by Jonathan Rutherford
Thursday, 5
January 2023
Debate
11:56

Keir Starmer is finally breaking out of his shell

The Labour leader delivered his most ambitious speech yet
by Jonathan Rutherford
Cometh the hour. Credit: Getty

Despite the audio issues, Keir Starmer delivered his best and most ambitious speech this morning. He promised an end to ‘sticking plaster politics’ by moving power and control out of Westminster in a new ‘Take Back Control’ Bill. In the year ahead, Labour will set out a new plan for growth, giving local communities the trust, power and control they need to help rebuild the country.  

Starmer, a man of caution, is promising a radical break with the old order. Westminster, he says, is part of the problem. As a system it doesn’t work. He’s right: new ideas are sucked into a bureaucratic morass. New initiatives are absorbed and rendered supine.


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Not surprising, then, that after a tumultuous decade our political parties have struggled to break out of the interregnum which has immobilised the country. Conservative political realignment in 2019 broke free only to collapse in farce and ignominy, giving rise to a Labour revival. 

But Labour still has to win over the country. Starmer’s answer to this problem is that Labour will hand over power in a new devolution settlement to give control to local communities. The only way around the Westminster model is to develop external centres of power around the country to bring pressure onto it and so radically shift regional inequalities. 

Labour knows that to win an election it must have internal discipline and look a credible manager of the economy. During his leadership Starmer has wavered between risk and safety. He has made a few rhetorical forays into a more ambitious politics of national renewal and a promise to make Brexit work, but he has then retreated into the safety of fiscal conservatism and managerial competence. His current anodyne ‘A Greener Fairer Future’ says nothing very much about Labour’s purpose.

Above all else, Labour needs a new approach to political economy because the political priorities of the future will not be free markets, nor globalisation, nor the four abstract freedoms of goods, capital, services and people. It will not be a model of national economic development centred on the cities and the higher-educated. And as Wolfgang Munchau has pointed out, if Labour wants to make Brexit work it will require a new economic model. 

What matters now for Labour is not its rhetoric, but whether or not it does the heavy lifting of collective intellectual and political thinking, and policy development, necessary for breaking out of this interregnum.

Last July, Starmer made a start. He spoke about the national economy. He spoke about the central importance of the everyday economy and its workers in sustaining the daily life of the country. Shadow Chancellor Rachel Reeves reinforced his point. And along with Shadow Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, Jonathan Reynolds, they describe Labour as a “pro-business, pro-worker political party”. 

Labour has tentatively been signalling a new corporatism focusing on growth and productivity. In a step toward its post war economic nationalism, the party promises to ‘buy and sell more in Britain’. Angela Rayner and Rachel Reeves have announced that the statutory minimum wage will be pegged to the cost of living. Reynolds wants an industrial strategy council to embed a partnership between the market and the state. 

Alongside these proposals Lisa Nandy, Shadow Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, has been shaping a Labour narrative of national renewal. While its principal focus has been on local community wealth-building, devolution of power and local democracy, she has begun setting out a broader argument around political economy, calling for a great rebalancing of power between capital and labour to spread wealth, security and opportunity across the whole country. 

Labour is shaping a new approach to the economy. It’s been slow, but today’s speech consolidates development so far. There is now no going back, no retreat into managerialism. Labour must now show it has the ideas, dynamism and energy to see this through. The electorate will need convincing.

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Zak Orn
Zak Orn
1 month ago

While the Labour party is so enthralled to identity politics I doubt they have a clear enough head to make any positive improvements to the economy. With people like Dodds in the cabinet who appears to be openly proposing wealth redistribution based on race it looks like the journey to clown town will only accelerate under Labour.

Last edited 1 month ago by Zak Orn
Ben Jones
Ben Jones
1 month ago

Basically, Starmer wants us to be Germany, but without the bits that work.

Hugh Bryant
Hugh Bryant
1 month ago
Reply to  Ben Jones

Surprising how utterly irrelevant to the country’s needs both Starmer and Sunak’s ideas are, isn’t it?

Nicky Samengo-Turner
Nicky Samengo-Turner
1 month ago
Reply to  Ben Jones

Frightful, tedious little jumped up lower middle class clerk…

Andrew Fisher
Andrew Fisher
28 days ago

Is there something wrong with being lower middle class?

polidori redux
polidori redux
1 month ago

“What matters now for Labour is not its rhetoric, but whether or not it does the heavy lifting of collective intellectual and political thinking, and policy development, necessary for breaking out of this interregnum.”
Party political puff piece. Labour is as dead as the Tory Party. It is only rigor mortis that keeps it upright.

