Keir Starmer has written a 35-page pamphlet for the Fabian Society, setting out his vision for the future of both Labour and the UK. Based around broader ideas rather than specific policies, it nonetheless represents something of a break from recent years of Labour orthodoxy – and, arguably, from Starmer’s own position when he campaigned to become leader.
Here are some passages from the essay, and what they signify:
There is an extent to which this is fairly standard stuff for a mainstream centre-left party. But the tone is a notable contrast to the more statist approach under Jeremy Corbyn, not to mention to Starmer’s own earlier stance. His list of ten pledges when he sought the Labour leadership last year pledged “common ownership of rail, mail, energy and water”, and a crackdown on corporate tax avoidance. None of this gets a mention in the pamphlet.
Again, the idea of reforming public services is not notably surprising as such. But openly contrasting the idea of a hidebound public sector with a more forward-thinking private realm could be seen by some as language only a few small leaps away from Dominic Cummings’s wish for a “hard rain” to revolutionise the civil service.
This paragraph is the centre of Starmer’s explanation of what he calls the “contribution society”, one allowing “the resources of the state and the innovative brilliance of the private sector to work together rather than against each other”, building on a post-Covid spirit of community. To some, this might sound a bit like “big society”, and Starmer half-notes this, while calling David Cameron’s idea “half-hearted and quickly abandoned”.
The closest the pamphlet comes to a specific policy, albeit in generally broad terms. It would include raising the minimum wage and sick pay, and efforts to boost workers’ rights. No one from the Corbyn wing of the party would necessarily argue with this, but they might note a tonal change from his campaign pledge to “work shoulder to shoulder with trade unions to stand up for working people”.
Much of this sounds similar to shadow business secretary Ed Miliband’s repeated calls for the post-Covid economy to be rebuilt around a sustainable economy. But whether this amounts to a full commitment to the green new deal, as devised in the Corbyn period and endorsed by Starmer as a leadership candidate, remains to be seen.
Recounting his memories of a recent party conference, Starmer calls on the party to end its habit of devoting too much energy to internal wrangles. A critic might argue that by trying to rewrite the rules for choosing leaders, something opposed by a number of his MPs and some unions, Starmer is doing that himself.
Starmer and his team have often sought to dodge culture war battles, to not be sucked into a media-led narrative which can seek to magnify emotive arguments. But this section shows the Arbeid leader does feel there is some mileage in associating himself with at least part of this.