On The Curse Of Being Politically Moderate About Everything

Published: Tue 4 Jun 2024 01:24 PM
Nigel Farage’s initial reason for not standing in the British election - because he wanted to be a Trump adviser - never looked very convincing. His perfectly timed “change of mind” though, has won him extensive media coverage, and he’s now plunging into the election campaign as the rival candidate for Clacton, where he’s up against a Tory majority of about 24,000. Farage and his Reform Party (formerly UKIP) will further split the nation’s centre-right vote. Yet another nail in the coffin of Rishi Sunak and the Tory government.
Even before the Farage announcement, this week’s YouGov polling has the Labour Patty of Sir Keir Starmer on track to win an even bigger majority – 194 seats! – than the victory margin that Tony Blair racked up in 1997:
The poll put Labour on 422 seats (+222 from the 2019 election, based on new constituency boundaries), the Tories on 140 (-232), the Lib Dems on 48 (+40) and the SNP on 17 (-31). One senior Tory described Farage’s return as an “existential” risk.
While the Tories move further right to defend their base against the Reform threat, Starmer is marching Labour right into the centre, by actively stripping out what little remains of Labour’s left-wing identity. To demonstrate that any government he heads will pose no threat to the status quo, Starmer has ruled out a wealth tax, a revised capital gains tax, or the introduction of any new taxes at all on Britain’s wealthiest five per cent. Last week, Labour signalled that immigration would be “likely” to come down under a Labour government, but declined to set an immigration target. In the meantime, Labour seems willing to pander to anti-immigrant sentiments:
....Keir Starmer made a renewed pitch for Conservative voters with a manifesto commitment to slash levels of immigration and ban law-breaking employers from hiring foreign workers.
In line with this agenda, Starmer has been purging the Labour parliamentary wing of its left-wing MPs and election candidates. Reportedly, any Labour MPs who publicly called for an immediate and permanent ceasefire in Gaza are being purged, and are being denied the ability to run for re-election. Others allegedly had promotion to the House of Lords dangled in front of them, to make way for Starmer loyalists. Starmer has since denied making such offers.
What Starmer has undeniably done though, is to execute a series of screeching U-turns away from the left-wing positions he promised to implement in order to win the party leadership in 2020. Back then, he was promising to nationalise public services, restrict foreign arms sales, and raise taxes on the rich. But Labour is not taking those policies (or anything like them) into next month’s election. After decrying the indignities imposed on those reliant on welfare through no fault of their own, Labour is now signalling its intention to retain many of those policies.
If elected, Labour has also tied itself to adhering to “fiscal rules” that have given it little room to manoeuvre on borrowing and taxation. A list of Starmer’s personal U-turns is available here. Oh, and in addition, Starmer aims to lift UK Defence spending to 2.5% of GDP. Plus, he says he would push the nuclear button if called on to do so.
In sum, British voters looking to Labour for deliverance from a cruel and incompetent Tory government are likely to find that a Starmer-led administration will not transform their lives to the extent they were hoping:
....[The Labour Party] have put themselves in a paradoxical position by branding the NHS broken, social care in disarray and the judicial system in a total mess but was not committing to any funding to solve the problems.
That’s a paradox, alright.Sleepwalking to the Centre
Quick quiz: does anyone know what bottom lines Chris Hipkins and his Labour team currently have on Gaza, a capital gains tax, joining AUKUS, immigration targets, gangs, the funding of Gumboot Friday, protecting water quality in our rivers and lakes, a wealth tax, reducing herd sizes, climate change, protecting biodiversity, private sector welfare provision, road-building, mining on DOC land, raising Defence spending to 2% of GDP, the super-prison at Waikeria, or almost anything else that you care to name?
Eight months after its defeat, Labour remains a shape devoid of form. Given the public’s dismay at the extremism and incompetence of the Luxon goverment, has Labour been a voice of sanity and a reassuring light in the darkness? Hardly. In its time of need, the public has reason to feel that Labour has left everyone to their fate. Back in a while.
In all likelihood, this virtual invisibility has been a conscious tactical choice. It is the sort of thing that strategists regard as smart politics. As in… when the government is screwing up, leave them to it. Don’t risk becoming the story, don’t chase after every ambulance etc etc. The trouble with that approach is that absence does not make the heart grow fonder. It doesn’t make Labour look any more attractive. In fact, the prospect of having the Labour 2023 team back in power in 2026 is the centre-right’s best insurance policy for re-election.
It needn’t be this way. Surely, now offers a golden opportunity for the centre-left to be saying boldly, clearly and regularly what kind of rescue mission it has in mind. Instead, Labour has hung out a sign saying: “Policies Gone to Lunch: Back in 2026.” The Greens and Te Pāti Māori at least, realise this is a mistake.
For example: Labour’s decision to postpone saying (until 2026!) what it thinks and feels about tax and socio-economic inequality seems particularly wrong-headed. If Labour said now what it supports/ what it opposes on tax, it would look like a party that knows its own mind and is unafraid of its centre-left shadow. This tax territory has been well traversed, ad nauseam. We don’t need any further debate. Thanks to the Cullen Tax Working Group we all know the options on tax. But yet....we’re being told to wait until 2026 for further enlightenment from Labour.
As for the strategic aspect, waiting until 2026 to unveil a (hopefully) more progressive tax policy will be self-defeating. It will see Labour crucified once again as a ‘tax and spend” party, right at the outset of the 2026 campaign. On tax more than anything, Labour needs to speak its mind and ride out the waves of criticism right now. By waiting until election year before offering any clarity on how it plans to make the tax system more equitable, Labour is storing up a major diversion for the benefit of the coalition government. It will have been enabled to make that overdue policy (and not their track record) the centre-piece of campaign 2026.
The research evidence indicates that there is wide support across the political spectrum for a wealth tax and/or a meaningful capital gains tax. For the same reasons, Labour needs to be out there denouncing Israel’s crimes in Gaza, and rejecting membership of a nuclear pact like AUKUS on any number of grounds, including the underlying assumption that a military confrontation with China is inevitable.
How to explain this palpable sense of inertia? So far, Labour has given no inkling that it understands why it lost last year, and what is needs to do to prevent it from happening again. The party rank and file can’t even seem to bring themselves to criticise the leadership group for (a) achieving so little in government with their unprecedented governing majority and for (b) timidly leading the centre-left to disaster last year. In years gone by, Labour used to be a more robust party.Centrism sucks
The problem with looking for salvation in the political centre is that this leads to all sorts of grim compromises. To use the familiar analogy: when one option is “kill all the babies” and the other option is “kill no babies” then the centrist offer of “well, lets kill only some of the babies” is not really an example of moderation.
Right now in the UK, Starmer is killing quite a few of Labour’s policy babies, on the assumption that there are lots of swing voters still sitting right in the middle of the road. After 14 years of Tory misrule, that seems unlikely. Under Chris Hipkins, Labour spent its last year of majority power busily not doing what its members believed in. Instead, it tacked this way and that in the political winds, looking for a lucky gust of momentum that never arrived. Nothing much seems to have changed in the interim.Calling Sweden
For this remix of her “360” track, Charli XCX has called in the (youngish, he’s 27) Swedish pop rapper Yung Lean, and also the club legend Robyn... Yung Lean in particular really drives this take on one of the Charli XCX’s snappier recent singles :
And on this track, we can all skateboard away together, forever...

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