Keir Starmer’s incredible shrinking pamphlet was initially said to run to 14,000 words, then 13,000, then 12,500 and now 11,000 is even being mentioned.
As someone who has read it from start to finish, let me assure you that whichever of those word counts is accurate, it’s still much too long. But those who are disparaging the document as useless are nevertheless barking up the wrong tree. In fact, it is a tremendously useful document – but useful to the Conservatives rather than Labour.
Because while earnest Sir Keir has failed to come up with anything that will produce the kind of visceral connection with the electorate that could presage political momentum, he has nonetheless telegraphed to the Tories his basic plan of attack. In doing so, he has highlighted his own areas of greatest weakness.
Starmer is far too pedestrian a character for this to be a feint. Were he a D-Day commander he would find himself in the position of just having told the enemy all about his actual plodding and easily beatable strategy for taking them on rather than having convinced them he intended to land on one set of beaches while secretly lining-up another.
So on cultural issues we now have confirmation that Starmer’s approach will be simply to accuse the Tories of deliberately stoking divisions whenever they arise, while himself actively supporting radical left-wing stances only when he feels that the power of his own party’s vested interests means that he has to.
Hence it is that a leader who adopted the BLM gesture of knee-taking, brought from across the Atlantic, lambasts the Tories for ‘ongoing attempts to import American-style divisions on social, cultural and sometimes national lines’.
He also pledges to bring in a new Race Equality Act to tackle ‘structural racism’ – the phenomenon blamed by the Left for under-representation of ethnic minority groups in any activity or field of employment.
Will this wash with the electorate – especially the culturally conservative Red Wall voters Labour needs to win back? I highly doubt it and so does Tony Blair who recently wrote:
‘The cultural message, because he is not clarifying it, is being defined by the ‘Woke’ Left, whose every statement gets cut-through courtesy of the Right. On cultural issues, one after another, the Labour Party is being backed into electorally off-putting positions.’
On green issues, Starmer has pinned himself to a basic attack line that whatever Boris Johnson proposes does not go far enough or fast enough.
‘Our government has been talking the talk but it has not walked the walk. Not only is the UK currently way off track to meet our legally binding net-zero target, but we are not even on track to meet the less ambitious one that preceded it,’ he writes.
Yet such a stance feels increasingly off-beam in a context where many Tory voters are becoming more and more anxious about the PM’s radicalism on this subject. This leaves Starmer with nothing to offer them apart from more of what is already making them unhappy.
On the economy there is even better news for the Tories. Starmer is full of platitudes about creating prosperity but struggles to distinguish his likely approach from Boris Johnson’s at all. He is reduced to claiming that while Johnson has tried to ‘distance’ himself from the austerity under David Cameron, he has not found a ‘clear and concise way of talking about the economy’.
Yet how does he talk about the economy himself? Via motherhood-and-apple pie phrases about creating ‘an economy that works’ where there is a ‘joint effort’ between the public and private sectors, where workers ‘see their pay, skills and conditions improve’ and where ‘everyone who wants to contribute can fulfil their potential’.
It sounds a lot like levelling-up. So long as Rishi Sunak does a halfway competent job of economic management then there is nothing here to suggest that the Conservatives’ historic advantage over Labour on perceived competence on economic policy is in danger of disappearing.
The pamphlet also serves warning that Starmer intends to use his ex-DPP status to try and mount an attack on law and order, presenting himself as a tough and competent alternative. But his looming focus of pledging to use money for a new royal yacht to fund CCTV cameras in high-crime neighbourhoods is feeble. And no doubt his investigation into ‘structural racism’ will further hamper police forces trying to cope with the urban crime wave.
So long as the Government sticks to the programme on restoring police numbers and throws some tougher sentencing into the policy mix, again there is nothing to suggest Starmer’s Labour is capable of scoring an ‘away’ win on an issue traditionally favouring the Tories.
Then we come to his areas of most excruciating weakness. Immigration is chief among these, with the only mention of the issue being in a passage where he accuses ‘populists’ of stoking fears about a loss of control.
But how is anyone going to take seriously his pledge to create a ‘contribution society’ favouring those who play by the rules when he is too squeamish to propose any action to halt the flow of those arriving in small boats from across the Channel to access the UK welfare state from day one?
And how will he pose as a leader who can deliver higher pay when he is on record calling for the restoration of the free movement that compressed wages for so long?
Then there are EU relations where he pledges to ‘fix the holes in the shoddy Brexit deal’. Yet this means Starmer asking pro-Brexit Red Wall voters in particular to trust him to refashion the departure settlement, for which many will read ‘dilute’ or even ‘negate’. What Starmer sees as holes, most of his most crucial target voters see as escape routes towards national sovereignty and freedom. This is gold dust for Tory election planners.
While his deputy Angela Rayner busied herself this week with actually landing rhetorical punches on the Conservatives in PMQs, Starmer has merely explained how he intends to do so. The answer is by leading with his chin.
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