I really want to believe that Keir Starmer will be good. I want to believe that he will offer up the strong opposition that Corbyn has been so unable to provide. A couple of days ago I even tweeted: “There isn’t really a party or even portion of British politics I like at the moment. I’m pulling for Keir Starmer to be Labour leader mostly – and solely – because he isn’t visibly insane. That’s what I’m clinging to here.”
Then came yesterday and Keir’s ten pledges. They are bad. Actually, they are more than bad – they are excruciatingly terrible. They have made me genuinely fearful of what Starmer’s time as Labour leader might be like.
First of all – and I want to get this out of the way – the pledges are horribly written. They employ a management speak throughout that is distracting and unhelpful, although perhaps it is used because distraction is essential here; it is to make it seem like there is more substance on hand than is actually the case. I could go on about this for pages, so I’ll limit myself here only to the examples that are the most egregious.
Under pledge nine, “Equality” (which isn’t even a pledge in the loosest sense, but I’ll come back to that) we have this sentence: “Pull down obstacles that limit opportunities and talent.” Obstacles don’t limit, they bar any progress at all. That is what makes them obstacles. Under pledge three, “Climate justice”, we have: “Put the Green New Deal at the heart of everything we do.” If this is at the heart of everything, why is it in pledge three, not one? If this is the heart of the enterprise, shouldn’t you have led with this and then elaborated on how the Green New Deal affects the rest of the pledges? Or is the “heart” thing just bullshit speak to sound green enough to the target audience?
Another problem with the way it is written is that it often isn’t clear whether it is a prospectus for a Labour government or a plan for opposition and blurs the line between these two states of being in a nonsensical way that is clearly used to obfuscate. Take this line: “Support the abolition of tuition fees and invest in lifelong learning.” If you’re in government will you abolish tuition fees or not? What does “support the abolition of tuition fees” mean as a sentence? That Labour will vote for it in the unlikely event the Tories put it forward? The first half of the sentence only makes sense if Labour are in opposition (and not very much sense at that) and the second only makes sense if they are in government (since how else do you have the power to invest in anything). What a mess. Or how about: “Stand up for universal services and defend our NHS.” What does the “Stand up” here actually mean? Would a Labour government really make all public services universal? As an example, would that mean if for whatever reason I wanted to attend my children’s primary school as a 47-year-old student, I should have the right to do so? Most of the pledges feel like they were written in a way to sound appealing to Labour activists without actually meaning anything at all.
Yet while the pledges lack substance throughout due to their poor composition, where there is substance it is in pursuit of very bad public policy. “Introduce a Prevention of Military Intervention Act and put human rights at the heart of foreign policy.” So, a Labour government wants to pass an act that limits its own ability to militarily intervene, regardless of circumstance? Also, if you put “human rights at the heart of foreign policy”, won’t that mean militarily intervening in some instances? Rwanda, anyone? Ot here is all of pledge five on “Common ownership”: “Public services should be in public hands, not making profits for shareholders. Support common ownership of rail, mail, energy and water; end outsourcing in our NHS, local government and justice system.” Beyond the fact that nationalising all of those things would be stupid, the pledge isn’t even promising to do that. Again, the word “support” here is inserted to blur meaning. Would Labour nationalise all of these services or not? “End outsourcing” throughout the NHS? That would cost a massive amount and cause huge disruption. Is Starmer saying he would be happy to disrupt the NHS, causing actual harm to people, for ideological purposes? This is one of the few things in the pledges that has no wooly language at all, so I have to take him at his word here.
“Defend free movement as we leave the EU.” Do I take this to mean Labour are going to shout about it in opposition but then decide what to do in government when they get there? As a government, you either reinstate free movement of people from and to the EU or you do not; “defend” is a meaningless word in this context. Pledge nine, “Equality”, is completely abysmal: “Pull down obstacles that limit opportunities and talent. We are the party of the Equal Pay Act, Sure Start, BAME representation and the abolition of Section 28 – we must build on that for a new decade.” That’s it – that’s the entire pledge. The leading candidate to be Labour Party leader in 2020 has nothing new to say about equality, one of the main reasons the party exists, and no actual policies on the subject at all. Just, “We’ve been good on this in the past, so trust us to be good in this area again in the future. At some point when we manage to think of some policies, which we are unable to at the moment for some reason”.
I could go on for thousands of more words about how bad the ten pledges are because every word, every sentence, is terrible, but I’ll leave it there. I don’t know why Starmer felt the need to put this out. He’s ahead in the race and looks set to win by a landslide. He could have released something simple outlining some basic things he would do as Labour leader. He did not have to make ten pledges that mostly don’t pledge anything and where they do, tie Starmer into making extremely bad policy decisions.
I have signed up to vote in this contest as a Registered Supporter. Before yesterday, I had decided to vote for Starmer. Now, I’ll vote for Nandy. The ten pledges have led me to seriously question Keir Starmer’s judgement and how well he might do as Labour leader. We can only hope this is an unfortunate blip.