Talk Less, Smile More

Updated: Jan 25, 2021

By George Holt

Recently, I watched the musical Hamilton and one of the songs included these lyrics: “Talk less, Smile more / Don’t let them know what you’re against or what you’re for”. They’re excellently sung by Aaron Burr, a power-hungry windsock, who’ll do anything to rise to the top. He doesn’t seem to have any new ideas or opinions and is only interested in getting ahead. Which made me think of a particular Labour Party Leader… For most humans, a fence would be a rather uncomfortable thing to sit on - but for Keir Starmer, it is his natural habitat. You will find him sitting there comfortably, as you would see someone else on a La-Z-Boy. Ironically, a “Lazy Boy” is what one may call Keir Starmer when it comes to his attitude towards crafting policies and providing any credible alternative to what he claims to oppose. People may not like the Government’s direction, but no one can answer the question: What are Keir Starmer’s alternatives?

"For most humans, a fence would be a rather uncomfortable thing to sit on - but for Keir Starmer, it is his natural habitat."

On Christmas Eve, Boris Johnson gave the nation an early Christmas gift by proudly unveiling his Brexit Deal, which by many accounts is a great start to becoming an independent nation once again. One of the highlights is the UK leaving the Erasmus scheme, and introducing the British backed Turing scheme; it will target students from disadvantaged backgrounds and make it easier for them to study abroad, whereas the Erasmus scheme targets the already advantaged.

Now the deal has been announced, and MPs have had a chance to examine its details, and it was put to the vote. The deal enjoys broad support from the Conservative Benches with Jeremy Hunt, who’s on the “One Nation” side of the party, the European Research Group (ERG) amongst others all throwing their weight behind the deal and supporting it - although it’s worth noting the abstentions of Brexit Spartans Owen Paterson and John Redwood.

The deal’s popularity amongst the general public is fascinating; the plurality of voters think it’s neither good nor bad. For one, I say this is a good deal for Britain, but that is beside the point of this article. How did the Labour Party react to the deal? Let’s look at Labour voters first, according to YouGov just 5% of them think that this is a “good deal”, with the plurality thinking that this is a “bad deal” and everyone else somewhere in between. This 5% group are people the Conservatives could win over if Labour doesn’t find a sensible policy for relations with the EU by the next election. But it appears many of Labour’s voters and Remainers are not happy with this deal, but this is expected - opposition voters often oppose government policy.

Secondly, we’ll look at the Labour party leadership. Oh boy, this is an interesting one. It’s essential to first look back to 2019 when Keir was the Shadow Brexit Secretary for Corbyn. Keir Starmer is often credited with their disastrous Brexit Strategy of a second referendum, where members of the cabinet would campaign against a deal that they negotiated. During this time Keir Starmer took the lead on Labour’s Brexit tactics and was often seen as the Labour party’s “Remainer-In-Chief” who would bring back Doggerland to fuse the UK to the European continent.

Has Keir Starmer's leadership suffered because of Brexit factionalism within the party?

To say the least, Starmer has had a complicated relationship with Brexit policy, which made it very interesting when he did a live press conference, talking about how much he didn’t like the deal, how its consequences were the responsibility of the Tories, so if elected, he would attempt to negotiate a better deal and would be whipping Labour MPs to vote for Boris’s Brexit deal. I say this is interesting, but not surprising – he’s desperate to get his party beyond Brexit, even if it means compromising his Remainer credentials.

Finally, we’ll look at the response from Labour’s MPs. Most of them followed the party line and voted for the deal, except for 37 (and two recently made independents; Jeremy Corbyn and Claudia Webb). Many of the Labour MPs said they couldn’t vote for a “Tory Brexit”, and this led to the resignation of three members from Labour’s front bench. My challenge to them would be, what is your Brexit? What version of Brexit makes you happy? Is free trade not enough - would you rather see the UK continue taking rules from unelected officials in Brussels?

Many have criticised Keir Starmer for not taking a distinct position on many issues, but the reasons he does this have been left mostly unexamined. There are two visible factors at play here, electability and Labour factionalism. We’ll touch on electability first; 2019 saw devastating losses for the Labour party in their heartlands across the north, an area once called the “red wall” – with Labour losing Blair’s old “safe” seat Sedgefield and 59 other seats - 51 of which voted to leave in the 2016 referendum. Let’s suppose Brexit is a non-issue at the next election. In that case, Labour feels that they have a better chance of regaining these seats - this explains Keir’s reluctant backing of Boris’s Brexit deal, the Labour party need Brexit to go away before they can recover their heartlands.

The other key factor is the fragile state of the Labour party, held together by an awkward coalition of members who can’t even agree to disagree - broadly you can split them up in four ways. You’ve got the “Stop Brexit/Rejoin EU” band, the “Corbynites”, the “Blairites” and many others who slot in between who’ve become a minority in the party or don’t strictly identify with one camp. I’m sure you can see when you split up a party like this – it has become too factionalised.

"The Labour party need Brexit to go away before they can recover their heartlands."

The Corbynites and the Blairites may want to compromise on Brexit, but the Rejoin EU band won’t stand for it or perhaps Rejoin EU, and the Blairites may be happy to compromise on spending/welfare, but the Corbynites won’t stand for it. These factions will tear chunks out of each other over the slightest disagreement and let their discourse spill into the public eye; it’s no wonder that Starmer is so desperate not to try and aggravate them.

So Keir Starmer is forced to walk a thin line, to avoid internecine conflict within his own party. This careful walk means that he avoids detailed policy proposals at all costs and his suggestions can mostly be limited to “spend more”, “tax more”, “more restrictions”, or slamming government policy for being insufficient, but will then vote for it, then attack it again whilst providing no credible alternative.

So when could we expect to see details of what he wants to do differently? It won’t be until the very last moment. I would not be surprised if he keeps with these nebulous lines until the 2024 election manifesto.

In conclusion, it’s a shame that factionalism within the opposition causes this deafening silence, forcing a voice that should oppose a government to equivocate & prevaricate. Even if Labour can make short term success in the polls, the post-Corbyn and post-Brexit fractures in the party need to be resolved before the Labour party can be a capable opposition, or god forbid a Government.

George Holt is the Young Conservative Chairman for Dartford Conservatives, a co-founder of the Young Conservative Network and has a keen interest in both UK and US politics.


Disclaimer: All views expressed in this piece belong solely to the author and do not reflect the views of Demographica as a company.

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