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19 January 2023

Keir Starmer defends Brexit at Davos

Has the former Remain hero has become Brexit’s biggest booster?

By The Chatterer

Billionaires of the world unite! Keir Starmer is at the World Economic Forum in Davos courting the support of CEOs for Labour’s green prosperity plan. He’s there to stake an “open for business” sign outside the UK’s tent. Oh, and to “repower the world” – at least that was the ambitious name of the panel he spoke on. Alongside David Cameron’s old buddy Mark Rutte, the Dutch prime minister, President Hassan of Tanzania, the outspoken US Senator Joe Manchin, and a few business leaders, the Labour leader set out his plans for an “inverse Opec”.

Manage the energy market through a state-private collab – this was a classic Davos initiation policy. The ethos of Davos is that states can’t solve problems without the help of the private sector. As the panel’s blurb burbled: “How should world leaders and private decision-makers balance short-term needs with longer-term supply, sustainability and affordability requirements in a fraught geopolitical environment?” No wonder Starmer is there. He and his shadow cabinet can’t stop reminding voters that the private sector is part of their solution to improving public services.

But the American moderator of the discussion wasn’t so easily convinced. Like the rest of us, she must have been poring over the promises Starmer made during his leadership campaign. “What changed your mind, because I know in the recent past you were for nationalising industries?” she asked.

They were on to him. Did they know he ran a magazine called Socialist Alternatives in his youth? And what did Starmer mean by an “active state”? Rutte sensed the suspicion. “I’m a free market label. I’m a free market liberal,” he assured the mob. How could Starmer compete with such consummate crowd-pleasing? Now was not the time to stand out. Davos is not the place to stand out. “You’re not talking about nationalising industry?” the moderator pressed. “No, completely the opposite,” Starmer squirmed. 

But on Brexit he held firm. He wouldn’t accept the premise that Britain’s creaking economy was down to Brexit. This take-back-control-touting Labour leader said the UK’s economic poverty predated Brexit. Tories, not Leavers, were the problem. 

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Speaking of Tories, Rishi Sunak made a wise PR move for once and stayed away from the Swiss mountains. (He’s still struggling to shake that out-of-touch vibe – the Chatterer can’t imagine why.) Instead he’s in Accrington, Lancashire, talking up the latest round of the levelling up fund. Presumably he won’t mention that the south-east received more money than Yorkshire, the West Midlands and the north-east. Or that the money barely refunds the local government cuts under austerity. Perhaps Sunak could ask Starmer to do a whip round at one of the parties tonight. He might meet some of the 26 people who between them have as much wealth as half the rest of the world! It’s the least he could do.

[See also: Rishi Sunak faces a new Tory revolt over levelling up favouritism]

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