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Starmer’s caution is a double-edged sword

Matthew Horwood/Getty

To understand today’s Labour Party is to “recognise fear”, says Robert Shrimsley in the FT. Pundits debate whether Keir Starmer is more like Tony Blair, Gordon Brown or Harold Wilson, but in truth he may be more like Ed Miliband or Neil Kinnock – leaders who seemed destined for victory, “only to see it snatched away”. Labour honchos know this, which is why their driving emotion now is “terror”. Every Tory announcement is seen as a “potential trap”. Caution is so embedded that “if Rishi Sunak announced the slaughter of the first born, Starmer might hesitate to commit to its repeal until the full fiscal implications had been considered”.

As Starmer has “tacked steadily towards the centre”, he has junked not only policies dear to his Corbynite predecessors, but also positions he once held himself. On everything from the environment to gender and Brexit, he has been single-minded in “scraping the barnacles from the boat”. Tories depicting Labour as “dangerously red” are fighting the wrong battle. Starmer’s biggest weakness isn’t his supposed leftie inclinations – it’s his commitment to matching Tory promises. After the party’s Uxbridge by-election defeat was attributed to animus over Ulez, for example, Starmer didn’t just distance himself from the policy – he also watered down Net Zero commitments and vowed not to revoke new oil and gas drilling licences. This not only provides his opponents with the easy attack line that he can’t be trusted; it also bakes the Conservative consensus into the mainstream. “Even if the Tories lose power, they may still be setting the agenda.”