That it appears less than effective has resulted in disquiet, not merely from disaffected voices out on the left, but right across the Labour family, including, whisper it quietly, the most Blairite of Blairites. We know Starmer is good at PMQs. We also know that he brooks no indiscipline. It’s clear that he wants to take Labour in a new direction. But what is that direction? Where is he heading? Why hasn’t that been made clear by now?
Also, along the way, where is the ability to hold the Tories to account? Their confused and chaotic response to the Coronavirus pandemic, the shambolic Brexit negotiations, the yet more shambolic post-Brexit trade negotiations, and now the exam results fiasco - the opposition should be hammering Bozo and his inept placemen.
Instead, the likes of David Schneider survey the scene and respond “I'm wondering what it would take for a minister in this government to actually resign … And starting to wonder what it would take for Labour to call on them to do so”. Alastair Campbell, that most loyal of Blair-era figures, was also voicing disquiet about the lack of opposition.
“I am beyond rage at government incompetence/venality re exams etc. But I’m getting not far behind on rage front at [Labour] inability to take them apart and force change on it. They are the Opposition. Not commentators saying how shit things are. Plenty of us can do that outside”. He certainly can. But the point is well made. And it stands.
It’s not as if standing in opposition to the shambolic Tory response to the exam results mess is especially challenging. Here in the north-west, Greater Manchester Mayor Andy Burnham - who might have been Labour leader in 2015 had he not hesitated over Harriet Harman’s mistaken lack of opposition to welfare cuts - has done just that.
Was he angry about the A-Level fiasco? "Yes, I am furious and I don’t mind admitting it. I cannot bear to see young people from working class backgrounds shafted on an industrial scale by an elitist education system more concerned with grade inflation than fairness and social mobility” he told, later adding “One of the things that’s always been wrong with this country is the casual and in-built discrimination in our education system against kids from a working class background. Well, this time we’re not having it”.
Burnham has thrown his weight behind a legal challenge by the Good Law Project. And he is still on the case this morning: “So it looks like the Government ARE digging in and standing by their deeply flawed system. In that case, I will be taking legal advice this morning and have instructed leading Counsel. I expect to be writing to [Ofqual] later today to initiate action”. An effective opposition. It is not difficult to do.
What is difficult to do is to win over the right-leaning part of our free and fearless press, yet the new Labour leader is attempting to do exactly that, the latest effort being a column in yesterday’s Mail on Sunday, an increasingly wayward and bigoted publication.
Yes, Tony Blair went out of his way - rather a long way out of his way - to court the Murdoch mafiosi in the mid-1990s, and yes, the Sun swung its support behind Labour for the next three General Elections. But the influence the likes of Rebekah Brooks were allowed to exercise was even then, and remains now, extremely worrying.
Moreover, while the Mail titles refused to be won over by Blair, Gordon Brown was a great personal friend of the legendarily foul mouthed Paul Dacre, for what good it did him: the Daily Mail, and MoS, were viciously hostile to Labour during his leadership. Keir Starmer will not succeed where Blair failed. The Mail titles will continue to be anachronistic, bigoted, Europhobic, deeply racist and hostile to the public purpose.
Starmer has his priorities about face here: do the easy bit first, the day to day opposition, as Burnham is doing in Manchester. And then there is the vision thing: where is he taking the Labour Party? What’s the deal that all those activists who willingly knock on doors for the cause will have to sell to sceptical voters? Where’s the beef?
Blair had his list of pledges. He and Brown had a series of straightforward, easy to explain headline actions lined up for New Labour’s first term. Bank of England Independence, a new Minimum Wage, devolution referenda in Scotland and Wales, the Human Rights Act, continuing pursuit of peace in Northern Ireland, all came in those first years.
What would a Starmer Government have lined up for its first term? What would it do for those wanting to get ahead? What about homelessness, food banks, zero hours contracts, abuse of minimum wage laws? How would he get everyone to pay their fair share of tax? How would he seek to clear up the mess that is Brexit? Could he hold the Union together? How would he adapt the UK to meet the challenge of the Green Agenda?
The problem for all those Labour members is that they don’t know. Keir Starmer’s leadership campaign strapline was “Another future is possible”. So what is it?
Priorities, priorities: first, do the day to day opposition. Second, build a vision for the future. And third, by that time, the press will be asking for him to write columns for them - not the other way round, which is what appears to be happening right now.
People are crying out for leadership. Keir Starmer needs to respond - and soon.
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