Late last week, Kier Starmer made what was billed as the first of his major policy speeches. You can see it here, and read it here. (I have only read it.) Some people’s reactions seem instant, and I am not sure how well thought out they are. My first instinct on reading some of what the usual culprits are saying about the “Recovery Bonds” is, “Hmm. Left wingers can’t complain we want to use fiscal policy to kick start the economy and complain when @Keir_Starmer and @AnnelieseDodds want to use bonds to fund it. Bond financing of fiscal debt is axiomatic”. I add that missing out of mentioning and criticising Brexit continues the mistake of only permitting the Tories to talk about the growing disaster, you’d think we’d learned the message over deficit fetishism, we can’t let the Tories set the narrative unchallenged. Silence on climate change is also very disappointing.

The investment ambition is weak, like Miliband’s promise of 1m homes over the parliament, 100,000 new business seems small beer given 1.7m unemployed and the low rates of capital formation a feature endemic in British capitalism since 2010. “High wages, High skills” is not a strategy, it’s a slogan unless we can pick the next winners of the creative destruction process. This can be done via the market, even with public money (look at the EU’s Horizon 2020 & its predecessor FP7) or by technocratic or democratic rationing, but 100,000 startups is not enough compared with £500bn funded National/regional Investment Bank[s] offered in the 2017/9 manifesto. Since part of this future is healthcare and old age care, notorious low wage sectors, there will need to be income redistribution policies to ensure that wages and earnings in the personal care industries are sufficient for the purposes of justice and the generation of innovation. The inequality and injustice exposed by CV19’s disclosure of what is genuinely essential needs to be rectified. The silence on sick pay and redundancy payments is also disappointing. Another part of the post covid, next generation recovery must be green manufacturing and science, which is why the country needs an industrial policy and yet again, Brexit and our exit of the Horizon 2020 programme will not be a help with this.

Phil BC, the public sociologist, is not so excited by the economics, and even less to with what it says about the strategy. Phil criticises the steps away from the promises of industrial democracy & democratic nationalisations. I think he’s right and this, I think, aligns with my critique which I also made of the Dodds speech that there’s no industrial strategy, we have no way of helping the next generation winners succeed. Actually it’s not quite the same, the industrial democracy proposals were about power in the economy, an industrial policy is about the classic questions of economics; what we make and do, who does it, with what, and who gets it. Phil concludes his post with a comment on political strategy,

[Starmerism] is capable of taking on new, interesting, and innovative policy ideas. But strategically, this was no departure from what we’ve seen up until now and was, explicitly, a divorce from the Corbynism it happily gestured to a year ago. … Try as he might, he cannot avoid the issue. Keir Starmer either locates Labour in the interests of the rising generation and sticks up for its core vote, as Corbynism partially managed, or he loses. The political calculus is that simple.

Phil BC – on his blog

James Meadway is equally calm about the economics as far as it goes but is concerned that like with grand political strategy, Starmer is fighting the last election and maybe the one before. He points out that the elite consensus is now anti-austerity and that an ideologically light Tory Party can spend money and make token gestures towards climate change control, particularly if it involves chucking cash at companies owned by their doners. Meadway says,

… but Johnson has spotted the same. He and those around him are starting to lay out a programme for a reinvigorated, economically interventionist and environmentally-tinged Conservatism, which, if they pull it off, could plausibly cement the party in power for the next decade.

Labour’s aim should be to disrupt that effort as far as possible – not to goad them into making it happen.

James Meadway – New Statesman

Meadway asks us all to share the intellectual load as he argues that there can be no return to the social justice models of pre-pandemic Britain, and it’s this potentially compelling tide that makes a comparison with 1945 possible. People returned from WWII, empowered and determined not to return to the poverty, social injustice and pro-fascist defence & security polices of the inter-war Tories and took down Churchill with them. But continuing with the theme of ’45, it is alleged that Churchill said of Attlee, “A modest man with much to be modest about.” This must also be part of Kier’s hope, because in 45, the orator lost although when it comes to oratory, as in so much else, Johnson is not Churchill, but Attlee was surrounded by giants, Starmer is not. Perhaps presidentialism doesn’t suit Labour.

So on economics, strategy and justice, it’s all a bit meh, but also dangerous for Labour. If Starmer, his consiglieri and acolytes misjudge the Tories and/or our core decides that the compromises with Blue Labour are too much and if Brexit’s costs gets worse as more of the exit deadlines pass, his collusion with Brexit and errors of psephological judgement will also cost him and Labour dear.

Starmer, a new chapter?
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