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Keir Starmer’s moral vacuum Labour's ethical limits remain unclear

(Labour Party)


June 21, 2024   6 mins

Who is Sir Keir Starmer, really? It’s fairly clear that the British public have difficulty with this question. Although by now they’ve probably picked up that he’s the son of a toolmaker, much else remains obscure. On the face of it, he seems like a composite of clashing characteristics, as if found in a children’s mix-and-match book: the legs of a blokeish Sunday five-a-side player; the torso of a family man nipping off to B&Q; the head of a successful barrister. A poll last month asked which wild animal the politician most resembled, and concluded he’s one third tiger, one third skunk, and one third lizard — not even 100% mammal.

Partly you know who a politician is by what he says he wants, but here things get especially murky. As has been detailed by Jon Cruddas in his recent book, A Century of Labour, Starmer ran his 2020 leadership campaign by appearing to embody every historical Labour-associated tradition simultaneously. Liberalism, ethical socialism, pluralism, welfarism, and statism were all in the mix somewhere. Since then, to the fury of some who reluctantly supported his leadership, he has reneged on many of the more socialist-sounding pledges. Now nobody seems quite sure what role he is adopting any more.

Interpretations of his background commitments differ wildly. Peter Hitchens thinks he’s “far-Left” bordering on Trotskyism; Jordan Peterson predicts that should he win, Britain will be “Venezuela for 20 years”. The New Internationalist says Starmer is a “cold-hearted Blairite”, and Corbyn’s former advisor Andrew Murray scornfully dubs him a “centrist liberal”. Bequeathing us a particularly distressing image, George Galloway has declared that “Keir Starmer and Rishi Sunak are two cheeks of the same backside”. In terms of sheer range, then, Starmer appears to be the Cate Blanchett of British politics.

This week brought a new performance to pore over, in the form of a filmed walk-and-talk with Gary Neville in the Lake District, a location for Starmer family holidays when he was young. “How did you find this place?” marvelled an incredulous-sounding Neville, as if Sir Keir had hacked through dense jungle foliage rather than trundled up the M6 like everybody else.

Here again, though, the video signalled as little information as a plain white T-shirt worn on matchday. Along with a few repeated manifesto pledges, we learnt that the Labour leader puts “country first, party second”, believes in “action not words”, wants to “return politics to public service”, and is aiming for a “decade of national renewal, fixing the fundamentals”. On “day one, sleeves rolled up”, he plans to “hit the ground running”.

In fact, this is Starmer playing the fictional character created during focus groups before the Labour leadership election, as described in Deborah Mattinson’s book Beyond The Red Wall. In 2020, at the behest of influential policy group Labour Together, Mattinson drew together Northern town-dwelling former Labour voters (dubbed “Red Wallers”) and more prosperous city-based current Labourites (“Urban Remainers”). Each side was separately asked to create its ideal political party, complete with its top three possible leaders. Red Wallers chose Sir Alan Sugar, internet finance guru Martin Lewis, and Wetherspoons founder Tim Martin. Apparently unafraid of looking clichéd, the Urban Remainer team chose Michelle Obama, Hugh Grant, and “a young David Attenborough’”. The two teams were then brought back together in a “citizens’ jury” in order to thrash it all out.

Discussion began unpromisingly with Simon, an accountant from London, confiding: “I literally can’t believe that I’m spending a whole day in the same room as a group of people who’d like that awful Wetherspoon’s bloke to be Prime Minister.” Eventually, the whole group were able to come up with a joint wish list for party priorities. And it was one that noticeably skewed towards stereotypical Red Wall concerns: more investment in the NHS, housing, education, and police; getting tough on tax avoidance, and placing restrictions on immigration. The group’s ideal leader, meanwhile, would be someone who demonstrated “strong and purposeful leadership”, “winning back the disaffected” by “identifying a smaller number of defining policies”, and who did not “shy away from or fudge difficult or challenging issues but rather tackled them “head on”.

Mattison would eventually become Starmer’s Director of Strategy. Labour Together’s then-director, Morgan McSweeney, would become the party’s new campaign director and the mastermind of Starmerism. Four years later, a strong and purposeful Starmer entered stage right, jaw set and sleeves rolled-up, ready to hit the ground running on the NHS, housing, education, crime, tax avoidance, and immigration — as instructed.

Apart from suggesting that affluent urban liberals are pathetic pushovers in negotiations with working-class Northerners, what else can we glean from this episode? It seems that the chief aim of Starmerism is now to listen to what “working people” actually want and then try to give it to them. Guided by McSweeney, Starmer’s team reputedly eschews top-down technocracy, veering in a superficially communitarian direction. Liberal attitudes to immigration and radical social justice demands are out, while community and family and fairness are in: stop the boats, save the little platoons.

Some commentators are emphasising that despite — or perhaps because of — the ideological vagueness, the new ethos is neither populist nor paternalistic; it doesn’t whip the people up nor does it talk down to them, but rather treats them as sensible, decent, and best able to work out their own needs from the grassroots. And the approach is also being presented as pleasingly nimble in response to new events. The current director of Labour Together and a prospective Labour MP, Josh Simons, underscored the benefits of flexibility in an interview last month: “While you can and should draw on thinking and traditions, New Labour, Blue Labour, Old Right, or whatever, if you allow yourselves to be seduced into thinking that any one of those frames can generate the politics, strategy, and policy agenda that you need, then you’re probably not taking the novelty of this moment seriously enough.”

Compared to the fantasised projections of some politicians upon the electorate, this doesn’t necessarily sound bad. Still, it has obvious weak points. One issue is that, without an accompanying positive and well-articulated vision of what human flourishing looks like, communitarianism is only as Left-wing as the community whose desires are currently being accommodated; that is, it will be contingently on the Left of the political spectrum rather than essentially so. And perhaps more seriously, a lack of accompanying discussion about ethical values will leave the electorate chaotically chasing its own tail.

“A lack of accompanying discussion about ethical values will leave the electorate chaotically chasing its own tail.”

