“Keir Starmer delivered his big vision speech on Thursday morning. He outlined his critique of how the Tories have handled not just the pandemic but the economy generally during their decade in government. He promised that Labour would “protect families” with the policies already announced by the party in recent months, from keeping the Universal Credit uplift to preventing council tax rises. And he presented two new solid policy announcements: a British recovery bond (message: we like this country, we want to find ways of funding our recovery) and funding for start-up loans to create 100,000 new businesses (message: we are unashamedly pro-business).
The Covid bond has attracted the most attention. The idea behind it is that those who have been lucky enough to save during the crisis – those who have been furloughed, or people like me, who have worked from home and had no pub to frequent for upsettingly long stretches of time – will not necessarily go out and spend it all in John Lewis or the homeware shops around the corner. We may prefer to keep hold of that money because saving offers security. And as James Meadway points out, even if we do grant Rishi Sunak’s wish by embarking on a spending spree when the UK unlocks, it will probably be online, which is little help to the British high street.
Conservatives attacked the bond proposal by pointing out that it was similar to ideas they’ve endorsed. If the worst thing they can say about Starmer’s speech is that they agree with its main new offering, Labour is doing pretty well. But this does underscore the need to differentiate the opposition party from the Tories, which is difficult when Rishi Sunak is begrudgingly spending huge amounts of money because it has become utterly necessary and Boris Johnson seems intent on maintaining austerity while claiming to disavow it.
This is why Starmer’s argument that those currently in charge left us devastatingly unprepared for the pandemic is so important. It could be the Labour version of George Osborne’s ‘fix the roof while the sun is shining’ message – if a catchy soundbite can be found. The speech yesterday was a sound basis for phase two of Starmer’s leadership plan, as I write in The Guardian. But it is barely featured on today’s front pages, which suggests the communication of it needs to be more memorable. And Labour must not be afraid of repeatedly pushing the same lines until the ‘Westminster bubble’/Twitter doomscrollers are sick of hearing them.”