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.