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Artillery Row

Fear the Keir

Starmer is Blair 2.0 — but this time, things can only get worse

Most Conservatives, I think it’s fair to say, have all but given up on winning the next election. No, it’s not impossible. Keir Starmer could suffocate a kitten on live TV while announcing his membership of the Church of Satan. But it would probably take an incident on the scale of gleeful Satanically-inspired felicide for Sunak to have a realistic chance.

Most right-wingers, it is equally fair to say, believe that the Conservatives deserve to lose. Indeed, they do. They have accomplished almost nothing for the country and have made a great deal worse. As an expat I choose not to vote, but if I lived in England I would have to hold my nose with a C-clamp before I’d even think about voting Conservative.

Keir Starmer is a Blair for 2024 — the grim-faced managerialist of an age of cultural neuroses and economic decline

Still, this does not mean that we should be complacent about the prospect of Prime Minister Starmer. It is tempting, given the Labour leader he replaced, to see him as serious and responsible. Liberal Conservatives respect him for rooting out the Corbynites and exiling their hero with Soviet relish. 

Frankly, I think that it has been an ignoble affair. Claiming that you wouldn’t wave across the street at a man you once called a colleague and a friend, as Starmer did of Corbyn, is low, cowardly stuff. Perhaps that’s politics but, well — politics sucks. 

Keir Starmer’s politics certainly suck. No, they are not as colourfully jeopardous as Jeremy Corbyn’s. But that’s the problem. They are more dangerous for being more presentable. Sir Keir is not “loony left” (whatever that means). He is something more dangerous — another Tony Blair.

This might sound absurd. For one thing, Starmer is not half as talented as Blair. Dislike him or hate him, Tony Blair was cunning, charismatic and well-spoken. Starmer is as charismatic as a piece of boiled fish and sounds like an ill-prepared GCSE student in an oral exam. To compare Sir Keir to Blair is like comparing the Pigeon Detectives to Oasis. 

Yet Keir Starmer is a Blair for 2024 — not the smiling managerialist of an age of cultural confidence and economic success but the grim-faced managerialist of an age of cultural neuroses and economic decline. Let’s call him Stony Blair.

Peter Mandelson himself has said that Keir Starmer is “the nearest thing to Blair”. Granted, as a close acquaintance of the financier Jeffrey Epstein, Mandelson can hardly be alleged to have the best judgement when it comes to people, but he knows Sir Tony. Be afraid. Be very afraid.

Then let’s turn to Starmer’s recent speech on “civil society”. “Civil society” is a tricky term. According to some definitions, it includes all private institutions up to and including the family. According to others, it refers to charities, activist groups, think tanks and other such non-governmental organisations. Politicians have a knack of speaking about the latter while speaking as if they are referring to the former — banging on about the “fabric of society” yet talking about the Runnymede Trust more than families, churches, pubs, markets et cetera.

Of course, charities, activist groups and policy institutes can be very fine indeed. It would take a lunatic to be against them as a whole. But they can also be fringe, opaque and partisan. Poppy Coburn’s 2023 article “Radical Chic Charities” drew attention to “dozens of groups of which few have heard of, but which seem to have a remarkable degree of influence over Westminster”. The blog SW1 Forum has also done a fine granular job of assessing them.

As much as they deserve to lose, this does not imply that Starmer deserves to win

In idealising “a partnership between government and civil society”, Starmer is harking back to Blairism, which leaned on the so-called “third sector”, both as a middle ground between capitalism and socialism and as a means of institutionalising its values. Without a spokesman as charismatic as Blair, Starmerism might depend even more on this fuliginous outsourcing of power.

Doubtless, this would be essential to Starmer’s attempted “eradication of structural racism” — a “defining goal” of his potential Labour government. To this end, he looks set to introduce a “Race Equality Act”, and has been advised to “consider fines for firms that fail to tackle racial disparities at work” and “[reform] the curriculum to reflect modern Britain” (and what a delightful euphemism that is). Yes, if there’s one thing a poor, angrier Britain needs it’s more EDI initiatives — but this is of a piece with the Blairism which held that Britain could legislate its way to the sunlit uplands of equality.

Then let’s look at foreign policy. This is where Starmer is most keen to demonstrate his “seriousness” when compared to Corbyn’s starry-eyed third worldism. Without Blair’s deranged conviction, though, he gets into a muddle. He declared that Israel had “every right to defend herself” after October 7th — a slippery phrase, because what constitutes “defence” is so debatable. Soon, amid the carnage of the Israeli response, Starmer was dilly-dallying about whether he supported a ceasefire. This, granted, was less Blairite. You could call Blair’s decisions stupid, insane, evil et cetera but he committed to them. Starmer’s vacillation — always delivered in the tones of overwhelming principle — could be more dangerous in the sense of satisfying no one while achieving nothing. Who would be surprised to see him send a lone battalion to seize Moscow?

Of course, the Tories have minimal grounds on which to attack Stony Blair. They have engaged in every form of juvenile in-fighting. They have allowed the worst elements of the third sector to run riot. Unlike Starmer, they have overseen the chronic weakening of the British Army (and the economy, and et cetera ad nauseum…). 

Yet as much as they deserve to lose, this does not imply that Starmer deserves to win — or that poor, beleaguered Britain deserves either of them. Dark times lie ahead.

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