We need to know what Keir Starmer stands for – even if that takes 14,000 words

The Labour leader hopes his essay will put an end to his party’s navel-gazing and the in-fighting – although it only seems to be adding to it so far

Tom Peck
Monday 13 September 2021 17:32
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<p>‘A clear vision of who Keir Starmer is and where he is trying to go would be most welcome’ </p>

‘A clear vision of who Keir Starmer is and where he is trying to go would be most welcome’

Well there you have it then. Keir Starmer’s dirty little secret is out. Over the summer the Labour leader has, we now know, been writing a 14,000-word essay. What a complete disgrace. Isn’t 10,000 enough? Hasn’t he got a wheat field to be running through?

The answer, on both counts, appears to be “no”. Because the 14,000 words, in their grandiose, verbose, sickening entirety will be published, in full, before the Labour Party conference in two weeks time.

These 14,000 words are not expected to contain a single policy announcement, but rather become the intellectual foundation for who Starmer is, and what he wants to do with the Labour Party (we must hope the phrase ‘win an election’ creeps in there somewhere.)

People are understandably outraged. Labour MP Jon Trickett was kind enough to provide the following quotation to the Daily Telegraph: "I don’t think the ex-miners at the miners’ welfare club in my area are going to be reading 14,000 words and I don’t think many people in the country are to be honest.”

No, nobody’s got it in them to read 14,000 words anymore. Might as well give up. If Starmer can’t condense his intellectual vision for Labour down to a TikTok and ideally in sea shanty form then what business does he have trying to lead the country?

One of Labour’s main problems, according to many of the very many people desperate to diagnose them, is that it has become too liberal, too metropolitan and too elite, and too patronising to ordinary people. Too much like Starmer, really. What it needs, clearly, is people like the far more down to earth Jon Trickett, dutifully texting the Daily Telegraph with words to the effect of “miners can’t read lol! Will this do?”

It’s also a somewhat curious assessment of miners and ex-miners, generally. If you’ve never been to the Durham Miners Gala, to which 100,000 people still attend each year, a very large number of them being ex-miners, you only need to type it into Google images. And there you’ll find, somewhat bizarrely, all these people that couldn’t possibly ever bring themselves to read 14,000 words of anything, parading up and down the street with massive banners of that notoriously concise wordsmith, Karl Marx.

And not just Marx, either. There’s Lenin too – another who had the temerity to put some of his thoughts down in words while also pursuing a career in politics (albeit somewhat less electorally focussed).

That one of his own MPs feels the need to tell a newspaper that the very act of Starmer writing an essay is completely unacceptable does in some regard highlight the scale of the challenge Starmer and his essay must address.

That Starmer hopes the essay will put an end to the navel-gazing and the infighting, yet the mere prospect of the still non-existent essay is sufficient cause for a bit more infighting is somewhat suboptimal.

Starmer has probably worked out by now that he has to lead a party that appears to loathe itself far more than it loathes the opposition, that still contains very large numbers of very nasty people whose core ideological beliefs are repellent to the voters that Starmer requires to win.

And more pressingly, one must hope he has worked out that at the next election he has to somehow defeat a Tory prime minister who’s a lot more charismatic than he is and is also busy making his party kind of ideologically indistinguishable from the kind of party Starmer would like to run.

Last week, Boris Johnson threw, or rather appeared to throw, a very large amount of money at the social care sector, prompting the Daily Telegraph and Boris Johnson fanzine to announce: “The death of Conservatism” on its front page. Which, arguably, is true. But it’s not good news for a Labour leader who rather needs Conservatism to still be alive, and not reincarnated in its current form, which is nicking all of his voters.

There’s still a long way to go until the next election. There’s still, even now, no great need for Starmer to have a very long list of clear policies. A clear vision of who he is and where he is trying to go would be most welcome however. And if it takes 14,000 words, then so be it. The ex-miners will cope.

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