Comment: After 1,000 days in office, what is Keir Starmer’s Labour for?
‘Prime Minister Keir Starmer’ at this point feels like an inevitability. With Labour polling at its strongest in well over a decade and the Conservatives having haemorrhaged their 2019 support, the only question that remains is how long Rishi Sunak can reasonably hold off a general election. At the absolute latest, PM Starmer could be reality by January 2025.
The problem is, Starmer has been in post for a thousand days – and many of us are still unclear what he or his party stands for.
Sure, the last few years have been strange and unprecedented. It has meant Sir Keir couldn’t hit the ground running as any new leader normally would, instead having to lead on scrutiny of Covid regulations and questioning the government on efforts to prop up an economy while the country was in lockdown.
But with a cost-of-living crisis now threatening to tip families into poverty and huge swathes of the public sector coming to a halt under the weight of mass strikes, now should be the time any Labour party worth its salt is setting out solutions.
A government without ideas is one without longevity
Instead, beyond the one idea of banning non-dom status (more to do with playing off against Sunak than anything) and using the proceeds to pay for the training of nurses and doctors, it is unclear what a Labour Government would do to meet any of the huge challenges facing the UK.
Indeed, it seems the party is taking victory at the next election for granted – despite what they keep telling the press about "no complacency". They are banking on the Conservatives not recovering from this last year, and doing and saying little to rock the boat. That strategy will work for the next election. But a government without ideas is one without longevity.
The next government will also need to finally grasp the nettle of what we do with the NHS
In the immediate term, Labour must put forward its offering for struggling families and how the UK could finally bring the scourge of poverty to an end. While this current crisis will remain in the hands of the Conservatives for now, the electorate needs to see Labour not just highlighting the appalling state of affairs but pushing for tangible action that will make a real difference.
Looking ahead, the next government will also need to finally grasp the nettle of what we do with the NHS. It is clear the system needs an overhaul, not just more funding (though I’m sure that would be welcome too). If we want to keep the NHS, Labour needs a serious discussion about how to tackle the problems of an aging population, overworked staff and a system under strain.
Part of that solution is proper social care, the funding of which is problem that has plagued parties of all flavours in recent years, but also pushing for more early intervention. It will take a brave government to start moving resources from frontline NHS to a more interventionist strategy, but it is the only way to alleviate some of that pressure.
It will also be faced with the unenviable task of reducing emissions as climate catastrophe looms ever nearer. The next decade will, as many experts have pointed out, be key to whether the UK hits its targets. There needs to be a much, much clearer plan on how to make those societal changes (and how to pay for them). And of course, the other difficult discussion – particularly for those of us in Scotland – is how we winddown the oil and gas sector without trashing livelihoods.
Gordon Brown’s paper published earlier this month is a good start to show Labour is at least thinking about what it will do with power. But that that report came with no cast-iron commitments raises questions about why these issues haven’t been at the forefront of Starmer’s mind since the day he entered office in April 2020.
If Labour want to be more than a holding pattern between Tory governments, they need to set out their offering to the electorate. And they need to do it soon.