It might be possible that Keir Starmer has a Miley Cyrus song stuck in his head. Either that, or he really is taking a leaf out of Boris Johnson’s ‘crisis management’ book. Because either way, the Labour leader has managed to take a wrecking ball to the party’s coronavirus (Covid-19) position in the space of just over 24 hours.
First off, as The Canary previously reported, Starmer has backtracked on a key coronavirus pledge originally made by Jeremy Corbyn. In March, the former Labour leader made a commitment that the party’s position was that private renters should get three months rent-free from landlords during the pandemic. But on April 22, Starmer said it should just be a payment deferral scheme.
Then, on Saturday 9 May, Labour Press confirmed the policy to widespread dismay among supporters:
BREAKING: Renters, Labour's got your back.
Here's how we can protect renters during the #coronavirus crisis 🏠
🚫 Ban evictions
🤝 Make getting financial help from the Government easier
🗓️ Give people more time to pay
❌ Stop renters being made bankrupt pic.twitter.com/3ZKsk0zFZP
— The Labour Party (@UKLabour) May 9, 2020
Ashamed of Labour’s announcement on rent. And it really hurts me to say it. We need rent cancellations, now.
— Liam Young (@liamyoung) May 8, 2020
People were so miffed that talk of a ‘rent strike’ has increased:
— The Agitator (@UKDemockery) May 9, 2020
Today our CLP has written to @Keir_Starmer and @AngelaRayner asking them to rethink the party’s position on protecting renters affected by the pandemic. It’s time to #CanceltheRent and Labour should be speaking up for this. pic.twitter.com/RjVe5UABGD
— Streatham Labour (@StreathamLabour) May 9, 2020
But, seemingly unconcerned by the disquiet in his own ranks, Starmer grasped the capitalist wrecking ball he just took to private renters, aimed it at the climate crisis, and thrust it with all his might.
Yes, because Labour’s latest pledge on coronavirus is to bail out the airlines:
“It will take a long time to recover from the impact of the virus. The Government must come up with a comprehensive financial support package for the aviation sector and its supply chain which supports almost a quarter of a million jobs.” – @JimfromOldhamhttps://t.co/50xSlm29d6
— Labour Press Team (@labourpress) May 9, 2020
In a not-so-clever piece of shambolic PR, the party’s shadow transport secretary Jim McMahon tried to dress this latest clusterf*ck up as a criticism of the government. He said in a statement:
The Government needs to work closely with airlines, airport operators and Border Force to implement practical solutions to stop the spread of this virus. Ill-thought through proposals will fail as soon as they are rolled out, leaving the country back in a precarious situation.
This sort of policy should have been worked through weeks ago. It’s systematic of a Government that was too slow to enter the lockdown, too slow to get vital protective equipment to NHS, social care and other key workers, and too slow on testing and tracing to help stop the spread of the coronavirus.
But the Blair-esque devil is in the detail, and McMahon dropped a massive clanger right at the end:
It will take a long time to recover from the impact of the virus. The Government must come up with a comprehensive financial support package for the aviation sector and its supply chain which supports almost a quarter of a million jobs.
There’s no denying that a quarter of a million people’s livelihoods need protecting. But talk about knee jerk. Because what the Labour Party has effectively done is also side with Richard Branson.
The corporate mogul, who “pays no tax in the UK” (his people’s words, not ours) has been pleading for weeks for financial support for the airline industry. He was previously rumoured to be getting ready to flog Virgin Atlantic after giving up on his desperate pleas for help to the UK government. He even went as far as floating the idea of putting his private island up as collateral in a bid to get money from the UK public. What a gent. Then, 3,000 redundancies beckoned.
But as Sky News reported on 9 May, Virgin Atlantic could be getting ready for insolvency. It was perhaps Have I Got News For You which summed the situation up best:
As Virgin Atlantic announces plans to cut 3,000 jobs, Richard Branson says it was either that or sell his island, which would be a shame as he’s just had a new jetty installed.
— Have I Got News For You (@haveigotnews) May 6, 2020
Here’s the problem with Labour’s position on the airlines. It can dress it up all it wants as being about the ‘workers’. ‘We’re siding with the workers!’ you can almost hear Starmer whimper from his £1.75m Camden property. Yeah, because the last mass publicly-funded bailout of private corporations in 2008/09 went so well, didn’t it? The likelihood of airlines making workers the priority of public money is slim. It will be shareholders first, second, and third if the government bails them out.
The other elephant in the room is the climate crisis. The coronavirus pandemic could be an opportunity to reboot how we as a species interact with the planet we share with other animals. But instead, Labour seems to think bailing out one of the most polluting industries going is the appropriate answer.
There has to come a time when you say ‘enough is enough’ regarding corporate capitalism. The public can’t keep propping it up forever. Much like the climate crisis, this pandemic could be a chance to reboot our economic and social systems. But that as well seems far too much for Starmer to stomach. So, business as usual it is then – being an ‘inbetweener’ when it comes to political ideology.
Another fine mess
Of course, what sticks in the throat even more is that Corbyn’s 2019 manifesto was far from business as usual in terms of housing, the environment, and nationalisation. Starmer’s actions this weekend give the clearest message yet that he has effectively trashed this forward-thinking, egalitarian legacy.
This lack of vision coupled with snivelling subservience to corporations, unfortunately, appears to now be the norm for Labour. As I previously wrote, it’s clear he’s taking Tony Blair’s triangulation of left and right-wing politics and firmly putting himself somewhere up and to the side of that – by attempting to give some scraps to the poor while keeping the rich very happy. Except Starmer’s position appears to be the flip of Blair’s; that is, couple right-wing social policy with some socialist economics.
But muddling political ideologies is never a good idea; not least when you have a Tory government that clearly lurches to the right. Nor, as Blair’s legacy shows, is triangulation under corporate capitalism sustainable. Because it’s his actions which have ultimately left the UK in the mess it’s now in.
So, it’s unclear what Starmer thinks this ‘fourth way’ will achieve. But currently, he is looking about as competent at the helm of the Labour Party as Johnson is looking in charge of the country. What a mess.
Featured image via Guardian News – YouTube
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