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In the News

Is Starmer's Labour New Labour Mark II?

Mike McCartney

6th February 2024

Recent policy announcements raise important questions

Many argue that Keir Starmer has moved Labour so far to the centre after the Corbyn era that there is no clear water between them and the Conservatives, sparking criticism that the Starmer-led party is just a less dynamic and less hopeful version of the party that Tony Blair (with the help of fellow architects like Peter Mandelson and Gordon Brown) created in the mid-90s and rebranded as New Labour.

Before this week's announcements, the narrative went something like this.

As Labour leader, Starmer has come under attack from the left for abandoning not just many of the policies that were part of their last manifesto, but his personal pledges when he ran for the leadership. Owen Jones, for instance, labelled Starmer as a "liar, a conman and a joke" in an online posting.

The following points would suggest that Starmer is taking the party in a New Labour/Third Way direction and critics like Jones have a point.

Nationalisation

Rachel Reeves, the Shadow Chancellor said: "To be spending billions of pounds nationalising things just doesn't stack up." An end to the commitments of common ownership in the 2019 manifesto and Starmer's 2020 leadership bid.

The economy

There is no commitment to tax and spend under Starmer. He said: "no magic money tree economics with is". He won't get a "big government chequebook"out if the wins the next election. The scope for his tax increases is "simply not there". Last and not least he has jettisoned plans to raise taxes on the top 5% of earners (part of his number one commitment during the leadership race).

Welfare

The commitment to scrap tuition fees was something Starmer for a long time evaded making a firm commitment on. Then it went in the bin. On the NHS, Starmer has scrapped a pledge to end private sector outsourcing. Furthermore, he came under attack by disabled groups for calling Labour "the party of working people".

Law and Order

In his 5 Mission speech in March 2023, Starmer pledge 13,000 extra neighbourhood police officers/PCSOs, plus stronger powers to tackle drugs and hands. He has also repeated the Blair mantra (made when he was Shadow Home Secretary) about being "tough on crime, tough on the causes of crime". And then in the Twitter/Xsphere, we have the attack ads on the Conservatives on their record on crime.

Constitutional reform

Very non-socialist but very New Labour/modern liberal is the plan to devolve more power away from central government - especially to local councils throughout England.

So what happened this week?

Questions:

1. How has the Labour Party's view of the city changed since 2008?

2. Why does the Labour Party now see financial services as important?

3. Why does the Labour Party believe that all investments must be consistent with fiscal rules?

4. What image is Reeves trying to forge as the Iron Chancellor?

5. Why does Reeves prioritize fiscal rules over the green pledge?

6. What does ruling out higher taxes mean for Reeves' plans?

Correct answers:

1. The labor party now sees the city as something that needs to be controlled and contained.

2. Financial services are important because they employ many people directly and are essential for the growth of the economy.

3. All investments must be consistent with fiscal rules to avoid risks to public and family finances.

4. Reeves is trying to establish herself as a strong and capable Chancellor despite limited financial resources.

5. The green pledge is going by the wayside because it must be consistent with the fiscal rules.

6. Ruling out higher taxes means that Reeves will not rely on increased taxation to fund her plans.

Activities

Explain what is meant by the Third Way

Research the latest Labour policies in more detail

Discuss whether you think Keir Starmer is just Tony Blair in surprise

Mike McCartney

Mike is an experienced A-Level Politics teacher, author and examiner.

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