Zoe Williams says people are “crying out to hear some real values” from a Labour leader (Opinion, 20 June). She is right, of course, just as the Labour party is wrong when its leaders keep hiding behind the “we can’t tell you what we would do to solve the problem because the election is two years away” fence. We still don’t know what Labour really stands for, and it doesn’t appear to have the big beasts capable or willing to tell us.
In 2001, Jonathan Freedland quoted the historian Ze’ev Mankowitz as saying that “people don’t believe in ideas: they believe in people who believe in ideas”, illustrating Labour’s then weakness. He pointed out that many people didn’t care about Northern Ireland until Mo Mowlam was put in charge; then everyone paid attention. Why? Big personality, big ideas, an articulated plan for the future. Just what Labour needs now, not in two years’ time.
We have the worst prime minister in living memory, too many crises to list, whiffs of political corruption, constitutional chicanery, a government with no thought-out plan to put things right, ministers who rejoice at finding another “wedge” with which to divide our country, and a Labour party demanding, rightly, that the government must make a plan. But where is Labour’s plan?
Williams concludes that there is “no sophisticated formula, no elegant alternative” to Labour leaders saying who they are. I would add that they must tell us now what they stand for, what their plan is to rescue this country from 12 years of Tory mismanagement and misrule, and how they would do it. The rest is froth or timidity – just what we don’t need.
So, it is now a disciplinary matter for Labour MPs to support trade unionists (Labour frontbenchers likely to be disciplined for joining rail pickets, 21 June)? I can remember a time when it was a disciplinary matter to not be a trade union member.
Lewes, East Sussex
Re Rafael Behr’s article (Starmer is right not to dance to Tory tunes over strikes. He must find a tune of his own, 21 June), what Keir Starmer’s unenforceable threat to Labour frontbenchers exposes is a leader bereft of tactical nous, conviction and the scent of political opportunity. When a matter of crystal-clear principle presents itself, only leaders fixated by the talking points of their opponents stop to think of the transactional gains that might be lost were they to find their voice.
Labour’s current slender poll lead is built on the sands of crisis and Tory incompetence. What happens when the natural party of the elites relocates its political compass? At that point, Starmer’s approach will look less like “caution” and more what it in fact is: stasis when the moment cried out for political leadership. In the RMT’s linking of the cost of living crisis, class solidarity and improved public services lies a ready-made narrative that a Labour party not in thrall to the headline writers could seize.
The fact that Starmer will now appear “weak” if he does not discipline junior ministers standing with trade unionists and identifying with the “cause of labour” says a good deal about the fate that awaits politicians who, in attempting to straddle two sides in a conflict, end up disappearing down crevices of their own making.
The problem behind Keir Starmer’s approach is that under his leadership the Labour party is so mortally fearful of the attack lines of the Conservatives and their propaganda press that it is in a state of paralysis. The unwillingness to attack Tory policies from the left means that it appears to stand on much the same ground as the government, distinguished from it in an attempt to appear more competent and honourable.
This is both depressing and futile – depressing because it means that the Labour party is positioning itself as an opposition within boundaries defined by the right, and futile because people see this as empty, soulless and lacking in credibility and, at a general election, will be likely to vote for the real thing.