I, Keir: Starmer Uses All The Tools In His Cabinet
Party conference season is upon us once again, though for Labour it’s not so much a party and more of a punch-up on a petrol station forecourt. Those on the left say the Labour party is no longer socialist enough and are still angry that Jeremy Corbyn is no longer leading it, while the centrists in turn blame Corbyn for, well, everything, insisting that he is still the reason Labour are behind in the polls. Every Labour member seems to think they could do a better job than the actual leader, Keir Starmer. Perhaps in the future, everyone will be Labour party leader for fifteen minutes, which at least would make a change from the usual fifteen years of opposition.
Starmer’s speech was trailed as being his make-or-break moment, the revelation of “I, Keir”. Would he manage to unpack and assemble his vision like a Billy bookcase? Or would he continue to be Billy no-mates, left holding a handful of loose screws? Sadly for Starmer, the Labour party continued to do what the Labour party does, arguing over the direction of travel like a fractious married couple trying to find their way through the Ikea one-way system to the marketplace. Andy McDonald (no, me neither) decided to resign from the shadow front-bench on the eve of Starmer’s speech, sending literally no shock waves whatsoever through the political world. There was more uproar when Andy McDonald left Coronation Street.
It was reported that Starmer had spent three months working on his speech, which is nearly as long as it takes to put a Kallax shelf unit together, or to buy a few litres of unleaded. As Starmer spoke to a flat-packed conference hall, Corbyn supporters decided to heckle Starmer throughout his speech, even while he was speaking about his mother’s terminal illness. Stay classy, guys. The Corbyn supporters continued to insist they were “going nowhere”, which seems par for the course.
In a ninety-minute speech, Starmer even managed to throw in a few jokes. “My dad was a toolmaker,” he said at one point, “although in a way so was Boris Johnson’s.” It’s true that you do get some very decent quality tools made by Stanley.
Despite spending months on his speech and also releasing a fourteen-thousand word essay on “The Road Ahead” for Labour, Starmer still managed to undermine his own conference by getting involved in the infighting, spending several days trying to change the rules governing leadership elections. With the government lurching from one crisis to the next – energy supply problems, petrol shortages, food shortages, tax rises, benefit cuts, Afghanistan, and more – it might have made more sense to concentrate on the open goals the government was offering. Sadly, if there’s an open goal, Starmer will merely look very closely at it and consider it carefully, rather than actually kicking the ball.
Elsewhere, Labour’s Deputy Leader, Angela Rayner, made rather more headlines by referring to Boris Johnson and the Conservatives as “scum”. Speaking at a conference reception, she said, “We cannot get any worse than a bunch of scum, homophobic, racist, misogynistic, absolute vile … banana republic, vile, nasty, Etonian … piece of scum.” Some shadow cabinet members were unhappy about Rayner’s use of language, calling her an “imbecile”, which is obviously much better. Perhaps she should have called them tools instead.
Many Conservatives called on Rayner to apologise for using the word “scum”. Strangely, they didn’t seem too concerned about being called homophobic, racist and misogynistic. Perhaps the words are a bit too long for them? Dominic Raab certainly doesn’t seem to know what they mean, after he said in an interview that “misogyny is absolutely wrong, whether it’s a man against a woman or a woman against a man”.
The government has also ruled out making misogyny a crime, saying that it would overload the police. Maybe they could flag down some bus drivers to help them deal with it?
The uphill struggle Labour faces is encapsulated by a recent Opinium poll which asked who was to blame for the current HGV driver shortage, with 33% of people putting some of the blame on the last Labour government. Eleven years, guys. It’s been eleven years.
The Conservative party has been on its own special journey in that time. Back in 2016, we were told that leaving the EU wouldn’t cause us any problems. Now that we’re facing shortages of food and fuel, the government originally insisted it was nothing to do with Brexit. Now the Tory party conference is here, we’re being told that the disruption was part of the plan all along. That’s quite the change in gear (which you can still do, even when you don’t have any petrol).
Apparently, running out of fuel and food is a necessary part of the transition from a low-skill, low-wage economy. Employers need to pay better wages to attract workers. It’s funny, because there are about fifty thousand nursing vacancies at the moment, with nursing being very much a high-skill role. I must have missed the bit where nurses were offered high wage increases to plug the gaps. Perhaps I didn’t hear about it for all the rounds of applause the government gave them.
The Sunday Telegraph quoted a government ‘source’ saying that the shortages were a failure of the free market, not the state. Boris Johnson has also said that “it’s not the job of government to come in and try to fix every problem in business and industry”. It is when it’s the government that causes the problem, having previously insisted there wasn’t going to be a problem.
Still, the government has tried to fix the “global problem” of lorry driver shortages – in no way linked to Brexit - by offering short-term visas to drivers from the EU. I think that’s what they call cognitive dissonance. With a grand total of 27 drivers so far applying for visas, we can have one driver for each remaining member of the EU.
But, if we’re to believe Boris Johnson – and really, there’s no reason why we should – we are now poised to build back blather. Er, better. He’s already proved himself with his ability to build buses out of wine boxes. So, if you could just hand him an Allen key, a crosshead screwdriver and some instructions, he’ll get started.