Analysis of Starmer’s vague and non-committal lack of policy suggests an underlying goal, says former LOTO worker
Phil Bevin worked in Jeremy Corbyn’s opposition leader’s office. Starmer’s sidekick David Evans tried to sack him and his colleagues in the middle of the Covid crisis, so he has first-hand experience of the outlook and conduct of the ‘NeoLabour’ regime. He believes that Starmer’s claim that he will raise taxes on the wealthy is worthless and meaningless. Here he explains why.
A common view of Keir Starmer is that he shows no real political conviction because he has no real politics. He flip-flops on matters of policy because he holds no strong opinions himself, which is why he appears to stand for nothing.
Starmer’s apparent fumbling of the controversy over the Government’s plan to raise National Insurance to pay for social care seems like it could be yet another example of his political ineptitude. However, it may actually be the latest example of a coherent political strategy from Starmer’s two-faced NeoLabour.
In response to the Government’s unpopular plan to raise National Insurance, Starmer hinted that Labour would consider the idea of a wealth tax – specifically targeting landlords with multiple properties and people who trade large numbers of stocks and shares – alongside a range of options. Notably, when pressed to commit to one of these options, such as a wealth tax, in an excruciating interview with Sky News’ Beth Rigby, he was unable or unwilling to do so.
Starmer and Labour have since “clarified” their position on funding social care, though it remains confusing. According to an article by LabourList, Starmer has “stressed his preference for funds for social care to be raised through income from assets, saying that Labour would raise the cash in a ‘broader way where those with the broadest shoulders pay their fair share’ ”.
However, this vague language does not actually suggest that a wealth tax is Labour’s new policy – which is apparently to provide more care at home and cut hospital treatments to raise money for social care – but is instead an expression of a loosely articulated personal preference from the “leader”.
A quote from Jonathan Ashworth published in the same article adds to the confusion by claiming that “Labour would fund social care via a community-first savings plan.”
To be clear, to talk about funding care through “savings” is to talk of cuts. Additionally, delivering more care in the community can also be understood as another way of announcing less public money to support people in residential care. Many people don’t want to live in residential care but that does not excuse reducing the availability of this service in a country with an ageing population, where more care services will be needed in the future. Angela Rayner has also joined in on Twitter, coining the new slogan “wage rises, not tax rises”, which seems like a pithier version of Peter Mandelson’s “we are intensely relaxed about people getting filthy rich”.
If Starmer’s “personal preference” for taxing Landlords and stock market traders seems to contradict Ashworth’s claim that Labour will fund reforms to social care through “savings” and Angela Rayner’s dislike of taxation, in reality it does not. To emphasise: Starmer’s expressed personal preference is not Labour policy and he has never claimed that it is. What Labour has not done, and neither has Starmer, is explicitly commit to any extra investment in social care, via increased taxation or otherwise.
Labour appears to have announced a policy of cuts framed in progressive rhetoric. And it isn’t the first time it has done this.
Back in February, Starmer announced Labour’s policy of establishing a British bond to fund the national recovery from COVID-19. This policy received praise from many on the left, who saw it as a return to the principle of public investment. But this narrative unravelled when it became clear that Starmer intended for the money raised by the bond to be funnelled into private companies.
We saw a similar trend when Starmer announced that Labour would prioritise British companies for government contracts, which many on the left initially perceived as Starmer’s leadership adopting the Corbyn era policy of “Build it in Britain”. Of course, it should have been obvious from the start that announcing a commitment to outsourcing is not the same thing as guaranteeing manufacturing jobs by expanding public ownership of the means of production.
A single incidence of confusing communication may have been a mistake but there is a pattern to NeoLabour’s announcements which, when the dots are joined, reveals a coherent political and policy strategy:
If Corbyn’s Labour aimed to use public money to invest in publicly owned infrastructure, Starmer appears to want to funnel public money into private hands, all the while repackaging asset stripping Thatcherism as “progressive”; perhaps Starmer hopes the progressive framing will allow him to hood-wink elements of the soft left into letting him off the hook until its too late to change the Party’s rightward trajectory.
Whatever the political aims of NeoLabour’s reframing of Thatcherism, the policy implications are frightening. For social care, this does mean that working people won’t suffer hardship from National Insurance Increases to fund investment under Neo Labour – because there probably won’t be any investment.
Ordinary people will keep more of their wages when working but would suffer inadequate provision of social care when they are vulnerable and need it most. When Labour criticises the Tories for no longer being the party of low taxes, they are pushing the Conservatives even further to the right, shifting the whole of political debate in the same direction.
The implications of this rightwards turn, particularly for basic principles of equality and the availability of essential services to ordinary people are spine-chilling to contemplate.
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