Thursday, 23 September 2021

I read Keir Starmer's interminable 14,000 word essay, so you don't have to

Brexit chaos; the energy crisis; Rishi Sunak's malicious tax raid on ordinary workers; corrupt government supply contracts;  all-time record NHS waiting lists; a social care plan that doesn't fix social care; £millions worth of perfectly good food rotting in the fields; raw sewage in our rivers; the brutal Universal Credit cut; the HGV driver shortage; instability in Northern Ireland; a Home Secretary who keeps on demonstrating that she doesn't even know the absolute basics of UK criminal law; tyrannical government crackdowns on free speech and the right to non-violent protest; soaring rates of in-work poverty; cynical Tory efforts to disenfranchise literally millions of voters; the alarming UK export collapse; the Tory betrayal of pensioners by smashing open the pensions triple lock; the climate crisis; the housing crisis; the insecure/low-pay/gig economy/zero hours exploitation crisis; the creative industries crisis; average wages lower in real terms than they were over a decade ago ...

And what has the Labour leader Keir Starmer been doing instead of holding the government to account over any of this?

He's been writing an 14,000 word essay with the stated intention of "putting an end to the navel-gazing"!

As if it’s even possible to think of a better example of political navel-gazing than the so-called “Leader of the Opposition” focusing their energies on an absolute policy-vacuum of an essay as the country degenerates into chaos around him!

Throughout this epic bore-fest of an essay Starmer uses buzzwords over and over again, but in such an empty and inconsistent manner it gets really annoying.

He invokes Britain’s better/bolder/brighter future under a Labour government 34 times, but doesn’t provide even the skeleton outline of a policy framework that would deliver it.

His 12th invocation of the concept of "opportunity" comes when he says "that is why we must turn our attention to opportunity and security".

You're not turning attention to opportunity and security if you've already previously mentioned the subject of opportunity 12 times and security 10 times.

Endless repetitions and basic errors like this make it seem like nobody has even bothered to copy edit what the dear leader has written, and let it go out full of mistakes, pointless repetitions, poor wording, and inappropriate turns of phrase.

When we first heard of this 14,000 word essay we were assured by Starmer’s political allies and his liberal-capitalist cheerleaders in the media that it would serve as some kind of magical reset moment, to turn around his floundering leadership.

But if it was intended for such a lofty purpose, why is it so poorly written?

At one point Starmer demonstrates a ludicrous lack of self-awareness by slamming Conservative slogans like “levelling up” which he says are used “in the absence of a defining economic project or plan”.

However this empty sloganeering is precisely what he’s guilty of himself with all of the buzzwords and soundbites that are littered throughout his policy-vacuum of an essay!

It’s utterly infuriating to read because it's so full of empty posturing, yet so shockingly devoid of concrete proposals to actually improve the material conditions of peoples lives, and restore hope to their austerity-wracked communities.

This lamentable paucity of solutions is illustrated by the way he twice refers to people suffering in the exploitative private rental market in order to paint a picture of how unfair things are, but then goes on to offer precisely zero solutions to the private rental crisis.

He could have proposed the introduction of rent control measures; or clamping down on slumlords with legislation to ensure housing is fit for human habitation; or building more social housing; or laws to ensure more affordable housing in new developments; or new rules to stop buy-to-let slumlords buying up all the affordable housing for their speculative get-rich-quick schemes; or literally anything to actually address the problem he’s highlighted.

But he doesn't actually propose anything to materially help, he just uses the plight of ordinary people to piggyback on.

What's worse than the way he uses other people's suffering as emotional punctuation is the downright Tory "strivers and skivers" rhetoric he resorts to.

He’s basically setting himself an impossible task if he’s arguing that Britain should be a fairer place with more “opportunity and security” but keeps actively reinforcing damaging and divisive Tory tropes like “strivers vs skivers” that are used to justify inequality and the way that so many people in Britain are denied opportunities and left to destitution.

When it comes to the radically right-wing culture war agenda the Tories have been pushing Starmer once again identifies the problem, and fails to deliver a solution.

You can't just sit it out and refuse to engage with it in this social media age when the means of communication is controlled by capitalist social media behemoths and hyper-partisan billionaire media barons, because they know that the provocative stuff is what gets all the clicks and attention.