Voters won’t know what Starmer really stands for, because voters won’t know what they themselves really stand for. In his interview, Simons cited political philosopher Michael Sandel as a key influence on his current thinking. Yet one of Sandel’s insights is that you cannot divorce either politics or economics from underlying moral commitments and preferred values. To pretend these things are separate is to implicitly capitulate to a particular moral outlook anyway. To take an obvious example: decreeing that people should be free to do what they want without harming others downgrades the importance of inherited social bonds.

It seems to follow that Labour can’t do an electorate-chasing version of communitarianism without outsourcing its moral conscience in the attempt. Darker economic times even than present ones may soon be coming; and sensible and decent people sometimes get less so under duress. It would be good to have a concrete idea of what Labour’s moral limits are, expressed in plain terms.

And Sandel is also clear in his writing that a viable, explicitly morally inflected communitarianism which prioritises particular values over others requires genuine democratic participation to make it work. In reality, Britain is not just made up of salt-of-the-earth, Brexit-voting social conservatives, obviously. Hugh Grant lives here too. As in a scaled-up version of Mattinson’s citizen jury, ideally the opposing teams would thrash out their ethical differences in civic deliberation — not just because it would tell politicians what they might write into election pledges; but also because it would arguably bring greater clarity about personal values, increase social cohesion, and widen acceptance of any eventual policy outcomes too.

In the past few months, there have been rumours that Labour may introduce citizens’ assemblies for socially divisive issues, which would perhaps be a step in the right direction. Certainly, they need to do something. In the end, being vague about the party’s concrete ethical worldview, while deferring to the sensibleness of the British voter, just won’t be enough.

In Gabriel Pogrund and Patrick Maguire’s Left Out: The Inside Story of Labour Under Corbyn, an insider said of Starmer’s tricky stint as Shadow Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union: “He said he could only go as far as the rope would let him. He was constantly seeking to increase the radius in which he could roam.” If we are to be in charge of holding Starmer’s rope in future — and perhaps stopping him from increasing the radius, if needed — we had better find adequate ways of working out where the centre should be.


Kathleen Stock is an UnHerd columnist and a co-director of The Lesbian Project.
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Right-Wing Hippie
Right-Wing Hippie
27 days ago

Bequeathing us a particularly distressing image, George Galloway has declared that “Keir Starmer and Rishi Sunak are two cheeks of the same backside”.
I’m assuming–and I’ll admit this may not be a valid assumption–that Starmer is the left cheek.

Robbie K
Robbie K
27 days ago

Well, I’d say he is centrist – that leaves him in one place.

Tony Price
Tony Price
26 days ago
Reply to  Robbie K

I largely disagree with the sentiment, but I do applaud the humour!

Jack Martin Leith
Jack Martin Leith
25 days ago

And who is the orifice?

Will K
Will K
27 days ago

Mr Starmer is running as “not Sunak”. That worked very well for electing Mr Biden, but I think US voters regret believing that argument now. I suspect Mr Starmer means well, and is as intelligent and competent as Mr Sunak, but has no magical remedies for the UK’s problems. So nothing will change. My own feeling, is that the Brits have to step up, work harder and better. Just like people in other Countries have to do.

Dennis Roberts
Dennis Roberts
27 days ago
Reply to  Will K

Starmer is being bland as that’s the only way to be elected by a society made up of numerous different groups on a FPTP system. Red wallers and Urban remainers actually have nothing in common but most in each group will probably vote for the same party.

As for working harder you’re probably right (though working smarter would help too), but there has to be a point at a personal level – it has to benefit the person working harder, not just give them more money for their landlord to have.

But, more importantly – Hugh Grant!? Seriously?

Deb Grant
Deb Grant
27 days ago
Reply to  Dennis Roberts

People need incentives to go the extra mile. Not many can afford to do it for the glory.
Speaking for myself, going the extra mile got me noticed and taken seriously as a young person.
That’s why Socialism never works. It’s why taxing people past the point where it isn’t worth the effort amd/or sacrifice becomes self defeating.

Dennis Roberts
Dennis Roberts
26 days ago
Reply to  Deb Grant

You got noticed and taken seriously. Did that have an impact on your earnings?

Socialism does disincentivise if taken too far. But so does neoliberalism once it’s got to the point of established capital taking all the gains which is where we are now.

Norfolk Sceptic
Norfolk Sceptic
26 days ago
Reply to  Dennis Roberts

How about deciding, even vaguely, on a career, before ‘going to university’, and then choosing what education would be most suitable.

It’s the best way of getting a graduate job.

And please can we value technical education. While we have History graduates running Energy Policy, Britain will be heading towards failure. It looks like Law degrees will trump STEM subjects, with the Supreme Court telling North Sea operators to account for any downstream Carbon Dioxide emissions in any new developments. After all, in the UK Sector, English Law reigns supreme over The Laws of Physics and Economics.

Dennis Roberts
Dennis Roberts
26 days ago

STEM should be valued more – the STEM grads that i know in their mid 25s to 30s are renting, unless they had parental backing, and have plenty of debt. They might as well have done history.

j watson
j watson
27 days ago
Reply to  Will K

A bit less chaos and more stability and the ship will start to head in a better direction. Businesses want that stability. But overnight change won’t happen and concur.
What may also happen is the gradual process of reducing the cynicism about what politics can do may slowly progress. We have to hope so.

Hugh Bryant
Hugh Bryant
27 days ago
Reply to  j watson

Big business may want ‘stability’, but more than 60% of the UK workforce is employed in small businesses. And what small businesses need is de-regulation, which is the precise opposite of what we will get from Starmer, whose punitive legislation will make us more reluctant than ever to expand. The result will be stagnation and unemployment.

But never mind, house prices will go up and there will be lots more £100k+ diversity jobs paid for by your grandchildren who won’t have pensions or free healthcare.

Mike Downing
Mike Downing
27 days ago
Reply to  Hugh Bryant

Did you see ? The Royal British Legion no less has advertised for a Diversity officer @ over 60K per annum.

