The reaction to some of his promises was “a big breath,” Keir Starmer said Thursday. He hailed that because “no one can doubt the magnitude of our ambition, nor its urgency.”
I’m afraid I may be misinterpreting the answers. People don’t tell him, “That’s going to be really hard, but we admire his determination to push the system forward.” They’re saying, “Are you crazy?”
In his Stoke speech, the Labor leader began putting numerical targets on some of his crime pledges. Two in particular stood out. He vowed to halve knife crime and violence against women and girls.
Everyone should want these things, but how do you change human behavior on this scale? Starmer said of knife crime: “We know a lot of this is about prevention, about turning kids back before they get too intruded. It’s about good youth work, neighborhood watch, mental health support, in all schools. We will do all of that.”
That’s admirable, but it will cost money. About which there was nothing in the speech, and when Starmer was asked about it later, he referred to “efficiency savings.”
On violence against women, he only got to the “first step”, which was “to modernize the police”. He said: “You can’t beat misogyny without strong policing, but you can’t have strong policing without defeating misogyny.” That’s a quote, not a policy.
If you look up party politics, it does have one. A “green book” called End violence against women and girls, was published in 2021. Its opening words are: “After a decade of underfunding…” It promises new crimes, new minimum sentences, more support for women at risk, better education, more specialized units, and something about the internet. All to be paid for, it seems, from “efficiency savings.”
As for “halving the level of violence”, how do you measure that? In what period should it be achieved? How was the goal set? Has anything remotely similar been achieved anywhere in the world? How it was made? Basic questions; no answers.
Something seems to have gone wrong with Starmer’s majestic progress toward election preparation. He got off to a good start last year, submitting modest proposals, which would be paid for by credible sources of new revenue. The abolition of non-dom status was to pay for Wes Streeting’s NHS workforce plan. VAT on school fees went to pay for breakfast clubs in primary schools.
I figured there would be more like it, building a fully costed, tested and credible program of incremental improvements that symbolizes the larger ambitions of a Labor government.
Instead, Starmer made a terrible speech last month about “missions,” setting himself an unrealistic goal that means betting against the economic performance of the US, Germany, France and Canada. The first of his missions is “to ensure the highest sustained growth in the G7.” From breakfast clubs to facing the laws of economic history in one mind-bending leap.
In the same speech, he repeated Labor’s promise to generate all of the nation’s electricity from green sources by 2030. I haven’t met anyone who knows anything about energy who thinks this is possible. Yet at just the moment when a party unexpectedly leading in opinion polls might start preparing for government by asking probing questions about what few policies it has, Starmer decided to reaffirm an impossible promise and add a gamble to it. for other policies. economic indicators of the countries, over which it has no control.
Now, a month later, he has compounded his mistakes with promises to reduce knife crime and violence against women, with no new resources except imaginary “efficiency savings.”
The sudden otherworldliness of Labor’s promises makes Rishi Sunak’s impossible promise seem easy by comparison. When the prime minister announced his five promises earlier in the year, most of them were ridiculed as predictions of what was likely to happen anyway (halving inflation, falling debt, growing economy). . There was some doubt about the commitment to reduce NHS waiting lists, but that is at least something that was promised (and delivered) before.
The difficult one was the promise to stop small boats. Why, oh why, shouted some of Sunak’s centrist fanatics, did he hand over that hostage to fortune? Why did he make such a big promise that he must know he can’t keep? All he has done is increase the cost of failure and make it harder to resist Suella Braverman when she wants to promise to withdraw from the European Convention on Human Rights in the manifesto.
The only answer I can get from the prime minister’s defenders, who are willing to admit that standing at a lectern reading “Stop the ships” was asking for trouble, is that Sunak will at least get some credit for trying. If more boats are intercepted on the French beaches; if the backlog of asylum applications begins to unravel; if the number of rejected asylum seekers expelled from the country starts to rise again; then Sunak has a chance to persuade some voters that he is doing better than a Starmer government would.
No one, on the other hand, is going to vote Labor next time because they give Starmer credit for wanting the most growth in the G7, or for wanting violence against women to be cut in half. Sunak can be cynical in making his promise impossible; but what does that mean for Starmer?