Is Starmer another John Smith?

Now I’m a Liberal who had some time for John Smith as Labour Leader; I thought he had something about him even though I had little time for his party. That someone should compare him to Keir Starmer struck me as more than a little odd as to me Starmer as Labour leader has been quite a big disappointment. I’d thought that when he was seemingly reluctantly running along with Corbyn that there was far more about him than has subsequently been shown since he became Labour’s leader.

So what about the article that got me thinking about how on earth Starmer could possibly be another Smith? Here’s a substantial extract from it

When talking about Keir Starmer, think of John Smith – by Mark Pack

The parallels between former Labour Party leader John Smith and current leader Keir Starmer are striking.

Both took up post after four Labour general election defeats in a row (1979-1992 and then 2010-19). Both succeeded a Labour leader whose personal ratings had a positive burst but had fallen into persistent negative territory by the end (Kinnock, then Corbyn). Both themselves had not only been a leading member of the Shadow Cabinet prior to the last Labour defeat, they had even held the post central to the key issue seen at the heart of that defeat. Brexit for Starmer, the economy for Smith. On becoming leader, both addressed a major internal issue that had been seen as costing Labour votes (anti-Semitism with Starmer, the union block vote and move to OMOV for Smith). But beyond that, both also were modest in the extent to which they set out to change their party or its policies. Both looked to have an approach to winning the next general election of, ‘Let the government mess up while I’ll show that I’m not my predecessor’. One more heave rather than one big revolution.

Whether this would have worked for John Smith, tragically we will never know. The plaudits given to him after his early death from a heart attack in 1994 were of the sort any of us should be honoured to receive. If you or I receive even an echo of such fulsome words, we will have led a good life. For all Smith’s many positives, the one thing left hanging unresolved is whether or not he was a good leader of the Labour Party. Had he set the course for victory or was he going to turn out to be too timid to win? We’ll never know.

With Starmer, we will. For there are two competing stories waiting for historians to pick between them. One is of Starmer the triumphant, who wisely realised that oppositions don’t win elections but governments lose them. So he made clear he was not his highly unpopular predecessor and other than that mostly kept out of the way, doing little radical and letting the government destroy itself. The other is of Starmer the timidly defeated, who turned out to have nothing much to do or say beyond, ‘I’m not Corbyn and I’m opposed to anti-Semitism’, and who then went down to defeat as the Conservative Party pulled itself together when the general election neared.

Either could yet be true.’

Well yes I get the parallels but Starmer’s too right wing for me. Yes I know, he’s desperate to get his white working class right wing supporters back who voted Tory in December 2019 and virtually everything he does is a dance to their tune but that’s certainly putting off progressives in spades too. He’s not willing to embrace electoral reform/fair votes, he opposes Universal Basic Income (UBI) which is the only real way to seriously tackle poverty and he led his party to support Johnson’s appalling Brexit Deal. As I say there’s nothing to warm the heart of a progressive there what so ever!

So for me Starmer is no John Smith

Progressive politics in the UK is desperately short of leaders and that’s important because for the Conservative’s majority to be overturned* it’s going to take a huge joint effort by Labour, Lib Dems and Greens in some way working together rather than in opposition to each other. For that to happen credible leaders need to be found whom progressives can coalesce around. The alternative is more years of populist right wing government and if that’s not enough to sober up anti-Conservatives I don’t know what is.

* Labour’s usual route to a majority, via Scotland, went west when they were all but wiped out by the SNP.

Labour’s dilemma – Class based V Progressive Politics

Labour is trying to pull back into its fold the right wing white working class voters who voted Tory at the last General Election. This despite the fact that these voters can often hold views which would embarrass a truly progressive party – This is summed up by Jim Hancock who says this in one of his recent blog pieces (Hancock’s Half Page):-

‘Sir Keir’s statement that “we love our country” was really important. For Labour to have any hope of regaining its northern strength, it must recognise the deep patriotism of the working class.’

To me that deep patriotism sadly often proclaims itself as racism, anti-Semitism, pro-Brexit, anti-gay, anti-Muslim etc. etc.

At the same time Labour’s also looking to bring on board real progressives who certainly reject the views outlined above but who, like the working class backers, became disillusioned with the party in recent years mainly due to the party’s fence sitting over Brexit and its anti-Semitism problems.

And thereby hangs Labour’s dilemma; trying to appeal to progressives and regressives at the same time. Under Tony Blair they achieved it although more I think by ignoring their white working class supporters (whom I’m sure must have been a huge embarrassment to Blair, whilst he still needed their votes) than by currying favour with them.