Hugh Bryant
Hugh Bryant
27 days ago
Reply to  Mike Downing

Only £60k? Cheapskates. You can get £140k in the NHS.

Alphonse Pfarti
Alphonse Pfarti
26 days ago
Reply to  Mike Downing

Might apply for it and, if appointed, tell them to carry on as they are: social clubs, bowling greens and a cheap bar with veterans prioritised. Fine by me.

j watson
j watson
27 days ago
Reply to  Hugh Bryant

No what small businesses need HB is stability and access to investment capital. The latter is much the biggest weakness in current UK economy. Remember I previously mentioned only 2% of the massive UK pension pots invested here in companies. Completely different approach in US of course. Ask yourself why we lost the following to overseas takeover.- ARM, DeepMind, Inmarsat, Racal, Darktrace, Cobham Group, Meggitt or myriad others, not all of which are hi-tech, but all taken over. And under Tory Govt.
How our pension industry works and is incentivised a fundamental we need to address to ensure fantastic UK Unicorns can develop to that next stage.
We get your point about too much asset wealth locked into people’s homes. It’s out of proportion and most will agree. But you miss some more immediate things that can be done. Now I recognise they are a little more complicated but it is worth time taken to better understand. there will be a light-bulb moment once you do.

Hugh Bryant
Hugh Bryant
27 days ago
Reply to  j watson

No what small businesses need HB is stability and access to investment capital.
How do you know what small businesses want? Have you ever had to meet a payroll? Or make redundancies? Or negotiate a lease? Guarantee a loan? Don’t think so.

Deb Grant
Deb Grant
26 days ago
Reply to  j watson

There’s this damaging narrative that big companies are bad, which is wrong in most cases. Good small companies become big. They are highly regulated and are vulnerable to one bad reputational mistake where consumers and investors shun them.
Politicians ought to point out that a big proportion of shareholdings in big companies are owned by financial institutions for our retirement income. Otherwise we’d all be on £700 a month.
Without investment there is nothing. Why should people risk their money without a return?

Hugh Bryant
Hugh Bryant
26 days ago
Reply to  Deb Grant

Good small companies become big. 
In the US they do, not in Europe or the UK. Name three iconic European businesses that are less the fifty years old (and that don’t make their money out of over-priced handbags).

Richard Powell
Richard Powell
26 days ago
Reply to  Hugh Bryant

In the UK we have Dyson, Virgin and Wetherspoons which are all household names.

Hugh Bryant
Hugh Bryant
23 days ago
Reply to  Richard Powell

And in the EU?

andy young
andy young
26 days ago
Reply to  Deb Grant

Not my experience of big companies. I’ve worked for several of them, small ones as well, & they invariably devolve into little empires, where the original raison d’etre of the enterprise is lost; small firms cannot afford the luxury of carrying passengers, unless they get very lucky, so tend to be more dynamic & genuinely profitable.

Charles Hedges
Charles Hedges
26 days ago
Reply to  j watson

Good points. I think the contempt the left wing intellectuals had for Britain as stated by Orwell; has spread to vast swathes of business, civil service and middle classes in general, hence the sales.
The Conservatives who ran the party from major onwards have a sort ” I’m all right jack ” mentality and shy away from conflict whether physical or ideological. The toleration of mass immigration, organised crime, eco protestors, transgenderism , etc is because the Conservatives lack common sense and backbone. It does not matter how much education one has had, if one lacks common sense and backbone , one is fairly useless. Orwell said the Left exhibited a shallow self righteousness and , live in a world of ideas and had little contact with physical reality. As few people undertake technically skilled, dirty and dangerous work and live in dangerous areas,they can live a life of delusion.

Adrian Smith
Adrian Smith
27 days ago
Reply to  j watson

What all businesses need is cheap reliable energy – the cost of living crisis, which Starmer has no real answers to, is primarily driven by a cost of energy crisis. The only way to achieve that is by scrapping net zero nonsense and returning initially to fossil fuels but really investing for the long term in nuclear. Only Reform have the guts to call out net zero nonsense. However Starmer will point to his massive majority in parliament as public endorsement of his ideas for continuing with net zero insanity.

j watson
j watson
27 days ago
Reply to  Adrian Smith

Don’t agree AS. The Oil and Gas industry would like us to believe this but the main drivers for increases in energy costs aren’t related to Net Zero. More efficient homes and vehicles will also save money, although we do have a transition challenge.
The Cost of Living crisis been brewing for a decade too as inequality has risen. Think about how many folks rely on in work benefits.
Fundamentally I think you need an excuse for how bad the Right has done in it’s development of UK capitalism and blaming Net Zero offers a neat opportunity to distract.

Hugh Bryant
Hugh Bryant
27 days ago
Reply to  j watson

the main drivers for increases in energy costs aren’t related to Net Zero. 
Of course they are. Rightly or wrongly Net Zero is the reason we don’t exploit the vast reserves of energy under our feet and in the oceans around us, instead paying vast subsidies from taxpayers to rent seekers like Dale Vince. What a lot of tosh you do write!

Jim Veenbaas
Jim Veenbaas
26 days ago
Reply to  j watson

Name one country, even easier, name one grid that is entirely run using solar and wind power? Next, look at the countries with the highest energy costs in the world and see the common dominator. Not so subtle hint – it’s those with the greatest penetration of wind and solar. The difference between wealthy and poor countries is access to cheap, reliable energy.

David L
David L
26 days ago
Reply to  j watson

The right failed because it lurched to the left. Too concerned with pandering to the luxury beliefs of the Guardian reading classes, than it’s own voters.

That’s why we are where we are.

Jim Veenbaas
Jim Veenbaas
26 days ago
Reply to  Adrian Smith

Net zero is absolutely the biggest threat to our privileged way of life.

Deb Grant
Deb Grant
27 days ago
Reply to  j watson

There can never be certainty or stability. It’s a shamefully immoral illusion, peddled to con the inexperienced and the gullible. So much is outside our country’s and our Government’s control – like the last 3 years.
We should looking to ourselves and our descendants for genuine improvement.

