We are supposed to be impressed by Sir Keir Starmer. We’re told he has sanitised the Labour party of its Stalinists, Trotskyists and raging antisemites (he probably hasn’t, but he has shut most of them up and they’re at least lying low); that he is embracing capitalism and cosying up to business, so as not to frighten that particular stable of horses; and, of course, that he will be prime minister sometime in the next year or so. He will be, won’t he?

Yes, he may well: but on what terms only time will tell. By late September things were happening in a Conservative party that appeared to have lain dormant since the end of the Johnson debacle and the Truss fiasco. Rishi Sunak diluted his climate change policy, reduced the HS2 programme and started to talk about abolishing inheritance tax. The howls of outrage, certainly on the first two, were deafening, not just from the Labour Party but from various pressure groups. The British public were largely silent, as they often are, because some couldn’t care less, and others wholeheartedly agree. Sunak’s opponents deplore his populism; but populism is, by definition, popular. People didn’t want to spend a fortune on heat pumps. They prefer petrol and diesel cars to electric ones. They would rather their billions were not spent on HS2, but on a National Health Service that works, or a police force that catches the people who burgle them. Far more than those who are likely to be liable for it fear they can only pass on a fraction of their life’s earnings and assets to their children and grandchildren, because the state will put its nose in their trough immediately after the funeral.

That crucial social sub-group known as “floating voters” may not cheer when Sunak offers these policies, but they won’t complain either, and they may even continue to vote Conservative. Those of a certain age are even more likely to do so, since Sunak has also indicated that the cripplingly expensive triple lock on pensions will continue. Add to that the boundary changes that come into effect at the next election, and the tribalism of the SNP’s core vote that may make the speculation about large Labour gains in Scotland rather inaccurate, and Sir Keir may end up having quite a fight on his hands. It would be a brave punter who put money on an overall majority for Labour; largest single party would be a far safer bet.

So what is Starmer’s vision? He seems to have none, other than to rescue his party from the clutches of a crew of latter-day Bolsheviks

Starmer is manifestly far from stupid, and I would not be at all surprised if he did not know all of the above, and more besides. He is trying to overthrow a government with a working majority of 60. Despite his party having a strong lead in the polls, he is still viewed with suspicion by a significant section of it. He cuts, if not a statesmanlike figure, then a respectable, managerialist one. He is now taking lesson-after-lesson from the Tony Blair playbook – not just in pulling Labour back from the bonkers left and ceasing to pretend it is the party of a vast industrial proletariat that doesn’t exist anymore, or in reshuffling his team of shadow ministers to promote loyalists and moderates (people we used to call “Blairites”) at the expense of third-rate socialists who had lingered on from the Corbyn years; but also in seeking to command absolute discipline from his MPs as the ultimate test approaches. And he is starting to imitate Sir Tony in other ways: there’s lately been a range of international excursions, to France and to Canada, to lay the foundations for Sir Keir as a world statesman – even if in Canada, at a gathering of his liberal-left co-religionists, he let slip that he would be happy for Britain to converge once more with the European Union, even if it did not rejoin the bloc. All the people he most wants to impress – columnists on the Guardian and the Financial Times, Remainer civil servants, European political grandees, the sort of people who swarm to Davos – will have felt gratified by his remarks. But many of those in the so-called “red wall” seats, (whom he’s rather taken for granted will end their dalliance with the Conservative Party), will have raised an eyebrow when seeing his true colours. Not, of course, that they would have taken the slightest notice of anything he was saying in Canada, or probably anywhere else for that matter. Conversely, the Conservative-supporting press made sure that its readers were clear on what he’d said. There was much briefing afterwards that Labour had no intention of taking Britain back into the EU – but the damage was done. Many more exposures of reality such as that, and the game really is up.

It’s good to learn from history, and in following the Blair playbook Starmer is doing just that. Blair ended 18 years of Conservative rule and put Labour in power for 13 years: what Labour leader would not wish to emulate that? But, as the old saw goes, Senator, I knew Tony Blair: and Keir Starmer is no Tony Blair. He lacks’s Blair’s charisma, charm and articulacy. Above all, he lacks Blair’s vision. I recall a conversation I had with Blair, who was in a state of deep disillusion the day after the 1992 election. He knew exactly what had to be done if Labour were ever to govern again: and he did it, and Labour did govern again. Blair spent ten years in Downing Street. So where, or what, is Starmer’s vision?

He seems to have none, other than to rescue his party from the clutches of a crew of latter-day Bolsheviks. When Sir Keir is confronted with the great problems of today’s Britain – problems the Conservatives have helped create, and are struggling to solve – what answers does he have? He deplored the dilution of the net zero policy by Sunak, but refused to acknowledge the difficulties Labour’s own prospective voters would face in paying for heat pumps or switching to electric cars. What would he have done? Would he have sat down with hard-pressed working people and told them that they might not be able to afford to put food on the table, but they should be proud they’re saving the planet? How would he have justified asking them to make sacrifices in a shorter time-scale than people in other comparable countries were being asked to do?

We also wait to hear whether Labour proposes a massive nuclear power programme, for without one there will be too little electricity generated to run all those electric cars and heat all those houses. Similarly, we wait for Labour to tell us how it will plausibly solve all the other problems facing the country. It has deplored the wave of industrial action in the National Health Service, with doctors and nurses going on strike, but has yet to tell us where the money would come from to settle the pay demands the strikers have made. Perhaps it will put up taxes: but what effect would that have on incentivising workers, or on the performance of the productive sectors of the economy? Or would it simply revert to the 1970s’ strategy of printing money, with all the inflationary consequences that would have? Would it, equally, intervene in the relationship between the rail and tube workers and their employers, and solve that long-running strike too? And what would it do with the boatloads of illegal immigrants that are putting such a strain on the public purse, and on welfare, medical and education services? Would it be prepared to take the electoral consequences of leaving Britain open to all who wished to come here? If not, how would it improve the regulation of the present system?

We await Labour’s vision on all these questions, and more. The Conservatives have made a mess of things, but Sunak – who was not himself responsible for all that mess – has launched a fight for the government’s survival, however populist or cynical that may be. Will we soon have Starmer’s masterplan to seduce the British electorate? Because if we don’t, he quite possibly won’t.

Simon Heffer is a historian, columnist for the Telegraph and Professorial Research Fellow at the University of Buckingham

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