In Starmer’s article in the Sunday Telegraph he praised Margaret Thatcher because she “sought to drag Britain out of its stupor by setting loose our natural entrepreneurialism.” Of course, a Labour leader praising Thatcher in a Tory rag was bound to draw criticism from the left and the right. And so all the headlines have revolved around that. Starmer has tried to clarify what he meant in a BBC interview in which he said that he had praised Thatcher’s “mission” and “driving sense of purpose”. He insisted that his article “doesn’t mean I agree with what she did”.
This sums up the modern Labour Party perfectly. Given a thousand words in the Sunday Telegraph to appeal to Tory voters, he tries to cover all bases by also invoking Blair and Attlee. Nobody is fooled when, yet again, Labour loyalists are wheeled out to explain why what he said was different from what he meant.
If we look at the substance of the article (if substance is not too strong a word for his meanderings), the message is clear.
Britain is failing. It is the Tories’ fault because they are drifting with no sense of purpose (unlike Thatcher). They have wasted billions of our money and left the public finances in a mess. Sorting out that mess will mean obeying fiscal rules (aka Austerity). You can trust Labour because we have got rid of Corbyn. At the last election you rejected socialism and so have we. Labour will act tough on immigration instead of just talking tough like the Tories. He goes on to repeat the racist trope that immigrants are driving down wages, when it was he who insisted that public sector wage claims were unaffordable, and ends with a Trumpian promise for the country “to get back to greatness”.
In a widely leaked speech to the Resolution foundation on Monday, Starmer insisted that he would not “turn on the spending taps”. Rachel Reeves has already said there will be no new taxes or borrowing commitments. Government spending will only grow as a result of economic growth, a highly unlikely prospect without significant government spending on infrastructure. So don’t expect any reversal of the public sector cuts announced in Jeremy Hunt’s autumn statement.
If this is supposed to win over Tory voters, it isn’t going to work. Judging by the comments beneath his article in the Telegraph, most readers rightly think he will say anything to get power and is not to be trusted. For the hard right in the Tory Party, immigration is important — but they are more likely to abstain or switch to Nigel Farage’s Reform UK who are now third in the polls on 11%, just ahead of the Lib Dems.
In the country as a whole anti-Tory sentiment is stronger than any enthusiasm for Starmer. That may be enough for him to win a general election, but on present evidence he has nothing to offer that will make a difference to the things that really affect voters like the NHS, cost of living crisis, housing crisis and crumbling schools. In fact they will probably get worse.
By invoking Thatcher, Blair and Attlee, all Starmer has done is remind us that in comparison he really is a squalid mediocrity.
Life long socialist. Now retired, I have been an office junior, a bookseller, a docker and a teacher. I write a lot and read a lot more. Committed member of the Society of Authors, English PEN and the National Education Union. Never voting Labour again.