Arkadian Arkadian
Arkadian Arkadian
27 days ago
Reply to  Will K

I was about to make the very same comment.

A D Kent
A D Kent
27 days ago
Reply to  Will K

I’d like to see your evidence for him ‘meaning well’. Seriously – where is it? His response to the Forde report hasn’t shown it? His CPS’s failure to prosecute Jimmy Savile & to hamstring the Swede’s attempts to interview Julian Assange didn’t show it. His calamitous People’s Vote throwing of the 2019 election didn’t show it.

As for the UK just needing to work harder & better – they generally do and have – but the benefits of the increases in productivity since the 1980s have almost all gone to the holders of capital. Starmer’s policies will do nothing to address this.

Dr E C
Dr E C
26 days ago
Reply to  A D Kent

The money doesn’t just flow up to the holders of capital; masses of it also flows down to support all the immigrants I presume you favour. You can’t have a Welfare state AND open borders.

Millions of young and even middle-aged Brits who can’t afford to buy a house and barely make the rent are looking around at the newly-arrived receiving more support than they get and are getting fed up.

Robbie K
Robbie K
27 days ago
Reply to  Will K

Brits have to step up, work harder and better. Just like people in other Countries have to do.

What do you mean by this? Most peculiar comment.

Deb Grant
Deb Grant
26 days ago
Reply to  Robbie K

It should be obvious. People in developing and poorer countries have to work harder than most Westerners just to survive. Ther aren’t generous welfare safety nets either. They haven’t brought up workshy kids.

Deb Grant
Deb Grant
27 days ago
Reply to  Will K

I agree, except for one thing. Last night’s debate clearly showed Rishi Sunak to be much cleverer, more articulate and quicker on his feet than Starmer. Rishi is still young and is just going to get better, whereas at 67, this is as good as Starmer is going to get – and he’s not been tested in the way that Sunak already has.
No Government since WW2 has been tested in the way the Conservatives have in the last few years by events outside their control.

Andrew Thompson
Andrew Thompson
27 days ago
Reply to  Deb Grant

Spot on 100%

Arkadian Arkadian
Arkadian Arkadian
26 days ago
Reply to  Deb Grant

True, but the problem is that they had a big majority and they did nothing with it, except keep moving to the left (which is fine if you are of that persuasion, but many Tory voters may not be). And don’t let me get started on the whole trans debacle. Talking about being asleep at the wheel.
Ironically, the SNP and the Tory party are in a very, very similar situation.

Tony Price
Tony Price
26 days ago
Reply to  Deb Grant

er – Keir Starmer is 61 not 67.

Kathleen Burnett
Kathleen Burnett
27 days ago

Most of the power that shapes our lives resides outside Parliament. So does it matter who we vote for?

Stephen Walsh
Stephen Walsh
27 days ago

Yes it does, because ministers appoint, and sign off on the funding of, many of those powers outside parliament. A right wing government can at least frame the bounds of discussion and limit the drift of progressive-captured institutions. But a left wing government combined with progressive-captured institutions can entrench, accelerate, and make irreversible the transformation, and ultimately the immiseration, of society.

Dylan Blackhurst
Dylan Blackhurst
27 days ago

I hope Starmer does bring back some stability. Lord knows we need it.

But I don’t see how he can achieve it.

Can he get peace in the Ukraine?
No. So fuel prices will continue to be high.

Can he achieve peace in Gaza and Israel?
No. So will continue to have social unrest.

Can he achieve some sort of solidarity within his own party?
Probably not.

It’s going to be a mess. Just a different mess. With a different cast of colourful idiots putting on a show.

A D Kent
A D Kent
27 days ago

Can he get peace in the Ukraine?
Yes – he can respond positively to Putin’s recent proposals for negotiations.
Can he achieve peace in Gaza and Israel?
Yes – he can immediately and forcefully join the various cases at the ICJ & ICC. He can put Britains weight behind Palestinian Statehood and suffer the consequences of whatever it is they’ve got pictures of him doing being exposed.
Can he achieve some sort of solidarity within his own party?
Yes by apologising and effing right off.

M Harries
M Harries
27 days ago

Can he tell us what constitutes womanhood?
No. So if he fails at Life 101, what does that project for his thinking on matters economic and social?

George Venning
George Venning
27 days ago
Reply to  M Harries

This is such a strange litmus test M

j watson
j watson
27 days ago

He and us could be undone by further world events for sure.
But alot pointing to UK Businesses welcoming his and Reeves offering and tone. Certainly won’t solve everything but a needed reset.

Dylan Blackhurst
Dylan Blackhurst
27 days ago
Reply to  j watson

Undone by world events?!
He could be undone by his own policies and cabinet.
His blasphemy law should be fun to police in a supposedly multi-cultural secular society.
Added to this, his foreign secretary comments on Trump will make things super awkward for the government should Trump be president!
And finally, as a former human rights lawyer (and son of a tool maker in case you didn’t know) I expect Mr Starmer will grant Shamima Begum the right to return to the UK – with all the fireworks on the streets and in the media that that will bring.
It’s not going to be a return to stability. Far from it.

Norfolk Sceptic
Norfolk Sceptic
26 days ago

How will peace in Ukraine reduce fuel prices?

Ukraine has been lost, probably since the 2014 Maiden Coup, Russia already has a market for its fuel, and Europe & the West have lost credibility. We could be producing our own fuel, but we are Saving the Planet instead.

And with North Sea oil/gas winding down, we need to be prepared for a cold and manufacturingless future.

j watson
j watson
27 days ago

Author implies Stamer’s moral anchor swings through the currents but doesn’t come to rest anywhere. She also rightly IMO mentions Sandel’s insight – you cannot divorce politics/economics from underlying moral commitments/values.
But Starmer has to act like a politician and is not a moral philosophy lecturing in a Classroom. He’s always been v clear you accomplish v little without power, and it’s truly impressive, whether one agrees with it’s policies or not, how he has transformed the unelectable party of 4 years ago.
I think also the moral anchor is clearly discernible. He’s Labour. Effective policies have to have elements of practicality and pragmatism, but you have an instinctive sense of what’s right or wrong and that’s evident in your association.

