Keir Starmer has a mountain to climb if he wishes to become Prime Minister. But the current state of events presents Labour with a grand opportunity, one that could greatly increase their electoral popularity if they park their tanks on Tory fields.
Although Liz Truss appears likely to become Britain’s next Tory Prime Minister, many have criticised her tax plans as unrealistic. Labour must seize the moment and preach the two areas of New Labour’s success — economic credibility and social justice.
A recent YouGov poll has placed Liz Truss 32 points ahead of rival Rishi Sunak in the contest to become the next Conservative leader and Prime Minister. However, Truss has been criticised for ‘fairy-tale economics’ by some Thatcherites. Labour must reinstate its party as the trusted economic authority.
Labour has lagged in this area for too long. At the last general election, Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party suffered its most crushing defeat since 1935. Although many on the left blamed the party’s vague stance on Brexit, another obvious cancer was its unashamedly extreme socialist and unrealistic manifesto rife with unachievable promises. To regain power, Labour must once again adopt the core values exuded by New Labour, balancing social justice principles with practical free-market policies.
Although Liz Truss has presented herself as a true Thatcherite with the primary aim of cutting taxes, her idealistic approach has been attacked by two former Thatcherite Conservative chancellors, Nigel Lawson and Ken Clarke — the former of whom backed Sunak as ‘the only candidate who understands Thatcherite economics.’
Nevertheless, Sunak appears destined to lose, in spite of his superior economic intelligence. Whatever voters may think of Sunak and his performance as Chancellor, his plan to tackle inflation (which has reached over 10 per cent) before cutting taxes appears more credible and realistic. But if Sunak does not make it in Number 10, Labour must fill the gap.
With the cost-of-living crisis deepening, Labour must transform themselves into the party of economic credibility and finally swallow the free-market pill — just as they did under Tony Blair.
In September 1992, John Major’s Tory government lost its economic reputation on Black Wednesday as the pound crashed out of the European Exchange Rate Mechanism. Under John Smith and then Tony Blair, Labour spoke the language of voters by pledging to keep free-market Thatcherism while still introducing reforms and social justice policies to benefit areas of society.
In 1997, Labour attacked the tax policy of the Conservative government, but they still acknowledged the correctness of the Tories’ economic policies during the 1980’s. They realised that hard socialism was wholly unachievable and unrealistic. The main difference between New Labour and the Tories was social and political.
It was New Labour policy that fought for progressive social change while protecting the free market. It’s no coincidence that the party won its two greatest victories (1997 and 2001) during those years.
Labour can profoundly impact society today by reforming the House of Lords, establishing peace in Northern Ireland, repealing Section 28, creating a minimum wage, and introducing same-sex civil partnerships. There are still areas where this change can continue such as housing and social care.
Most importantly, Labour must abandon Corbyn’s nationalisation policies wholeheartedly. Labour has never won with off-the-wall economic policies. Starmer must accept — like Blair did — that Thatcherism is still the path to electoral success, but they must distinguish themselves from the Tories by advocating egalitarian policies within the free market.
Starmer needs to present financial policies that are more credible and realistic than the ones proposed by Truss. If Labour were to understand the policies of Thatcher and Sunak and apply them to progressive causes, the party would win against the phoney Thatcherite Truss.
It is time for Labour to embrace the New Labour platform that led to thirteen years of progressive government. The country may be facing new problems, but economic competence and social justice hand-in-hand can secure political and social reform for the long term.