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16 May 2024

The thinking behind Keir Starmer’s pledges

Many in Labour were concerned that the language around the party’s “missions” was too abstract and irrelevant to voters.

By Freddie Hayward

Last year, a senior aide told me that Labour’s five national missions would eventually be “funnelled” into short, sharp, snappy pledges. Today is the day: Labour has released its “first steps for change”. Each step corresponds with one of the missions. These are bitesize versions, more wieldy on the doorstep. To save me typing them out, here’s the billboard you might soon see on a road near you:

The thinking here is clear. Many in Labour have been concerned for a while that the mission language is abstract and irrelevant to most people’s lives. Achieving the highest GDP per capita growth in the G7, for instance, is not the type of policy voters hanker for in the pub. The missions have gone through a distillation process designed to answer the question: what would Labour do?

These “first steps” clearly hark back to New Labour’s pledge card in 1997, which promised policies such as reducing class sizes to below 30, not raising taxes and more money for the NHS. Starmer’s senior aide Peter Hyman, who worked under New Labour and was a speechwriter for Tony Blair, has taken the lead on Starmer’s missions. The attempt to reassure the public over the economy and crime is a common feature to both. But there are differences: Labour’s soft left is happy that Great British Energy – a public energy company – is included, a policy Blair would probably have rejected as too statist.

But hang on, why are there six pledges when there are five missions? Immigration, in a word. Labour has added a “Border Security Command”, at number three. Which suggests the party recognises that its position on immigration is a vulnerability, because public concern is rising. Some insiders have been saying this for over a year. And Labour clearly wants voters to hear that “they get it”. Note that housing is not on the pledge card. This is yet another sign that immigration is becoming a major political issue once again.

This piece first appeared in the Morning Call newsletter; receive it every morning by subscribing on Substack here.

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