Dennis Roberts
Dennis Roberts
27 days ago
Reply to  j watson

Morality is not the sole preserve of the left. It may be hard to discern at the moment but not all Tories are self-serving

Hugh Bryant
Hugh Bryant
27 days ago
Reply to  j watson

I think these adulatory posts are going to come back to haunt you JW.

George Venning
George Venning
27 days ago
Reply to  j watson

All this stuff about “without power you can’t do anything” is self serving tosh. It is expectation management as political nihilism.
The reason that the British constitution allows for the creation of an entire shadow government, is precisely in order to enable the opposition to maintain the sense of there being an alternative at all times.
The goal of opposition then is to create that credible alternative and, in doing so, to shift what political common sense is. In doing so, you create a mandate for the enactment of those policies when you gain power.
Centrists who argue that oppositions should never reveal their policies too far before the election lest the Government steal them, are (to put it mildly) morons. If you propose a policy and the Government enacts it, while you aren’t even in power, then you have had a positive effect – even from opposition. How factional do you have to be to fret about not getting credit? Or are you worried that you might run out of good ideas, which is even more pathetic.
And, of course, the government will only enact policies if they are pretty close to their own anyway. If Labour were to propose taking the water companies back into public ownership, the Tories wouldn’t copy them. If they proposed a vast investment in Council house building, the Tories wouldn’t nick it because they are dead set against both ideologically, Even so, both policies would be popular. The former would be dirt cheap (because the Water companies would be worth zilch if you made them clean up their acts and the latter would be expensive but it wouldn’t muck up the PSBR because it would generate an asset in the form of rent, and reduce the HB bill in the long term.
Starmer’s Labour promises nothing, not out of relaism or tactical shewdness but because they believe in nothing.

Chris J
Chris J
23 days ago
Reply to  George Venning

They believe men can become women and it looks like they intend to enforce it.

Stuart Bennett
Stuart Bennett
27 days ago

“without an accompanying positive and well-articulated vision of what human flourishing looks like, communitarianism is only as Left-wing as the community whose desires are currently being accommodated“

This is basically perfect. And given that left wing politics is now an upper middle class circle-jerk we know where Starmer is taking us if they win.

UnHerd Reader
UnHerd Reader
27 days ago

Given the final wish list of Mattison’s focus group they would probably like to vote for the SDP, if they either had the chance or had even heard of them.

Deb Grant
Deb Grant
26 days ago
Reply to  UnHerd Reader

There’s an SDP candidate standing in our constituency (not Rod Liddle, sadly) but it’s one of the seats where Labour will probably come fourth, so they might lose their deposit.

Andrew R
Andrew R
27 days ago

If Starmer wants to achieve his goals and put the country first then abandoning the nonsensical DEI policies would be a good start. I doubt the party, the quangos and the NGOs will let him.

Most of the green policies are doomed to fail. The question is, how much damage will they do.

j watson
j watson
27 days ago
Reply to  Andrew R

UK almost leads the way in Business Unicorns, esp tech, AR. Only US generates more. But then we lose them and they don’t leave us/get taken over because of DEI or Net zero. They are lost because they couldn’t access the next level of investment capital.
The secret to transforming UK capitalism is we arrest this trend. There are ways we can do that. DEI and fixation on Net Zero are culture war type distractions.

Andrew R
Andrew R
27 days ago
Reply to  j watson

That last sentence is pure nonsense, ditch the idiotic DEI ideology and the impractical Net Zero measures then it’s no longer a “culture war”distraction, is it. Why pursue policies that are actually harmful, it makes no sense!

j watson
j watson
26 days ago
Reply to  Andrew R

Google and Nvidia leadership don’t have much problem with either, within reason. A distraction as I say.

Andrew R
Andrew R
26 days ago
Reply to  j watson

We are all equal under the law, so what exactly is the point of more leglislation that adds nothing to a business. How does flying “Pride” flags or forcing arbitary quotas create Innovation? They don’t, they’re the distraction. They DO however provide a handy sinecure to vampiric NGOs, Quangos and politicised “charities” sponging off taxpayers money

More laughable gnostic utopianism.

A D Kent
A D Kent
27 days ago

 That Sir Starmer “…has reneged on many of the more socialist-sounding pledges” is one way of putting it. He made Ten Pledges to get elected – and has reneged on every single one. Those Pledges (so definite that they deserve the capitals) were, however, made to the Labour Party membership so wiping his backside with them didn’t bother the Establishment Media.

That’s not been a problem for him so far merely as Labour leader, because unlike his predecessor he can blandly Pledge to tell our single active, nuclear submarine to launch it’s (almost certainly faulty) nuclear missiles in a hypothetical nuclear exchange. That his policies of slavish, unquestioning Poodlry to the cabal of Neocons pulling the US President’s strings will make this exchange more likely matters not a jot.  

j watson
j watson
27 days ago
Reply to  A D Kent

Is he ahead of the Pledges made by the last 14 years of Tory Govt? Or perhaps ahead of pledges/promises made by the Brexiteers?
You know the answer.

A D Kent
A D Kent
27 days ago
Reply to  j watson

As a Leftie support of Brexit I hold Starmer personally responsible for destroying any hope of anything positive coming from it. Him and his PMC cabal of Labour sensibles threw the 2019 election by not respecting the vote, recognising the opportunity and getting on with it. They knew full well what the ‘People’s Vote’ campaign would to to Labour’s chances – almost all the seats they needed to win were in leave voting areas. Bozo & the Tories were never going to take advantage of Brexit – their low-wage, low-investment economic policies needed the cheaper labour and the ‘it was Brussell’s fault’ excuses. Tories are as Tories do. Starmer is one of them too (oh look, I’ve made a chant).

j watson
j watson
26 days ago
Reply to  A D Kent

Alot of tosh there ADK. Brexit has been a particular shambles because the Tory Right went for a Hard version. A softer version and we may have made it work. But overall the project was always going to under-deliver on it’s promises because it was driven by infantile views. For example, what happened to all those international trade deals, esp the one promised with the US? Was always ‘for the birds’ wasn’t it.

