ANDREW PIERCE: All stardust gone… and now he’s on a journey to nowhere
As they tried desperately to attract the attention of the nation yesterday, Sir Keir Starmer’s aides promised that the Labour leader was about to unveil the most radical policy agenda since the Beveridge Reforms that reshaped Britain after the Second World War.
Alas, it was not to be.
Few pulses were set racing by yet another faintly wooden speech from an ex-lawyer whose reserves of stardust appear to be dwindling.
Sir Keir Starmer’s (pictured) aides promised that the Labour leader was about to unveil the most radical policy agenda since the Beveridge Reforms that reshaped Britain after the Second World War
Rattled by the increasingly noisy talk –much of it from former admirers – that suggests a ‘policy-light’ Starmer has no over-arching vision for the country, Labour apparatchiks had hoped the speech, grandly titled A New Chapter for Britain, would mark the political and economic dividing lines between the two main parties for the next decade.
Starmer, it was claimed, was going to be as ‘bold’ as Clement Attlee, whose post-war government created the NHS and welfare state.
In the end there were just two major initiatives: Start-up loans for 100,000 new businesses and so-called British Recovery Bonds.
The first idea was trailed as far back as 2012 by then Tory chancellor George Osborne. The second – which would see savers lend their money to the Government in return for a competitive interest rate, the cash used to rebuild the country post-Covid – was floated in the Daily Mail two weeks ago and is a pet policy of the Thatcherite think-tank the Centre for Policy Studies.
Two sensible-sounding ideas, but I very much doubt that they will be enough to change Starmer’s political fortunes.
Starmer, it was claimed, was going to be as ‘bold’ as Clement Attlee (pictured), whose post-war government created the NHS and welfare state
Digitally restored war propaganda poster. This vintage World War II poster features factory workers and a soldier charging into battle with his rifle
A new poll gives Boris Johnson a 16-point lead – for Starmer, a dismal result at this stage in the electoral cycle after 120,000 Britons have lost their lives during the pandemic and as the country faces its worst economic crisis for 300 years. So why isn’t he cutting through?
One clue is provided by last month’s leaked strategy document, prepared by an external agency, which revealed that Labour voters were confused about ‘what we stand for… and who we represent’.
The proposed solution was for Starmer to appear more frequently beside the Union flag to ‘change the party’s body image’ – a move likely to appeal to the ‘red wall’ of working-class voters, especially in the north of England, captured by the Tories in the last election.
The flag-waving soon looked rather hollow, however, after a 2005 film emerged of Starmer admitting: ‘I often used to propose the abolition of the monarchy.’
The first idea was trailed as far back as 2012 by then Tory chancellor George Osborne (pictured in 2015)
In his leadership campaign, he positioned himself as the candidate who would end the civil war between Corbynites and Labour moderates. He won praise last year when he withdrew the whip from Jeremy Corbyn in the ongoing anti-Semitism row. Yet now the party’s hard Left is again agitating for control. Unlike Tony Blair, who relied heavily on his ‘old Left’, straight-talking deputy John Prescott, Starmer’s number two is the lightweight Angela Rayner, widely seen as coming from the ‘soft Left’, just as he does.
Starmer initially won praise at Prime Minister’s Questions with his understated forensic approach, honed in his former role as Director of Public Prosecutions. The style contrasted with Boris’s ‘bluster’.
In his leadership campaign, he positioned himself as the candidate who would end the civil war between Corbynites and Labour moderates. Pictured, Jeremy Corbyn
But to the horror of Starmer’s supporters, Boris is increasingly getting the upper hand in the Commons. A case in point came last month when Boris skewered Starmer over his support for the EU’s disastrous vaccine procurement. A tetchy Starmer shouted across the Chamber: ‘The PM knows I’ve never said that, from this despatch box or anywhere else!’
Within an hour Starmer had to issue a grovelling retraction.
The Tory jibe that Starmer is ‘Captain Hindsight’, repeatedly claiming that a certain policy was ‘obvious’ after the fact, has also started to stick.
Earlier this week the political strategist Tom Kibasi, a key figure in Starmer’s leadership campaign, said his leadership was on a ‘journey to nowhere’.
‘If Starmer were to depart as leader tomorrow he would not leave a trace of a meaningful project in his wake,’ he added.
The so-called landmark speech yesterday will do nothing to change that brutal assessment.
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