Keir Starmer should be good news for all of us

I for one am mightily relieved that Labour now have someone in charge who looks credible and authoritative. I say this as a citizen and as a Liberal Democrat.

As a citizen…

having a weak opposition party is in no one’s interest. It opens up space for a weak government. We’ve seen that happen in recent years and are living with the consequences now.

There is no getting away from it, under FPTP Labour are the alternative government. We should all care about what sort of government they might form.

And Starmer is clearly a big improvement. Corbyn, the lifelong backbencher who achieved nothing and devoted himself tirelessly to the uncompromising politics of protest and anger. Starmer, the former senior prosecutor, who must be adept at leading large organisations and resolving complex problems. He wouldn’t have risen to the top of the CPS otherwise. I know which CV I prefer.

As a Liberal Democrat…

I have a hunch* we do better when Labour doesn’t scare ‘soft Tory’ voters into voting Tory despite not being very keen on what the Tories have to offer.

We did well during the Blair years partly because Blair was acceptable to these voters. They could put aside the binary “who do you want as your prime minister” factor and vote for us in Lib/Con marginals.

In 2010 too, one could argue Brown did not scare soft Tories that much. He had, after all, been chancellor since 1997 and PM since 2007.

This changed in 2015 when the Tories managed to scare voters with “vote (red) Ed, get Salmond”. After that – well no soft Tory was going to risk the prospect of a Labour government under Corbyn. But I don’t think it will be easy to portray Starmer as a scary left winger. That will be to our advantage.

*I say hunch because this is just opinion – not grounded in psephological research.

* Chris Pallet is the Chair of Redbridge Liberal Democrats.

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42 Comments

  • Yeovil Yokel 6th Apr '20 - 2:06pm

    I too welcome Starmer’s emphatic election victory, but it’s come too late to avoid so much of the damage which has been done in recent years. Corbyn has been such a disaster for this country – without him as LOTO we may not have had Brexit.

  • It depends what you mean by moderate. Corbyn was most definitely on the economic left, but I can’t imagine he would demand that people be banned from exercising outside or be quite so keen on looking “strong”. Also it will be pretty hard for a Conservative government going down the path it has gone down to argue against excessive “socialist” spending. The world has changed in a way it hasn’t since the end of WWII and the global economy will change as a result. The days of easy travel, just in time supply lines and overconfidence in market dynamics as an innate force for good are over. After this, does anyone seriously think that voters will emerge with lost savings, newly unemployed, after weeks (possibly months) under lockdown to a world of closed businesses and they will conclude that what is needed is a return to the pre-virus world, so we can have the same thing happen a couple of years down the line. I don’t see it.

  • Chris writes “I have a hunch* we do better when Labour doesn’t scare ‘soft Tory’ voters into voting Tory despite not being very keen on what the Tories have to offer.

    *I say hunch because this is just opinion – not grounded in psephological research.”

    I don’t have a citation to hand. However my understanding is that historical data clearly supports Chris’s hunch, and I recall seeing some polling experts making the same point.

  • I take a different view on this. I quite liked Jeremy Corbyn’s commitment to Bennite principles and he made the Labour party a clear socialist alternative, just as Boris Johnson has made the Conservatives a clear Thatcherite party.
    With Labour now looking back to the electoral success it achieved under Blair and the Tories embedded in former Labour strongholds in the North those clear distinctions begin to blur again. That makes the task of promoting a liberal centrist view rather more challenging. It may mean some more LibDem MPs but that of itself is not a breakthrough to a non-socialist alternative opposition. Time will tell, I guess.

  • @Joe Bourke “I take a different view on this. I quite liked Jeremy Corbyn’s commitment to Bennite principles and he made the Labour party a clear socialist alternative, just as Boris Johnson has made the Conservatives a clear Thatcherite party.”

    It’s a shame Corbynism hsan’t got a stronger hold; now the Liberals in the Labour Party no longer have any incentive to actually act on those principles. A non-socialist Labour Party just continues to be the blocking minority it has been for the last century, ensuring a continuing Conservative hegemony.

    Where I take issue is that Johnson isn’t a Thatcherite. He’s the opposite of an idealogue and has firmly taken up the Statist mantle.

