UK

DAN HODGES: Keir Starmer has an open goal right in front of him… but he’s too scared to shoot! 

The feedback from the focus group was music to the Labour official’s ears. ‘I used to like him but now he drives me mad. Indecisive. Maybe he’s tired, but he never seems able to make up his mind,’ said Yasmin, a Labour/Tory switch-voter, expressing her current disillusionment with Boris Johnson.

Alan, another Red Wall voter, was even more harsh. ‘He bumbles along. I’ve no faith in him any more. It’s a lack of leadership,’ he declared.

‘The message is coming through a lot now,’ one of Sir Keir Starmer’s advisers told me. ‘People are not necessarily saying they hate Boris, or think he’s a bad person. But the issue of competence is starting to cut through. And we’re going to begin exploiting that.’

Starmer and his party aren’t prepared to take the risk of actually kicking kick the ball. Or lacing up their boots. Or even bothering to get on board the bus to the stadium

In almost every area where the Government is in difficulty – especially where discontent comes from Red Wall voters

In almost every area where the Government is in difficulty – especially where discontent comes from Red Wall voters

Of course, this analysis could easily be dismissed as Starmerite propaganda. But it’s being echoed almost word for word by some Tory MPs.

Jackie Doyle-Price, MP for Thurrock, commented on the Conservative backbenchers’ WhatsApp group: ‘The reason we have won Red Wall seats is because Labour lost working-class voters over decades as it has become increasingly metropolitan. We won’t keep those voters if they see us behaving in the same way.’

Her colleague Karl McCartney, MP for Lincoln, added: ‘Maybe the Spads/advisers in No 10 and certain departments should leave their protective bubble over recess and head “north”.’

Their anger was directed at the Government’s plan to end the use of coal and encourage drivers to buy electric cars while throwing unspecified amounts of taxpayer money at the fight against global warming. But it might have applied to a range of other policy areas. Immigration. Tax. Crime. Where once they trusted Boris to be on their side, Red Wall voters are increasingly worried that he and his Ministers no longer share their interests. All of which presents Labour with a wide open goal.

But there’s a problem. Starmer and his party aren’t prepared to take the risk of actually kicking kick the ball. Or lacing up their boots. Or even bothering to get on board the bus to the stadium.

Take, for example, concern over Ministers’ strategy to achieve ‘net zero’ emissions by 2050. Before last Christmas, it was reported that Starmer wanted to move Labour away from its 2019 manifesto commitment to cut the ‘substantial majority’ of carbon emissions by 2030. But last week he U-turned on the U-turn. The policy would remain ‘the same as was in our 2019 manifesto’, he announced, while taunting Boris for being ‘missing in action’ on the climate crisis.

Red Wall voters may be alarmed at the idea of the Government writing a blank cheque on their behalf to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. But they’re equally aware that if Labour ever got into power, they’d tear it up and issue a new one for double the amount.

It’s the same story on immigration. Public confidence in the Government’s ability to get to grips with cross-Channel people-trafficking is plummeting. As this newspaper reported last week, Boris has lost faith in Home Secretary Priti Patel and is reportedly lining up Michael Gove to replace her.

But again, where is Labour on this issue?

One incident perfectly encapsulates its stance. In May, police and immigration officials detained two suspected illegal immigrants at a house in Glasgow. A crowd gathered, and, to prevent serious public disorder, the men were hurriedly released. ‘Solidarity with the people of Glasgow,’ tweeted Labour deputy leader Angela Rayner.

So whereas the Tories struggle to protect our borders, Labour disgracefully refuses even to support the principle of arresting people suspected of entering Britain illegally.

Labour is said to be planning a big summer push on crime. This makes good headlines. But the next time there’s a riot and police officers are injured, will Labour MPs back the police? Or, as happened with Bristol’s ‘Kill The Bill’ riot, will they refuse to condemn the perpetrators?

Similarly, if Extinction Rebellion carries through with a threat to bring London to a standstill, which side will Labour be on?

In almost every area where the Government is in difficulty – especially where discontent comes from Red Wall voters – the truth is that Labour’s ideological shackles prevent it from fully exploiting the Tories’ problems.

Meanwhile, Tory MPs are terrified of the prospect of tax rises. But as we saw with the last Budget, when Rishi Sunak announced tax hikes that hit some of those on the lowest incomes, Labour’s instinct was to support the move.

Similarly, if Extinction Rebellion carries through with a threat to bring London to a standstill, which side will Labour be on?

Similarly, if Extinction Rebellion carries through with a threat to bring London to a standstill, which side will Labour be on?

Party insiders claim new Shadow Chancellor Rachel Reeves is preparing a fresh approach on taxation. If true, this would give Boris and his Chancellor a real headache. But it will happen only if Reeves and her colleagues ditch Labour’s traditional Pavlovian reaction to shout ‘You aren’t spending enough!’ at every Minister.

This is why Labour officials are so keen to focus on competence. It’s not because it’s what the focus groups highlight. It’s because this approach offers Sir Keir the path of least resistance.

By focusing on the Government’s management – or mismanagement – of immigration, it saves him from adopting a new policy himself.

The same with net zero emissions. Sir Keir’s peevish press release for the end of the COP26 summit is undoubtedly already written. ‘Too little, too late,’ it will say, regardless of the outcome.

And underpinning Sir Keir’s tactical inertia is a much more fundamental problem. Although the Labour leader talks endlessly about the need for his party to listen and change, the reality is he doesn’t really want to change anything.

Under Jeremy Corbyn, Labour lurched catastrophically to the Left. Which handed his successor three options. To take Labour further Left, towards total electoral oblivion. To leave Labour broadly where it was, and hope and pray something turned up. Or to move Labour to the Right – back towards the party’s long-lost, and neglected, former Red Wall supporters.

But Sir Keir can’t take the third option. He carries too much heavy baggage of the North London liberal. As do party activists and a majority of Labour MPs.

Crucially, they won’t countenance a tough stance on immigration. Or a more pragmatic approach to green issues. Or a programme that countenances significant net cuts in any key area of public spending.

Which is why Boris may be wobbling but is not yet on his knees.

Yes, the polls show some movement back to Labour. But they still average out at a Tory lead. Any opposition worth its salt should be enjoying a double-digit lead.

But to carve out such a lead, that opposition needs to be prepared to go in for the kill. And Labour isn’t.

The current political danger for Boris lies in a fracturing of the coalition on his right flank. But Starmer daren’t threaten that flank. For his MPs and advisers chide him: ‘What about the Greens? Or the Lib Dems? Or our Corbynite base?’ So he plays safe, and tucks in. Hoping for Boris to make enough blunders to hand him power by default.

But Boris won’t. Or rather, he won’t be allowed to. As one Tory MP told me: ‘We don’t have to panic yet. Starmer’s not cutting through. And we’ve got Rishi.’

Indeed, above No 11 Downing Street there’s a sign that only Tory MPs can read. It says: ‘In Emergency Break Glass.’

No one is planning on smashing it just yet and calling on Rishi Sunak to step forward.

Boris’s missteps may be handing his opponents a golden opportunity. But Starmer is in no position to benefit from them.

Labour’s ideological shackles still bind his hands and feet too tightly. The Tories’ unguarded goal is safe for now.


Source link

Related Articles

Back to top button