Keir Starmer’s 14,000-word essay tells us all about the control he has over his party
For starters, it’s not a bad idea for a political leader to put some of their fundamental and defining thoughts on paper. This has already been done several times: just think of “The Future of Socialism” by Anthony Crossland or “In Place of Fear” by Nye Bevan – books which have placed their authors at the forefront of left-wing intellectual discourse. and helped define the main currents of the left. wing thought.
And they were much longer than the modest 14,000 words Keir Starmer would have committed in a Fabians pamphlet due out ahead of Labor’s annual conference later this month.
Of course, neither Bevan nor Crossland ever managed to be the leader of their party, let alone the prime minister, although many in the Labor ranks would like to. Perhaps a better comparison, therefore, for Starmer’s literary endeavor would be “Making Our Way,” Neil Kinnock’s 1986 book promoting his vision of a Britain re-energized by a new commitment to manufacturing. and the economic growth and wealth that such a commitment could unleash. .
Maybe you’ve never heard of it? And therein lies the problem.
No political leadership can be defined by a pamphlet, newspaper article or book. Starmer (like Kinnock, for that matter) has suffered extraordinary bad luck since his election as party leader, just weeks after the first lockdown in 2020. It seems unfair to blame him personally for not setting fire to political heather when the whole political narrative has been entirely focused on Number 10’s efforts to contain an unprecedented and economically shattering pandemic.
But (again, as Kinnock found out) politics isn’t fair. A year and a half into his tenure, Starmer has made little serious progress in pitching his team as an alternative to Boris Johnson’s government and time is running out to change people’s perception of him as an apparatchik. lackluster and managerial with little politics. instinct and a catastrophic deficit of charisma.
The Labor leader’s use of a pamphlet is therefore reasonable and understandable. The criticism has already been made by some of the usual suspects in his own parliamentary party that no one will read it. This is largely true: it will be read by some (few) Labor MPs, by researchers working for Labor opponents and by journalists seeking to summarize its content for their readers.
In other words, Starmer will be relying on other people, not all of them friendly, to spread his core beliefs to the nation. While this is inevitable, it would be a mistake to imagine that the brochure will have any major impact on how the electorate perceives its author. To prove it, consider the events that shaped Kinnock’s image in the eyes of voters. His 1985 conference speech denouncing Militant would likely come out on top in any poll of Kinnock’s greatest hits, perhaps followed closely by Hugh Hudson’s 1987 election show “Kinnock The Movie” and, for those of a less generous nature, the photo of him falling on his butt on a beach in Brighton in 1983.
Consider the moments that defined Tony Blair’s leadership in opposition: his first conference speech in 1994 in which he announced (sort of) the removal of Clause IV from the party’s constitution, his subsequent commitment to it. of ‘education, education, education’ as the next Labor Party are the government’s top three priorities, and perhaps its previous commitment as shadow Home Secretary to be ‘tough on crime and hard against the causes of crime ”.
Even John Smith’s short-lived leadership provided at least a few dramatic defining moments: his masterful destruction of John Major’s economic capabilities following Britain’s departure from the European Exchange Rate Mechanism (ERM) on Wednesday. black ”in 1992 and his provocative (and ultimately successful) stand at the 1993 labor conference against the unions’ attempt to frustrate its plans to reform the party’s internal democracy.
If any of them had been suggested to try to define their leadership in a brochure, they would have been dismissive.
The key to all of the above examples is not only that these were televised events (although this is vital), but that most of them involved questioning previous assumptions of their party, to show courage and leadership and to take a risk in doing so.
Of course, none of them have had to lead the party under the same bizarre circumstances Starmer finds himself in now and the country. Unfortunately for him, even the pandemic hasn’t changed the rules of politics. By all means, write the brochure. At best, this will translate into some decent newspaper reviews that barely get read by more people than the original document. What Starmer really needs is some drama, something that will grab the attention of those who already wrote him off or at least got bored of him.
He has to take a stand against … anyone, anyone. The cry rises, “When will Starmer start opposing the government?” But that misses the point. All the oppositions attack the government: it is their job and it is expected. Starmer desperately needs that “Huh?” Moment when the attention of your average non-Labor voter is unexpectedly caught by something Starmer has said that has looked up from his phone or newspaper to pay attention.
Starmer’s predecessors defined themselves against their party or at least one wing of it. And they probably had less reason to do so than Starmer today.
If he doesn’t do it now; if instead of tackling anti-Semitism, bigotry, intolerance and anti-democratic instincts head-on the left lasts in Labor’s own ranks – in other words, if it opts for a life quiet – then he will be judged accordingly.
A brochure just isn’t going to cut it. But Keir Starmer probably already knows that.