You have to feel for Keir Starmer. He was elected leader of a deeply divided Labour Party (Remainers v Brexiters, Corbynistas v Blairites) a few weeks into the first lockdown. The restrictions COVID-19 has forced upon us has meant he hasn’t been able to do what new party leaders would normally do: travel the country, meeting voters, giving speeches to sympathetic crowds. Worse still from his perspective is that COVID-10 has effectively forced the cessation of regular party politics as we know them.
Political lines have been well and truly blurred with a Conservative Chancellor providing unprecedented financial support to individuals and businesses. And of course, we are in a period of national crisis; it behoves national political leaders, even the Leader of the Opposition, not to play party politics but to stand with the Government as we face the biggest crisis the world has faced in generations.
This has left little room for Starmer to distinguish himself. The Labour party is still languishing in the polls, there have been rumblings of discontent from within his own party about this effectiveness and possibly more damaging he is largely ignored by the media.
It was in this in mind that he gave a speech this afternoon setting out his vision for the country. Hoping to get voters to think about the post-COVID world and the real differences between Labour and the Conservatives, he said the coronavirus pandemic had “shifted the axis” in British politics and proved the case for government playing a much bigger role in managing the economy.
He accused the Conservatives of using the rhetoric of change while creating an “insecure and unequal economy” over its 10 years in government that had been “cruelly exposed by the virus”.
“We can’t go back to business as usual. We need a new chapter in Britain’s history – one of security, prosperity and opportunity,” he declared.
But he wasn’t able to give us much more than an outline of what that chapter would look like. The main policy proposal in the speech was a British Recovery Bond, no dissimilar to the National Savings and Investments bonds, which would give savers a competitive rate and raise much-needed cash for the Government to rebuild the country post-Covid.
It isn’t a bad idea: we know from Bank of England figures that household savings are growing, estimated to hit £250bn by June 2021, but with only around 5% of the savings expected to be spent. So could be very attractive to those whose economic situation has not been adversely affected by the pandemic. But with little detail on what the money raised would be spent on, the proposal will not give much comfort to those who have lost jobs and since their incomes fall over the last year.
Starmer will need to work much harder to grab the attention and win the trust of voters if he is to stay in his job – let alone be in it long enough to win the next election.