In a speech to the Progressive Britain conference in central London last week Labour leader Keir Starmer insisted that he didn’t care if people think that his party’s priorities sound conservative. We’ve noticed that Keir, we’ve noticed. In an attack on the the Tory government of Sunak, he claimed it “can no longer claim to be conservative.” That’s a mantle that Starmer is determined to adopt. Under Starmer the Labour party has become a vehicle for the imposition of conservative policies.
Starmer is a Labour leader for whom Tony Blair’s neo-liberal New Labour is dangerously left wing. In the speech, Starmer said that in order to secure victory at the next General Election the Labour Party would have to “change our entire culture” and compared his efforts to reform the party to former prime minister Tony Blair’s symbolic rewriting of Clause Four, but “on steroids.” In this speech Starmer signalled that under him the Labour party will move even further to the right than it did under Blair and Brown, with the clear implication that he intends to shape Labour into a party which appeals to English nationalist Brexit voters in the midlands and north of England, the so-called red wall seats which fell to the Conservatives and were instrumental in delivering Boris Johnson his landslide Tory victory in the December 2019 General Election. The only reason that Starmer is able to pose as a social democrat is because the Conservatives are in the grip of people like the right wing authoritarian English nationalists of the European Research Group who are but a hairsbreadth away from outright fascism. However viewed objectively, Starmer’s Labour party occupies much the same political space as the Conservatives did under John Major. It was to get rid of those Tories that Scotland gave Labour a landslide in 1997, now Starmer wants us to let those so called one nation Tories back in, rebadged and rebranded as the Labour party.
Starmer knows that his route to power depends upon winning those seats back for Labour. Despite his cant about achieving a Labour recovery in Scotland, he knows that he needs to win in England in order to have any chance of winning the next General Election. He can win without Scotland, he can’t win without England. The electoral arithmetic is very simple.
How Scotland votes can only make a difference when the outcome in England is finely balanced, there are just not enough Scottish constituencies to affect the final result when England votes decisively one way or the other. Scotland has only 59 Westminster MPs, a number which will be even lower following the planned review of constituencies which will see Scotland with only 57 Westminster constituencies. These new boundaries may be in place prior to the next General Election, which is not scheduled until late in 2024. England on the other hand will have ten more MPs than it currently does, with 543 MPs. Since Scotland does not return many Conservative MPs, and there is no sign that the Conservatives are benefitting electorally in Scotland from the current difficulties of the SNP, how Scotland votes will have very little impact upon the total amount of Conservative MPs at Westminster.
So despite what Starmer and the Labour party might tell voters in Scotland, Scotland and Scottish interests are not a priority for Starmer and his party. His assertion that voters in Scotland need to vote Labour in order to ‘get the Tories out’ is factually incorrect. Indeed, voting Labour simply means voting for an alternative vehicle for the delivery of conservative policies. Starmer has given us a Labour party shorn of any decency and idealism which it once may have had and which promises nothing more than to apply Tory policy, only more competently and with a sad face. Starmer is the true heir to Blair, a man who fakes sincerity as a means to tell a more convincing lie.
What we have now is a Labour party which is committed to Brexit, which promises to be every bit as vile as the Tories to migrants and asylum seekers, a party which refuses to repeal the authoritarian legislation introduced under Boris Johnson and his successors, and which, crucially as far as Scotland is concerned, refuses to recognise the right of the people of Scotland to choose another independence referendum by voting for a Scottish Parliament which is committed to delivering one. Labour pays lip service to the notion that the United Kingdom is a voluntary union of nations, but effectively denies that it’s an idea which has any meaningful political content. Starmer has consistently refused to spell out what the democratic route to another Scottish independence referendum might be. He’s not going to say what it is, even as he insists that it exists, because he is determined to prevent another independence referendum from ever taking place. He will only consent to one when his path to Downing Street depends upon it, but that’s the last thing that he’d ever admit to.
Nothing Starmer says can be taken at face value. He will say whatever it takes in order to win over those crucial votes in pro-Brexit English constituencies, and his stated refusal to do any deal with the SNP must be viewed in that light.
As I pointed out on this blog a few days ago, Starmer will be haunted by the memory of the Conservative attack adverts which did such damage to Ed Miliband in the 2015 when the Tories produced adverts showing Miliband in Alex Salmond’s pocket. The Tories had not expected to win an absolute majority in that election, but in the event they did, with the catastrophic consequence for the rest of us of them having the votes in the Commons to force through the EU referendum which was held the following year. Starmer will be determined to avoid giving the Tories the opportunity to mount a similar attack on him which might deprive him of the victory he craves.
Colin Talbot, emeritus professor of government at Manchester University, said he would “never say never” when it came to whether Starmer would go back on his promise to refuse to deal with the SNP. Certainly Starmer will continue to vehemently refuse to do any sort of deal with the SNP prior to the election, but he will insist that there will be no deal with the SNP right up until the moment that he needs one. The price of that deal will be to transfer to the Scottish Parliament the power to hold a lawful independence referendum. Only then will Scotland have a chance to escape the danse macabre of the Tories and Labour in lockstep
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