    The yawning gap in British politics is the area covering internationalist, pro-enterprise, state-sceptic social liberals. This is our sweet spot, covering as it does the demographic most likely to vote for us.

  • George Burn 6th Apr '20 - 5:32pm

    Completely agree with you, Chris.

    The December 2019 election campaign was painful for Liberal Democrats. Yes, we won a million more votes than in 2017, but the outcome was a long, long way from where we hoped to be.

    There are all sorts of reasons for that disappointing result, many of which can be put at our door, including (I am sorry to say) our choice of leader, our manifesto (especially of course around Brexit), and our tactics. But there was one factor outside our control that I and others found particularly potent: people’s fears that a vote for us would end up being a vote for Jeremy Corbyn.

    And one can see why they were worried. Our approach had to the election had to be: vote for us so as to block the Tory Brexit. But that only made sense if we were willing to help Labour form some sort of government instead of the Tories. Yes, we could say that, if we had the Parliamentary numbers, we would take the edges off of a Corbyn and Momentum led minority government, but that was a tough thing to sell on the doorstep, to people who could easily have voted for us.

    Time and again, I heard people say that they really disliked the simplistic nationalism of Johnson and Cummings, but that their greater fear was Corbyn. So many, many moderates, Remainers and centrists ended up, in words I heard on numerous occasions, holding their noses and voting Tory.

    Which is why Labour’s choice of Keir Starmer as their new leader is good news for the Liberal Democrats. No longer will there be that fear factor on our left flank, scaring moderates into the arms of this rightwing Tory Government. I fully expect Starmer is going to make it harder to hold onto some “red liberals” (people a bit like me, as it happens), especially in areas in which Labour are already strong, but we can capitalise on the arrival of a more reasonable voice at the head of the Labour Party to fashion policies that will appeal to a cohort of voters in the centre.

    In the coming months and years, Coronavirus and its aftermath will dominate politics, and there will be a return to Brexit-related issues. There will be many people who are or will be uncomfortable with Johnson’s Tories who would also not want to vote Labour but who could find a happy home with us; we need to make sure we can appeal to them.

  • Tony Greaves 6th Apr '20 - 5:50pm

    Starmer will be a flop, but it will take some time for that to become obvious. I am particularly sorry that Lisa Nandy has taken on the shadow foreign secretary job. hi sis a serious mistake because she is one of the few leading politicians at national level who understands the north of England and particular all the towns and areas outside the main regional centres. That is what she should be concentrating her attention on, not foreign parts.

  • Richard Underhill. 6th Apr '20 - 7:03pm

    Tony Greaves 6th Apr ’20 – 5:50pm
    Keir Rodney Starmer has put Ed Miliband in his Shadow cabinet, who should be able to eat a bacon sandwich by now.
    If Ed were shadow foreign Secretary he would be able to pick up key information from his brother.
    At least Tottenham has a voice now.

  • Richard Underhill. 6th Apr '20 - 7:12pm

    George Burn 6th Apr ’20 – 5:32pm
    As night follows day the next issue will be paying for the Chancellor’s largesse.
    When we have an elected leader we will also need a shadow chancellor,
    which will be a difficult role for any successor.

  • It seems to me that the Liberal Democrats did best, not when we were trying to pick up “soft Tory” votes, but when we were able to outflank Blairite Labour to the left and pick up anti-war votes, thanks to the efforts of Charles Kennedy.

    The Liberal Democrats are at their best as a party of the anti-authoritarian left. The lesson of the Clegg years (and our ensuing failure to rise much above them) is that we do not do very well as a party of the centre. In fact, our attempts to play a centre game, far from attracting a nucleus of disaffected Labour and Tory voters, seem to have had the opposite effect: driving centrists back to their respective bases.

    Our loss in support, which culminated in the wipeout of 2015, actually started very soon after the 2010 elections, and had little to do with the perceived failures of the coalition. It had not even that much to do with tuition fees (though that became an emblem of it). It was more about the coalition itself, and what that seemed to symbolise. And that was not even that Nick Clegg and the Orange Bookers had moved the party that far to the right; there was some movement, yes, but not all that much. It was more that people on the left who had voted for us suddenly realised the difference between what we were and what they had wished us to be.

