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The Starmer Effect: Labour Party Policy

Mike McCartney

4th May 2023

Y13 revision, or a Y12 exercise

With news this week that Keir Starmer has come off the fence with regards to tuition fees, it is time to examine closely the impact his leadership has had on the party.

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.

To what extent has Starmer led the party away from its traditional principles/Old Labour/etc?

The following points would suggest that Starmer is taking the party in a New Labour/Third Way direction...

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

As mentioned above, the commitment to scrap tuition fees was something Starmer evaded making a firm commitment on. Now it is in the bin. On the NHS, Starmer has scrapped a pledge to end private sector outsourcing. Furthermore, he cam under attack by disabled groups for calling Labour "he party of working people".

Law and Order

In his 5 Mission speech in March of the year, Starer 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 Twittersphere, 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.

Looking at the ways that Starmer has not deviated from Old Labour/veered right/whatever, I have used an excellent article by Professor Michael Jacobs from the University of Sheffield.

In class, I have divided into five headings.

  1. Environment
  2. Economy
  3. Workers' rights
  4. Nationalisation
  5. Constitutional reform

You could take issue with the first two, and see recent announcements on climate change by Starmer and his team as falling under he penumbra of economic management, but there is some much there, that I think it deserves separating out.

To expedite business as a teaching resource I have edited it down and added line numbers, so it looks more like an A Level document source. I'll post it here (though I have lost the line numbers) and see how it looks. It is an excellent read. Absolute Politics gold!

A Keir Starmer government might be more radical than you think.

The view that no one knows what Keir Starmer stands for still appears to be widely held. But in reality it should not be any more. Over the past few months Labour has adopted a host of policy positions, particularly on the economy. And they are considerably more radical than Starmer’s critics might have expected.

On the environment, Labour has pledged £28bn a year for climate action this decade – a larger annual figure than promised by Corbyn and John McDonnell. Under Ed Miliband’s stewardship, Labour pledges to achieve a net zero power system by 2030, establish a new publicly owned energy generation company and drive a 10-year, £60bn energy efficiency programme to fix Britain’s leaky homes and buildings, creating tens of thousands of new jobs and apprenticeships across the country.

Labour plans to use one of the very few genuine “Brexit freedoms” to target government procurement on UK companies. It wants to reduce the UK’s import bill and to strengthen the resilience of the economy in sectors such as food, health supplies and medicines, which were badly exposed in the pandemic. Reeves has further committed to establishing a national wealth fund to take equity stakes in Britain’s successful new businesses.

But will Labour’s “fiscal responsibility” inhibit its spending on public services? Perhaps not as much as some fear. Rachel Reeves, the Shadow Chancellor, has understandably been reluctant to say she will raise taxes. But she has also made clear her view that the unequal tax treatment of wealth is wrong. That suggests that Labour wants to equalise the tax rates paid on capital gains and dividends with those on wages, and possibly to charge national insurance on investment income. Reeves has already said Labour would abolish non-dom status. These measures would raise around £26bn a year, which would go some way to funding the party’s commitments to the NHS, social care and childcare – the social infrastructure on which the economy depends.

At the same time Labour is committed to raising the minimum wage to the level of a proper living wage. Its package of workers’ rights and protections includes banning zero-hours contracts and bogus self-employment, and ensuring all workers from day one are entitled to sick pay, paid holidays and parental leave. It pledges to negotiate fair pay agreements with employers and trade unions, setting a floor to wages and working conditions in key sectors. Experience in other countries suggests that such agreements will not only raise workers’ wages, but also reduce gender inequalities.

And it is not quite true that Labour is now opposed to nationalisation. It has promised to take the rail operators back into public ownership when their franchises expire. All told, Labour now has a solid economic policy, and one which certainly cannot be characterised as “New Labour”. Indeed, excepting nationalisation, it is not too far from the economic prospectus set out in Corbyn’s 2017 manifesto.

Mike McCartney

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

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