Starmer, who certainly does not have Blair’s charismatic qualities, therefore has a huge task on his hands. And if you add into that heady mix the fact that Labour has been almost wiped out in Scotland the task gets all the more difficult with Labour, like the Lib Dems, being a unionist party when the Scots are moving further towards independence.

My point in writing this posting is that Labour needs the Lib Dems to be successful just as much as Lib Dems need Labour to be successful. They’ve tried going toe to toe and it gave the Tories a free hand so they’ve got to do just the opposite and find a way not to fight each other in those seats where doing so simply hands seats to the Tories.

Yes I know that in many policy areas the Libs will continue be to the left of and more progressive then Labour. That’s just been highlighted by the Libs backing UBI & Labour rejecting it. And of course Labour traditionally has wanted to fight the Libs probably more than the Tories because they’re another left wing sect they want out of their way. However, unless the two parties want a re-run of the terrible campaigns which Corbyn and Swinson delivered in December 2019 then they’re going to have to find a way to live with each other as Blair and Ashdown did.

And yes I know it’s our appalling electoral system that creates this need to co-operate between two very different parties but without that co-operation then you know what the probable outcome could well be – yes that’s right another Tory Government!

But Labour’s USP has always been that they are not the Tories and maybe not being the Tories is all that’s needed now? If so it explains why Labour’s all but a policy vacuum; they stand for nothing much at all but they’re not Tories.

When political parties all go wrong at the wrong/same time

The more I think about the 2019 General Election the more I realise what a terrible choice the British public had on offer in terms of potential Prime Ministers. On that basis is it any wonder they picked (with the more than significant help from our warped electoral system) the politician to lead them who is probably best summed up as a populist entertainer.

If Corbyn had been really credible he would have won in 2017. That he didn’t and went down hill from there makes you wonder what on earth the Labour Party was doing keeping him on as they must have known they were on the road to nowhere with him. And so it proved with a shocking electoral performance in December 2019 – Labour losing many seats to a Tory Party under the leadership of someone that no one trusted.

The Tories had been in a right old mess ever since David Cameron found himself calling the EU Referendum having surprisingly gained a majority in 2015; a majority which privately he must have very much hoped not to have for it forced his hand to go where he did not want to go with the EU.

The Lib Dems recovered some ground in terms of vote share in 2019 but bizarrely ended the election with one seat less than they won in 2017. Our wonderful NOT electoral system at work of course. But their leader Jo Swinson proved not to be an asset to the Party as on balance she wasn’t liked by voters and yes I do realise there will sadly have been some misogynist views at play in her downfall.

And then within a couple months a huge crisis envelopes the world, one that the UK reacted to far too slowly and which because of our obsession with austerity we have been incapable of addressing well. Here we are 6 weeks after lockdown with only a few brave Tories willing to wave the flag for Boris Johnson; the rest of the population wondering how on earth we ended up where we are with a shockingly poor government at the very time we need a strong one.

Oh for an Obama, a Blair, a Merkel or a that wonderful young lady from New Zealand whom we all struggle to say the name of (Jacinda Ardern) in our hour of need, but true leaders in UK politics are hard to find anywhere. The blood letting in both the Tories (over Brexit) and Labour (over Brexit, antisemitism and Corbynism) has led to the loss of many credible politicians and the Lib Dems have failed to come up with a leader the public really can take to since the demise of Charles Kennedy. That someone as credible as Dominic Grieve has found himself unwelcome in the Tory Party or that Louise Ellman walked away from Labour tells us that our politics is far from healthy and that dogmatically driven sects are far too powerful in our two major political parties.

That Labour has finally sobered up is a given in that they’ve now elected a reasonably credible leader in Keir Starmer although the jury is clearly still out. He’s no charismatic leader and worryingly seems still wedded to too many of the faults within Corbynism such as Brexit (he opposes the transition period being extended). He needs to become a true progressive as Blair clearly was in his early years, before he fouled up big style over Iraq. Yes it’s hard as Labour’s core working class supporters can easily swing to the right into regressive politics (as they did to deliver Brexit) but if Blair could be progressive and keep them on side Starmer has to as well. It will be no good appeasing them by throwing in a few ‘hang ’em and flog ’em’ policies Keir.

As for the Lib Dems, who for reasons no one can quite get their heads around have contrived not to have an elected leader in place since the December 2019 GE, there is hope that someone like Layla Moran can come through to be a truly progressive Social Liberal Leader. I hope so as I want my Party to be placed not between the Tories and Labour but to the left of Labour on many social issues/policies as we were in Charles Kennedy’s day.