You can either try to sell a compelling evidence-based narrative to compete with the right-wing culture war bollocks, or you can sit it out and cede centre stage to your political opponents.

The essay doesn't mention Starmer's predecessor Jeremy Corbyn by name once, but it's stuffed full of undisguised repudiations of Corbynism. 

Starmer's screed isn't aimed at at the majority of British people who actually agreed with Corbyn's positions on principles like public ownership of vital national infrastructure (NHS, energy, water, public transport, Royal Mail); clamping down on tax-dodging; and avoiding imperialist war-mongering disasters like Iraq and Libya.

It's not aimed at building bridges with all the genuine socialists he tricked into voting for him with his unity candidate posturing, and his long-abandoned 10 pledges.

It's clearly intended to signal that principle-politics have gone in the bin, and that private utilities profiteers; city speculators; and international arms traders no longer have any reason to fear Labour, because the party is back under liberal-capitalist management.

Even as a dedicated political nerd I found it excruciating and exasperating to read a document that expresses so many lofty ambitions, but outlines absolutely no processes for actually delivering them other than a kind of plaintive mewling that it’s Labour’s turn in power next.

Towards the end of this interminable waffle Starmer sets out  “10 principles for a contribution 
Society” that he says will “form the basis of a new contract between Labour and the British people”.

Anyone who paid attention to Starmer’s rise to the Labour Party leadership can’t fail to notice the way he’s casually replacing literally all of his 10 clear, unambiguous, policy-based leadership election pledges with a load of empty, half-arsed talking points that even the most obtuse of liberal-capitalist dweebs could only pretend to be enthused by.

Let's go through them one by one:

1 “We will always put hard-working families and their priorities first.”

Yes, Labour should always prioritise the interests of ordinary workers over those of exploitative capitalist bosses (the clue is in the name), but hiding away from even alluding to the class conflict between workers and capitalist exploiters dilutes the message, and the emphasis on “hard-work” turns what could and should have been a good point into a Tory-style “strivers vs skivers” trope.

Why is it only hard-working families who deserve top priority?

What about people who can’t graft their fingers to the bone at any particular point (because of disability, age, unexpected loss of employment, responsibility to others ...)?

Don’t they deserve to have their needs prioritised too?

2 “If you work hard and play by the rules, you should be rewarded fairly”

Just in case you thought it could have been poor phrasing that turned Starmer’s first principle into a right-wing “strivers vs skivers” trope, he basically reiterates the point again.

If you’re a good little worker who doesn’t rock the boat you’ll be treated fairly, but no guarantees to anyone else.

3: “People and businesses are expected to contribute to society, as well as receive.”

Oh look! Point three is another reiteration of the idea that the most vulnerable in society don’t deserve to receive support.

Of course businesses and individuals that can afford to contribute are expected to contribute, but what of those that can’t?

Starmer strongly implies they don’t deserve to receive anything.

4: “Your chances in life should not be defined by the circumstances of your birth – hard work and how you contribute should matter.”

hard-work again is it?

All of these first four points could have been simplified into three distinct points, and expressed in a clearer and much less divisive way:

  • “Labour will always be on the side of ordinary workers”
  • “Businesses and individuals that can afford to contribute are expected to contribute”
  • “Labour believes in equality of opportunity for all, not inherited privilege for a gilded minority”

5: “Families, communities and the things that bring us together must once again be put above individualism.”

It’s all very well saying this. We can all recognise the detrimental effects of four decades of Thatcherite “greed is a virtue”, “I’m Alright Jack”,  “what’s mine is mine” selfish individualism.

But what’s the plan? 

What’s the programme to tear down this toxic cult of the individual and bringing back real community spirit? 

Is there even a plan at all, or is it just a vague ambition?

6: “The economy should work for citizens and communities. It is not good enough to just surrender to market forces.”

What does this mean in practical terms? 

Does it mean Labour will be renationalising vital national infrastructure and services so that they’re run for the benefit of the British people, not private profit-seeking wealth-extractors?

Does it mean Labour is going to actively intervene in the economy when “market forces” come into conflict with what’s good for citizens and communities? 

What is the framework for deciding what is “good for citizens and communities”?

7: “The role of government is to be a partner to private enterprise, not stifle it.”

