It’s become a cliché to say that the sweet spot in British politics is Left on economics and Right on culture. As Labour have become the party of metropolitan middle class professionals and downwardly mobile graduates, and the Conservatives depend on their newly-constructed Red Wall to maintain their decade-long hold on power, it’s only natural that Britain’s political allegiances are in flux, and party leaders are scrabbling to catch up .
So while it doesn’t come as a surprise that the Conservatives are striking out on formerly Leftist economic terrain, with Boris Johnson channelling Roosevelt’s New Deal (after assuring the party faithful that he is not, in fact, a communist) and Michael Gove quoting Gramsci, the other side of the equation shouldn’t be ignored.
Wading headlong into the latest US-imported culture war, Keir Starmer called Black Lives Matter’s demands for police abolition “nonsense” and underlined that “nobody should be saying anything about defunding the police.”
“I was director of public prosecutions for five years,” Starmer reminded voters via BBC Breakfast, “I’ve worked with police forces across England and Wales bringing thousands of people to court, so my support for the police is very, very strong.” For many voters unsettled by the past few weeks of political disorder on London’s streets, Starmer’s no-nonsense dismissal of the latest American fads will be reassuring, particularly given the government’s seeming inability to maintain order even at the gates of Downing Street itself.
Considering that in his previous life as DPP Starmer actively courted the opprobrium of the liberal Left for his stiff and rapidly accelerated sentencing guidelines for rioters, the government should be perturbed. The Home Secretary may give stern soundbites on law and order issues, but her inability to see the law actually enforced on Britain’s streets is a bad omen for the government. Can Starmer outflank them on the Right?
After all, Starmer’s made some dramatic moves in recent days staking out a position on the deepest plane of conservatism: that of simple, gut-level common sense. Sacking a shadow minister for retweeting an anti-Semitic conspiracy theory and firmly tying Labour’s patriotic colours to the mast through a newfound appreciation of the armed forces, Starmer’s signalling that the Corbyn era’s over, and his rapid climb up the polls shows the public likes it.
On foreign policy too, Starmer’s Labour are emerging as China hawks, reminding voters that, through “naivety and negligence…Cameron and Osborne rolled out the red carpet for Beijing, and they got precious little in return.” After all, it’s through its naive faith in free market liberalism that the Conservative party endangered Britain’s security, Stephen Kinnock wrote recently: “We’ve allowed a state-run Chinese company to build Hinkley Point C nuclear power station, and the government has given Huawei a role in building our 5G infrastructure – to the horror of our ‘Five Eyes’ intelligence partners.”
With Covid too, the government hasn’t covered itself in glory, acting too late to close the borders and playing catch-up ever since. If Starmer can convince the electorate that he’s simply more competent than the Conservatives, can enforce law and order, defend and maintain the police and armed forces and ensure Britain’s security in a newly dangerous world, then he’ll be beating the Tories on what should be their home ground. “The first duty of any government is to keep its people safe,” Starmer pointedly remarked in a video last week. Boris Johnson will do well to remember that before it’s too late.