The Labour leader is finding his way to a winning formula
For King and Country. That, in a nutshell, was Keir Starmer’s message to the British people. A Labour Party conference that began with a minute’s silence for the late Queen and the national anthem ended with the promise of putting “country first, party second”. In a speech replete with references to the great Labour victories of 1945, 1964 and 1997, Starmer channeled his inner Attlee, Wilson and Blair. Yet the red thread running through his new thinking is better known as Blue Labour — economically radical and socially moderate.
The core of Blue Labour’s economic radicalism is about reconciling the estranged interests of capital and labour in a new settlement anchored in stronger local government and civic bodies. Our aim has long been to tame the excesses of both the central bureaucratic state and the global free market in favour of communities and working families — suddenly, that aim seems to be shaping Labour’s emerging vision.
Whereas the Tories under Truss use state power to extend the reach of the market, Starmer appears to put society first. Great British Energy, Labour’s flagship policy idea, is a new kind of company owned by the people and based on what Sir Keir calls “the biggest partnership between government, business and communities this country has ever seen”.
This is reorienting Labour away from both New Labour’s devotion to markets and globalisation and Corbyn’s central state nationalisation towards a more communitarian corporatist model. The goal is to rebuild the national economy — hence Starmer’s pledge to restore “British power to the British people”.
Reinstating the 45p income tax rate and investing the proceeds in vocational training is another sign that Starmer has learnt from the Blue Labour paradox of fiscal prudence with a bold economic offer. Massive investment in technical training and vocational colleges, alongside green industries, will not only help Britain break its addiction to importing cheaper foreign skilled workers (who end up being exploited by big business and middle-class consumers). It will also contribute to renewing rural and coastal towns like Blackpool, Southend and Grimsby decimated by deindustrialisation and dispossession.
A Blue Labour national renewal would not be limited to greater economic prosperity but focused on rebuilding social ties too. That is why Starmer links Labour’s radical economics and green re-industrialisation to people’s yearning for security and belonging. Gone (for now) is the gesture politics of extreme identity ideology — no mention of trans rights, for example. Instead, the appeal was to the Britain of the Great Queue — togetherness, solidarity, patience, civility and being bound together by a common purpose.
Lofty words for sure, yet ones that resonate at a time of social fragmentation and the dissolution of both familial and communal bonds. Having found his voice, the task for Starmer is now to develop a national narrative — a convincing story of how Labour will build a remoralised politics and an embedded economy at the service of a renewed, more resilient society.
At this point, the danger is not so much the temptation of identity politics, though it will take much more than one speech to save Labour from the ultra-progressive ideology that risks denying the party a majority at the next election. The greater threat is a retreat to New Labour slogans of mindless modernisation that leave people cold and alienated from politics altogether.
Keir Starmer is evidently moving in a Blue Labour direction. But only by going further and being bolder will he appeal to the working-class voters in post-industrial towns who deserted Labour in 2019 and thereby secure a majority at the next election.