I often wonder if Keir Starmer has a humiliation kink: whether he draws joy or pleasure from what one can only imagine is the sheer weight of humiliation and shame that must push itself down on his chest with every waking breath. It is, one might reasonably argue, the only logical explanation for the Starmer leadership of the Labour Party.
It started with ten pledges. Economic, social and climate justice made up the first three. A promise to promote peace and human rights the fourth. A commitment to public ownership, defending migrant rights and trade unions formed five, six and seven, with devolution, equality and effective opposition rounding off the list.
His leadership campaign sent out thousands of posters with the slogan ‘Integrity, Authority, Unity’ emblazoned upon them. Letters sent out from the campaign echoed this, many marked with ‘contains Integrity; Authority; Unity’. His leadership campaign website promised he would ‘maintain our radical values and work tirelessly to get Labour into power – so that we can advance the interests our party was created to serve’. He based all of these promises on ‘the moral case for socialism’.
Not even two-and-a-half years on, it is laughable to read these back.
It feels almost passé to say now, given that every year since I was about 16 has sprung a new crisis or unprecedented time upon us, but the past 28 months have truly been unprecedented. Seismic in the way they’ve shaped the national psyche and our society at large: a global pandemic, the ‘completion’ of Brexit, attacks on human rights, the continuing climate catastrophe, the fall of Afghanistan, the invasion of Ukraine and a spiralling cost-of-living crisis already devastating swathes of the population. All this playing out as the government collapsed – a death by a thousand cuts that saw a slow bleed turn into a torrent overnight, unseating a prime minister who had managed to command an historic landslide just two and a half years previously.
And where was Keir Starmer in all of this? Humiliating himself.
Whether it was repeatedly ‘putting the government on notice’ (what?), demanding that children return to the classroom in the middle of a second, deadlier wave of Covid-19 (why?), or abstaining on votes that granted swingeing new powers to security services (how?), your man was out here getting his rocks off.
Historic energy crisis mere months away from confronting millions with the question ‘heat or eat’? Better double down on breaking that pledge of public ownership. Tens of thousands of rail workers forced to withdraw their labour after years of mismanagement by private companies and the government? Perfect time to sack members of your shadow cabinet who seek to show solidarity with workers.
At every turn, Starmer has shown himself to be unprincipled and dishonest. A jellyfish with no shape, substance or sting – but for that reserved for attacking the left. Cucked by the right of the party, his enduring legacy is that of bankrupting Labour while expelling or alienating hundreds of thousands of dedicated activists, organisers and voters in the process.
And for what?
A poll lead over the Conservatives built almost exclusively on not being the other guy. One that will, invariably, come crashing down, or at least stagnate, once a new prime minister takes office in September. Starmer’s entire political philosophy as leader has been predicated upon this notion. ‘I’m not Boris’ or ‘I’m not Corbyn’ might have held some sway for a minute but the former is about to leave office and the second doesn’t even have the Labour whip now. Those voters who know who Starmer is – and there are many who haven’t the foggiest – are getting sick of his schtick.
Without passion or ambition
In two-and-a-half years Starmer has ‘rebooted’ his leadership several times. He wrote a 14,000-word essay for the Fabian Society ahead of last year’s party conference that set out the ten principles for his ‘contract with the British people’ (humiliating). Then in January 2022 he set out a new contract with the British people (again, deeply humiliating) in which he introduced Labour’s new slogan: ‘Security, Prosperity, Respect’ (truly, humblingly embarrassing to even have to type the words). It means nothing. It is without passion or ambition – and that, perhaps beyond everything else, is the problem with Starmer.
Time and time again, when pushed on issues, both Starmer and his shadow cabinet have turned to platitudes. They have set out a stall filled with nothing but hot air. Even now, as they begin to pack the said stall with the most minimal material bits of policy, the offering remains deeply uninspiring.
Blanket and nondescript calls to spread wealth to left-behind places (where have we heard that before?), coupled with pledges to set up things such as an ‘Office for Value for Money’, represent a criminal lack of ambition. It is a return to the grey days of Milibandism, where we were all invited to watch him erect his own tombstone live on television.
Those voters who know who Starmer is – and there are many who haven’t the foggiest – are getting sick of his schtick
People in the UK and across the world face destitution. They face violent crackdowns, taller walls, extreme weather, rocketing prices and stagnating wages. They are calling out for an alternative to the bluster and the obfuscation of the Tories, who have spent over a decade hammering the poor, sowing division and hate, and allowing their rich friends to hoard extortionate amounts of wealth.
It is unarguable that, come the end, Jeremy Corbyn was an unpopular figure. The media and many on the right of the party ensured that. It is equally unarguable that his policies – material, radical (in the eyes of many) offerings that would go some way to redressing the deep inequity that runs like a rot through our society – were popular.
As Starmer continues to jettison them with gay abandon at every new attempt at reintroducing himself to the British people, we must return, I am sorry to say, to the contention at the top of this article. A man who gets up every day and stands on an empty box of promises in front of an ambivalent British public, embarrassing himself day in and day out, must, on some level, be drawing something from it.
While it is not for us to kink shame, the time has come for Starmer to go elsewhere for his fix. We need a serious politician, a serious Labour Party, with serious solutions for serious problems. We need a platform that redistributes wealth, that tackles the inequality, greed and hate that drives so much of the pain and suffering in our society. A man getting off on that isn’t the one to lead us there.