Mike Michaels
Mike Michaels
27 days ago

A man who would let a member of his own family die rather than risk his standing in the Sixth form common room of socialist opinion. Imagine what he’s prepared to do to you.

Walter Marvell
Walter Marvell
27 days ago

Again…why are we focusing on the black hole that is Starmer when our national economic and political fate is fixed on auto pilot. Yesterday, the Supreme Court joined the EHRC & its mad climate ruling in effectively banning the exploitation of fosil fuels. Pol Potism is hard wired into the workings of the Progressive State and will cause its collapse. Similarly, illegal migration. Starmer has rejected all raycist policies to control it, so the wave will just roll in on auto pilot shattering the social contract. EU legacy laws are killing enterprise, as we saw this week with the destruction of a billion pound new Film Studio at Marlow in favour no doubt of a few newts. We fail to accept that post Lockdown Catastrophe we have crossed the Rubicon. No amateurish focus group wonk will arrest the unstoppable march of race and gender identitarian state law zealotry through the broken bloated public sector. Nothing can stop the poison of human rights entitlement culture spreading further into our national culture, with 11 million hooked on welfarism and our big business hooked on millions of cheap foreign workers. All these are deep immovable destructive structural trends supported by our negligent unfit Elite and Progressive Stat. All are far beyond the dim wit and weak will of Starmer to effect any change for the good.

Stephanie Surface
Stephanie Surface
27 days ago
Reply to  Walter Marvell

That’s why Nigel Farage and his Reform Party will never succeed in stemming the migrants or be able to abandon the NetZero nonsense., as the Supreme Court will replace the EHRC. It’s all very depressing …..

Frank Leahy
Frank Leahy
27 days ago

Can’t the legislation establishing the supreme court be repealed?

George Venning
George Venning
27 days ago
Reply to  Frank Leahy

Or you could simply change the laws that they are there to interpret.
But it isn’t a good look to be seen watering down your own citizens’ rights is it?
So much easier to leave the legislation on the books and then bash the Supreme Court for doing its job

Jim Veenbaas
Jim Veenbaas
26 days ago

Yet, someone will change it. Energy costs will get so expensive and open borders will become so debilitating that people will demand change – regardless of court rulings. It might not happen tomorrow, but it will happen. The only question is how much damage is inflicted in the meantime.

George Venning
George Venning
27 days ago
Reply to  Walter Marvell

Migration can be “fixed” and without Rwanda nonsense either.
The vast bulk of migration is legal so restricting it is as simple as reducing the number of visas you issue.
The problem is that you then need an economy that doesn’t need this much migration in order to function.
That’s the problem – it isn’t the EHRC or the quangos stopping the Government refocussing the economy, it’s simply a lack of political imagination. That and the astonishing fact that it remains possible to distract people from this basic truth, simply by blathering on about illegals and Rwanda.
Note – if your Government is doing something as expensive and cruel as the Rwanda policy as a distraction then the thing they are distracting you from must be really bad….

Dr E C
Dr E C
26 days ago
Reply to  Walter Marvell

I agree with you- except for the bit about newts. I’d take preserving a species from extinction over a new film studio any day. Have you been to the concrete hellhole that is Hollywood?

Mike Downing
Mike Downing
27 days ago

” two cheeks of the same backside”

So, far from being a racist hellhole, Britain will in fact have the first mixed-race Prime Minister.

“hit the ground running”

And he’s related to
Meghan Markle.

Stephanie Surface
Stephanie Surface
27 days ago

Starmer sounds very much like a charmless Obama, whom Clint Eastwood called “An empty chair”…

john d rockemella
john d rockemella
27 days ago

He was a member of the trilaterial commission, he loves the Davos Elites, he has publicly stated he would choose davos over westminster – he knows democracy is a lie. He works for the very wealthy and he, like all politicians has a great deal of distain for the public. At this stage who doesnt, society is in an awful place

Malcolm Webb
Malcolm Webb
27 days ago

So, am I right in saying that you believe that in Starmer we will be getting a political leader who has crafted his route to power by telling us what his pollsters tell him they think we want to hear?
It seems to me that is what has been going on in all the political parties for decades now – and the result is awful.
And if you are saying what we need is political leadership based on sound moral, social and economic principles which is also not afraid of telling us the truth, even if it is difficult for us to accept it, I am with you. But sadly, that is no where to be seen, is it?

j watson
j watson
27 days ago
Reply to  Malcolm Webb

The paradox is if Starmer is merely mirroring what the Polls/Focus Gps indicate we want to hear why are we so worked up about it?
Or is it only a few who are worked up about it?

Malcolm Webb
Malcolm Webb
27 days ago
Reply to  j watson

Good point – focus groups might be considered an aid to democracy . However in my experience such groups are more prone to giving a negative set of outcomes ( what we don’t like or fear) than ever coming up with a constructive set of ideas / proposals. They are helpful in checking marketing plans rather than creating the product. An unscrupulous politician ( and I am not saying Starmer is such) could then shape messages to resonate with people’s fears or superstitions without really having a clue how to resolve them . In truth I am hearing a lot of that negative stuff in this election but not much about concrete plans to make this country an even better place in which to live , work and retire in.

j watson
j watson
26 days ago
Reply to  Malcolm Webb

I think you are correct we are hearing more critique than detailed propositions. I suspect though that’s partly because in the Focus Gps and Polls we respond more instinctively to fears than positive proposals. There may even be something biological about this form of reaction. Being semi-paranoid how we survived etc.
So I guess I’m more sympathetic to our politicians and sense they mirror more the vibes we give off.
Starmer is though campaigning in prose not poetry – the reverse of the norm usually. We’ll see if it flips a bit if he gets in.