    The lesson there, is, I think, a fundamentally simple political one (though one which I think many of our leaders still have difficulty appreciating); it’s that you can’t just declare a stance and expect voters to come and meet you there. You have to figure out who your voters are and go and meet them where they already are-and convince them that they can rely on you to stay there.

  • TCO,

    state-sceptic social liberals” I think this is an oxymoron. Perhaps you meant “socially liberal”. Social Liberals do not believe in a small state, they believe that the state has a huge role to play directly with dealing with social issues, such as poverty, inequality, unemployment, health provision and climate change.

  • @David-1 there is no future for the party if it positions itself on the Left. That space is crowded and contested by a plehtora of other parties; in the UK generally by Labour and the Greens, and with the Nationalist Socialists in parts.

    The uncontested space fortunately is one that is (or should be) in the Liberal sweet-spot: internationalist, pro-enterprise, state-sceptic, socially liberal. This is where our voters are now, as evidenced by Lord Aschroft’s polling at the 2019 election. Harking back to 2005 and earlier – fifteen years ago – is a waste of time and the route to political oblivion. The voters of that period projected all sorts of things onto the empty cypher that was the party at that time, en couraged by frankly duplicitous campaigning methods. To govern is to choose; and when we chose our Liberal principles, the leftists we had teased found us out.

    We are a party of the middle class. We are not Left Wing. We are not Left of Labour. We are Liberal.

  • @MichaelBG – yes, socially liberal. Social “Liberals” are statist.

    @Ian Sanderson (RM3) “For a substantial numbers of our activist members ANY coalition with the Tories was ‘supping with the Devil’ … Combined with fact that we all knew and liked local Labour members, this made it easy for them to switch.”

    This encapsualtes everything that was wrong with the party in the 2000s (and before). Cosy relationships with Labour, no equidistance, and a focus that was primarily anti-Tory and not pro-Liberal.

  • If you are looking for a moderate Labour leader who we did best under, for a comparison with Starmer, then John Smith may be the one.
    Only Labour leader from 1992-94, tragically dying young (capable Scottish Labour politicians on the ‘90s seemed to suffer from this), during this period we excelled in winning stunning results in by-elections and the 93 county elections, this only being checked by the ascesion of Blair in 94 as Labour leader.
    The one caveat being the complete shambles the Tories were in through this period.
    Starmer has echoes of Smith, to make the best of this we need to do a lot better on the national scene.

  • Nigel Jones 7th Apr '20 - 10:46am

    A factor not mentioned so far is psychological. In 2019 we saw the culmination of a recent trend of people who have always voted Labour, now voting Tory. Corbyn and Brexit have been key in this, but now that so many people have broken their automatic link with Labour, Keir Starmer is going to have to really persuade by attitude and argument and action if he is to get them back on board. Much of course will also depend on how this government performs, but indications are that as populists, they will try to do enough to bribe their new supporters to stay Tory. We need to work hard at finding where our main actions and messages need to be in all this.

  • Denis Loretto 7th Apr '20 - 11:10am

    Those here who evidently would have preferred a Labour leader on the hard left in order to give the Lib Dems the opportunity to shine are in my view sadly misguided. For all sorts of reasons, including the mess we made of the December election and the period leading up to it and of course the FTTP voting system, the Lib Dems are in no position to provide the principal opposition to the Tories for a long time to come. It will take real co-operation between all constructive, progressive and small-l liberals to defeat right wing politics. With Keir Starmer aboard there is a real chance to move in this direction. The Lib Dems can play an important part if we are realistic and outward looking.

  • @Dennis Loretto “It will take real co-operation between all constructive, progressive and small-l liberals to defeat right wing politics. With Keir Starmer aboard there is a real chance to move in this direction.”

    No mention of defeating Left Wing politics? The implication of this is that you’re perfectly OK with socialism.

  • Peter Martin 7th Apr '20 - 12:52pm

    @ Chris Pallet,

    “Corbyn, the lifelong backbencher who achieved nothing………” ??

    The last time I checked Labour membership was about 600,000 which makes it the largest party in Western Europe. On the face of it, it looks like Labour has taken a turn to the right but the membership is still solidly of the left. The problem for nearly all members was that it had become quite obvious in the leadership contest that neither Rebecca Long-Bailey nor Lisa Nandy was yet ready the leadership role. Ask a Labour member about this and they are quite likely to say that they aren’t totally happy about the choice of Keir Starmer but there wasn’t another viable option.

