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Boris Johnson and Sir Keir Starmer pay respects to Sir David Amess. Belfairs Methodist Church.

Boris Johnson and Sir Keir Starmer pay respects to Sir David Amess. Belfairs Methodist Church. Source: Andrew Parsons - Number 10 - Flickr / cropped from original / licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 / license shared below

The Labour Leader’s umpteenth attempt to define his political vision was another forgettable mix of jingoism and waffle, writes Sean Ledwith

Even by his own low standards of charisma and dynamism, Keir Starmer’s keynote speech to an audience of businesspeople in Birmingham this week was a remarkably pointless exercise and was widely received with all the enthusiasm of a bag of cold sick. The Labour Leader has struggled to define his political vision since replacing Corbyn almost two years ago and this speech was just the latest of multiple relaunches that have taken place over that period.

Like all its predecessors, this speech was painfully devoid of authenticity and inspiration and provided a textbook example of the modern politician’s art of talking without saying anything. Recent polling indicates that Boris Johnson’s persistent blundering incompetence over managing the pandemic has finally created a window of opportunity for Starmer to establish himself as a credible alternative as Prime Minister

Up till now, Starmer’s strategy has essentially been to say or do as little as possible in the hope that the Johnson government will simply implode under the weight of its own ineptitude. Even Team Starmer realise now, however, that something more assertive is required to recapture the energy that marked the Labour campaigns in 2017 and 2019. Needless to say, there is zero chance of a man like Starmer who embodies the establishment being able to mobilise enthusiasm among the young and disaffected in the way that Corbyn so spectacularly managed to do.

Slavish

The Labour Leader delivered the speech with not just one but two Union Jacks behind him. He evidently feels that one symbol of fealty to the British state is insufficient and that only doubling down on jingoism will reassure the elite that he is no threat to their wealth and power.

Starmer began his snooze fest by asking us to “Think of all that British have to be proud of. The rule of law. Her Majesty the Queen. Universalpublic services.” Such obsequious grovelling to the ruling class would be stomach-churning at the best of times but in the week that we have seen the repellent Prince Andrew resort to legal technicalities in a bid to evade justice, Starmer’s assertion of loyalty to the monarchy was particularly ill-timed.

As for the rule of law, the way the British judicial elite have conspired recently with the US to entrap Julian Assange is nothing to be proud of. Johnson’s shameful evasions of Covid protocols with his Downing Street Christmas parties have also blatantly exposed how wafer-thin is the commitment of the elite to that principle.

Starmer then sought to justify his persistent reluctance to attack the Tories for their bungling of the pandemic: “Our instinct, in a national crisis is to give the government the benefit of the doubt. And because the pandemic posed an unprecedented problem, we, Her Majesty’s opposition, did the same.”

This is actually one of the reasons Labour is not even further ahead in the polls. Starmer’s misguided and slavish echoing of most of Johnsons’ decisions throughout the pandemic has left the British people virtually defenceless in the face of the most criminally incompetent government of the modern era. It has been left to rank and file trade union action to provide the most effective resistance to Johnson’s murderous incompetence throughout the pandemic, most notably the NEU’s mobilisation against reckless school re-openings this time last year.

Anodyne

Starmer went on to introduce “my Contract with the British people. This will be a solemn agreement about what this country needs and how a good government should conduct itself.” If he seriously thinks voters are likely to be swayed by another British politician making vacuous promises, he really needs to hire better spin doctors. Distrust and cynicism of politicians are at an all-time high; not least of Starmer himself who campaigned for the Labour leadership with a pledge to renationalise the big energy companies that was predictably rowed back on soon after he was elected. His contract will apparently be characterised by an audacious combination of ‘Security, Prosperity and Respect’. It would be difficult to think of any principles more anodyne and instantly forgettable.

He takes perverse pride in the fact the 1945 Atlee government “gave this country its independent nuclear deterrent.” Oddly, he neglected to mention this was a wholly undemocratic and secret decision made by that Prime Minister without even consulting most of his own cabinet, still less the voters in an election. This is obviously Starmer’s way of reassuring the generals and spooks of the British deep state that their delusional aspirations to global power would be safe with him in Number 10.

Blairite restoration

Apart from Atlee, Starmer sees himself as pursuing the legacy of two other Labour PMs: These three chapters of change – Attlee, Wilson and Blair – made Britain a better country. We must be the people who write the fourth chapter. The people who create a new Britain in the twenty-first century.” There are now close to a million who think the third of those is far from a suitable role model since that is the number so far who have signed a petition this week to deny Blair the knighthood announced for him in the New Year’s Honours.

If Starmer plans to follow in the footsteps of a war criminal, the rest of the left needs to be prepared to take him on should we ever see him waving on the steps of Number 10 – with two Union Jacks behind him no doubt.

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Sean Ledwith

Sean Ledwith

Sean Ledwith is a Counterfire member and Lecturer in History at York College, where he is also UCU branch secretary. Sean is also a regular contributor to Marx and Philosophy Review of Books and Culture Matters

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