Sir Keir Starmer was billed by his detractors as the MP for the liberal elite, the Baronet to the ‘People’s Vote’, a Knight in an ivory tower who had neither the acumen nor the character to take back the Red Wall. As soon as Starmer won the Labour leadership contest, Tory MP’s and the Labour Left eagerly thumbed through their hymn sheets to sing in unison: ‘He might rally to his banner the Lib Dems, but he doesn’t race greyhounds or have a normal name, like Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson’. But Keir Starmer has confounded critics by aptly demonstrating he knows how to set about winning the economically Left, socially conservative demographic that continue to confound Johnson, who remains apparently oblivious to the reasons they voted for him in 2019. Over the summer when the government lost control of the streets, the Labour Shadow Home Secretary was given the greenlight to brief that criminals ought to be afraid of the police. While Rishi Sunak was dishing out the cash, the Shadow Chancellor was dispatched to attack what she branded as ‘cavalier spending’. The government which promised to take back control of our borders spent a year and more reigning over record breaking migration with indifference, negligence that Starmer has damned as a ‘gap in the defences’. Labour are so far behind the Tories, that even the right strategy might only take them part way to power by 2024. But this assault on Boris’s right flank, inspired if not drawn up by Maurice Glasman, represents the best chance for Labour to achieve a breakthrough, and the biggest threat to the PM.
Day by day, more Labour tanks are parked on Tory lawns. In a recent Church Times article, Starmer wrote that Christianity ought to form a blueprint for British society. He has secured a regular column in the Telegraph, and his Shadow Ministers now pen op-eds for the Sun newspaper. The Union Flag, usually notable for its absence at Labour events, is now a permanent fixture of the leader’s addresses. Starmer knows Corbyn’s capture by the woke brigade, and his capitulation to the second referendum, for which he can thank himself, were the political death knell for the party. Though the metropolitanisation of the party had been ongoing for some time, the Corbyn era hammered the final nail in the coffin. The party’s trust on law and order collapsed, their reputation on defence disintegrated, and their loyalty to the country was in question. The fight therefore is now on these long-neglected fronts, as Starmer adopts the language of securitisation in his every utterance. Starmer’s latest speech serves as a prime example, in which he spoke about the importance of supporting families, set against a gaussian Union Flag, with the following loudly stamped thereon: ‘SECURE our economy. PROTECT our NHS. REBUILD. our country.’ No punches are being pulled in the messaging; the intent is being telegraphed for all to see.
Though Boris and those around him imagined they could paint Starmer as out of touch North London liberal lawyer, they were wrong. Starmer has proved himself artful and dextrous in his manoeuvres, having taken the PM’s blows and exploited their momentum for his own ends. Starmer has embraced his knighthood as evidence of his patriotism. He has enjoyed that his enemies have highlighted his career at the DPP, all the better that he can shore up his tough on crime credentials. He has not repelled allusions to is former Remain positions, in order that his decision to vote for Brexit reaffirm his credentials as a democrat. In some ways Starmer has risen to the heights that his rhetoric demands and made material policy shifts. He resisted the petitioning of teaching unions to close schools, he voted for Brexit and accepted that free movement will end.
But in the round the Labour policy platform remains mostly unchanged, and its MPs remain committed to a very red agenda. This Blue labourism which threatens to convert Red Wall voters is virtually all talk, and very little walk. It’s a branding exercise in which pre-existing policies are dressed up in patriotic colours. Rosie Duffield recently gave the game away when she revealed that most Labour MPs are desperate to re-join the EU. Zarah Sultana exposed the lunacy of the Socialist Campaign Group, who are a larger group in the PLP than they have been for many years, when she recently called for prisoners to be prioritised for the Covid-19 vaccine, over the elderly. Tough on crime briefings are hard to take seriously alongside deafening silence when it comes to BLM riots, and opting to take the knee in the wake of the desecration of the Cenotaph. It’s hard to consider credulous the rhetoric of fiscal conservatism, when at every turn Labour has called for more spending than the government, rather than less. And it’s doubtful in the extreme to think that Labour would be tough on the border, despite the fact their strategically ambiguous rhetoric might lead the casual observer to think they could be. Keir Starmer has put to use the ideology of Blue Labour for electoral ends, as a direct challenge to the populist electioneering of the PM, and unless Boris manages to reconnect with the spirit which saw him sweep to power, he could find himself meaningfully challenged by this new look Labour party come the next election.