Starmer’s Mission: Impossible

Peter Kenyon says this corrupt government with 120,000 deaths on its hands requires Starmer’s Labour to seriously raise its opposition and ambition

In two months’ time, many UK voters will go the polls for local, regional, Scottish Parliamentary and police and crime commissioner elections.

Labour leader Keir Starmer has yet to floor Tory Prime Minister Boris Johnson. Worse, Labour faces a Herculean task to form a majority government after the next general election, whenever that might be. If Johnson was seen by voters as a man with the blood of UK citizens on his hands (120,000-plus and still rising) and Labour was 20% ahead in the polls, Starmer might have a chance. Though I confess, I don’t know if any pollster has ventured to test those ideas.

Rather than plan for a 2024 election and drape himself and his party in the Union Jack, Starmer would be better advised to think out of the box. Johnson could go for a snap election once the nation has been vaccinated fully against Covid-19. Only the Fixed Term Parliament Act stands between Johnson and going to the country. With an 80-seat majority, a repeal would not be in question. Latest opinion polling shows the Tories back in the lead by three to five percentage points. Why? Vaccinations. Then what has Labour got to offer?

The British electorate’s capacity to forgive and forget the corruption, abuse of power, and nepotism played out daily by Johnson and his cronies is encapsulated in Johnson’s capacity to turn a phrase for the moment. It is nearly 18 months since the Tory-supporting Spectator magazine published his guide to staging a coup [cached, as the original has curiously vanished]. Yet Starmer still appears reluctant to call it out.

How can the Johnson coup be stopped in its tracks, and sound government be restored in the UK?

Britain’s first-past-the-post will still be in operation whenever the next UK General Election is called. The possible need for constitutional reform was given a nod in Starmer’s John Mackintosh Memorial Lecture aimed at Scottish voters and delivered on 21st December last year. Starmer offered “a UK-wide Constitutional Commission to consider how power, wealth and opportunity can be devolved to the most local level….This will be the boldest project Labour has embarked on for a generation. And every bit as bold and radical as the programme of devolution that Labour delivered in the 1990s and 2000s.”

Two months on and we are still waiting.

Meanwhile, the ghastly realities of Brexit are ravaging the economy. Johnson and the renegade Tories of the European Reform Group are still in power. The risks of troubles on the island of Ireland mount. Scots’ thirst for independence appears even greater.

It is not inconceivable that Johnson’s constitutional legacy will be a United Ireland, Independent Scotland, Independent Wales and a Conservative Little England. As for jobs for those still languishing in diminished circumstances in the so-called ‘red wall’ seats, only radical public-led investment programmes funded by the magic money tree will begin to turn their fortunes. Then there are the fantasies about rejoining the European Union: would the UK (if it survives) even pass the democracy tests?

However, there are clues in that mix about how to overthrow the Johnson coup peacefully.

Assuming a moment will dawn when economic considerations will come to preoccupy voters’ minds, the stupidity of Brexit may well dawn too. There is already polling evidence for the latter.

A consensus of one nation Tories, Labour, Liberal Democrats, and Greens will be needed. We could start with focussing not on the seemingly obvious, but on corruption. The New Statesman highlighted Transparency International’s latest edition of the Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI). The United Kingdom came in joint 12th (with 77 points out of 100, with 100 meaning the least corrupt) out of 180 countries and territories.

According to TheyWorkForYou, the last time Starmer mentioned the word ‘corruption’ in the House of Commons was 16th June last year in a speech on global Britain. We need to hear it for hapless little Britain. Johnson has never been accused of being responsible for Covid deaths by Starmer.

Time is running very short to get a majority of the British electorate to recognise the dangers to their lives posed by Johnson and his corrupt, murderous government. Starmer’s policy of wanting to support Government efforts to tackle the pandemic has proved a licence to Johnson to prolong the abuse of emergency powers, offer plum jobs to his mates and milk public funds. At the time of writing, Johnson has announced quarantine plans for passengers arriving at UK ports and airports. They are a year late and riddled with laxities that risk infection multiplying. It is time for Starmer to declare ‘enough is enough’ and shape a winning electoral narrative that casts Johnson as the villain, not our saviour.

Against that background, urgency and cross-party endeavour need to be added to Starmer’s constitutional proposals. It is still difficult to imagine at the present time the readiness of voters to accept a change in the voting system being proposed for the general election after next. Ridding local politics of party tribalism is anathema to so many active in local communities. But that needs to be factored in. Debate needs to be focussed on Westminster Parliamentary arithmetic.

Results of a mega-poll by focaldata, reported by Left Foot Forward, say Labour could win up to 351 seats by working with other progressive parties at the next election. (There are currently 650 seats in the House of Commons.)

Analysis by the cross-party group Compass a month earlier showed a uniform swing of 10.5% would be needed (larger than the Labour landslides of 1997 and 1945). “This scenario also assumes that Labour can make a big comeback in Scotland. Discounting Scottish seats leaves Labour needing an unprecedented uniform swing of 13.8%, and winning all 124 seats [needed to win a majority] would require constituency swings of as high as 15%”, one of the authors said.

The immediate and screamingly obvious snag is that pact. What would the Liberal Democrats and Greens demand of Labour? Does Starmer really need a constitutional convention to work that out? Since he named former Labour Prime Minister Gordon Brown as an adviser, one would hope he will remind Starmer about the Scottish Constitutional Convention. Set up as a top-down cross-party body in 1989, it took six years to report and ten years to realise its ambition – a Scottish Parliament.

The UK cannot wait that long. If Labour is to offer something more ambitious than it offered in the 1990s and 2000s, it has to put electoral reform on the table ASAP.

This is urgent because in addition to the risk of a snap general election, Johnson has already set in-train the process of reducing the size of the House of Commons to 600 seats with further electoral advantage for the renegade Conservative Party he leads.

Labour grassroots organisations have not been idle in this regard. They (including Chartist) have combined to launch Labour for a New Democracy. A model resolution has already been published for debate at the next Labour Party Conference, and it is gathering support among Constituency Labour Parties, affiliated trade unions and socialist societies.

This will be a litmus test of whether Starmer understands just what needs to be done to win power back from the renegades. As for healing the body politic, will that require a written constitution? After recent events in the United States, did the constitution ensure President-elect Jo Biden was sworn in on 20 January? Maybe. But it certainly did not prevent the outgoing renegade from trying to overturn a democratic result for nearly three months.

A good start pointing up the need to root out corruption has been made by Rachel Reeves, a member of the shadow cabinet who follows arch-Brexiteer Michael Gove’s brief at the Cabinet Office, or Corruption Office as it should be known. In a speech in February she asserted that Labour in government will clean up cronyism in contracting through greater transparency, accountability and citizens’ rights, and possibly follow Biden’s example in setting up an integrity and ethics commission.

All that and the restoration of the Nolan principles for public appointments depends on Labour being in government. Planning for that can’t come too soon and it doesn’t require Labour wrapping itself in the Union Jack.

Forging alliances to guarantee (as best one can) the renegade Tories are ousted as soon as possible is the better guarantee of a return to a decent civil civic society, providing Johnson is seen much more widely as a crook with blood on his hands. Over to you, Keir.

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