Tuesday, 2 February 2021

Suits You, Sir Keir!

Behind You! - The allegedly scruffy Jeremy Corbyn followed by Man in an Empty Suit

Reeling from a 7% swing to the Tories in the latest opinion poll, haemorrhaging members and money and struggling to be heard even in the silence of the depleted Covid Commons, Labour's leader Sir Keir Starmer has taken a leaf not so much from the Biden as the Trump Playbook to try to revive his flagging fortunes.

In the true spirit of neoliberalism and new Nu-Labour, a leaked report recommends the party needs to "make use of the (union) flag, veterans and dress smartly". 

In an unsurprising triumph of form over content, the report from the party's Research team has found that after nearly a year of the startled Starmer regime, the vast majority of voters have no idea what the party is about or what it stands for. Possibly seeking to consolidate this vacuum, the proposal seems that the party should become even more indistinguishable from the Conservative Government, to whom Sir Keir has repeatedly leant his support or, failing that, his abstention on issue after issue through their dreadful mishandling of the coronavirus pandemic.

Supposedly intending to hold Boris Johnson to account via his lawyerly "forensic questioning", he has rarely landed so much as a light smack on the fingers to the Old Etonian prefect as now over 106,000 citizens have died. The supposedly lame Ed Miliband has been the only Labour frontbencher to come anywhere near embarrassing this laziest of Prime Ministers during these historic days, only to have to hand back in time for Starmer to try to outdo the Tories in demanding schools stay open in the face of union fears - until of course he heard Johnson was going to close them and so rushed out a closure demand just ahead of the PM's announcement.

Similarly, he has singularly failed to challenge the appalling nepotism and pork-barrel politics of this most corrupt of government and he has backslid on a raft of legislation. The latter has included notably supporting the Brexit Deal in spite of doggedly insisting on opposing the almost identical Theresa May deal two years ago and later dragging his party to supporting a second referendum - this latter step was a fatal move that drove millions of Labour voters over to the Tories and Brexit Party, shearing the party of dozens of seats. More recently and even more shockingly Starmer failed to oppose new powers granted to the espionage services including the right to torture and kill, in spite of his past fairly good record as a challenger for human rights in the courts. 

His time as Director of Public Prosecutions though perhaps pressaged his true or maybe changed self.  Quite aside from the failure to prosecute Jimmy Saville (not his direct decision, but on his watch), his tightening of the criteria for viable prosecutions for sexual assault led to a marked and immediate decline in rape prosecutions which remains the case today, a decade later.

But of course, the one thing that does seem to set the wooden knight aflame is attacking the Labour Left and in particular Jeremy Corbyn, now expelled from the Parliamentary Party (though readmitted to wider party membership by the National Executive Committee). In spite of campaigning for the leadership election on a promise of keeping the socialist, transformational policies of the Corbyn era, he and his Shadow Cabinet have now backed away from tax reform, from ending student fees and have even signalled a move away from the radical Green New Deal. Once the pandemic crisis is over, it seems only a matter of time before his Shadow Chancellor Annaliese Dodds will be out-austeritying the Tories on balancing the budget after the months of furloughing employees (a policy adopted by Sunak and Johnson after their one and only meeting with Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell in the early stages of the crisis).

So as he waves his flag and patronises veterans in his best pinstripe, Starmer seems unlikely to see the truths staring him in his seemongly ever-startled face: that when Labour previously embraced this Tory-lite strategy under Tony Blair, it was in the backwash of the collapse of the USSR and the "end of history", where voters were however uncertainly willing to accept neoliberalism and the benign guidance of the liberal "Political Class" in return for some meagre share of the Dream. 

But we are twenty years on now and Cool Britannia is buried under thick icy sheets of  personal debt, broken promises and shattered lives. The Tories have successfully played the new landscape by setting neighbours against neighbours and sharpening conflict everywhere. Even their ludicrous, vicious predatory purchase at above-the-odds prices of over seven times the quantity of covid vaccines needed to innoculate all of the UK has been driven by an attempt to stymmie other countries' efforts to vaccinate and save the lives of their citizens. 

Yet from Starmer, there is nothing. Some level of complaint that some things haven't been done well enough, or soon enough; or a bizarre notion that he can bring down Boris by pointing out some time or other that the PM muddled his figures - when anyone knows he can't even count his children properly but his voters don't care.

Just as Biden needs Bernie Sanders, AOC and others in the USA to drive him hard if the grievances that Trump leeched off are ever to be resolved, so here we need more than a Man in a Suit - especially this particular man (after all, even Corbyn managed to wear a suit with "for the many, not the few" pinstripes during the last General Election). Voters will not be won back by some well-scrubbed liberal with excess hair gel oozing his support for the incumbent. Rather, they want the transformational politics skewered in December 2019 by the vitriol of the billionaire press, the bias of the BBC and the rampage against their own party by the Labour Right - quietly among them, perhaps, Starmer himself with the more than obviously suicidal strategy of his insistence on Corbyn backing a second Brexit referendum.

Like the rest of the world, we are at a historic crossroads. The death and devastation of the pandemic demand something better than the "business-as-yesterday" Blairite revanchists. We do well to remember that the last time Labour lauded veterans in this way, it ended with scores of sons and daughters of some of the poorest communities in the UK lying dead or maimed in Iraqi deserts or on Afghan hills. True love of country, or of community, involves challenging its wrongs and making it into something better. It isn't about the flim-flam of waving flags and putting on a tie.

Above all, it isn't about being another Tory Party. We've already got one. And that's already more than enough.