Take Back Control of public services.

Last week was nothing short of disastrous for the Labour party. Keir Starmer was caught out blatantly lying (twice) about the European Medicines Agency at PMQs, after which some desperate sod at Southside briefed that there was a bust up between Johnson and Starmer in the lobby. The govt staged a Joe Biden-scale recovery from near death, and has turned a YouGov poll of Lab-41 Con-37 beginning of last week to a YouGov poll of Con-41 Lab-37 at the beginning of this week, with the Greens cracking 8% on an IPSOS Mori poll and stealing their lunch.

And of course Labour went into full PR meltdown by talking about “authentic values alignment”, after which every newspaper in Britain united to ask “what the hell is does Keir Starmer’s Labour stand for?”, following which Labour decided to brief it would be “unequivocally, aggressively pro-business” which is a policy that unites all of Labour’s fractioned coalition…. in its opposition to it. Some real head banging stuff from the “grown ups” at the helm of Her Majesty’s Opposition.

Basically, the watchword has been: thank god that Corbyn guy with a clear project and vision with absolute determination to carry it out is gone, we are very smart, and grown up politics is when you loose by saying things that alienate your core supporters. Yesterday Rachel Reeves took to the podium for a Labour press conference, an unexpected one at that. With little to no notice, at 11am on a Monday morning, out came the New Leadership banners and the pink union jack faded background, and the opposition spoke to the country (albeit not many were listening).

Rachel Reeves is hardly the messenger any progressive Labourite would want to hear from; she worked like hell to ensure Miliband’s Labour shifted as far to the right as possible, and demonstrated its hatred of poor people at every opportunity in order to win over swing voters, resulting in a 30.4% vote share, literally worse than 2019’s 32.1%. So clearly you wouldn’t expect the best going into the speech, but, alas, expectations are there to be broken.

Labour laid out an ambitious programme of insourcing of public services, of transparency in government, and of decentralization, all while clearly drawing battle lines, calling out dodgy companies, and putting massive space between Labour and the govt on the matter of running a country. We wanted bold policy from Labour, and bold policy has arrived.

This insourcing agenda is a rapid shift by the Labour establishment, and a clear, massive breach with the 40 year Thatcherite consensus, undoing the work of both 11 Tory years AND New Labour’s spell in government. Insourcing is the way to run public services more effectively and efficiently, closer to the community, all while having to spend less cash; the outsourcing experiment was ideological dogma, it failed, and Labour recognises this. That is huge and substantial.

Talk of transparency, freedom of information, and “open government” is very easy for Reeves and her party to say, much harder to follow through on in practice. Labour needs to stop firing workers in the middle of a pandemic, cracking down on party democracy, and behaving in a very Orwellian manner on internal descent, before it can take a moral high ground on these things in government; sort out your own house, and fast.

Labour have made a rhetorical flourish that many of you may not have thought much of, in talking about “taking back control of public services”, but in terms of strategy, it may have been the single most important aspect of the speech. I’ve been saying for a while that if Labour want to win they have to emphasise they’ll be the party that put the longing to “take back control” into practice in ways the Tories could never do; and they’ve now committed to exactly that. These hugely popular, ambitious, and radical proposals are precisely the way Labour builds a coalition to win for 2024. Today was an excellent rebound from a dire week, but it’s a long climb, and this was Step One.

There are massive systemic roadblocks in place for Labour in terms of implementing any of these if they make it to government, and even more crucially in terms of cutting through to the public in the face of establishment opposition. It requires the party to stop tiptoeing, and go yet further in terms of drawing class battle lines, not being afraid of making enemies, and laughing in the face of the establishment. You cannot get the establishment media on board with these policies; it cannot be done, and the belief that by being nice and civil and not ruffling feathers you can is total nonsense and doesn't prepare you for the huge fight ahead.

Briefing on being pro-business needs to be addressed, and I’ll try to do it here. These briefings are clearly an attempt by Labour to reassure the City of their intentions (John McDonnell did similar, but in a less sellout-ey, gushing way) but even more so than that it’s about getting the rightwing papers on Labour’s side. This won’t happen. The rightwing papers will cheer on Starmer when he attacks the left or parrots the govt line, but if and when he proposes any policy they’ll immediately go into full attack mode, if it’s so much as a speck deviated from the neoliberal consensus, or even to the left of the Tories in any way.

Being abstractly pro-business sends all the wrong messages for Labour. The voters they need to keep, and the voters they want to win, are united in their opposition to such rhetoric. After the last disastrous outing of the soft left in 2015, voters said Labour was too pro-big business, and voters in the Red Wall agree with this sentiment even more; there’s no one that’ll vote Labour that wants pro business rhetoric to be the selling point.

Small and medium enterprise will be helped by things like rent caps, like massive state investment, like easy access to credit and support for start ups, and like radical cooperative modes of doing business. Labour’s 2019 manifesto, if you really read it, was the most pro-small business manifesto in the history of this country, and rhetoric and pre-ordained conclusions by pundits and voters by that time obscured the basic fact that the Tories have shafted small business for 11 years.

When Labour talks to the CBI, or grovelingly briefs about business, they’re talking the union busting greedy conglomerates or corporate giants that own the media and line politician's pockets, not the little guy. I have no problem with the little guy; as part of a radical, democratic socialist offering, Labour under Corbyn should have and would have helped the workers, an as a result, helped the small, people powered enterprises being squeezed out at the bottom. When Chris Leslie used to talk about enterprise, it wasn’t about that, it was about corporations. It’s a given Labour stands with the little guy, the business rhetoric is the opposite, especially when it comes with no policy; being pro what kind of business? Voters aren’t thick and soundbites don’t work.

Interesting times ahead for Labour, as we see where they go with this insourcing agenda to take back control of public services.

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