Peter B
Peter B
1 month ago
Reply to  polidori redux

It’s just words. More and more empty words.
“shaping a Labour narrative of national renewal”
“local community wealth-building”
What do these things actually mean ? How could you test if they have been achieved ? It’s just like the Ed Stone – a hopeful wish list of things that cannot be measured.
“heavy lifting of collective intellectual and political thinking, and policy development”
Who on the Labour front bench does heavy intellectual thinking ?
And you’re right – they’ve had 12 years in opposition to do this stuff – it’s a bit late in the day to be hacking together some policies.

Hugh Bryant
Hugh Bryant
1 month ago
Reply to  Peter B

Yes. I think it was written by ChatGPT under the instruction ‘write a review of Keir Starmer’s latest speech in the style of a Department of Health press release’.

Steve Elliott
Steve Elliott
1 month ago
Reply to  Hugh Bryant

Nice one. Perhaps Kier Starmer used ChatGPT to write his speech.

Dog Eared
Dog Eared
1 month ago

Starmer is as slippery as an eel dipped in WD40

Hugh Bryant
Hugh Bryant
1 month ago
Reply to  Dog Eared

What’s really scary, though, is: “Lisa Nandy, Shadow Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, has been shaping a Labour narrative of national renewal”. God help us.

Mark Burton
Mark Burton
1 month ago

Someone who dodges questions on what a real woman is, I wouldn’t trust with a teabag let alone the reins of the country

Pete Marsh
Pete Marsh
1 month ago

It’s guaranteed that the result will be at least one extra layer of politicians feeding off the taxpayer. Probably more, and a host of quangos.

Dougie Undersub
Dougie Undersub
1 month ago

Hopeless. Local government officials are even less competent than central government officials, if my local Council is any guide. Good luck with your energy policy, Sir Keir: which local community is going to volunteer to have a power station or wind farm in its midst?

Steve Elliott
Steve Elliott
1 month ago

One of the points of this is to get rid of the House of Lords which would be replaced by an elected second chamber. I don’t understand how this would work but it seems like it would be a bit like the US where you have the house of representatives (house of commons) and a senate (which would be the new second chamber). The second chamber would consist of ‘senators’ from the various regional assemblies elected by proportional representation – I suppose, I’m just guessing. But with two elected chambers wouldn’t you end up with a kind of governmental paralysis? And wouldn’t everyone just blame everyone else when things go wrong. We already see that with the Wales and Scotland blaming Westminster for their ills.
I feel that devolution has been a bad thing and more devolution will be worse.

Keith Darlington
Keith Darlington
1 month ago

Starmer’s speech was full of vague platitudes. For example, he wants to hand over powers to local communities but says little regarding how this will be done. Local governments have been gradually starved of funds from both the Tories and Labour for over 30 years. Giving powers to health trusts seems unlikely to help if they haven’t got the funds to pay nurses a wage commensurate with the cost of living increases. Ultimately, the central government hands out the money. But both main parties oppose above-inflation pay rises and both parties support the Brexit settlement that is causing staff shortages and helping cause a crisis in the NHS.

He is right in saying that Westminster politics is broken but he is very much part of that Westminster machine and even opposes changes to the FPTP antiquated voting system. What we desperately need is fresh thinking in UK politics and we are not going to get much of that with the dysfunctional duopoly caused by FPTP. The Tories are failing us but I have little confidence in Starmer offering anything better from what has been said in this speech.

Last edited 1 month ago by keith.darlington
Hugh Bryant
Hugh Bryant
1 month ago

Starmer’s great virtue is his transparency ie: you can see right through him.

Hugh Bryant
Hugh Bryant
1 month ago

For devolution to work you need to devolve tax collection as well as administrative function, otherwise no-one will pay attention to what the local bureaucrats are up to until it’s too late. Local taxation will stimulate wider participation in local politics and enhance accountability.
It seems unlikely that this is what Starmer has in mind. He’s much more likely to be planning the next stage in the Blairite plan to colonise every public institution with Labour placemen.

frankfrank.teague
frankfrank.teague
1 month ago

Get elected this time,that is the goal and in my opinion the only goal.

Last edited 1 month ago by frankfrank.teague
Nicky Samengo-Turner
Nicky Samengo-Turner
1 month ago

Ahh… Starmer, please bring the port decanter, and make sure that the keeper has all the beaters ready for 9….