I’ve always thought that Keir Starmer is a bit like vanilla ice cream – bland and thoroughly uninspiring, but not offensive enough to be spat out. But, in comparison to the wildcard that is Liz Truss, inoffensive and reliable is exactly what this country is craving. Stability has been severely lacking over the past years – a financial crash, a pandemic, climate change and a cost of living crisis have meant that politics has been confined to trying (and failing) to solve one crisis after the next, lacking any movement towards long-term goals or radical, and much-needed, reform. Add to this a whole host of characters that range from unlikeable at best and to morally reprehensible at worst, and it’s combined to create the perfect political storm.
As a result, over the past two years, there’s been no sense of direction. No policy driven by values or ideology. No energising figure who makes us feel real excitement for the future. And constrained by this political landscape, Labour opposition has been characterised by a severe lack of dynamism and a general sense of lethargy. But it seems that Mr Starmer has finally managed to breathe some vitality into the party. It seems that Labour is finally ready to embrace big ideas and big change.
Starmer’s speech at the Labour Party Conference certainly sounded promising – a £28 billion investment into transitioning to a green economy, the introduction of a Windfall tax on fossil fuel profits and a move towards rail nationalisation are ideas which would certainly take us in the right direction. He also spoke of creating new jobs and insulating homes. And the way he spoke about these issues showed an understanding of the day-to-day reality for normal people. For me, his policies also signified a refreshing shift to the left (in fact, they were the first ideas he’s presented that are actually leftist), and they gave the impression that perhaps the political spectrum is on the way to rediscovering a new sense of vitality.
But, let’s be realistic. Starmer’s words could just be tokenistic gestures designed to get him into office. Not that it should be that difficult. In case you hadn’t heard, Truss and her sidekick Kwasi Kwarteng have just managed to single-handedly tank the British economy in about two days. What could Starmer possibly do to make himself more unpopular than them? Maybe something smacking of hypocrisy in which he breaks laws he himself has set? Wait, sorry no, that doesn’t make you unqualified to be Prime Minister.
More importantly, I’m unconvinced that we’ll ever be able to move away from crisis politics without a complete dismantling of the system from the ground up. There are a whole host of deep-rooted social issues that have formed the foundations on which these crises have been built – huge wealth inequality, a sense of division and frustration, and an innate distrust of the systems which are meant to be there to protect and support people. These are issues that can only be addressed by huge overarching reform. And I wish we were in a place where we could seriously start talking about things like changing the electoral system, UBI, open boarders, a four-day work week. For me, these are tangible policies that could take us towards truly addressing the underlying issues, rather than playing political whack-a-mole.
Keir Starmer is our short-term fix, but he’s not our long-term solution. He might be able to clear the rubble created as a result of twelve years of misguided Conservative policy, but he’s not going to be able to reconstruct any form of golden bridge towards a Britain characterised by social harmony and economic prosperity. However, he’s currently our best bet and his speech was a step in the right direction. It’s a shame that it’s taken months of political ineptitude and a series of catastrophic mistakes to realise that we’re not going to solve the biggest problems of our time with incremental changes in policy. There needs to be a greater understanding that far-reaching and drastic reform is necessary. I don’t think that Starmer is fully prepared to be the Prime Minister who implements this but I am hopeful that we are starting to move closer to a fundamental reconceptualization of what is politically possible.
Image: Wikimedia Commons, Rwendland