This isn’t some kind of wonderful revelation, it’s a trite point that's so damned obvious that nobody would contest it.

Corbyn’s entire pitch to private enterprise was that the government would support them as long as they paid their contribution, rather than exploiting their workers or squirrelling their profits away in tax havens.

The idea that government and the private sector should work together rather than attacking one another is so incontestable that it doesn't need stating, and especially not in a list of someone's ten most important political principles!

8. “The government should treat taxpayer money as if it were its own. The current levels of waste are unacceptable.”

This is where it goes from misguided and poorly phrased to downright bizarre.

Government ministers treating public money as if it were their own slush fund isn’t a political principle to live by, it’s a massive great piece of the problem.

Treating public cash their own personal property is exactly what the Tories have been doing when they've been doling out secretive untendered £multi-million PPI contracts to their spivvy mates and party donors isn't it?

This attitude that what’s public is theirs to give away is the driving force behind Tory ministers flogging off and giving away tens of £billions in public assets like literally thousands of schools, energy infrastructure, public transport, the forensic science service, the aviation fuel distribution network, the Royal Mail, an ever increasing share of NHS services …

Starmer should be vehemently calling this plundering mentality out, not pledging to adhere to it!

9:  “The government must play its role in restoring honesty, decency and transparency in public life.”

Ha! What better way of proving your commitment to honesty, decency, and transparency in public life than tearing up the 10 concrete policy-based pledges you signed up to to get yourself elected, and replacing them with a load of vague, vapid, poorly phrased, ill-conceived pish?

10:  “We are proudly patriotic but we reject the divisiveness of nationalism.”

This is nothing short of a blatant and quite deliberate provocation aimed at Scottish people.

When Starmer claims that "we are proudly patriotic but we reject the divisiveness of nationalism" he's saying that his form of 'patriotic' British nationalism is a good, natural and unquestionable thing to be proud of, but people taking pride in being Scottish (or Welsh) is grotesque, wrong, and divisive.

If Starmer was remotely serious about attempting to win back the party’s lost Scottish heartlands, he’d show contrition and a willingness to engage. Instead he’s coming out with this deliberately provocative, flag-waving, British nationalist drivel.


It takes an extraordinary level of hubris to present such a poorly written and ill-conceived essay as the miracle that’s going to save your disappointing, directionless, and downright divisive leadership.

It takes a severe lack of self-awareness to accuse the government of using empty rhetoric in such a vapid policy-vacuum of a document.

It takes a massively disrespectful attitude to expect everyone to just forget all about your 10 policy-based leadership election pledges because you’ve scrawled down 10 policy-free vague ambitions to replace them with.

It takes a profound lack of strategic awareness to expect to win plaudits and popular support by sitting on the sidelines writing essays, as the country is crying out for strong opposition to Bodger Johnson’s callous, corrupt, and incompetent Tory cabal.

And it takes an extreme humour bypass to fail to spot how hilarious it is that you’ve written a 14,000 word essay explaining how you’re no longer interested in "navel-gazing".

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Louise said...

Agree with your analysis, but also concerned by his repeated reference to 'families'. As a single, childfree person I feel excluded!

Mr. Magoo said...

Firstly, I thought those were surf boards on the front cover of the essay!

Seriously, most of what you've wrote in the first paragraph is just capitalism being capitalism. "Brexit chaos"- the people of countries such as: Libya; Yemen; & Venezuela would laugh at you for saying the UK is in chaos! "Soaring rates of in-work poverty" - you don't have anything against out of work poverty, I take it? "The alarming UK export collapse" - doesn't that reduce the UK's carbon footprint? Honestly, I agree with the points you've made on the Tories eroding our democracy; it's true what they say, 'conservative' is a synonym for 'reactionary'.

"But he doesn't actually propose anything to materially help, he just uses the plight of ordinary people to piggyback on." - Opposition leaders have been doing that since the year dot.

What's the difference between left-wingers and genuine socialists? Left-wingers want the country to be a fairer place, while real socialists want the world to be a fair place.

Unknown said...

Most of those 10 "principles" Starmer has set out in his embarrassingly poor screed could have been written by David Cameron. In fact I'm pretty sure Cameron said exactly the same things in some instances, so maybe Starmer just copied and pasted them.

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