DAN HODGES: Labour’s big idea? Bludgeon us into submission with gobbledegook… The closer Keir Starmer gets to power, the further he retreats into managerial double-speak
Judge us on our plan, Keir Starmer said, as he unveiled the grand strategy he believes will transport him and his party into power.
We’d love to, Sir Keir, we really would. But at the moment there isn’t a plan.
Yes, there are some vague ambitions. Actually, some ambitious ambitions. A pledge to deliver the highest growth in the G7. To make Britain’s streets safe. To ‘break down barriers to opportunity’. But in terms of the detail of how these lofty goals will be realised, answer comes there none.
When Labour’s leader was first elected, his allies boasted about his ‘forensic’ communications skills, finely honed as a barrister and the Director of Public Prosecutions. Yet the closer he gets to power, the further he retreats into abstraction and managerial double-speak.
The solution to Britain’s problems is, according to Sir Keir, a government that is ‘more agile, empowering, catalytic’.
The solution to Britain’s problems is, according to Sir Keir, a government that is ‘more agile, empowering, catalytic’
For years the nation has been in a ‘crouched position’. If he is handed the keys to No 10, he will deliver ‘an answer to the widespread call to “fix the fundamentals”. A long-term plan to unlock our pride and purpose. A profound statement of intent.’
And it may well be that when Sir Keir pops into his local supermarket in Kentish Town he is assailed by people imploring him to deliver ‘a profound statement of intent’.
But in the rest of the country, people would prefer to know how he’s going to stop the small boats. Or help them keep their heating on. Or make sure they can get a face-to-face appointment with their GP. For some reason Sir Keir and his advisers thought they would prefer a stream of psychobabble about how he would ‘make clear what is mission-critical for my government’.
When he was challenged over this ‘verbiage’ by the BBC’s Amol Rajan yesterday, Sir Keir tetchily responded that the precise wording of his ‘five missions’ was unimportant.
But they underline why Starmer is finding it so difficult to transform antipathy towards the Government into excitement and enthusiasm for his own project. Whatever his faults, Tony Blair proved a master at packaging his New Labour offer in a way that was accessible to the average British voter.
Based on yesterday’s performance, Labour’s strategy is to bludgeon them into submission with intellectual gobbledegook.
Which isn’t to say that the address wasn’t instructive. For a period last year, Sir Keir had fire in his belly. As the Truss administration soared, then fell like an imploding star, he seemed to realise victory was in his grasp.
He began to roll out a series of bold pronouncements on immigration, trans rights and disruptive climate protesters. But now he seems to have calculated that grabbing for the seals of office is an unnecessary effort. Before yesterday, the line from shadow ministers was that complacency was the enemy.
When he was challenged over this ‘verbiage’ by the BBC’s Amol Rajan yesterday, Sir Keir tetchily responded that the precise wording of his ‘five missions’ was unimportant
But in the run-up to his speech, Starmer’s spin-doctors were briefing that he would unveil a ‘ten-year vision’. Which reflects his view that not only is the next general election basically in the bag, but so is the one after that.
There was something else that was revealing. Namely, that he is banking on the fact the British people have spent the past three years totally ignoring everything he’s been saying.
When he ran for leader, he unveiled not a paltry five mission statements like yesterday – but ten cast-iron pledges.
They ranged from ‘a prevention of military intervention act’ to ‘common ownership of rail, mail, energy and water’. Each of those commitments has been ditched. But for a reason he hasn’t yet been able to articulate, everyone is meant to believe his most recent commitments will be honoured.
Some have compared his promises to Ed Miliband’s ill-fated ‘Ed Stone’ initiative. But at least Miliband cast those commitments in stone. It’s legitimate to ask why anyone should assume Sir Keir’s promises are worth the paper they haven’t been written on.
Some have compared his promises to Ed Miliband’s ill-fated ‘Ed Stone’ initiative
Make no mistake, Sir Keir’s strategy will probably work. The polls indicate the voters’ faith in Rishi Sunak has already been tested to breaking point. But those voters still have a right to ask what they can expect from the man who is likely to be their next prime minister.
And it’s clear from today they will not get an answer. Between now and the election, Keir Starmer will be asked increasingly detailed questions about his plan for government.
And he will deploy an increasingly sophisticated strategy for dodging them. Abstraction. Obfuscation. Entreaties to ‘wait for the manifesto’.
So the British people will wait. For Keir Starmer to tell them what he will actually do if they entrust him with power. And on the basis of yesterday, they will wait in vain.
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