The speaker’s tone is soft but to his audience the words are deeply alarming. It’s early January and top Labor officials are finding out exactly what the public thinks of them. Is not kind.
“We lack any form of identity,” says one of them. In the minds of voters, says this longtime staff member who has devoted punishing days and nights to his cause, the party is defined by “desire-washing.”
The fog of confusion seems to reach the top. Almost a year after Keir Starmer’s leadership, this secret insider presentation suggests that “his image lacks definition from other politicians.”
While he scores much better than Jeremy Corbyn, many Brits find him less “relatable” than Eton’s son Alexander Boris from Pfeffel Johnson.
So far, the new leader’s no-Corbyn policy is having less success than he expected, because Labor issues appear to run much deeper than those of its previous leader.
While Corbyn in 2019 clearly didn’t work out, leading Labor to its biggest dig since 1935, neither did Ed Miliband and Gordon Brown. The three men represented different currents of the Social Democratic tradition.
Even now, when the UK is cursed with one of the worst Covid death toll in the developed world and economic devastation, the Conservatives continue to lead Labor in polls. This is the backdrop that has led Starmer to consider wrapping himself in the union flag.
It is a huge risk, make no mistake. The very people you want to woo can see Labor’s new red, white and blue as spray paint.
Here is the arch nemesis from Westminster now talking about the possibilities of Brexit; a human rights lawyer who professes his love for the police and the military. As one Labor HQ staff member who has seen the new strategy puts it: “They don’t believe in any of this; they are saying what they think will give them votes. “
In the age of autocracy, there is no more serious political sin than being false.
Others believe that Starmer’s office has got the language and symbols wrong. North Tyne Mayor Jamie Driscoll may be considered the most powerful Labor politician in the Northeast. You have seen the videos of your emotional leader in front of a union flag and says: “Up here, we are talking about defending the northeast. Talking about the union, well that’s a reminder of the establishment in the south, right?
The biggest risk of all, as party strategists acknowledge, is that Starmer’s patriotic act will turn off the voters the Labor Party still believes it can trust: youth and ethnic minorities. And it may well push away its last bastions of support in increasingly independent Scotland.
A leader representing one seat in the Northwest says: “To win a majority in parliament, Labor must win over both Chipping Barnet and Bishop Auckland. At the moment they are only playing for Bishop Auckland. “
A year ago, when the Labor Party was holding its last leadership contest, all the candidates felt compelled to discuss the fragility of an electoral coalition stretching from Walthamstow to Workington.
This problem dates back decades, and since Brown’s leadership, the way the Labor Party has tried to fix it is by focusing its appeal on the lines of the economy and class.
Miliband had his “tight middle” to be won over by lower energy bills, while Corbyn tried to build a sense of shared interests between the Uber driver and the college professor on a zero-hour contract. Any appeal to national identity has always seemed as forced as a politician’s selfie at the door.
Starmer began his leadership along the same lines, making ten promises to party members that were essentially a Corbynism of continuity. However, he now seems to be moving away from the language of economics and politics towards identity and values. “There is no way he could wave the flag better than someone like Nigel Farage,” says Driscoll.
And so the largest left party in Europe could find itself in a very strange position. He could also be accused of combining right-wing electoral tactics with right-wing economics.
The party’s strategy asks it to spread its “economic competence” and abandon the associations with “spend, spend, spend.” This sounds like an abbreviation to rule out any attempt to be significantly different in taxes and spending from the Conservatives.
All of this can work for Starmer and his team. Or it may be that when choosing between Coca-Cola and Diet, voters prefer the real thing, in which case it might as well be scrapped for the next fad.
But in the meantime, it raises a question for all progressives in the UK: if the main party on the left seeks to walk like the right and speak like the right, then what exactly is the point of the main left party?
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism