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‘We're not like them’: the flawed strategy behind Labour’s (likely) victory


By Danny Varley


All estimations for the upcoming July General Election point to a victory, and a seismic one at that, for Keir Starmer’s Labour party. The BBC’s ‘poll tracker’ consistently places Labour 20% ahead of the incumbent Conservatives’, which could be translated into as much as a 300-seat loss for the Tories. This suggests that unless Starmer makes a catastrophic blunder, the election question is not ‘if’ Labour wins, but by how much.


In a campaign centred around the cost-of-living crisis, many are excited by the prospect of a Labour government. Since the Conservatives took power in 2010 with a mandate of austerity, the efficiency of public services has crumbled, yet paradoxically, the tax burden is the highest it has been since records began in 1948. This twofold blow has burdened many working people, leaving voters disillusioned and rightfully ready for change. 


Starmer’s Labour, in some sense, offers this change. He promises to not raise taxes on ‘working people’, while increasing investment in public services through closing tax loopholes, most notably the end of VAT exemption for private schools. These policies, alongside others such as an overhaul of the planning system which would enable increases in homebuilding, could help escape Britain’s economic rut.


Labour’s policies, promising as they may be, almost certainly do not explain their popularity. The real factor contributing to a (likely) Labour win is that they are not the Tories. This reflects a recurring trend across elections of ‘not-the-other’ voting, where voters are more motivated by a desire to prevent another party from winning than strongly supporting their own. 


An analysis by The Guardian on data from poll experts Ipsos highlights that, despite the 20% lead in the polls, only 17% of adults polled believe Labour keeps their promises, while only 31% see them as fit to govern. More recent Ipsos statistics highlight that, although 46% believe Starmer would make a capable PM, 49% say they don’t know what he stands for. Far from the enthused, flag-waving crowds adopting the mantra that ‘things can only get better’ following Tony Blair’s 1997 victory, the core of Starmer’s support seems to be the apathetic argument that ‘things surely won’t get worse’.


A fundamental flaw in ‘not-the-other’ voting is that it obscures Labour and its policies and vision. Rather than presenting bold and radical ideas, Labour’s strategy has been to avoid controversy, posing Starmer as a safe, albeit lacklustre, pair of hands. This approach has led to flip-flopping and broken promises to maintain an uncontroversial image. In Starmer’s short political career, this has included an abandonment of significant pledges from his leadership campaign.His U-turning trend has continued into his tenure as leader, such as in heavily reducing the cost of his flagship ‘Green New Deal’ policy. This cautious approach is working electorally, but undoubtedly adds to the growing dissatisfaction towards politicians and the view that ‘they are all the same’.


"Rather than presenting bold and radical ideas, Labour’s strategy has been to avoid controversy, posing Starmer as a safe, albeit lacklustre, pair of hands."

‘Not-the-other’ Voting also ignores discussions surrounding serious and hard-to-achieve avenues for change. Removing the Conservatives will not make economic issues disappear. Starmer himself has recently warned of this, stressing that there is no ‘magic wand’ to fix Britain’s problems. This recognition aside, Starmer’s vision is not nearly bold enough. 


Gary Stevenson, a city trader turned inequality economist, has consistently pointed to the rise in wealth inequality as the major cause of the cost-of-living crisis. His argument, which has often fallen on deaf ears, is that the growing wealth inequality in Britain attributes to and further compounds falling wages, increased rent and house prices, and public spending cuts. Stevenson made a fortune betting on his economic theory, and history has continuously proven him right. If his view, or indeed any view that looks beyond party incompetence towards structural economic issues, is correct, Starmer’s timid policies are a drop in the ocean. 


Perhaps the main subplot of the General Election is the surge in support for the Reform Party, once again headed by Nigel Farage. Some polls place the new right-wing alternative higher than the Tories in vote share. Reform are offering radical changes, primarily surrounding their promise on net-zero migration, but also through their ambition for major tax cuts combined with greater investment in certain public services. These economic proposals have no grounding in economic reality, and indeed share similarities with Liz Truss’s infamous mini-budget that caused her resignation after just 45 days. But, putting this aside, Reform is becoming significantly more popular, and there is a reasonable chance that, in the next decade or so, they could be battling for government. 


Reform’s surge in popularity is a natural consequence of the ‘not-the-other’ voting. When voters gift victories to politicians with no bold ideas, trust deteriorates while the economy doesn’t get better. Inevitably, the electorate will begin to turn to a party that promises meaningful and radical change, even if these promises are empty. If this occurs, then we have no one to blame but ourselves.


Image: Flickr

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