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  • Louis Gilmore

A Nation at the Crossroads: Can Starmer Deliver Change?

By Louis Gilmore

The Conservative campaign began as Rishi Sunak announced an early election — the third successive Conservative Prime Minister to do so — and it began pitifully. The Prime Minister stood before 10 Downing Street soaked, and to top it all off, the New Labour anthem blasted. It took moments for social media, every commentator tired of the Tories, to post and yell “Things can only get wetter.” The image of a Prime Minister with puddles on his shoulders, a face of frustration and dismay, will live long in the British memory.

Rishi Sunak looks to me like a tired man — a broken man.

Shortly after the election was called, Conservative MPs, many party veterans, began quitting in large numbers. The ubiquitous cabinet minister, Michael Gove, alongside public health minister, Dame Andrea Leadsom, announced plans to stand down at the general election. The number of MPs departing, even before the election, stands close to 80 — and many more senior Tories are expected to lose their seat after the 4th of July.

"Labour is, understandably, fiscally cautious. The room available in public finances is slim without reducing the budget deficit. But on other issues, I believe Labour has an opportunity."

Whilst campaigning, Sunak seems the master of political gaffes. Sunak engaged in ill-informed football banter with Welsh workers asking if they were looking forward to the Euros, despite Wales not qualifying. Some thought it would be wise to visit the Titanic Quarter in Belfast, begging reporters to gleefully ask if Sunak was the captain of a sinking ship.

Labour immediately posted a polished video. Starmer was indoors, before Union Jacks, with a clear message: stability and a time for change. Along with a vow for stability, Starmer announced six pledges, including economic prudence, cutting NHS waiting times and the new border security force.

But one thing is immediately clear: the pledges are vague and undeniably wary — an object of Liz Truss’ legacy. Labour is, understandably, fiscally cautious. The room available in public finances is slim without reducing the budget deficit. But on other issues, I believe Labour has an opportunity. Labour leads by 23 percentage points, with models predicting 381 seats for Labour and 192 for the Conservatives, giving Starmer’s government a significant majority. Labour now has a significant opportunity to be radical, created by the self-inflicted shortcomings of the Conservative Party.

Yet, despite this, the Shadow Cabinet are quiet about key topics, like Gaza. Starmer acknowledged that he wants to recognise a Palestinian state, but this isn’t too dissimilar from the view of the Foreign Secretary, David Cameron. Starmer has been overly cautious with condemning the war in Gaza — a misstep that many Muslim communities will not forget come election day.

Even with Brexit, which 55% of people now believe was the wrong choice, Starmer seems determined to toe the line of a Brexiteer, even though he was right about Brexit. There are constant reports of bureaucratic delays, supply chain issues and worsened rights and privileges. Economists at Cambridge Econometrics estimate that Brexit cost nearly £140 billion in GDP. The concerns over the Red Wall are not completely unfounded, but Labour’s complete criticism of Brexit is a mistake.

Highlighting Brexit’s failures and committing policy to amend Brexit is the courageous and correct thing to do, materially and morally. A strong commitment to improving ties with the EU, something the EU itself would welcome, could be the policy necessary to restore growth and stability.

Starmer recently committed to growth and wealth which are, again, cautious and vague. A former New Labour adviser argued there is an urgent need to address wealth inequality created by a decade of underinvestment. Wealth creation is all well and good, but Starmer must ensure that the wealth is directed towards correcting inequality across the country.

The Labour Shadow Cabinet, despite huge polling advantage, are far less popular and generate less enthusiasm than their 1997 counterparts, which to some extent, explains their caution. But perhaps the lack of ambition, the lack of detail and, more generally, a lack of vision is to blame. Many voters are still unsure of what Starmer stands for — others just perceive him as dull.

The New Labour campaign was ambitious with a clear vision for Britain that voters agreed with. Blair even faced parallel circumstances such as an electorate bored of the Conservatives having just faced an economic crisis, Black Wednesday.

The Conservatives are going through a period of self-implosion where veterans are fleeing a sinking ship. As a result, Labour has an unforeseen polling lead — a lead that exceeds the expectations of 1997. Yet voters are still not convinced by Starmer and his cabinet.

Labour, to rectify this, should seize the chaos engulfing the Conservatives and adopt a bolder, more radical strategy. The Conservatives will eventually get their act together — Starmer must capitalise soon.

The Labour Party has a real opportunity, a gift if you will, to be radical. Voters are looking for courage in times of hardship — a leader who will look to the woes of the past or political injustice and offer concrete ideas.

Change and stability are nice — and sound promising when spoken from behind a podium. But vague and cautious policies will not be the change that brings about what is best for Britain.

Image: Flickr / Keir Starmer



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