s culture wars.

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“Incompetence” is the most dangerous word in politics. Boris beware

20/08/2020, 10:45:53 PM

by David Talbot

In the Autumn of 2007, a resurgent Labour Party, galvanised by Gordon Brown’s elevation to Number Ten, met in Bournemouth buoyant at the prospect of an early general election. Under the banner ‘The strength to succeed’ Brown had spent the first few months of his ultimately doomed premiership reassuring the nation. From donning his wellies in flooded, predominantly Conservative-dwelling, shires, to soothing the nation following terrorist attacks in Glasgow and London, Brown’s early brand was based on solidity and, most of all, competence.

The problem of creeping incompetence usually arises towards the end of a government’s life, when Ministers are tired and a smell of decay whiffs through the air. But this government has developed a competence problem after merely a year in office.

COVID-19 was not, of course, the design of Boris Johnson’s government but its response to it has been lamentable and incompetent in the extreme. It squandered two precious months to prepare the nation, its much vaunted “world beating” track and trace system is a disgrace, it failed to protect frontline NHS staff through the heat of the pandemic, and it turned the nation’s care homes into breeding grounds for a disease whose mortality is intertwined with those aged 65 years and above.

From surcharges for migrant NHS workers, school meal vouchers for the nation’s most vulnerable schoolchildren to levelling down students’ futures, this government has exuded wanton incompetence in every nuance of an increasingly desperate defences. Even on its flagship raison d’être, Brexit, its “oven ready” deal has been strangely aloof since it was lauded every day for two months late last year.

Johnson’s limitations have been well-known and widespread for years; his disorganisation, his lack of attention to detail, his bluster and bumbling incompetence. In politics, if you take an ideological stance it will always mean you lose someone. But develop a reputation for incompetence, and you lose everybody.

And it is on this ground that Sir Keir Starmer has staked his early strategy. Through demonstrating competence, severely lacking for years under the previous administration, Labour has at last emerged as a serious party determined on seeking power. It is easy to see why this attribute is so important to Labour, not only as a core prerequisite for any party seeking power, but through polling – such as the Observer last month on the perceptions of the two party’s leaders:

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Covid has put the NHS front and centre. But Labour needs to beware, 2019 showed that support for the NHS does not equal votes for Labour

12/06/2020, 09:45:56 PM

by David Talbot

On the morning after consigning the Labour Party to a fourth and devastating general election defeat, the Prime Minister addressed the nation from the steps of Downing Street. In the early glow of election victory, Boris Johnson informed the party faithful and, more importantly, the millions of converted Labour voters that the “NHS is this One Nation government’s top priority”.

Jeremy Corbyn and the Labour Party had tried awfully hard during the preceding six weeks to make the NHS the central focus of the election. Chants of “not for sale!” reverberated around campaign rallies as a dossier exposing the “secret agenda” to sell off the NHS to US corporations was thrust into the heart of the campaign.

It was easy to understand Labour’s desire to move the debate from the Conservatives’ favoured ground of Brexit, and its pithy slogan, to the one policy area the party led on. Indeed, at the start of the campaign, the NHS was cited by more (60%) of the population than Brexit (56%) as the most important issue facing the nation. 68% of Labour’s 2017 voters also named the NHS as their number one priority, and Labour retained a lead, albeit small, on the party best placed to protect the health service.

The NHS was not only an important election issue, but it united a party which was allergic about talking about Brexit and acted as a galvanising vehicle for activists to campaign upon, whilst gnawing at the Conservative’s traditional Achilles’ heel.

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