The Daily Telegraph
How Starmer can turn a corner as leader
Faced with the challenges of the modern world, his essay project is a chance to define a new Labour era
Rumour has it that the Labour leader, Sir Keir Starmer, is setting out to write what would amount to a 14,000-word dissertation on the purpose and values of the Labour Party in time for the party’s conference this month.
I am strongly in favour of the shadow ministerial team writing and communicating, so I am the last one to be critical of setting down – in the style of the founders of the Fabian society, Beatrice and Sidney Webb – a philosophical narrative of the role of social democracy in the 21st century, and how Labour should address the challenges of tomorrow.
Of course, it is not an alternative to being able to communicate, simply and clearly, what differentiates Labour from a Conservative Government that has most immediately been forced to substantially adopt the practical policies of the centre-left. But, in clarifying his thoughts and communicating those to party members, this could well be an opportunity for Keir Starmer to start a genuine dialogue that moves on from destructive factional politics.
From state intervention in developing the vaccine, the successful partnership between the NHS and local professionals and volunteers, through to the furlough scheme, grants to businesses and the bounceback loans, it has been the Government that has provided the answers during the pandemic.
Keir Starmer’s biggest challenge in the exercise he has set himself is to expose the contradictions in Conservative thinking without undermining the winning formula Johnson’s party has unwittingly hit upon, while avoiding being pushed further to the ideological Left himself as the Conservative leadership seeks to occupy the centre ground.
The argument remains that the reason the Government has acted in the way it has is that the major challenges of the future can only be handled fairly and effectively by the social democratic solutions which embrace a partnership between people and government, and between the public and private sectors.
As we have seen over the last 10 days, when it comes to addressing well-being in ageing and, therefore, social care, government will have to be in the lead. As we know from dramatic changes in the nature of work – not least those arising from the pandemic – technology, robotics and artificial intelligence will require programmes that stimulate innovation and enterprise (concepts Keith Starmer’s Labour should be comfortable discussing) while sharing, fairly, the outcome of productivity and modernised working practices.
Recovery from the tremendous damage done to the life chances of children requires an education system which develops the classroom of the future, a curriculum that acknowledges and embraces a very different world in years to come and promotes the development of lifelong learning and progression, both within work and between jobs.
Above all, the major issue of this moment, climate change, can only be faced by reshaping the market and investing in making change possible for individuals and families.
One final thought. A successful appeal to the British people to vote for a party committed to social democratic solutions requires an approach which is as much bottom-up as top-down. An understanding that an enabling government is very different from one that issues command-and-control diktats from the centre.
Britain has had enough of that over the last 18 months to last us a lifetime and there are key lessons for Labour about how crucial it is to build from the community, working with people so they can change their lives while protecting them from exploitation.
Particularly in times of seminal change, government has a vital role to play in providing security, not only in the home and on the street, but to people facing a changing world of work. In the end, this must be a partnership: men and women having the freedom to make choices, creating, for themselves, independence and self-reliance while government is there for them and alongside them – making opportunity, well-being and success in business or public service a reality for the many, and not just the few.