As somebody who traditionally votes Labour, I found it impossible to vote for them in recent years. Following the Corbyn experiment – which also initially filled me with a little optimism that was clearly misplaced (so read what follows in the same vein) – I was not especially expecting to find Keir Starmer particularly better. Certainly different, but almost certainly not better.
It is hard to imagine how an arch-remainer was going to go anywhere to winning back the lost ‘red wall’ constituencies. It was difficult to see how a lawyer from the South East was going to go any of the way to resolving the problem. But Maurice Glasman recently wrote a piece for Unherd that I think offers some real reasons for optimism.
Here are some of the reasons he offers. Speaking of the Conservatives missing what was going on in relation to Starmer he says:
They didn’t notice when he said that the issue of Brexit had been resolved and Labour supported leaving the EU by the end of the year. The biggest issue in British politics had dissolved into a previous era and the Covid response was centre stage. They didn’t notice when Rebecca Long-Bailey was sacked and all links with the Corbyn camp were severed. They didn’t notice the hundreds of letters of suspension that went out to people who had said strange things about Jews. They didn’t notice that he was writing articles on VE day in the Telegraph, on Memorial Sunday in the Mail and whenever he liked in the Sun — an act considered treachery by Labour leaders for more than a decade. They didn’t notice that he was tapping into a form of modest Labour patriotism that once had deep roots in the Party, and still does in the country.
He goes on to point out:
His credo was that “the greatest contribution we can make is to care for one another”. This puts relationships at the centre of it, and to emphasise that, he followed it up with the wish to live in “a country in which we put family first”. He actually used the word joy and family in the same sentence — I can’t remember any other Labour leader doing so. He spoke about Grandparents, and sacrifice, care workers, cleaners, shop workers, life savers.
He spoke about trust being lost and concentrating on security, jobs and community. He concluded with the thought that “the conservatives don’t conserve very much”. Which has the virtue of truth.
He did talk of a plan. It was related to the economy and skills. He spoke about a partnership between businesses and trade unions in a clean economy that “didn’t force people to move hundreds of miles to find a decent job”. The idea of regional economic renewal based upon a partnership between business, workers and the state was precisely the ‘plan’ the Government was elected on. Starmer’s stress on the “everyday economy” gives a clue to its future development. And if Labour has a plan, it is already ahead of the Government.
Keir Starmer is not the first Labour leader to engage with this language and politics, but each of them dissolved back into a default globalisation and none could halt the long term decline of Labour in its heartlands. What Starmer’s speech did do was to dispel the idea that Labour will only fight on the issue of competence. In defining the party in terms of patriotism,”the country I love”, in terms of the ethics of care, for people and for nature, in terms of family, sacrifice and community, Starmer has given an intimation that his ‘plan’ goes much deeper than that.
Maybe there is some hope for Labour. We can wait and see what happens but Glasman believes there are reasons for optimism. I think he might (maybe) be right.