For the many, not the few

General election campaigns are strange affairs, and occasionally politicians reveal more than they mean to.

Labour’s current lead is so strong that few doubt the party will emerge without some kind of Commons majority, possibly an enormous one, and Sir Keir Starmer and his colleagues will be in charge of law-making. But given the way Sir Keir is already laying down the law, he possibly thinks he’s the nation’s senior legislator already.

This short extract from the transcript of the interview he gave to the BBC’s Nick Robinson on Panorama is pretty revealing in its way.

Nick Robinson: Are you saying now, because I need to get the economy growing, what I will do is say to someone who’s objecting to electricity pylons going across the field near their house, sorry, they’ve got to be built, we’ve got to get the economy moving? If you’re worried about a huge new housing development, sorry that’s got to be built? Are you prepared to make enemies to make the economy grow?

Keir Starmer: Yes. We’re going to have to be tough. We’re going to have to change the way things are done. I’ll give you one short example. I won’t take long but it makes my point. I spoke to the CEO of an energy company saying how long would it take you to put a wind turbine farm up? He said I could do it in two years. He said you wouldn’t get any power out of it for 13 years because I’d lose five years to planning and another six or seven years before the grid connected. We cannot go on like that. We have to take tough decisions.

The extract from the interview tells you a couple of things. Firstly that Starmer’s narrow focus on the economy unfortunately makes him a sucker for a lobbyist. Perhaps we already knew that, from his claims last year to be a “yimby” and aligning himself with the Tufton Street backed movement to smash up the planning system in England to allow house builders and developers to do pretty much what they like.

Now, apparently, he seems to have accepted at face value the message from the powerful on-shore wind energy lobby that it should be given a freer hand than other forms of renewable energy, despite its weaknesses and potential environmental damage.

Secondly, it betrays the narrowness of the Labour leadership’s focus on some very traditional forms of economic growth. No-one would have been surprised to hear Margaret Thatcher give such a response to an interview 40 years ago. She loved to appear “tough” and was never happier than when attacking controls on things she believed tiresome and unnecessary, to allow business a freer hand.

Channelling his inner-Thatcher this way, however, is full of potential pitfalls for the Labour leader – alienating your own supporter base for one thing. And it’s perfectly possible to win an election and then to lose the Parliament.

A narrow focus on the economic growth models of 40 years ago in the current world, whose challenges include our huge, but fragile and unsustainable, economy, but also include severe personal and regional inequalities, social divisions, international conflicts and major environmental threats, is reckless in the extreme.

Our party leaders should reflect that a prime minister needs to govern for the whole country, its citizens and all of its challenges. Just listening to seductive yarns spun by clever commercial lobbyists who want a chaotic, unplanned country might enrich some people, but it’s the country as a whole that bears the cost.

No-Drama-Starmer? Don’t bank on it.

Jon Reeds

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