2 June 2024

The cost of making new friends


A common refrain heard from ‘wellness’ influencers on Instagram and motivational recruiters on LinkedIn is that the key to a happy life is to surround yourself with positive people. One can only assume they’re referring to the sort of person who would tell you to slow down after your fourth pint rather than pat you on the back after your twelfth.

But still, it sounds simple enough. Cut the rot out of your life to make way for the productive. And it’s advice that Keir Starmer has clearly taken on board. Since taking over as Leader of the Labour Party in 2020, he has purged a great many of his party’s hard left elements. Quite the volte face, you might think, considering his significant role in Jeremy Corbyn’s shadow cabinet.

This week, Starmer’s long purge was cast into the spotlight. On Wednesday, veteran lefty Diane Abbott was reinstated as a Labour MP after a suspension of more than a year for penning a letter to The Observer claiming that Jews, Irish people and Travellers have never experienced true racism because of their white skin. However, rumours abounded that this reinstatement was to allow her to step down with dignity after a long and trailblazing career. When she did not, there was widespread confusion over whether she would be allowed to run on a Labour ticket on July 4.

Later that day, it emerged that Faiza Shaheen, another left-winger who rose to prominence under Jeremy Corbyn, was banned from standing for Labour in Chingford and Woodford Green, despite having been the candidate there since the 2019 election. This came following a complaint from the Jewish Labour Movement about anti-Israel posts she had liked on social media. Lloyd-Russell Moyle, Socialist Campaign Group member and MP for Brighton Kemptown, also revealed that he had also been suspended from the party.

While the treatment of Shaheen and Moyle drew expected rancour from Twitter tankies, it is the Abbott affair that has caused Starmer the greatest headache. Former Labour strategist John McTernan has written in The Daily Telegraph and Spectator decrying her treatment. Angela Rayner ‘doesn’t see any reason’ why Abbott shouldn’t stand. And, to top it off, questions are being asked about the honesty of Starmer’s chronology of her investigation and suspension.

Anyway, it now seems that after much toing and froing, Abbott will be free to run as a Labour candidate.

All of this could prove a fly in the ointment for Starmer’s usual strategy of allowing Tory disarray to dominate headlines while he remains quiet on what a Labour government would actually look like.

With Labour disunity now getting a lot of coverage, the time has come for Starmer to give voters a clearer idea of what his policies would mean for them. If he doesn’t, he allows the news cycle to remain focused on his colleagues’ ill-discipline and his party’s opaque disciplinary mechanisms. For an electorate sick to the back teeth of political infighting, this is an enormous turn off.

Setting out his stall quickly is particuarly important for Starmer, given that it has become increasingly apparent that a number of his flagship policies don’t hold water.

As my colleague Robert Colvile pointed out this week, Starmer’s decarbonisation plan is particularly fishy. Take the claim that Labour’s plan to generate 98% of electricity from clean energy sources would reduce energy bills by £300. The problem is that the analysis is based on energy costs from last year, which have already fallen substantially – and the same analysis actually prices the comparative benefits of Labour’s approach at a mere £44, while ignoring the cost of the huge amounts of investment needed to get there.

Similarly, as many parents are starting to take their children out of independent schools, we’re already seeing the devastating impact that the planned 20% VAT charge on private school fees could have on the state sector.

In an election that many are regarding as a foregone conclusion, Sunak cannot afford to squander chances to bring Labour’s weaknesses to the fore. From continuing divisions between the Trots and the Blairites to the growing scrutiny of Labour’s policy offering, there are clear gains for the Tories to make here. If only Starmer had read the small print of the influencers’ creed – that bad friends sometimes come back to bite.

Click here to subscribe to our daily briefing – the best pieces from CapX and across the web.

CapX depends on the generosity of its readers. If you value what we do, please consider making a donation.

Joseph Dinnage is Deputy Editor of CapX.