Opinion

Keir Starmer’s spending plans will be disastrous for the north – Brian Feeney

Brian Feeney

Brian Feeney

Historian and political commentator Brian Feeney has been a columnist with The Irish News for three decades. He is a former SDLP councillor in Belfast and co-author of the award-winning book Lost Lives

Sir Keir Starmer pictured with Assembly Speaker Alex Maskey during a visit to Parliament Buildings, Stormont
Sir Keir Starmer pictured with Assembly Speaker Alex Maskey during a visit to Parliament Buildings, Stormont Sir Keir Starmer pictured with Assembly Speaker Alex Maskey during a visit to Parliament Buildings, Stormont

ONE of the many problems that arises from being resident in the remnant of England’s first colony is that commenting on British politics is a spectator sport.

You’re not part of it. No-one here can have any effect. No-one here elects anyone from any party in Britain. Candidates from British parties who try their luck here receive derisive votes.

Equally, nothing that happens here affects the standing of any party in Britain so British politicians don’t give a damn: they have no votes to lose – eg Brexit.

True, but only up to a point. While British politicians couldn’t care less about the consequences for the north of any decision they take, nevertheless the fact remains that those decisions, particularly, but not exclusively, economic and fiscal decisions, do have serious consequences for this place.

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We’re approaching a critical juncture. There’s an election next year and the betting is heavily in favour of a Labour victory with a substantial majority. What will Keir Starmer do with it? What effect will his economic decisions have on the north?

The signs are not promising. Starmer gave a speech at the launch of the Resolution Foundation report Ending Stagnation on Tuesday in which, once again, he didn’t give any detail about any Labour policy, but in answers afterwards revealed some of his thinking.

It’s depressing. Starmer is very conservative with a small ’c’, unimaginative, wooden and devoid of charisma. His shtick is Mr Serious, dependable, boring, painstaking. As a politician he has a major flaw for media interviews. He lacks guile and can’t lie convincingly.

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer arrives at Parliament Buildings to hold meetings with leaders of political parties during a visit in June 2022
Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer arrives at Parliament Buildings to hold meetings with leaders of political parties during a visit in June 2022 Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer arrives at Parliament Buildings to hold meetings with leaders of political parties during a visit in June 2022

Steve Richards, a leading British political writer, has just published Turning Points, examining British politics since 1945. He shows that in election campaigns since the 1970s, Labour leaders can’t lay out spending plans without being immediately hit by the Conservative supporting press and media with demands to explain how every proposal will be paid for.

As a result, as Richards points out, Tony Blair promised to follow Conservative spending plans for the first two years after the 1997 election. So, in answer to questions from the Conservative media about how he would pay for his plans, Blair would say in exactly the same way as the Conservatives.

Richards shows that this media merry-go-round has made it impossible since the 1980s to have a sensible conversation about public expenditure and the role of the state in Britain.

It seems Starmer plans to jump on the merry-go-round and do exactly what Blair did: promise to follow Sunak’s austerity 2.0, to avoid being tripped up by being unable to explain how some proposal will be paid for.

It seems Keir Starmer plans to jump on the merry-go-round and do exactly what Tony Blair did in sticking to Conservative spending plans
It seems Keir Starmer plans to jump on the merry-go-round and do exactly what Tony Blair did in sticking to Conservative spending plans It seems Keir Starmer plans to jump on the merry-go-round and do exactly what Tony Blair did in sticking to Conservative spending plans

Ironically, speaking at the Ending Stagnation conference, Starmer was guaranteeing a continuance of stagnation. He said Labour would not “turn on the spending taps”. Adhering to the cuts in public expenditure the Chancellor announced last month will have the opposite effect of what Starmer has proposed.

He said growth would be Labour’s “obsession” but he supports Sunak’s fantasy that you can cut government spending yet produce growth.

Starmer talks about inequality. He has to because the UK is the most unequal major European economy. However, to promote equality you have to run a budget deficit and increase government spending.

Read more:

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  • Starmer says a Labour government ‘would not turn on public spending taps'

In short, Starmer’s plans for the next two to three years are disastrous for the north, already the poorest part of the UK because of partition.

Recent figures from the Consumer Council show the lowest earning households here have a disposable income below £27 a week. The typical household’s living standards here have a gap of nearly £9,000 compared to those in France, Germany or the Netherlands. It’s £8,300 in GB.

The UK has no regional development strategy (don’t mention the levelling up con) so there’ll be no increase in public expenditure here for infrastructure and the gap between professional salaries will continue to grow.

For the north the slogan is ‘Stagnate with Starmer’.