Mike Katz
Mike Katz

Keir Starmer’s contract with voters is only the start

Labour Party leader Sir Keir Starmer (Via Jewish News)
Labour Party leader Sir Keir Starmer (Via Jewish News)

Security, prosperity and respect. As objectives for Government goes, these really should be as uncontroversial as it gets. But it was politically vital – and morally right – for Labour leader Keir Starmer to make them the centrepiece of the contract with voters he unveiled this week.

That’s not simply because this Conservative government and prime minister have comprehensively failed to deliver on them. But also because, under his predecessor, Labour had surrendered any credibility with voters that it would be able to deliver either prosperity or security – and thus was not worthy of respect.

For the Jewish community, surely this last value is the most important when it comes to looking at the Labour Party. Going into the 2019 general election, Labour under Jeremy Corbyn had done everything it could do to show an utter lack of respect towards us.

I’ve already written for Jewish News on the sea change Starmer has personally brought to bear on Labour in the year and a half of his leadership when it comes to tackling antisemitism in the party.

And just last week results of a ground-breaking survey of Jewish Labour Movement members were reported here, which showed how the attitude of our members had changed with the new Leader.

It’s worth repeating: 70 percent of our Jewish members now think Labour is a safe space for Jews under Starmer’s leadership – only four percent agreed it was under Corbyn. Nine out of 10 think Starmer is genuinely trying to tackle antisemitism and that the party had made positive changes to its rules and culture in this regard.

But this is just getting to base camp – the start of a journey back to political respectability, not the endpoint. And so this week’s speech from Starmer, which was aimed at underpinning his rising popularity and credibility ratings in a broader political context was well-timed.

As Starmer said himself, just because the Tories lose the public’s trust it doesn’t mean Labour simply inherits it. That trust has to be earned.

So you can expect more from him on standards: what we should expect from people in public life, and what we aren’t getting from our prime minister, or his cabinet colleagues; and a sense that Labour will play by the rules they expect us all to follow, when the Tories, having been in power for more than a decade, lazily feel they don’t have to.

But trust and respect are also bound up in how we feel about ourselves, our neighbours and our country. Which is why Starmer focused on patriotism to such a great extent in this speech.

It’s a no-brainer, but why shouldn’t the Leader of the Opposition make a speech in front of two Union Jacks and spell out the many ways in which we lucky to be British?

When your job is to literally to spell out the failings of the Government every day, it is all too easy to be seen as relentlessly negative. When actually it is your pride in your country that wants it to be better, and to do more for our fellow citizens who need the most support.

This is all part and parcel of dragging Labour back to the centre, from where it can win power. Not for nothing did Starmer pointedly praise Labour’s three great leaders – Attlee, Wilson and Blair – the ones, who won elections and used their power to change things.

Of course, mention of Blair – together with endorsing the former PM’s knighthood in the New Years Honours list – brought out the predictable foam-flecked outrage from the far left.

Which is all to the good. The more that Labour can do to distance itself from those who prefer Corbyn to the Leader who introduced a national minimum wage slashed child poverty and oversaw the Good Friday Agreement, the better.

Security and national pride always used to be core Labour values. All those outraged far-lefties on Twitter won’t have liked Starmer pointing out that Clement Attlee, their hero for creating the NHS, also established Britain’s independent nuclear deterrent.

But security on your doorstep and high street is just as important, hence Starmer’s pledge of crime prevention teams and police hubs in every community.

And security for you and your family, through a decent education, a good secure job and strong public services – these are values we can all sign up to, irrespective of class, background, or even whether you voted Leave or Remain in 2016.

These are values that can chime with many in the Jewish community. As we look ahead to crucial council elections across the country, this is how Starmer rebuilds trust with our community.

Through leadership and policies which not just underline an utter break from the dismal days of Corbyn but which offer a bright, proud future for this country and a serious alternative to Johnson.

About the Author
Mike Katz is national chair of the Jewish Labour Movement
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