355: All aboard the Starmer Express
As Labour leader, Sir Keir Starmer appears to be taking the party in a different direction. With a promised series of speeches about to come forward, why should we be taking any notice?
Whilst officially the party may still be committed to the 2019 manifesto, the reality is that it has been moving away from it since the huge election defeat. This, according to reports, is likely to be stepped up in the coming weeks.
When thinking about what issues could change, the simple answer is the economy but that is broad in its scope. Starmer is looking to rebuild the credibility of the party and that means working with the private sector. The reality is that funding will continue to be a challenge as well.
Labour is trying to work up policy ideas. So, whilst Jonathan Reynolds, as Shadow Business Secretary, may be committed to delivering an industrial strategy this year, its contents are still be discussed. There is a window of opportunity that should be grasped.
There will be other aspects of the last manifesto that will not be jettisoned. A commitment to tackling climate change will remain in place but the policies to achieve it may change.
Any engagement with Labour needs to keep in mind their central need to rebuild credibility with the national electorate.
This is part of a gradual move away from the Corbyn era. If Starmer moves too fast then he risks alienating some in the membership and wider trade union movement; too slowly, and he loses the political capital and momentum he has. This momentum is, it must be recognised, partly his own and partly because of the implosion of Boris Johnson. Starmer needs to take advantage of the momentum, especially with local elections coming up in May.
Whatever area of policy is of most relevance to you, Labour has to be taken seriously for a number of reasons. Simply focusing on the size of the task to win the next general election ignores the continued relevance and impact of the party.
- Labour is in power locally – across local authorities and most of the big city mayoralties, Labour is in office. No party should be considered in simply Westminster / Whitehall terms.
- Co-operation, not coalitions – a ‘one big heave’ approach to winning the next General Election is not out of the question but remains a huge challenge. Instead, consideration should be given to the other parties that Labour could work with. The record of the Conservative-Lib Dem government means that formal coalitions appear extremely unlikely but work arrangements between parties could be possible. So, thinking about engagement with Labour also means thinking about engagement with other parties.
- Wider decision-making – despite its weakened position in the House of Commons, the party remains a formidable force across Parliamentary committees and, of course, in the House of Lords.
- Government policies – it happens quite often that Government’s ‘borrow’ policy ideas from Opposition parties and introduce them. That potential opportunity should never be discounted.
- Profile – in more of a campaign scenario, working with the Opposition can bring additional profile and credibility to an issue.
If your engagement with Labour has been lacking in recent years, not least because of Corbyn’s approach to business, then now is the time to put that right. It is not just about Labour potentially forming the next government, the reasons are wider, and more immediate.