Keir Starmer, currently leading in the polls by 17 points, appears to be on track to become the next Prime Minister of the United Kingdom. However, it will not be extravagant promises of spending that will secure his victory.
The leader of the Labour party and their shadow chancellor, Rachel Reeves, have a key task at their yearly party conference: Convince the British public that the party is now prepared to lead after spending 13 years in opposition.
As Starmer approaches gaining power, he is determined to avoid making any mistakes – and this is most evident in his handling of the nation’s finances.
Up until now, his leadership has prioritized addressing Labour’s obvious weaknesses in elections, strengthening control over party systems, and refining a message of financial responsibility.
His strategy has been so deeply rooted in caution that anyone who shows a little verve, as Reeves did Monday, risks upstaging him — while questions about how Labour would mend Britain’s ailing public services without new spending remain unanswered.
An unidentified member of the shadow Cabinet, speaking candidly about party discussions, stated that their top priority now is safety.
The potential issue is that individuals may not have a strong motivation to participate and vote for our cause.
“There is no more funds available.”
In the last year, Starmer and his team have been striving to build a reputation for being fiscally responsible, following the disastrous tenure of Liz Truss as Tory prime minister.
Prior to the disastrous mini-budget presented by Truss in September 2022, which caused alarm in the U.K. financial sector and led to a significant increase in mortgage rates, the Conservative party had consistently ranked higher than Labour in terms of public trust in managing the British economy.
The Labour Party is seen as vulnerable to being accused of overspending by senior members of the Conservative Party. Greg Hands, the Tory Chairman, is trying to bring attention back to a note from a Labour minister in 2010 that famously stated, “I’m afraid there is no money.”
According to a Conservative Party staff member, this serves as a reminder that Labour is not capable of effectively managing things. This statement was made in response to skeptical reactions from those who view the note as a politically strategic move that is no longer relevant.
Poll of polls for the UK National Parliament election.
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According to David Gauke, a previous member of the Conservative Party and an ex-Treasury minister, the main factor that will cause division in 2023 is not borrowing but taxes.
The speaker stated that the Conservative party will likely criticize the Labour party for proposing tax increases. They may take advantage of any vague or ambiguous statements made by their opponents.
Given this situation, Starmer is being cautious. He has prohibited colleagues from making promises for spending without adequate funding; eliminated the possibility of increasing income tax; and pledged not to introduce any new taxes until the next election.
Reeves emphasized this point during her speech on Monday, stating: “Achieving change will require strict discipline.”
It appears that Labour is now proposing to go beyond their current stance, asserting not only their ability to effectively manage the economy but also claiming that the current governing party, the Conservatives, are now the ones promoting disorder and neglect.
“Let there be no uncertainty,” Reeves stated to the Labour conference on Monday. “The greatest threat to the economy of Britain is another five years under the Conservative Party.”
Reeves’ program included crowd-pleasing measures, notably a corruption commissioner to help recoup taxpayers’ money lost to waste and fraud during the pandemic, which set tongues wagging about her future leadership potential.
Labour has promised to end tax breaks for individuals who are not permanent residents, raise taxes on private school tuition, and increase taxes on profits for oil and gas companies. However, there are still limitations when it comes to budgeting for expenses.
The party’s primary financial pledge is to allocate £28 billion annually towards aiding the UK’s decarbonization efforts. However, only £20 billion of this amount is considered “extra” spending, surpassing the Conservatives’ initial promise. This would still result in a decrease in investment over the next term.
The issue of how Starmer plans to fulfill his pledge of “creating a better Britain” remains unknown.
According to Ben Zaranko, a member of the Institute for Fiscal Studies think tank, it is simpler to identify where investment is needed than to create a cohesive plan to carry out that investment.
The speaker referenced current news stories regarding inadequate school facilities in England. They argued that although the Labour party has blamed the government for not adequately funding schools, they have not made any concrete promises to address the issue.
A high-ranking member of a prominent labor union, speaking under the condition of anonymity, expressed the hope that discussions about expenditures would shift once the Labour party actually gains control.
The union leader stated that he does not believe Labour will experience a significant honeymoon phase. They are about to assume control of a country that has suffered significant damage.
Starmer is attempting to lower spending hopes, but also highlighting the party’s goals for expansion and improving relations with the business community.
According to Zaranko, this presents its own set of challenges. “If the argument is that we cannot make these spending promises until we see growth, then we may not see results for at least ten years.”
A high-ranking member of the Labour Party, who cannot speak publicly, refuted this claim. They suggested that modifications could be implemented, such as improving Britain’s restrictive planning system, which may result in quicker outcomes.
Furthermore, the individual emphasized that the political group is transparent in their request for voters to have faith in Labour’s long-term goals. “We are completely honest with them, acknowledging that it will take a significant amount of time to rectify the damage caused in the past decade.”
Some are questioning if this cautious strategy will be enough, especially if the polls become closer as predicted leading up to next year’s fall election.
Gauke stated that there is a gap in the plan for taking risks in order to achieve growth that a Conservative government would not pursue.
A previous member of the Labour party who is providing guidance to Reeves, but was not granted permission to speak publicly, expressed feelings of frustration with the current state of affairs. They believe there is a chance to be bolder and more believable.
If the Labour party is able to gain control by being cautious, Starmer may not be too concerned about lacking inspiration. However, fulfilling his commitment to the electorate to improve the state of the nation could present a different challenge altogether.
Reporting was provided by Dan Bloom.