So in the end Boris Johnson, like Donald Trump, refused to go easily. So where now?
Episode 9, the interview between Andrew Neil and Stephen Kinnock, made me think.
Through the prism of ‘cancel culture’, most politicians probably would not fare well, whether due to a dodgy tweet from 2008, or a cached web history of sex toys, or the such like. A person who was previously opposed to Brexit might find it hard to convince a voter that he or she wants to make Brexit work.
I’ve always found the ‘it’s factored in that Boris is like that’ argument quite interesting from that point of view. He has a record of making gaffes, and being critical of. the European Union. But likewise ask the stereotyped Red Wall voter what he or she thinks of Starmer, the answer might be, ‘A bit boring. And he tried to overthrow Brexit.’
Johnson used to enjoy talking about Starmer’s ‘remoaner’ credentials in #pmqs. He is of course thrilled about ‘getting Brexit done’, which in a sense is true in that we are out of the European Union despite numerous obstacles. As far as single issue politics are concerned, this was considered to be a huge achievement, breaking the deadlock. It is possibly the fault of someone that this has overshadowed lack of policy progress in other areas, such as macroeconomic management or social care reform. But it is clear that Brexit is not ‘done’ ‘done’, in that the NI protocol is still up in the air. Starmer’s speech on Brexit to many was a bit boring. It didn’t really say anything one could strongly disagree with, but likewise it didn’t really say anything particularly noteworthy. It deliberately avoided specifics of particular sectors, and possibly was striking by its lack of action on the single market or free movement of people, despite the impact on the economy and society.
It is a genuine question what Starmer ‘believes in’, so increasingly one is slightly more disinterested in what he opposes. For example, I think he opposes nationalisation of utilities, or crossing picket lines. I suppose he is quite keen on the BBC, and would like to keep his counsel on what a woman is. So, given a choice between Suella Braverman MP and him, an anti-wokist probably would go for Braverman. With even Braverman as the new Conservative leader, it is possible that this could deprive Labour of an overall majority. The question then becomes whether Starmer has shown enough Remoaner leg for that to be a carrot for a Labour voter.
When Stephen Kinnock said something along the lines that Boris Johnson had ‘debased’ politics, my danger antenna went up. Integrity and probity are of course brand identities of Starmer, despite the Durham investigation. But this mission creeps into sanctimonious moralising, which became part of Nick Clegg’s downfall (coupled with his U-turn on tuition fees). So it is a genuine question whether a voter feels that he or she can ‘connect’ with Starmer. We know that people who supported Corbyn tend not to, because of the breaking of Starmer’s leadership pledges, and the ‘getting our house in order’ argument to disposing of Corbynism. Corbynism has been made to be perpetually toxic, ironically given today that today France’s PM has decided to nationalise electricity. Whatever your views on socialism, one can perhaps admire France’s attempt at mitigating the cost of living crisis. And yet the British electorate appears to have rejected Corbynism for a bit of groping and Brexit.
I am intrigued who the next Tory leader will be in August or September. I quite like Andrew Bridgen’s non commitment to it, in letting due process run its course. I quite like Steve Baker’s unemotional assessment that there are ‘two great parties’ and it will be either Tory or Labour/SNP. I am no Einstein, but it doesn’t take much to work out that if there is an early election, the Conservatives will go mega pro Union and do the ‘vote Labour get SNP line’. And for all I know that might be as effective as ‘Get Brexit done’ – and Starmer might be equally toxic to Brexiteers as Corbyn was for some voters in general.
I don’t feel Starmer can ‘reinvent’ himself especially if evidence against Brexit points increasingly in one direction. It’s mind blowing that the Conservatives still have a reputation for economic prudence, which might make Rachel Reeves’ plan for cut through on solving the hyperinflation crisis.
But at the end of the day I am amused by Andrew Neil’s approach of ‘given how dire Boris Johnson is, why isn’t Starmer much more ahead?’ We are told by constitutional experts that we don’t live in a presidential system, so people vote for parties not people. But whoever succeeds Johnson will be up against Starmer, and presumably he or she will have a future. It may be that the actual policies or facts don’t matter. Starmer might be fulfilling a Neil Kinnock rôle in recalibrating Labour away from the ‘far left’, and one last heave might turn Starmer into the new Tony Blair. Tony Blair however had policies, was ahead in the polls, and was popular. It is quite possible that Starmer turns out to be nothing like Blair or Neil Kinnock, but that might be irrelevant given a ‘time for a change’ Tory leader. I suspect actually that Starmer will be more like Michael Howard or Iain Duncan-Smith in longevity.