I have to say you learn a lot with the Microsoft news feed which takes stories from our national press. Here’s a non-story that really made me laugh, from the Sunday Hate Mail:
“Three Labour MPs are considering defecting to the Conservatives because they have become disillusioned with Sir Keir Starmer's leadership, The Mail on Sunday understands. The MPs decided during last week's Labour conference in Brighton to 'open lines of communication' with Tory whips about switching parties. They are understood to be in despair at Sir Keir's failure to make inroads into Boris Johnson's opinion poll lead – as well as Labour deputy leader Angela Rayner branding the Conservatives as 'racist' and 'scum'.”
Why would three Labour MPs choose to go to the Tories because of their despair at Starmer’s ‘failure to make inroads into Boris Johnson’s opinion poll lead?” I know one of the authors of this story, Brendan Carlin, formerly of the Yorkshire Post and the Daily Telegraph. I fear tabloidism has got to him. Or somebody is taking the piss. I guess it’s a conference thing. Of course, at a rather sticky juncture for the Tories they would love little else but speculation that some Labour MPs might defect to them. What is far more likely however is that Labour will be welcoming back the MP ‘Change Party’ rats who jumped ship a while back. Anytime now, wait and see.
Judging by the stories and pictures filtered through the Microsoft news feed, most of the worst petrol and diesel queues in the UK are happening down south. This may simply be because more people live there. But I find it a bit weird, since for that very reason they also have the best public transport links in the country. Why do you actually need to drive a car around London? More to the point, why do you have to drive a Chelsea Tractor around London? It’s not possible to visit the place without noticing the huge number of humungous vehicles devouring the limited road space. So it made me laugh to notice one story which featured a petrol station on Sloane Road (or maybe street) in Kensington charging £2.68 a litre—twice the normal price—for petrol. Sadly, this disadvantages car drivers who have to get to their care work appointments, etc. and no doubt the better-off Sloane Rangers will send their serfs out to queue. Perhaps fuel should only be served to the car’s registered owners (with a UK address, not the Cayman Islands). Or perhaps it should only be served to people in small cars.
Away at the Labour Party conference for most of last week, savouring the newly confident, surging, poll-topping euphoria that comes with the first big opportunity to see our great leader run rings round the government and its hapless chief buffoon. Well, not quite. I didn’t really pick up a sense of any of that. Sitting in on Starmer’s set-piece speech, which at 90 minutes (including statutory clapping interruptions) I felt a kind of dullness creeping in, a definite sensation of being present at some routine, passionless briefing in an accountancy firm’s head office. Of course the whole thing’s scripted as they always are, including the retorts to heckling. I particularly liked a heckle in a pause after Starmer’s reference to his own stunning leadership of “Where’s Peter Mandelson?”
Despite going on and on and on there were many things Starmer left out or underplayed. I thought his reference to climate change lacking in conviction—perhaps he assumes that the party’s commitment to spend £28 billion a year on a green new deal is sufficient, and all can be delegated to more junior colleagues. It would have been striking if he led on the subject and made a big thing of it. But it’s not his thing. Nor did he seem terribly bothered by the cuts to international aid. Would he restore Tory cuts? No mention. But he did tell us that Gordon Brown would lead a new commission to look at the state of the UK’s union. Perhaps this is the extent of Starmer’s internationalism. In choosing Gordon there’ll be no need to wait with bated breath for the Commission’s conclusions.
Starmer spoke a lot about his background, his family life and being the land’s top prosecutor. In this last regard I was a bit surprised to hear him confess how stunned he was when his team told him that 98% of rape cases don't end in prosecution. I would count that as a dismal failure—who was in charge? As is often the case for prominent Labour leaders he had to make claims to a humble background, so his father the toolmaker featured a lot. This led to an unfortunate and off-colour joke about Boris Johnson’s father having ‘made a tool.’ Not a particularly gracious thing to say when Johnson’s mother had just died a few days before. Starmer would have done better to offer condolences. But maybe he doesn’t emote quite the way he should. Physically bringing into his speech the parents of a murdered daughter was I thought manipulative, even if he said they had become friends because of his role as DPP.
Hardly surprising was the absence of any analysis of why we’re in the state we are economically and why capitalism underpins one failure after another. More and more people will have hopefully heard about ‘just-in-timeism,’ the all-pervading capitalist view that costs should be passed back along the supply chain to the lowest cost producer, ridding the whole chain of any spare (costly) capacity. Nor was there a word about the vultures driving this voracious ‘efficiency’ machine. Now, the UK’s largest food producer, supermarket chain Morrison’s has been auctioned off to an American hedge fund, hundreds of thousands more workers in the UK will fear insecure futures.
But Labour’s grassroots still has teeth. Mass expulsions have not yet shattered some Corbyn era truths, and it is now Labour Party conference-agreed policy to describe Israel as an ‘apartheid state’ engaged in an illegal war against Palestinians. It had to be said.