As I have possibly written once or twice before, the cruelly dammed-up reservoir of British potential is the life force of UK politics
One word accounts for 18 du 12,275 mots (including subject headings) to be found in Keir Starmer’s widely awaited long read, which is mainly on the subject of Keir Starmer.
The essay, published on the eve of the Labour Party conference and now placed on the record as a kind of ideological backbone for Keir’s (and the party’s) fight for power in the next few years, has one crucial theme.
That’s what it’s all about. Potential, potential, potential.
British people have so much potential. Seventeen of the 18 references to potential are all about them, with the remaining solitary mention devoted to British wind turbines, which also, apparently, have a lot of potential. Potential energy, to be specific, which – if I recall correctly from GCSE physics – may mean that they are about to be pushed down a very steep slope… but that can’t be right.
En tous cas. It’s all about the people.
The potential of the British people is being wasted, which is a tragedy. If Starmer were prime minister, he would unlock that potential at once. He promises, through a Labour government, to provide “the security and opportunities that will allow us to unlock our country’s potential”, ajouter: “A failure to actively shape and strengthen the economy means that vast potential is being wasted.”
As I have possibly written once or twice before, the cruelly dammed-up reservoir of British potential is the life force of UK politics, which is precisely why it has to stay exactly where it is, on the off-chance that it actually exists.
There have been few, si seulement, electoral contests over the past fifty years that have not been fought on a promise to unlock Britain’s potential. If anyone ever actually did it, the game would be up. Dans 2019, when not driving a JCB digger with “Get Brexit Done” written on it through a styrofoam wall, Boris Johnson was never happier than when standing in front of a sign in some factory or other, promising to “Unlock Britain’s Potential”.
That he was attempting to win (and then did win) a fourth election in a row for the same party, and was still very much free to promise to unlock Britain’s potential – which evidently had not been unlocked by various governments, one of which he was a very senior member of – wasn’t considered to be especially unusual.
This is not to criticise Starmer. Much, if not most, of what is to be found in his magnum opus has been promised by Tory governments many times before. He is simply hoping enough voters will notice that it absolutely has not been delivered. If there is a clear theme, besides the branding of himself as the great liberator of potential, it is the notion that society must value normal people – normal workers – far more. He observes that the pandemic made it very clear exactly whom the country was dependent upon. Not just nurses, but supermarket workers too.
Starmer would “put contribution and community at the centre of our efforts”. Which sounds rather a lot like David Cameron’s “big society”, doesn’t it? En effet, it sounds so much like it that Starmer points out that it’s nothing like big society, which he refers to as “lip service”, adding that it was “half-hearted and quickly abandoned”.
But short of actual policy, lip service is all that’s on offer here, trop. Though he does still have several years to sort that out.
The more urgent problem is that, if he wants to put valuing workers, valuing normal people, at the heart of everything he does, normal people will first have to start valuing him, which at the moment they don’t.
The people he needs to start valuing him, so that he can value them… bien, at the moment they very much value the Tories.
“I believe we are living through a time when the individualism that prioritises personal entitlement, moral superiority and self-interest is receding in society’s rear-view mirror,” says Starmer. But these principles – personal entitlement and self-interest – were the heart and soul of the archetypal Essex man, who did it for Margaret Thatcher in the eighties and early nineties.
And all the analysis of why red wall seats now love the Tories has come to the same conclusion, which is that because they’re full of home owners, they’re no longer in thrall to heavy industry; and that Essex Man, réellement, is everywhere. The self-interest and personal entitlement are entrenched, and they’re also jacked up on brand new tribal loyalties fostered by Brexit.
For Conservatives, “unlocking Britain’s potential” goes by a new term now – levelling up – and for all its anodyne meaninglessness, they have just set up a brand new government department specifically for it, with a new minister, Michel Gove, who – for all his many faults – is not afraid to get things done.
And as such, all Starmer can do is promise to unlock Britain’s potential, and hope enough people conclude, in a few year’s time, that it’s all still locked up and thus somebody else deserves a turn. But at this stage, hope appears to be all there is.