    In the largely Brexit free 2017 General election the Labour Party polled 40% of the votes which was 5% more than Tony Blair polled, as a winning total, in 2005. This was in spite of the collapse in Scottish support which didn’t happen under Jeremy Corbyn’s watch.

    Those who have a Machiavellian turn of mind would say that Jeremy Corbyn wanted the UK out of the EU and played his cards very cleverly to achieve that end. I’m not convinced about that but it is possible. So that could be something to add to his list of achievements!

  • TCO,

    The party has moved politically since 2015 and our manifesto included lots of calls for more government spending on benefits, child care, education the NHS and social care, investment and environmental issues (more than £243 billion). Please can you point out where the Ashcroft data shows our supporters think the state should be doing less? Our share of the social grades in 2019 do not seem much different to what it was in the 1980’s, 90’s or 2000’s. We have always had the higher percentage in the ABC1 group and the lowest in the DE group.

  • Richard Easter 8th Apr '20 - 4:35am

    TCO – a party of middle class corporate values has as much chance of winning an election as an overtly Marxist one aimed at the industrial working class, or for that matter an aristrocratic party soley aimed at preserving the House of Lords and Royal wealth. Labour and the Tories have only won when they aim outside of their base.

    What would your middle class pro globalisation party have to say to the zero hours care worker, the self employed electrician, a railway guard who is a member of the RMT, a computer programmer who has had their job offshored, or a police officer struggling to do their duty with cuts galore?

    I would like to see how South West London corporate values will play in the actual South West. How will free markets, privatisation and globalisation go down in Paignton or Newquay? In fact the Lib Dems have also held working class northren seats such as in Redcar, Rochdale and Manchester. I bet no one is chomping up there for outsourcing, offshoring jobs, the TTIP or PwC and G4S.

    Keir Starmer is highly likely to hold onto the vast bulk of the left wing membership (after all they voted for him, and his pledges are very much 2017 manifesto stuff, the trade unionised working class, large swathes of the professional middle class ), and appeal far more widely out of the base, including some Lib Dems and even soft Tories.

  • Peter Watson 8th Apr '20 - 8:30am

    @Michael BG “our manifesto included lots of calls for more government spending on …”
    The election campaign gave the impression that this was all enabled by a “Remain dividend” so it was easy to look like a party of big spending in all areas.
    Once the chances of remaining in the EU evaporated after the election the party lost its raison d’être and did not make clear what sort of spending was still a priority without that dividend.
    Shell-shocked, the party did nothing to re-establish itself in the aftermath of that election and now the coronavirus crisis has made the impact of that delay worse. Apart from shared socially liberal principles (which are largely shared also with supporters of other parties), I’ve seen nothing on this site or elsewhere that gives the impression of a party with a clear sense of identity or direction. If senior figures position themselves as potential leaders in a protracted campaign which will conclude 18 months after the election, the chances of changing this rudderless impression look slim.

  • @MichaelBG “Our share of the social grades in 2019 do not seem much different to what it was in the 1980’s, 90’s or 2000’s. We have always had the higher percentage in the ABC1 group and the lowest in the DE group.”

    @Richard Easter “a party of middle class corporate values has as much chance of winning an election as an overtly Marxist one aimed at the industrial working class, or for that matter an aristrocratic party soley aimed at preserving the House of Lords and Royal wealth.”

    The difference between now and the 1980s is that the social classes are far more geographically concentrated together, partly driven by our laughable state school selection by houseprice policy. So concentrating on a particular social class and its values gives us the opportunity to establish a core vote and presence under FPTP which won’t be changing any time soon.

    “What would your middle class pro globalisation party have to say to the zero hours care worker, the self employed electrician, a railway guard who is a member of the RMT, a computer programmer who has had their job offshored, or a police officer struggling to do their duty with cuts galore?”

    Zero hours contracts offer many people the flexibility they want for their working lives. A self-employed electrician is exactly the kind of person who would respond positively to a pro-enterprise message, ditto the computer programme who may want to set up her own business. Union Officials are die-hard Labour and would never vote for us; ditto the police who are die-hard Conservatives.