Deborah Dawkin
Deborah Dawkin
27 days ago

The idea of citizens’ assemblies sounds great in theory but paired with the Hate Speech law I suggest this will just be another form of control. Judging by present standards of policing speech in the UK, nobody will be/feel really free to speak their minds on any contentious issues for fear of arrest, thus making this a perfect tool to appear to have opened up democracy to the people, while clamping down even further on free speech.

j watson
j watson
27 days ago
Reply to  Deborah Dawkin

I think the evidence suggests they work well with some things, but not with everything. The trick will be finding the right balance.

D Glover
D Glover
26 days ago
Reply to  Deborah Dawkin

The idea doesn’t sound great to me. How are these ‘citizens’ going to be chosen? Most people with serious jobs can’t go off to discuss issues for days on end, so the assembly will be packed with activists who are there with an agenda to pursue.
We have a citizens’ assembly and it’s called the House of Commons. We elect its members. We won’t be electing these ‘citizens’

Alex Lekas
Alex Lekas
27 days ago

Putting the country first would require a wholesale crackdown on illegal immigration, doing away with anti-freedom speech laws, and abandoning the social warrior philosophy of the DEI movement. In other words, he’s uttering more empty words. But Starmer is a politician; it’s what they do.
Most of the day-to-day heavy lifting gets done by the permanent bureaucracy anyway, much as is the case here in the States. There is outsized hope in some quarters that Trump can stem the tide but the honest assessment is that, at best, he may be able to slow it down. After all, he would only be in office for four years; the deep state is forever.
What a mess we have created for ourselves and what a mess we have managed to export to other countries in the form of ridiculous ideas that would be shouted down if put to a referendum. But they aren’t; they are foisted onto the populace by the very people who claim to defend democracy.

Penny Rose
Penny Rose
27 days ago

Not often I disagree with Kathleen Stock. But the idea of handpicked ‘Citizen’s Assemblies’ choosing Government policy on contentious issues fills me with dread. Like American jury trials it will be all too easy to weigh the selection to get the desired result.

Michael Askew
Michael Askew
27 days ago

Knowing that the Labour Party will win, they have no need to commit themselves to meningful electoral pledges. Indeed the Labour Party election manifesto is full of high-minded vague platitudes and low on detail. This is especially true in the worrying area of identity politcs. Mr Starmer may be aware of how ludicrous he sounds when he declares that 1% of women have male bodies, but is he trying to appease the trans lobby or does he genuinely beliive this absurdity? And where do Labour stand on DEI? Are they going to turbo-charge this enterprise, as some fear, so that employers are forced to appoint staff based on skin colour and sexual preference instead of merit? I searched the manifesto and couldn’t find anything on either issue. It’s either not there or well hidden.

Andrew R
Andrew R
27 days ago
Reply to  Michael Askew

Let Welsh Labour be your guide.

Dougie Undersub
Dougie Undersub
27 days ago

Citizens’ Assemblies? Come off it, Kathleen. They’d be selected by the same people who assemble the Question Time audience.

George Venning
George Venning
27 days ago

On the eve of the 1997 election, I asked a senior figure in Labour Students, then aged 20 or so to name a single Conservative policy to which he viscerally objected. He couldn’t (he was a bit pissed).
If that was the case, I asked, why join the hordes attempting to mount Labour’s greasy pole? Why not swim against the tide and join the Tories after the election? He’d rise much faster within the ranks of devastated, rudderless Tories and, when they won again in two or three elections’ time, he’d be vastly better placed and vastly more senior that he would be in Labour – and his career would be better placed to shape the party. He was strikingly unable to tell me why this was a terrible idea (Again, he was fairly drunk).
Keir Starmer has, essentially, pulled the self-same manoeuvre in the opposite direction. He is a conservative Tory wet who has infiltrated the other party, remade it as a mirror image of the one to which he truly belongs and brought it to power under a false flag.
He is a fiscal conservative, a tiresome flag-shagging “patriot”, he has said that the UK’s entry into NATO is Labour’s second greatest achievement, he refuses to pusue an industrial strategy, he was an ardent remainer, he drags his feet at anything resembling public ownership or market intervention and he’s promising to “fix” immigration even though he doesn’t actually want to and knows he couldn’t if he did.
Tell me a substantive way in which he differs from David Gauke? Show me a single line item in the Labour Manifesto that David Cameron or Theresa May couldn’t have lived with. He’s certainly to the right of Rory Stewart

Martin M
Martin M
25 days ago
Reply to  George Venning

He is a conservative Tory wet. That’s the nicest thing I have ever heard anyone say about Starmer.

Pip G
Pip G
27 days ago

To an extent Mr Starmer can work as “I am not the dangerous Left whom I have evicted” – which is to his credit – and “I am not the Conservatives”, but being in government will require substance. Given the severe constraint of excessive Debt, what will Labour do?

Short term they can go for the low(er) cost changes: reform the Planning laws, radically improve public procurement (£zillions wasted), drop the “Trans” and other self ID. NHS reform will take 5-10 years, but they can map out the objectives now. We all know taxes must be raised – by any government – so get it done in one painful swoop, and explain how the money will be used; as Wes Streeting says, stop keep pouring it into the existing NHS. 

It is said voters tend to be ‘Left’ on economics and ‘Right’ on social matters. Labour is ideally placed to build on this when for decades we have had ‘keep spending money without thought’ at the same time as penalize the poor, and ‘please the metropolitan social liberals’ even if they do squeak – the majority will enjoy that. If Labour stands tough against the SNP & Greens people will cheer. Hugh Grant as PM? Ugh.

Conversely if Labour acts as a timid administrator, reacting only to the latest economic statistics and populist marches, it will fail abysmally. Time for Mr Starmer to get off the fence and allow his cabinet to work.

Martin M
Martin M
24 days ago
Reply to  Pip G

Starmer hasn’t evicted all of the dangerous Left. “Red” Ed Miliband is still there.

