Labour should be wary of fighting yesterday’s battle over the economy

Editorial: Keir Starmer risks falling into the trap of taking on the Conservative Party as he would wish it to be

Wednesday 17 February 2021 22:30 GMT
Keir Starmer is set to lay out his economic vision for the country
Keir Starmer is set to lay out his economic vision for the country (Reuters)

For a nation yearning for the chance to revert to a pre-Covid world, it might seem a bit jarring to have the leader of the opposition demanding “no return to business as usual” after the pandemic.

Obviously it is meant as a warning to the government not to impose a second age of austerity in Britain in as many decades, but Sir Keir Starmer, oddly, is the one sounding rather severe about the future. It suits his rather serious manner, in truth, just as senseless optimism is the prime minister’s metier, but it is not what Sir Keir is really about. However, what he is really about is a little indistinct.

In a speech on Thursday, Sir Keir will reference four specific limited tests for the Budget in a fortnight’s time: retain the £1,000 a year uplift to universal credit; drop the planned increase in council tax; extend the business rates holiday; and carry on with the reduction in VAT. All are crowd-pleasers, all eminently practical and sensible, all justified by the still fragile state of the economy, and all emblematic of Labour’s “new partnership between an active government and enterprising business”. Some may even be adopted by the chancellor, Rishi Sunak, which will allow Sir Keir to look prescient (and not like “Captain Hindsight”).

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