  • Peter Martin 8th Apr '20 - 9:30am

    @ Michael BG,

    “our manifesto included lots of calls for more government spending on …”

    OK but it was mainly about tinkering at the edges. Putting a penny on income tax was never going to fix the problems that concern us all. As Peter Watson points out, the idea was that a “Remain Dividend” gave the Govt extra spending money. This is classic mistaken neoliberal thinking. If remaining in the EU had indeed given the UK economy a boost then the government should have been more careful with its reflationary policies to guard against inflation. This is all, of course, conjecture about what would have happened had we stayed in the EU and had the Covid19 outbreak not occurred.

    The commitment to running a surplus showed that the Lib Dems were the most neoliberal of the major parties. Having said this, the Labour Party wasn’t much better so I don’t want to be too partisan about it.

    Perhaps surprisingly, the political right often seem to understand how the economy really works better than most. Ronald Reagan, for example, had a close relationship with Margaret Thatcher and yet his economic policies were far more expansionary. Boris Johnson and Donald Trump are carrying on the the same tradition. The criticism is over how the expansionary policies should be applied. They do work to some extent when they are aimed towards the rich.

    They would work far better if they were aimed at ordinary people on typical incomes.

  • Richard Easter 8th Apr '20 - 3:26pm

    TCO: I can only assume you actively want the party to fail. Praising zero hours contracts, automatically ruling out all union members as socialists, all police as tories, and assume that everyone who has lost work due to offshoring is financially able to set up a business, proves that you are totally out of touch with the realities of Britain.

    Thankfully the party is rather wiser. But if this really is your approach, then electoral oblivion is guaranteed forever.

    By the way isn’t Wendy Chamberlain a former police officer, Paddy Ashdown served in the armed forces, and there is an Association of Liberal Democrat Trade Unionists. Are they all tories or socialists too?

  • Peter Watson,

    I think you are correct the party does not have a clear sense of identity or direction, but this could be said since 2015. What we need is a leader who is clearly a Social Liberal and rejects austerity and the idea that government budgets have to be balanced, who gives support for members to propose policies without them being rejected by our Federal Committees before we get to discuss them at conference. We have a long way to get back to the party we were before we moved to the right.

    TCO,

    You haven’t really addressed the points I was trying to make. Having more support among the ABC1’s does not imply support for the policies which you advocate, because this hasn’t changed much since the 1980’s when we had a much more radical programme with an interventionist government, a better understanding of how the economy works and what was needed to create a liberal society. The other point I was making was that as we were advocating more than £243 billion in extra government spending we were not projecting ourselves as the type of party which you advocate. We were clearly presenting ourselves as a party which believes in a huge role for government in the future.

    Peter Martin,

    You are correct we were the party with the most neoliberal economic policy, most likely because of the leading role given to Ed Davey in this area. I hope that he has changed his mind now as he has been advocating huge government spending to keep the economy going, including raising benefits to £150 a week for a single person and £260 for a couple (these are above the Joseph Rowntree Foundation 2016/17 poverty levels).

  • Richard Easter – “TCO: I can only assume you actively want the party to fail. Praising zero hours contracts, automatically ruling out all union members as socialists, all police as tories, and assume that everyone who has lost work due to offshoring is financially able to set up a business, proves that you are totally out of touch with the realities of Britain.” – you know what, it is a fact that the public sector employees and civil servants, teachers, intellectuals, professionals, the youth and students constituted a large part of the Libdem political base in 2010, and TCO is the same guy who called these centre-left middle-class voters “Champaign Socialists”.

    Michael BG, Richard Easter, Glenn, Peter Martin – folks like TCO want us to become the British equivalent of the German FDP. OTOH, most of us probably want our party to be like the Realo wing of Die Grune (which is its dominant social-liberal wing). You can easily have a look at the last 20 German federal election polls to see how TCO’s “perfect” version of a liberal party is doing.

  • John Littler 11th Apr '20 - 6:27pm

    Thomas is right. There is little interest in a centre right economically dry liberal party, as that area is overwhelmingly covered by the internal Tory coalition and getting close to them is toxic as Clegg proved. It does not butter any parsnips with the British public as a separate niche and has zero chance of winning seats under FPTP.

