During the party leadership contest in 2020, Sir Keir Starmer issued 10 pledges, consisting of policy commitments and vague statements, that embraced key elements of his predecessor’s policy platform and won him the support of the Labour left. As we now look towards the 2024 election, Labour are ramping up the fighting talk and the 10 pledges have since been left in tatters as Starmer commits multiple u-turns in an attempt to appear economically responsible to win over the centre-right voters that the far-right Tory party has alienated.
In the past month, Starmer has abandoned his 2020 pledge to abolish tuition fees, leading many to question his authenticity and reliability and casting doubt on any of his future “pledges” or “missions”. When questioned about why he’s “moving away” from that pledge, he said “the economic circumstances have changed”, the same excuse he used when he went back on his pledge to take key British industries (rail, mail, energy and water) into common ownership.
As a working professional who earned a Bachelors degree and a Master’s degree, and is now paying £400 a month towards my student loan, I was especially aggrieved at the ease with which he threw students under the bus just to appear “pragmatic”. I’m one of many who are keen to pursue another Master’s degree or a PhD but the costs are simply too high, and I know of many others who are avoiding university or regretting their degree because of the consequent debt. It baffles me that the government doesn’t want to do more to support and reward those who seek higher education and want to improve themselves, especially when the economic and societal benefits are evident worldwide.
His u-turn on returning key industries into common ownership has served an even bigger blow to the electorate’s hopes of lower bills and higher living standards. Until recently, he has used the terms ‘common ownership’ and ‘nationalisation’ interchangeably, even though nationalisation is just one type of common ownership, but he is now trying to move away from common ownership entirely. In his typically lawyerly way, Starmer denies he made this pledge, saying, “I never made a commitment to nationalisation, I made a commitment to common ownership. They are worlds apart.” But, in March, Labour’s shadow Chancellor Rachel Reeves clarified that the railways will be the only sector to be nationalised, while she would “prioritise incentives” that encourage key industries to spend their profits on investment rather than share buybacks or dividends. Call me cynical, but it sounds like Labour want to maintain the status quo and allow these price-gouging companies to increase their profits while simultaneously receiving tax breaks. This is a long way from any type of common ownership, let alone nationalisation, and with Rachel Reeves taking inspiration from former Tory Chancellor George Osborne, it’s no surprise that Labour are now seen as Tories 2.0.
Starmer additionally pledged, in 2020, to end outsourcing in the NHS (i.e. privatisation). It has since become quite obvious that Labour intend to do the opposite and sell off more NHS contracts to the private sector. Along with Starmer’s Shadow Health Secretary, Wes Streeting, he believes that the NHS should not be “treated as a shrine” and that nothing was “off limits” when it came to reforming the NHS. ‘Reform’ is widely understood to mean an entire restructuring of the institution for the benefit of the private sector and the wealthy. In January of this year, in an interview with Sophy Ridge on Sky, he attempted to dilute the pledge by saying “outsourcing of some issues and functions I don’t think have been very effective, but…the NHS has always used private practice”. Furthermore, he suggested that the private sector has been “underused, and we could do more of it”. Wes Streeting has previously gone further by saying that the NHS had to “reform or die” and that he would not allow “vested interests”, such as doctors and health workers, to “stand in the way of reforms”. The Labour’s aggressive approach to national healthcare, and the framing of doctors and nurses as the enemy, is indicative of the Labour party’s free-market approach to our economy, viewing workers as the problem and corporations as the solution.
Starmer also pledged to increase income tax for the top 5% of earners, another pledge which he is now rowing back on. In an interview with Justin Webb on BBC 4 in May the Labour leader was asked why he wouldn’t be sticking to his pledge and wouldn’t be taxing capital gains at the same rate as income. Starmer responded that the Tories’ “high tax, low growth economy doesn’t work”, and suggested that he doesn’t believe in the idea of “tax and spend”. As Richard Murphy, of ‘Funding the Future’ understands, Starmer clearly believes that inequality doesn’t matter, he doesn’t understand the multiplier effects of redistribution, and he believes, contrary to the evidence from the past 12 years of Tory government, that a small government and a low tax rate will deliver growth. This will result in more austerity, more privatisation of public services, and greater inequality.
Some of his original ten “pledges”, many of which were vague anyway, have remained or been overlooked, but the ones that I have highlighted here are pledges that won him the leadership because they indicated radical, tangible change. They were the promises that affected the nation’s daily lives the most and Starmer’s reversals have left many voters wondering what he genuinely stands for, if anything, and whether any future pledges he makes can be trusted. The biggest u-turn Starmer has committed has been his conversion from a supporter of Jeremy Corbyn and his progressive policies to becoming the antithesis of Corbyn and everything the 2017 and 2019 Labour manifestos stood for. He has become David Cameron in a red tie, telling the same old lies but with less charisma. He pretends to be working-class by telling everyone his father was a toolmaker, but I don’t think he realises just how true that is.
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