Starmer: Power of the Picket Line. Labour’s Dilemma.

Jim reports on Sir Keir Starmer's day with Downtown members in Liverpool. The Labour leader made key announcements about the party's pivot towards business and the economy which is causing unease on the left.

Jim Hancock

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Sir Keir Starmer could have chosen to come to Lime Street station on Wednesday and join the RMT picket line, instead he came to Liverpool on Monday to speak to business people about growth. At Downtown events throughout the day, he told us his party would not neglect the public services, but the economy would be central at the next election. He wanted the right relationship with business and would set up an Industrial Strategy Council. (Very old readers may remember Neddy! The National Economic Development Council of the sixties).

The growth strategy apparently involves ditching promises he made to nationalise rail, energy, and water when he stood for the leadership two years ago. Well, there’s a novelty! Aspirants to lead their party making promises to activists that will have to be modified when facing the electorate as a whole. I think you’ll find Rishi Sunak and Liz Truss engaged in that very exercise at the moment.

The fact is if Labour opportunistically backed every wage demand being made at the moment, they would be vulnerable to Tory attacks and their economic credibility would be shattered. Labour has to fight desperately hard to be trusted with the economy. Few doubt their passion for the NHS, but they regularly lose out to the Conservatives who are perceived to be sounder on running the country’s finances.

However, inflation, energy and food price rises make a compelling case for wage increases. With Brexit caused labour shortages thrown into the mix, Starmer has to support legitimate claims whilst not giving full backing to strikes which inflict misery on potential voters trying to get to work. It is a tricky balancing act.

He may be given a chance to appease the left in his party if Liz Truss becomes Prime Minister and tries to crack down further on public sector strikes. Starmer might have the support of the public if they feel the Tories are going too far.

The Liverpool Visit

Once again Downtown in Business was at the centre of the political action. Our members were out in numbers to hear Sir Keir’s major speech on the economy that led the bulletins on Monday morning.

Then he was off to Anfield to pay respects at the Hillsborough Memorial and on a happier note visit the venue where Arsenal’s Michael Thomas goal stole the league from the Reds in 1989. Starmer is a passionate Arsenal fan.

At an evening reception in the Ropeworks area of the city, he told us that his Shadow Chancellor who “knows nothing about football” had been to Goodison to learn about the regeneration plans involving Everton’s planned move to Bramley Moore Dock.

At the Ropeworks reception he was accompanied by two of his most able Shadow Cabinet members, Alison McGovern, Employment (Wirral South) and Johnny Reynolds, Business (Stalybridge and Hyde).

The theme was again the economy with Reynolds making the point that, for the first time, young people were worse off than their parents.

Starmer renewed Labour’s pledge to devolve power, but the policy is not clearly developed yet. The Labour leader said devolution would be to “places.” I asked him if he meant more mayors or a revival of regional government. He wasn’t sure at this stage but said the issue was important.

So, a mixed week for Starmer who now has to wait to see who his opponent will be in 2024.

We’ll have a clearer picture when Just Jim returns in September.

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