STEPHEN GLOVER: Keir Starmer’s aiming at the Hard Left’s rotten heart. I hope for the country’s sake he succeeds
Sir Keir Starmer seems a cautious fellow, and has been much mocked for it. In fact, know-alls of every political persuasion have made up their minds that the Labour leader hasn’t the faintest chance of ever being Prime Minister of the United Kingdom.
He’s wooden and uninspiring, they say. It’s far from clear what he believes in. And he daren’t purge Labour of its Hard Left elements which at the last general election helped the party post its worst results since 1935.
The same political wiseacres make fun of Sir Keir’s 12,000 word essay The Road Ahead, which appeared yesterday. It has been said that it contains no new policies and is full of waffly pieties.
Well, maybe. But in the essay, Sir Keir declares ‘the role of government is to be a partner to private enterprise, not stifle it’.
It is hard to imagine a more emphatic departure from his Marxist predecessor, Jeremy Corbyn. Across the document’s 35 pages, the word ‘socialism’ doesn’t appear once while ‘business’ is mentioned 29 times.
Sir Keir Starmer seems a cautious fellow, and has been much mocked for it. In fact, know-alls of every political persuasion have made up their minds that the Labour leader hasn’t the faintest chance of ever being Prime Minister of the United Kingdom
I believe he is trying to take his party back to the centre ground. I also think people would be foolish to assume that Sir Keir is a no-hoper who will never make the bold decisions that define all successful leaders.
At the Labour conference in Brighton, which begins on Sunday, he could make his biggest gamble since becoming leader 18 months ago. I hope he has the courage to do so.
To the dismay of the Hard Left, he wants to change the way in which Labour leaders are elected. In 2014, the then Labour leader Ed Miliband recklessly introduced the system of one member, one vote.
It sounds democratic and fair, of course, but it isn’t. For the payment of a small fee, tens of thousands of people have been able to join the party, and vote for a leader who may not stand for its core values.
Enter Corbyn and his claque, not a few of whom turned out to have anti-Semitic leanings. He came uncomfortably close to leading the party to victory in 2017.
Enter Corbyn (pictured with Starmer in 207) and his claque, not a few of whom turned out to have anti-Semitic leanings. He came uncomfortably close to leading the party to victory in 2017
Fortunately the country, including many traditional Labour voters, saw through him by the time of the December 2019 election, and so Corbyn was history.
But with Miliband’s daft arrangement still in place, another Hard Left nutcase could be elected leader by members who don’t reflect the values of the party’s traditional supporters.
There is always a remote chance that, by hook or by crook, such a person could be finagled into No10.
Under Sir Keir’s system – which is the old one – Labour leaders would be elected with a third of the vote coming from MPs, a third coming from trade unions and a third coming from members.
The Hard Left is in uproar because it sees its path to power forever blocked.
Former shadow chancellor and loyal Corbynite John McDonnell preposterously claims that Sir Keir ‘is opening himself to charges of dishonesty’.
The big question is whether the less extreme trade union leaders will line up with the Labour leader.
At a meeting on Wednesday evening, things did not go his way. It’s possible he won’t put his proposal to a vote in Brighton, or that the issue will be postponed to a special conference to be held far in the future.
Last night there were rumours of an unsatisfactory compromise.
Sir Keir should take a leaf out of Tony Blair’s book.
At the 1994 Labour Party conference in Blackpool, less than three months after becoming Labour leader, Mr Blair dared to persuade sceptical delegates that the party should jettison Clause Four, which committed it to the common ownership of industry.
Blair certainly had cold feet before his speech about Clause Four, asking his press sidekick Alastair Campbell: ‘Is this madness we’re even considering it?’
Nonetheless, he summoned the courage to go ahead – and won.
At the 1994 Labour Party conference in Blackpool, less than three months after becoming Labour leader, Mr Blair dared to persuade sceptical delegates that the party should jettison Clause Four, which committed it to the common ownership of industry
Fortune favours the brave. If Sir Keir runs away from the issue, he will confirm his image as a leader who lacks the courage to take on the Left.
It would be better for him to push for a vote and lose it than never to have tried at all.
I pray for the sake of the country that he succeeds.
To remove Labour from the grip of the Hard Left, so that its luminaries could never have even the slightest chance of holding sway in No 10, would be a magnificent achievement.
More than that, I believe our democratic system depends on there being a credible Opposition. Only the most blinkered Tory could hope for one-party rule by the Conservatives for the rest of time.
The Road Ahead can be mocked for its length and generalities but it should also be celebrated for its moderation and good sense. It is really an essay aimed at the rotten heart of the Hard Left.
Sir Keir writes that Labour is ‘proudly patriotic’ – a dig at Corbyn, as well as an appeal to former Labour ‘Red Wall’ voters who have defected in their tens of thousands to the Tories.
Twice in the essay he refers to ‘hard-working families’ and twice to ‘hard-working people’.
Sir Keir writes that Labour is ‘proudly patriotic’ – a dig at Corbyn, as well as an appeal to former Labour ‘Red Wall’ voters who have defected in their tens of thousands to the Tories
In one of what he describes as ‘ten simple key principles’, he writes: ‘We will always put hard-working families and their priorities first.’
He will have struck a note even with many Tories when he writes: ‘The Government must play its role in restoring honesty, decency and transparency in public life.’ That will resonate with most people.
Some will say that these are only words, but they are words which seek to establish the huge gulf that separates the Labour leader from the Hard Left, though one can’t forget that he once served under Jeremy Corbyn in the Shadow Cabinet.
In the end, though, actions do speak louder. He must be prepared to take on the Corbynistas over the issue of how the Labour leader is elected.
One member, one vote, as it was delivered by the hapless Ed Miliband, has produced the antithesis of democracy.
This Labour conference really is a fork in the road for Sir Keir Starmer. He can choose to succumb to the Hard Left, in which case he and his party won’t be taken seriously by the majority of voters.
Or, in his dullish but determined and decent way, he can persevere, and so one day make Labour electable again.
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