Deb Grant
Deb Grant
27 days ago

Good article. But – I don’t think Starmer, or any part of Labour, trust the electorate to be sensible. Quite the reverse. What little they have so far suggested involves more State control over our money, not even the status quo.
Socialists do not trust people to spend money wisely, or trust businesses in any way whatsoever. They hold their nose while going cap in hand for the wealth that only enterprise genuinely creates.
Keir Starmer is a Socialist, not a Blairite. That’s all we can reliably know about how he might proceed with a large majority.

Martin M
Martin M
25 days ago
Reply to  Deb Grant

That analysis is very depressing.

John Tyler
John Tyler
27 days ago

What working people want? Hmmm… Yet he still doesn’t really seem to know what defines human beings in terms of sexual genetics or physiology. This is not so much a moral vacuum as a disingenuous fudge of amorality.

Prashant Kotak
Prashant Kotak
27 days ago

There is a lot of confusion about what Starmer will be like as a PM. I don’t think this is at all necessary. Much as I respect Peter Hitchens and Jordan Peterson I remain unconvinced by their narrative lines. Notwithstanding whether you consider the incoming Labour government’s stated direction as good, bad or ugly, if a Starmer led government will be able to make any progress at all in any of their aims is a very different matter. To characterise the Starmer government in operation so to speak, we just need to look at three separate things: what he has said over the years, what he has done over the years, and finally the specifics of his personality – and I will come back to this in a moment.

The first point to make is that it is clear that these are not normal times, and we are living through multiple global inflection points – societal, geopolitical, cultural, economic, demographic, technological and so on. It’s like pressure building deep underground all around a volcano, and bizarre and disturbing symptoms become visible on the surface ahead of the blowout. Were we living through more normal times, Starmer would have no chance of getting anywhere near government – no opposition has ever managed to overturn (and more) the size of the 2019 majority in one go, and Starmer himself was very close to being out on his ear after Hartlepool and would have gone had Labour not managed to hang on to Batley and Spen by the skin of their teeth. Not that that would have made a difference to the current election – for myself, I don’t believe it matters who was leading Labour, it could have been Mr. Blobby (as opposed to Mr. Blob as it currently is), the Tories were done for regardless.

Tremors prophesying seismic change have been periodically appearing since 2015, it’s just that I didn’t put the pieces together until the lockdowns. The first one that made me raise my eyebrows was the Labour wipeout in Scotland at the hands of the SNP. The next one was May’s huge projected majority of 200 disappearing in a puff of smoke over the course of the election campaign, this made me sit up because election campaigns typically make little difference. The next one was utterly bizarre and we should have paid much more attention because it presaged the incoming Tory wipeout – the results of the last ever European elections in the UK in the dog days of the Brexit impasse, when the Conservatives got under 10% and Labour under 15%. This result was totally unprecedented, but the Tories forgot to analyse how such a thing could possibly have happened, because they got rather over excited about the 80 seat majority in the GE that followed. But in retrospect, it’s message was very, very clear, and as ominous for Labour as for the Tories: deliver, or die.

So back to Starmer – what kind of reign can we expect? Take it as you may, but my impression is of a vacillating, over-sensitive, not very strong-willed guy (if he was a millennial I guess he would be labelled Soy) who is likely to be overwhelmed by the economic, geopolitical and technological challenges incoming, the last of which are the most difficult of all because I doubt he understands them at all. He’s lucky rather than super-smart (which Blair was, but I will now need to go take a shower having mentioned him), has no genuine experience of governing, and I don’t get the sense his instincts are great. I would be surprised if he lasts more than 18-24 months, before he is deposed by civil strife in his own party, and in that situation I would expect Reeves (or possibly Nandy) rather than Rayner to succeed him.

Prashant Kotak
Prashant Kotak
26 days ago
Reply to  Prashant Kotak

**** NOT IN SERVICE ****

Agnes Aurelius
Agnes Aurelius
27 days ago

 “strong and purposeful leadership”, “winning back the disaffected” by “identifying a smaller number of defining policies”, and who did not “shy away from or fudge difficult or challenging issues but rather tackled them “head on”.
Nigel Farage fits that description…..

Martin M
Martin M
25 days ago
Reply to  Agnes Aurelius

He has blotted his copybook a bit with his comments about Putin.

Andrew Thompson
Andrew Thompson
27 days ago

Starmer at 61 is heading downhill to a very fruitful retirement now and the job of PM, irrespective of spectacular failures or minor successes is a very lucrative way to get there (See ex Labour PM T. Blair for further details)

Citizen Diversity
Citizen Diversity
27 days ago

Starmer is ‘one third tiger, one third skunk, and one third lizard’. Like the manticore; a composite creature in ancient mythology.
As such creatures didn’t exist except in the imagination, it’s likely that this estimation of Starmer is also a figment of it.
Both Hitchens and Galloway have likened Starmer to an item of wooden furniture. Ikea Starmer, the flat pack wardrobe, badly assembled by focus groups.
Except that if entry into a different world was desired, a wardrobe would be the very item of furniture you would need; to be found stored, as such things are, in a room surrounded by upstairs, indoor silences.

James Kirk
James Kirk
26 days ago

He doesn’t like me, he says nothing I like even while U turning so I don’t like him. I don’t believe a word he says and nor does his own Party. To attribute wild life qualities to him is an insult to nature which does things through design for a purpose. He can hardly claim such unless it’s proof we must never let a socialist into power ever again.

0 0
0 0
26 days ago

Just a WEF puppet. Sad.

Martin M
Martin M
25 days ago
Reply to  0 0

Better than being a Socialist though.

Graeme Laws
Graeme Laws
26 days ago

The problem is that so much of what the Government does is neither effective (works as originally intended) or efficient (achieves the desired end at minimum possible cost). Since the Civil Service appears to be managerially clueless, and hardly any of the politicians have ever run anything more complicated than a focus group, I can’t see a solution any time soon.

Veronica Lowe
Veronica Lowe
14 days ago

No-one has yet been able to tell me how it was that as DPP, Starmer knew nothing of the Post Office fiasco.