The Labour leader is finally unveiling some policy — he needn't look far
Today, Keir Starmer launched Labour’s agenda on constitutional reform, based on a report by Gordon Brown.
This won’t exactly solve Starmer’s dullness problem, but it does tackle a much more pressing need — which is for Labour to start unveiling some actual policies.
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It is, at most, two years until the next general election. Furthermore, Starmer has had more than two years as Labour leader — enough time for him to clear his throat. With his party way ahead in the polls, voters want to know what Labour would do in power.
This, of course, is fraught with danger. There’s always a risk that original thinking will be poorly received — especially if the sums don’t add up. But, equally, having nothing to say stokes suspicions of cluelessness. So, new policy or no policy: it’s a dilemma. Or, at least, it would be if the Conservatives hadn’t provided Starmer with a way out.
Since 2010, the Tories in government have massively underinvested in policy development. Indeed, the policy landscape resembles an abandoned building site. While the show-homes, like Brexit, are more or less complete, the rest of the estate is a mud-splattered mess of half-finished construction, cracked walls and unpaved roads.
Admittedly, some of the worst of it was left behind by the previous set of cowboys. The fact that Gordon Brown drew-up today’s announcements is ironic, because constitutional reform under New Labour was badly bodged. For instance, the House of Lords was only half-reformed. As for devolution to Scotland and Wales, there was no balancing package of localism for England. As a result, a bizarre situation arose in which Scottish and Welsh MPs could vote on England-only matters, but not on policy areas devolved to Edinburgh, Cardiff and Stormont.
The Conservatives under David Cameron did have a go at making things right. But some of the remedial works, like reforming the Lords, were almost immediately re-abandoned. Greater progress was made on other fronts — like devolving power to English cities and counties. Unfortunately, the ministers in charge were subsequently moved aside and the Treasury stuck its oar in. Despite Boris Johnson’s levelling-up policy (and similar policies from Theresa May), precious momentum was lost and the agenda deprived of vital resources.
Thus, despite the sheer chutzpah of Brown’s involvement, there wasn’t much to stop Starmer from stealing the Tories’ localist clothes.
Admittedly, constitutional reform isn’t the biggest issue in contemporary British politics, but it does give the Labour leader something to say. In particular, replacing the House of Lords will give the Labour Left a juicy bone to chew on. Furthermore, we should see today as a dry-run for policy announcements on issues that voters do care about — for instance, the unsolved housing crisis, the shocking state of public transport in the North and the utter shambles of the UK’s immigration policy.
Again, Starmer won’t have to indulge in risky innovation. There’s no need to build a New Jerusalem, let alone find the money to finance its construction. Rather, he can simply present himself as the Polyfilla Prime Minister — filling-in the voids that the Conservatives so carelessly left behind.