Robin McAlpine – Keir Starmer; failing Britain in human form

Come on! Be a real European for once in your life, not just a faux European posturer. Read an article about the political and economic situation in Britain. What will you discover? That it is the same as in your nation. We are all Europeans now.

Robin McAlpine is the director of the Scottish think and do tank Common Weal

Cross-posted from Robin’s blog

Photo by UK Parliament on flickr. Creative Commons

Keir Starmer is not the solution to Britain’s relentless decline, he is a personification of why Britain is in decline in the first place.

Ah, Keir Starmer. I’d forgotten all about him. Then again, that seems to be the strategy being pursued by his own team. I mean, they actively brief the media that he should be known as ‘Mr Rules’. To put that into perspective, let’s try it in a number of different literary genres:

“Corporal Jenkins lay bleeding in the mud of the Somme. Surrounded by his comrades, most dead, some struggling to clutch at a few final breaths, he realised for the first time what it truly felt to be alone. What might well be his final thoughts turned to how his life could have taken that different path, again and again back to the same question – why didn’t I listen to…”

“All of a sudden the little Halfling realised that the sound wasn’t thunder but the violent beating of great wings against the hot, humid air, the flora scorched by fiery breath, the fauna long scattered or devoured. As she caught a first glance of the creature swooping towards her, her tiny heart beat fit to tear itself apart. But before she too was consumed by the cavernous mouth hurtling towards her, as if from nowhere appeared…”

“’Tis little more than crumbling stone / A house of dank, decay and fools / A lair which those outside bemoan / And offer prayers to…..”

A laser cannon, having lost all charge, is hurled towards the approaching droids in a final act of poignant human futility. The last of us divide; those who kneel to make peace with their end and those who fumble desperately at our last comms device. Oh, for the sake of all that is left of humankind, where are you…”

Go on, add ‘Mr Rules’ to each of these with a straight face. And then remind yourself that that is what Labour’s strategists chose voluntarily to promote as a kind of mission-statement nickname.

If you want to bring the crisis of British democracy truly into focus it is helpful to gather where we stand. While the centrist establishment adopts the not exactly subtle strategy of just not actually saying it out loud or commenting on it at all, Keir Starmer must be damn near the worst leader Labour has ever had.

It’s not because he’s dull or because he exudes the air of a weak man trying desperately to persuade you he is strong, it’s because he is the embodiment of the failure in Britain’s democracy. He is a distilled, concentrated version of why Britain is shit.

Starmer is a consumerist, a supply-side politician. He views society as a transaction undertaken between an elite ruling class and a vast class of plebs. He sees the job of a politician as to keep well out of that relationship except in the case of emergency, like today when he revealed what must have been, oh, hours of work, a windfall tax exactly like his last one except… bigger. The rest of the time he believes he should be facilitating the elite as the way to get ‘the best deal’ for the plebs.

And for him emergency doesn’t mean ‘starving children’, it means ‘enough starving children to risk the stability of the system in a way which might cause a breakdown in the relationship between the elite and the plebs’. He is there to protect the powerful, which means once in a while they might need to be protected from themselves, briefly.

This is like a photocopy of a photocopy of a photocopy of 1997 New Labour – as if the last 25 years didn’t happen. He has only one mission – to do as little as it takes to be leader so that he can then do as little as it takes to maintain political stability. To do that he must guarantee the elites that he will not get in their way. That’s what Guardian commentators mean when they trumpet the need for Labour to be ‘credible’.

Yet it is an odd kind of credibility, abandoning the Party’s commitment to publicly-owned energy in favour of ‘better regulation’. That is quite literally how we got here, the New Labour approach from back in the day that created the mess we’re currently in. Same with banking, same with housing, same with employment law, same with foreign affairs.

Britain is in full-spectrum crisis not because of a lack of ‘political credibility’ but exactly because of how Britain’s elites define credibility. For example, you can maximise the GDP contribution of formerly public utilities or you can ensure they are investing in the infrastructure which will make Britain a viable country for the long term. You can’t do both – so which is the ‘credible’ option?

Britain is a failing enterprise because Britain has been consumed by an ideology that assumes there can never be failure. Growth is key and you can grow by cutting everything to the bone in the name of efficiency, but with no risk attached. That is exactly what created the banking crisis (a crisis born in London), that is what is creating the housing crisis, that is what is creating the energy crisis, that is what is creating the water crisis.

And here’s the thing – if you’ve failed to invest for the future for 40 years you have to live with the consequences. Boy oh boy are we living with the consequences, and this is only the beginning.

Gordon Brown has been more honest than most about what Britain is (which is fair enough given that he more than anyone apart from Thatcher is responsible for the state of banking, energy, housing and water markets). He proposes ‘temporary nationalisation’ of energy companies. He wants to socialise the risk of private failure again, just like with the banks.

And just like with the banks, as soon as the risk to political stability is over, he wants them returned straight into the pockets of the people responsible for the crisis in the first place. He will not countenance the possibility that there is a fundamental, structural flaw in Britain – not least because he is the person who created a Britain with a fundamental, structural flaw.

The only politician Britain has had who has had any real understanding of the scale and cause of the crisis we face was Jeremy Corbyn. His political assassination took place at the hands of the elite Starmer and Brown want so much to protect.

And bear in mind, all of the above is your best hope. That’s Britain’s utopian future, the other one worse. I suspect that there is no-one with any real knowledge who can’t see that Britain’s future is now pretty-well uninterrupted decline taking place in a wider world of endemic decay. Starmer has no intellectual framework with which to address any big issue, from rapidly failing infrastructure to a low-pay economy to woeful economic productivity to widespread social fragmentation to climate crisis.

Britain is lost. To give a simple metaphor, it is now almost certainly physically impossible to repair England’s failing water infrastructure at a rate faster than the failure of Britain’s weather system. Our decline is faster than the fastest version of reversing the decline.

Scottish independence isn’t the answer to this – the Scottish Government is going out of its way to prove that with the mass privatisation of energy and the failure to run a government which is on first name terms with competence. In fact it now seems universally accepted that Nicola Sturgeon is our best-ever politician running our worst-ever government. Take that Lewis Carroll!

No, Scottish independence isn’t the answer to this, but it creates the possibility of an answer. If you’re being dragged to the depths by a chain tangled round your ankles, freeing yourself from the chains doesn’t mean you’ll live – but not freeing yourself means you definitely won’t.

But exactly the same is true of England. It is the structure of your democracy which enables this. It is your (our) archaic parliament, your (our) non-constitution, your (our) decrepit voting system, your (our) disproportionate concentration of power and wealth, your (our) kleptomaniacal elite, you (our) undue culture of deference to the powerful. It is quicker for Scotland to escape this than it will be to fix it – but it can be fixed.

There is no reason why Britain, why England, can’t be saved. England is a wonderful, wealthy country filled with imagination, creativity and people with real talent and drive. It’s just that Keir Starmer has been anointed as your saviour and Keir Starmer is not a person who demonstrates imagination, creativity, talent or drive.

“The child, staring at the exhibition in disbelief, asked his mother if it was really true. In the early 21st century was it really true that some people were so hungry and so cold that they died, and that entire towns had to have water sent to them in bottles. Here? His mother explained that those were the dark days, back before they elected….”

Nope. Didn’t think so.

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2 Comments

  1. Failing? Or surgically removing Britains lungs, heart, and soul so that we can join the death march of the managerial class and the oligarchy they loyally serve.

  2. It’s the people, Squire. They keep voting for clowns and nincompoops. Yes, we know. That’s the point, but we can’t address them directly. They would be offended and vote for true independents, indeed, start thinking for themselves.

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