A man who has a 'do nothing' approach ahead of election has nothing to offer the country - Murdo Fraser

Sir Keir Starmer doesn’t do soundbites but a certain kind of ‘wordchew’, writes Murdo Fraser.

If Sir Keir Starmer is the ‘change Scotland needs’ he must be pretty happy with the job that Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and even the hapless Humza Yousaf are doing, because on

his visit to the Scottish Labour Party conference at the weekend he offered precious little change.

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The UK Labour leader has a substantial poll lead – unlike his Scottish leader Anas Sarwar – that has led some to liken his election strategy to ‘carrying a Ming vase

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer believes doing nothing - and not standing for anything - gives him the best chance of winning the next election, writes Murdo Fraser. PIC: Dan Kitwood/PA WireLabour leader Sir Keir Starmer believes doing nothing - and not standing for anything - gives him the best chance of winning the next election, writes Murdo Fraser. PIC: Dan Kitwood/PA Wire
Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer believes doing nothing - and not standing for anything - gives him the best chance of winning the next election, writes Murdo Fraser. PIC: Dan Kitwood/PA Wire

across a polished floor’. But if you look for any real policy detail it looks more like he is carrying an empty pot on a pointless journey to the outhouse.

His £28 billion ‘green deal’, which was once essential to the UK’s future, has now been ditched. Every promise he made to his party members when he was seeking

the leadership in terms of taking utilities and transport into public ownership were jettisoned long ago. And any tax cut the UK Government offers at Budget time, Sir

Keir pledges not to reverse.

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If you are looking for any differences , they come in tax rises elsewhere. The non-dom tax allowances will be scrapped. VAT is to be added to private school fees in a move

that is unlikely to deter families who send their children to Tony Blair’s old school Fettes, but will cause problems for parents who send their children to schools like Humza Yousaf and Mr Sarwar’s alma mater, Hutchesons’ Grammar.

And then there is the windfall tax on energy companies that North Sea industry leaders believe will cost 100,000 jobs – mainly in Scotland. That is such an egregious error that even the First Minister has found a tax hike that he is finally baulking at.

At a time when the public, struggling with a cost of living crisis caused by international conflict as the world tries to recover from the pandemic, want change, Sir Keir has benefited simply by not being in charge. But that does not mean he represents any meaningful change.

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Of course he claims to have changed his party beyond all recognition from that led by his predecessor Jeremy Corbyn for whom he campaigned to be Prime Minister.

There has been a change in that Mr Corbyn managed to put up official Labour candidates in by-elections, whilst in Rochdale, Sir Keir has failed to do so.

He identified anti-semitism as one of the hallmarks of Mr Corbyn’s failure as Party leader and dedicated himself to removing it. And yet in a long anticipated by-election

his new party structures painstakingly chose a candidate from whom he withdrew support for making anti-semetic remarks. After a weekend of dithering Sir Keir

claimed that made him ‘decisive’. But the truth of the matter is that after four years of leadership he has patently, indeed spectacularly, failed in the number one priority of that leadership.

Looking and sounding tough seems a greater priority for him than real change. He was prepared to face down members of his own Party when it came to calling for a ceasefire in Gaza. Yet now, after the leadership of Foreign Secretary David Cameron, he seems to have been bounced by the SNP into backing ‘an immediate humanitarian ceasefire’, albeit one with some face-saving caveats.

Where once Labour leaders wanted ‘clear red water’ between themselves and their electoral opponents, Sir Keir seems to want what broadcasters call ‘dead air’ – silence.

Planning for the election, his stated aim is to make Labour as small a target as possible for the Tories to attack – thus the green pledge is dumped.

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But where there is nothing to criticise there may be nothing to offer. That has led Sir Keir not to go for the crisp Blairite soundbite, but instead to develop his own indigestible Starmer ‘wordchew’.

Take this passage from his speech on Sunday whe he said: “The argument we must put forward to the Scottish people at the next election is not just about who they

trust to manage huge decisions in their interest in Westminster, and not just about who they trust to maximise Scottish influence.

“We know the answer to that is Labour – we must also ask what sort of politics does Scotland think will best steer the ship through this storm?

“Because our answer to that question, the Labour answer, is always remember that lesson: working people never let each other down.

“And so – with a new sense of service and respect in our politics, with a plan for Britain grounded in the interests of working people, we can unite our country.”

I have read that passage several times and genuinely cannot work out what he is talking about, although I would commend him for his naïve bravery. After all, in the year of the 40th anniversary of the beginning of the Miners’ Strike, when our television screens have a plentiful supply of documentaries telling how communities are still riven by that dispute four decades on, for a Labour leader to say, ‘working people never let each other down,’ has a certain chutzpah.

Sir Keir’s interest in Scotland seems to be restricted to how many seats he thinks his party can win. Yes, he committed to Gordon Brown’s proposals for constitutional

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reform, but that was only another example of what we can now call the ‘Starmer Principle’ – that which is most enthusiastically embraced is most surreptitiously but completely abandoned.

In this a year in which the Prime Minister has said he plans to call a General Election we are no closer to knowing what the Leader of the Opposition who seeks to replace him stands for, only what he has abandoned. A man who thinks his best chance of winning is to appear to stand for nothing. And a man who thinks that is his best strategy really does end up with nothing to offer the country.

Murdo Fraser is the Conservative MSP for Mid Fife