What will become of the Tory Party is a very big question indeed. You can’t see Johnson surviving or indeed wanting to survive as PM in the long term. His popularist entertainer position which he’s carved out over many years is clearly unsuited to a country in crisis as is his legendary personality fault-line of not doing detail.

Politically the UK is in a mess, England probably more so than the Scottish and Welsh devolved administrations. There’s room for some optimism but it will be a long road before our main 3 political parties become fit for purpose again.

Merseyside Labour – They didn’t learn Kinnock’s lesson so Starmer’s sent more learning pills

I’ve seen a number of social media postings from journalists, political commentators and politicians in the last couple of days regarding there being no Merseyside MP’s in Starmer’s new Shadow Cabinet.

Here’s my take on it. Merseyside Labour Party decided to indulge itself in another round of Militantism, only this time it was called Momentum/Corbynism. And just like the previous time (1980’s) they got slapped down; last time by Kinnock now by Starmer. It really is as simple as that.

Yes of course there will have been MP’s and indeed councillors who pretended to be Corbynistas to either avoid deselection or to garner favour from the former leader’s sect. But whilst that gave them cover during Corbyn’s time as top dog it created the very opposite at the end of his reign. So what do you do as a Social Democrat, centrist or moderate within Labour who decided to take Corbyn’s shilling? A sudden about face (not very credible) or more likely keep your head down for a while whilst slowly emerging with differing beliefs.

But of course that also works in reverse. If you were an ardent Corbynista, where do you go now? Walk away from a party which now seems to be all but embarrassed by by what it believed in until the electorate said not on your Nellie in December 2019. Alternatively, do you change your spots and start to cheer-lead for the new more moderate and very much establishment man at the helm?

So is it really any surprise that Starmer has calmly put Merseyside Labour on notice? No of course not. But will they learn. No of course not!

Progressives need to stop blaming the Tories for acting like Tories, it’s the failure of prgressive politics that has handed them power

There’s every danger that we progressives i.e. Libs, Greens and much of the Labour Party will continue to fall into the trap for the next 5 to 10 years of calling out our awful Tory Government for well, being Tories and doing what Tories do.

What we have to accept though is that because we could not put forward a credible progressive alternative to the Tories (and because our warped electoral system helped the Tories to win as usual) we invited the electorate to say to themselves ‘the Tories may be bad but they’re not as bad as the alternative/s’!

Corbynism has been an abject failure as it was always going to be and anyone still batting for it is in effect saying ‘we’d rather have a Tory government than sort ourselves out to become credible’. And those social democrats within the Labour Party who sat on their hands and said nothing whilst their own party was systematically ruining the chance of a progressive government your guilt is, in my view, the greatest. When Labour fails in the UK progressive politics usually follows it, Scotland being the obvious exception as Labour’s demise became the SNP’s chance to shine.

And of course we progressives love to kick lumps out of each other and blame other progressive parties for the failure of the left when actually we jointly hold the title of champions of delivering yet another Tory government because of our common unelectability cause.

The key to gaining an electable left of centre government is actually quite simple – progressive politics needs credible leaders that means no Corbyns and no Swinsons with their common hatred of each other seemingly being greater than their supposedly common cause against the Tories. And both Labour and Lib Dems need to sort out a credible working arrangement with the SNP by putting the issue of an independent Scotland to one side.

Then all the left of centre parties, including the Greens and Plaid Cymru, need to push for electoral reform and stand together on a pledge to implement it when a progressive government comes to power – no half hearted well maybe or squabbling about which form of PR brings the best advantage for each party, just do it. Oh and no Trudeau pledges on it either just to turn around and drop the pledge because no one can agree how to do it when it’s been in manifestos and power has been won. We’ll get one shot at it and if we fail it will be gone for another generation and the Tories will continue to be the party of government for at least two thirds of the time for ever more. Fair votes has to be a common cause for all progressives, those who claim to be progressives but who continue to back FPTP are actually not progressives at all but Tory enablers.

Who’s got the Momentum within the Labour Party?

The Liverpool Echo has the story on its website – see link below:-

www.liverpoolecho.co.uk/news/liverpool-news/anger-momentum-accused-ignoring-locals-17700135

Well that was an odd read in a number of ways. Firstly, why should anyone be surprised that a political organistion is seeking to influence things within the Party whose Leader that very organistion was created to back up? Secondly, is this not yet just another example of Labour’s internal difficulties with its warring factions trying to gain the ascendancy? Thirdly, this is politics in Liverpool, it’s always been ‘lively’ to be polite about it so let’s not be so shocked that Liverpool’s Momentum faction is at odds with their London comrades.

Let’s be honest if Liverpool Labour were not kicking lumps out of each other we would think there was something wrong!:-)