    I once asked a German Taxi driver in Frankfurt what he thought of each political party and when he came to the FDP, he said “they are for the rich” and could have added special commercial interest groups. I recall them pushing Optician interests a few years ago. When a bunch of young supporters were filmed recently, it was obvious that they were all the very well healed offspring of the rich.

    Instead the Dutch breakaway centre left Liberal Party D66 is the best model I can suggest and they are sharing power with a centre right Liberal Party in the Netherlands. One of their policies was to support industries of the future rather than prop up commercial interests that were obviously dying, as is now probably happening here under the Tories

  • John Littler 11th Apr '20 - 7:23pm

    The next election does risk losing voters to Starmer, but if the LibDems come up with a programme for the future that can speak to people in the tiny media space allowed, then the LibDems could do a lot better, but it will be more competitive, with Labour more electable and moderate and the Nationalist Tories trying to span far right and Heseltonian territory.

    The Tories would still walk it from where they are now unless the virus seriously blows up in their faces, which now looks likely and compounded by foolishly exacerbating it by leaving the Single Market and Customs Union in the midst of a crisis, which looked seriously unpopular (70%) in one poll.

    The LibDems need to own the means to deal with offerings to transform the economy to run Green in the UK and overseas. It needs to deal with automation and computerisation of workplaces and the growth of online. Labour will be making big offers in this area and it can’t be done via Laissez Faire ideas.

  • John Littler 12th Apr '20 - 7:51am

    Joesph, I agree that we cannot produce a Green Industrial Revolution via Laissez faire.

    But as to Britain then, was that not the only Laissez Faire Industrial Revolution. One that was copied in other countries by governments developing institutions and Industrial policy that Britain (wrongly ) never thought it needed.

  • Martin, yes they have to attract Tory voters, but with Green issues becoming mainstream and collective actions coming to a fore over this crisis, the Tories will be on the back foot defending their record. The general public’s attitudes have drifted a little leftward and are now open to big ideas and radical change. It will not be a good idea to offer a pale dry liberal economic offer now.

    The LibDems strongest years was when they were more radical, in the Alliance then under Ashdown and Kennedy. There were big gains in ’97 when a new Labour government stopped frightening anyone and both parties offered PR.

  • marcstevens 12th Apr '20 - 3:31pm

    Michael BG – I don’t think so, he is very much into free markets, bends over backwards to praise privatisation and the coalitions’ record of destruction. One example where Clegg virtually decimated the Careers Service, there is now an even stronger case for re-nationalisation. The party faces a real dilemma as to its direction not from the MPs so much but from the market obsessed libertarian wing on here seeking to undermine the public sector and our mixed economy and infect it with ever more market forces, they are even more to the right than Mr Johnson nowadays. Most of the OB MPs have disappeared now or found the CEO private sector hedge fund or other jobs they have always craved for. Now is the time for these anti social liberal members on here to join them in corporate nirvana.

  • Marcstevens,

    My hope, that I was stating, was that because of the Coronavirus Ed Davey had moved away from his pre-Coronavirus positions and has now embraced a large role for government which includes huge increases to the benefit levels.

    I think lots of members see themselves as social liberals but don’t understand that they have to embrace the idea that there is no need for the government budget to balance and that a large national debt is not a problem and is never meaningfully reduced by governments. Within the structures of the party there is a huge reluctance to embrace social policies which cost large amounts of money unless government revenue can be increased to pay for it. This is why it is so important to have a party leader who accepts all these things and can steer members to embrace these ideas over the next five years.

  • @ Michael BG “has now embraced a large role for government which includes huge increases to the benefit levels.”

    The Scottish Government announced today that it has reached a deal with councils to pay adult Social Care Workers the real living wage of £9.30 per hour.

  • John Litter, Joe Bourke – Britain’s laissez-faire industrialization is a myth. Until the 1840s, Britain had the highest tariff rate in the world, and during the 18th century, high tariff was supported by the Whigs. Various protectionist acts like the Navigation Act and the Calico Acts were passed by the Whigs to protect British shipping and textile industries. Britain also banned the export of machinery and even banned skilled technicians to emigrate until the mid-19th century.

  • If there are two things I really like, they are 1) the sound of straw men being erected and 2) the sub-Momentumite call to “**** *** and join the Tories”. Glad to see both are well represented on this thread.

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