Jeremy Clarkson has given a very guarded endorsement of the new Labour leader; it was less of a blessing than most people who haven’t actually read what Clarkson had to say about him think. Yet it wasn’t without real significance. A lot of people who aren’t natural Labour voters really are warming to Starmer all of a sudden. I’m amongst them. I have never even seriously considered voting for the Labour party at a general election before; and yet, if a general election were held tomorrow, I would probably vote Labour for the first time.
A lot of this boils down to the negatives of voting for anyone else, of course. My conviction that Boris Johnson did not have what it takes for the top job has only grown over the last year. A lot of the criticism thrown Boris’ way by the left is incorrect, which muddies the water – it’s not that Johnson is a proto-fascist that’s the issue (for what it’s worth, I think BJ’s personal instincts are broadly liberal). It’s that he’s not a serious person and isn’t very capable when it comes to the practical side of politics. Until the Tories lose Boris, I couldn’t consider voting for them at any level. This is going to create huge problems for me when it comes to the London mayoral election next year. Sadiq Khan has said it is a referendum on rent controls. In that case, I have to vote against him. But if I’ve promised myself not to vote Tory so long as Boris is leader, who does that leave me with?
There are other options to explore, including the most obvious. At every general election I have participated in, I have voted Lib Dem. In 2017, this was more of a place to put my vote than a positive endorsement of the Liberal Democrats and in 2019, it was more a hope of what the party could become if it did all right, something which obviously didn’t happen. Yet I couldn’t vote Lib Dem if there was an election tomorrow; it no longer feels like a consequence free vote. I have come to a point where my issues with the Lib Dems on policy have become too massive to continue to ignore. Also, if I want to vote against Boris, voting for Labour is the best way to do that anyhow.
I still have a lot of doubts about Labour, of course. They could still opt for a manifesto that I find too loony to accept. There are signs of this already – the wealth tax that the shadow chancellor couldn’t or wouldn’t spell out the details of was worrying. Yet in the face of a statist Conservative party, the downsides to any of this is blunted – if there are two big state, big spend parties to choose from, why not go with the one led by a competent individual?
Which brings me finally onto Starmer himself. Here are the traits about him that I find likeable: he’s decent, he’s serious about turning the fortunes of his party around, he knows how to communicate with people outside of his political bubble, he understands the importance of mainstream media as a communication device. Those are the things that come instantly to mind. Now, ten years ago, none of that would have made him stand out from the crowd. Those were things that broadly applied to every politician who would have become leader of one of the two major parties. But after Corbyn and Johnson in particular, this is no longer the case. It’s why the shock of Starmer has been so profound – it’s strange to have a serious politician in one of the top two jobs in British politics again. We had become so used to fundamentally flawed people in those roles that having someone genuinely suited to it has been refreshingly odd.
Again, I still have a lot of reservations about Labour. But Starmer has made me think about the party in a warmer way than I ever have before. Part of this is down to how bad Johnson is, combined with the Lib Dems going into some strange nether world that baffles me, one where eliminating the Treasury is a solid idea. It is mostly process of elimination at this stage, in other words, but if Starmer continues to improve, my endorsement of him may become more than that.
I have a book out now called “Politics is Murder”. It follows the tale of a woman named Charlotte working at a failing think tank who has got ahead in her career in a novel way – she is a serial killer. One day, the police turn up at her door and tell her she is a suspect in a murder – only thing is, it is one she had nothing to do with. The plot takes in Conservative Party conference, a plot against the Foreign Secretary and some gangsters while Charlotte tries to find out who is trying to frame her for a murder she didn’t commit.
Also: there is a subplot around the government trying to built a stupid bridge, which now seems a charming echo of a more innocent time!
Some people are just born bland managerialist technocrats, I guess.
The phoenix says
You have come out of dante inferno
Back into the light
Some idiots call competence technocratic
These people worship incompetence that leads to death rate akin to a failed state eg England
Matt (Bristol) says
Nick, what worries me is that despite all these points of disagreement with you…
– I generally consider you too pro-free-market
– I do fear Boris Johnson and his acolytes ruling a authoritarian oligarchs (not necessarily fascists, but sometimes there isn’t a distinction)
– I increasingly dislike the politics of technocratic centrism
– I have all kinds of naievety about a grass-roots, democratic and federal UK
– I think Starmer is too London-centric and elitist in his social circle
– I think the Lib Dems should have left the coalition (if they’d joined it at all) hard and early, with much repenting…
… I still agree with you; under Starmer Labour is increasingly positioned (to English voters of the centre and centre-left) as the least worst option and there is less and less, the niche option of the Lib Dems for those who want to keep Labour on its toes in whatever way, because they have violently contradictory instincts on how they would do that.
I would go further, Matt, and say that despite the obvious vast differences in our politics, the fact that we both like Starmer and would vote accordingly suggests that for the first time in a very long while, the Labour Party is finally assembling a coalition of voters that could win a general election.
The only point I will take you up on is BJ building some form of authoritarianism – relax, he really is a bozo whose grasp on power is way more tenuous than most reckon. Yes, he probably has the power to drive us to a no deal Brexit – but that will in turn destroy him.
Matt (Bristol) says
Yes, I do see Starmer building that coalition. There is still a question of whether the Lib Dems will be able to assist by neutralising Tory seats, or whether he will have to go it alone or sup with the SNP devil.
I would counter your point on authoritarianism and say I don’t necessarily see it coming from Johnson’s own politics or personality, but from the people and culture he is enabling (partially by his incompetence) — but there is a culture of ‘the leadership of the state must be unopposed by parliamentary muddle’ building, which goes back to prorogation and could be attaining a near-ideological status within the future of Toryism. If they found someone competent to front it up, this could be dangerous.
It still has within it, a significant element of Cameron’s liberalism-for-all-some-of-the-time-but-most-particularly-for-the-wealthy-elite, though. Oligarchy is what it really is.
Dave Chapman says
As you’ve already detailed in the recent past, I’m also fairly convinced BoJo won’t stay the course. In fact it may not be his own direct contributions (or lack of) which are his ultimate downfall. Cummings careens from one clash to the next acquiring legions of enemies without managing to secure sympathetic allies on the way. I’m of the opinion the relationship between the two is the same as Thatcher and Nick Ridley. Without Cummings, I doubt BoJo’s tenure can survive.
Maybe watch for Sunak unexpectedly stepping aside early. Reasons arcane. I think in that case, he might be a better bet for next leader than Hunt, and if he manages to avoid being damaged by the Covid\No Deal fallout, he might look a strong contender against Starmer. BoJo and Starmer are harmed by a host of the loons standing behind them, in equal measure.
“I have come to a point where my issues with the Lib Dems on policy have become too massive to continue to ignore.”
In articles you have been more critical of attitudes taken by some (predominantly online) Liberal Democrats, but not so much about explicit policies. Perhaps it is a general thing about niche issues. Both Labour and Lib Dems are avoiding commitment to immediate policies because an election is too distant. On longer term aims (such as decarbonisation) they are not so dissimilar. I think this needs an article to itself.
Another related needed article is about opposition silence on Brexit. Silence from Labour after under Corbyn, the party had effectively facilitated Brexit by stifling much parliamentary opposition, is understandable, silence from the Lib Dems, less so. There have been various press releases, but no set piece analytical criticism. Listening to Layla Moran a few weeks ago, I had the impression that for her Brexit is off the agenda.
Dave Chapman says
Worth a read.
Comprises lessons for all parties. When I say ‘all parties’ that, of course, includes the LibDems.