I confess to having had to steel myself to read ‘The Road Ahead,’ Keir Starmer’s essay on What Is To Be Done. I picked up a copy of said pamphlet at the party conference last week. It was light in weight and content. Naturally, much of it deals with the failures of the Tory government. There’s lots to go at there, and much criticism to agree with. But it’s not just about the Tories is it, Keir? What lies underneath the Tories, what is the underlying economic system that promotes them? Not a word. It’s as if all we have to do to fix the system is change parties at the next election, rather than change the system. In other words, we will be better managers of capitalism (a word Keir steers clear of entirely) and simply by being a partner of private business everything will be rosy. Does this mean we accept Boris Johnson’s claim that capitalism was the driving force behind the Covid vaccine, rather than taxpayer funded research? Does it mean that Keir believes in more privatisation of the NHS?
He talks about the ‘contribution society’ and how ‘hard’ working people must be rewarded, but offers no suggestions as to how the meritless non-hard working people (e.g crony capitalists, hedge fund vultures, offshore tax haven devotees, etc., etc.) should be penalised, or indeed eradicated. His approach sounds like we’re all going to be slightly better off, but wage slaves nonetheless. But in what must be seen as a repudiation of the Blair/Brown years, Keir tells us that “We would start with a promise to ensure we buy, make and sell in Britain” and “All major infrastructure projects currently in the pipeline would be reviewed to ensure we maximise the use of British materials and firms.” Gone, then, are the days of global free trade so beloved of New Labour, the only way to go, as Blair would have had us believe. I imagine that Blair, being the same age as me will remember the days of earlier ‘Buy British’ marketing campaigns. I recall one such from the 1960s—it was a spectacular failure. I wonder, now that we are all focused on supply chains and ‘just in time’ how exactly we will be able to rebuild a purely British manufacturing base, since the word ‘infrastructure’ points more to things than services. For some reason the French and the Chinese seem to be the only people capable of building our new nuclear power stations. Are they to be shown the door? (Yes please, and let that be the end of new nuclear power stations, which as shown by Amory Lovins in a recent Counterpunch article are of no use in the battle against climate change)
How do we ensure we buy, make and sell in Britain? The flipside to such a patriotic pursuit must surely be some form of protectionism. Is a touch of Trump creeping in here? Should we raise tariffs on Chinese goods? How would that go down with the British consumer? If we are to resile from globalisation it would be better to say how it can be achieved, rather than simply sloganise. Gordon Bown’s ‘British jobs for British workers’ also rang hollow.