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Artillery Row

Blairism at its most zealous

The Labour manifesto is a recipe for bland bureaucratic managerialism

If Michael Foot’s 1983 Labour manifesto was the longest suicide note in history, then Keir Starmer’s 2024 successor is surely history’s longest victory lap. 

At an eye-watering 133 pages, one might expect “Change” to set out a comprehensive programme for government, replete with details of Labour’s plans for the next five years. Instead, we’re treated to page after page of carefully-constructed prose that avoids committing to anything too specific, and several full-page pictures of Starmer looking almost comically statesmanlike. There’s plenty of information about where a Labour government wants to take Britain, but very little indication of how they intend to get there.

Frustrating though this is, it’s also enormously politically shrewd. When navigating the weird and wonderful world of Whitehall bureaucracy, the ability to point to a “popular mandate” for any given policy is a useful rhetorical tool for dismissing obstructionist civil servants. A manifesto that focuses on ends rather than means will effectively give Labour ministers a blank cheque to implement whatever measures they deem necessary once in government. 

Similarly shrewd is Labour’s communications strategy, which has seen their boldest ideas drip-fed to the press over the past three years. Plans for reform of the national grid, a new model for the railways, and a punitive tax on private schools were already familiar to the Westminster commentariat. The result is a manifesto that was widely received with a sense of disinterested resignation. For Starmerites, this is a moderate, predictable statement of intent; for the Labour left, this is a missed opportunity to undertake a radical overhaul of our broken economy. 

Yet if it’s radicalism that you’re looking for, Labour’s manifesto has it in spades. Not radical socialism, mind you, or radical progressivism — this is Blairism at its most zealous, a veritable Ma’alim fi’l-tareeq for bland bureaucratic managerialism. For every one of Britain’s major structural problems, Starmer has prescribed a new independent commissioner, a new knee-jerk regulatory intervention, or a new arm’s length body. 

Don’t believe me? 

For a start, there’s Labour’s new “Ethics and Integrity Commission”, which will be empowered to remove or censure ministers that fail to meet certain arbitrary “ethical standards”. There are also plans to expand the powers of the “Independent Adviser on Ministerial Interests” to enable investigations into ministerial misconduct, and proposals for a new “House of Commons Modernisation Committee”, which will be tasked with policing the behaviour of MPs. 

Then there are the open-ended plans for House of Lords reform, the new “Council of the Nations and Regions”, and the promises of further devolution to Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland. In other words, the sovereignty of our Westminster Parliament is set to be diluted even further.

The role of the Office for Budget Responsibility will be strengthened, meaning that Governments will no longer be able to undertake bold budgetary reforms without facing a Truss-style backlash from the economic establishment. 

Elsewhere, bureaucratic retributive justice is the order of the day. A new “Covid Corruption Commissioner” will seek to prosecute anybody who might have benefitted from public sector contracts during the pandemic, and the “Victims’ Commissioner” will be granted additional powers to support victims of antisocial behaviour. A new “Hillsborough Law” will introduce a “legal duty of candour” on public servants, and a new Windrush Commissioner will be appointed to spend taxpayer cash on compensating victims of the “Windrush scandal”. 

Entrenching inter-ethnic grievances about perceived inequality — what could go wrong? 

That’s not the only ostentatious appeal to alleged racial injustice in Labour’s plans, either. To my mind, the most worrying proposal is their plan for a new Race Equality Act, which will seek to enshrine a “full right to equal pay” for ethnic minorities, while enabling regulators to take action against businesses which are perceived to have taken insufficient steps to close the “ethnicity pay gap”. Entrenching inter-ethnic grievances about perceived inequality — what could go wrong? 

The list goes on and on; commissions, inquiries, committees, and new regulations abound. As Fred de Fossard, occasionally of this parish, has aptly noted, Starmer’s Labour Party does have a plan — it’s just a terrible one. For those who believe that politicians, rather than unelected bureaucrats, are best placed to take major policy decisions, this manifesto is a chilling preview of things to come. If Labour’s proposals come to fruition, the Blairite project of removing decision-making power from our elected representatives will be well and truly complete.

And yet any attempt to warn the public about this worrying reality is doomed to fail. On the eve of Labour’s last landslide victory in 1997, outgoing Tory Prime Minister John Major warned voters about New Labour’s plans to offshore political and regulatory power to Brussels, and about their ill-advised proposals for devolution in Scotland and Wales. He predicted that these plans would make it harder to govern Britain, diminishing the power of our Parliamentary democracy and undermining the strength of the Union. He was, of course, right — and yet nobody listened. 

Then as now, years of economic mismanagement and “Tory sleaze” meant that most voters were simply not interested in what the Conservatives had to say about the understated radicalism of Blair and friends. Now as then, we are about to witness a radical overhaul of our constitutional and institutional architecture, which will further dilute the power of our elected politicians. If the Tory Party ever claws its way back to power, Conservative politicians will need to learn the lesson of the past fourteen years, and dismantle Starmer’s new architecture in its entirety.

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