Keir Starmer has apparently published a pamphlet laying out his vision for a future Britain. Unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on your point of view) he did this on the day the Prime Minster tried to lead an address on climate with a God-awful Muppet reference, and the current and previous Foreign Secretaries went public with their squabbling over the use of a grace and favour mansion while everyone else is wondering whether we’ll be able to heat our houses during the winter. It’s a day to bury … news.
I’ve skinmed through it. It’s platitude heavy, but on page 31 he lays out 10 principles, “that will form the basis of a new contract between Labour and the British people, rooted in both our party and our country’s values”. Here they are:
- We will always put hard-working families and their priorities first.
And already he’s lost me. The words “hard-working” are a dog whistle, and a shallow soundbite. It’s weirdly almost Calvinist. He’s learned nothing, because he’s bought squarely into the rhetoric that he’s supposedly telling us all he is criticising in this pamphlet. That one word immediately pre-supposes we can divide people in two ways: “hard-working” and not, and therefore either deserving or undeserving. And what if you can’t work? What if you’re disabled, ill, or just old? Why is everything viewed through the prism of work? I sense a whiff of the focus group.
- If you work hard and play by the rules, you should be rewarded fairly.
On the face of it this almost seems reasonable, but if you think about it, it’s problematic. Who defines what hard work is? How much is hard? Which rules? Whose rules? Who defines what the rewards are, and their proportions? Fairness suggests some kind of adjudication, and that means gatekeepers. It also then suggests that the gatekeepers decide what those metrics for fairness are. It’s all rather depressingly patrician.
- People and businesses are expected to contribute to society, as well as receive.
Again, superficially it seems reasonable, but again we run up against the idea of what a contribution is, and the problem of who decides whether a contribution is “enough” to satisfy those judging it. The temptation once again rises to divide society into “deserving” and “undeserving” camps. Put simply, “don’t do harm”.
- Your chances in life should not be defined by the circumstances of your birth — hard work and how you contribute should matter.
Again with the “hard work” soundbite. Hard work in and of itself is not necessarily a virtue. It’s possible to work hard and and achieve nothing, or make things worse. It is also possible to make significant contributions for little comparative effort. Do you punish those who do that? Notice the principle doesn’t say “what” you contribute, but “how”, in much the same way that sitting in an office looking busy is much more virtuous than getting through your workload quickly and looking idle when you have. That said, the idea of extending opportunity to everyone, no matter what their background, is no bad thing.
- Families, communities and the things that bring us together must once again be put above individualism.
Again, this seems reasonable at first glance. The problem is that any broadly liberal society will always have a tension between those two things. The welfare of the many, and the health of wider society should be given weight, but at the same time, we must be mindful of not squashing the freedom of those who wish to step away from it, with the usual caveat that they do not cause harm to others in the process.
- The economy should work for citizens and communities. It is not good enough to just surrender to market forces.
This is the least contentious to me. Stet.
- The role of government is to be a partner to private enterprise, not stifle it.
No. The role of government is to be an advocate for its people. Sometimes that involves encouraging private enterprise. sometimes it does not. Partnership with private enterprise is not inherently evil. but framing it this way places government rather closer to the interests of business than to its people. That cannot be healthy, especially as it’s one of the ways we have found ourselves in this mess.
- The government should treat taxpayer money as if it were its own. The current levels of waste are unacceptable.
Firstly, the one thing government should not be doing is treating taxpayer’s money as its own, simply because it’s not. The government holds it on our behalf; it is the trustee of our money, and it is their responsibility and duty to spend it in a way that is conducive to our interests. They should, in fact, be remembering that duty. Secondly , the second sentence, while true, is a non sequitur here.
- The government must play its role in restoring honesty, decency and transparency in public life.
This is not unreasonable, but it can’t do it alone. It needs to change the political culture, and also change the way our media, and even we ourselves, see thepilitcla sysmte, and take part in it. And part of that is not playing a game where quite a lot of our media think of politics is a branch of the entertainment industry, with all of the attendant problems that crerates in terms of the framing of debate, and the reliance on personality rather than actual policy.
- We are proudly patriotic but we reject the divisiveness of nationalism.
It’s bland, it’s weaselly and doesn’t really mean much. It doesn’t say much about how we navigate a landscape that has made splits along national and regional lines worse in some cases.
On the whole, not the most inspiring of lists. If this is what passes for vision, then things are looking bad. I’m suspicious of people offering bold visions normally, because those visions are generally difficult to deliver (yes, i’m looking at you, with your Garden bloody Bridges, Johnson). The problem here is not too much ambition, but an essential timidity. It’s designed not to scare the horses, and reassure that he’s a safe pair of hands. Unfortunately, now we’ve gone through the convulsions of the last five years, we are finding the results somewhat less comfortable than promised. There are things in this pamphlet that are admirable, but as a whole they don’t inspire any great sense of enthusiasm, nor do they give any indication of how to achieve them. It feels like a document put together by an administrator and a committee. It lacks a heart.
It’s going to be a long winter.