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Six Things Keir Starmer’s ‘Six Steps’ Tell us About the Labour Party

The Labour leader’s new six ‘first steps’ for Government reveal a lot about the kind of administration he plans to lead

Labour Party leader Sir Keir Starmer and shadow chancellor Rachel Reeves unveil their first six steps for Government. Photo: PA Images / Alamy

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Keir Starmer has today revealed the “first six steps for change” an incoming Labour Government would take if it is elected later this year.

The list, which was set out to journalists in advance on Wednesday, is different in several key respects to the ‘five missions’ he previously set out last year.

Here’s what has been added, what has been taken away, and what it tells us about the Labour leader and his plans for government.

Housing is Out and ‘Border Security’ is in

The first thing I noticed when looking at the list was that the first of Labour’s “five missions” for government, which was to “Get Britain Building Again” has vanished from the list. The second thing I noticed was that an immigration-based commitment to “Launch a new border security command” has been inserted instead.

Asked about this switch up, a Labour spokesperson told me that “what we’ve said about housebuilding before completely stands”. This was backed up by one of the business speakers at the launch event for today’s six steps, focused solely on housing. However, while Labour’s housing policy may not have changed, the emphasis placed upon it clearly has. By de-emphasising their pledge on housebuilding, which may be controversial in some NIMBY-filled Conservative target seats, and re-emphasising its new pledge on immigration, the Labour Party is sending a message about the kind of government it intends to be.

‘Spending Rules’ Now Trump Economic Growth

    The second thing I noticed was that whereas previous versions of Starmer’s ‘five missions’ for Government had committed to securing the “highest sustained growth in the G7” these ‘six steps’ instead commit to “deliver economic stability” through “tough spending rules.”

    This is a massive difference. Insisting that ‘fiscal rules’ should be the country’s number one priority, as the party’s Shadow Chancellor Rachel Reeves did this morning, or that “stability is change” as Starmer put it rather obliquely, risks Labour making exactly the same mistakes that led the UK into the decade of austerity-driven low growth we have just experienced under the Conservatives.

    This is a suggestion that Labour has strongly pushed back upon, with Reeves insisting this morning that investment in the economy remains the party’s priority. However, this new emphasis on “stability”, combined with the party’s recent abandonment of its plan to invest £28 billion a year in green projects, suggests that the era of fiscal conservatism that has driven the UK into its current slump may yet continue under a Labour Government.

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    From ‘Pledges’ to ‘Missions’ to ‘Steps’

      The next thing worth noting about Starmer’s new list is that it appears to be once an attempt to downgraded the extent to which he can be held to account for it. When he first ran for Labour leader, Stamer made “ten pledges” to his party, most of which he has since abandoned. Then when he revealed his new list last year, the word “pledges” had been replaced with the word “missions”. A pledge is to mission as a commitment is to a target. He may have a mission to “build an NHS fit for the future” but that doesn’t necessarily mean that he will promise to actually achieve it. The latest version goes a stage further, replacing the word “mission” with the word “steps” instead. So not only is he not pledging to get to the end of his mission, but he’s not even yet committing to get beyond the first step of that mission. This may not sound like a particularly important distinction to many people, but these kinds of differences in language do actually matter.

      This is particularly the case given the lack of actual concrete, measurable commitments in this list, aside from a single pledge to recruit 6,500 teachers. On every other step, from cutting waiting lists to “launching” new border security measures, the list does not give any means by which voters can actually judge whether the steps will have been a success.

      Government by Opinion Poll

        If Starmer’s list of six steps and the order they have been placed in looks familiar to you, it could be because you have already seen very similar lists before. Every month the pollsters Ipsos publish a list of the top issues that most concern voters. The top three priorities in their latest version is identical to the first three in Starmer’s list, with the next three also following fairly closely to Ipsos’ list of voters’ priorities, it’s very clear that whoever was in charge of drawing up this list is very familiar with such polling. Asked about this on Wednesday, a Labour spokesperson replied that “this is a really good set of steps to show that we care about what the British public do.”


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        Climate Timidity

          While most of the public’s top priorities are included in Starmer’s list there is no explicit reference to tackling climate change, which depending on which pollster asks the question, has consistently been among the top issues for voters for some time. The issue isn’t completely excluded, with a pledge to create a “publicly-owned clean power company” making number four on Starmer’s list. However, previous references to reaching “net zero” have been removed. Coming as it does after the party’s U-turn on its £28 billion climate plan, and its post-Uxbridge by-election criticism of Sadiq Khan’s clean air policies, this is another sign of the political direction Labour is heading in.

          It’s all About Keir

            The last thing worth noting about Labour’s ‘six steps’ is that Keir Starmer is placed front and centre. The list is not labeled as “Labour’s first steps for change” but “My first steps for change” with a large picture of Starmer taking up the majority of the party’s new Tony Blair-style ‘pledge cards’.

            This is an interesting choice given that Starmer’s ratings are currently historically pretty low for an opposition leader heading towards government. His presentational style is not always the most convincing. While not a bad speaker, his speech was one of the least impressively delivered of the many politicians, business people and activists who took to the stage at the party’s launch rally this morning.

            However, while Starmer may not be the most inspiring speaker, he is still a lot more effective than Sunak, whose speaking-style sometimes makes him sound like a particularly patronising supply teacher. And while the Labour leader’s ratings may not be great, they are still a lot higher than Sunak’s, whose name was largely absent from the vast majority of the Conservative party’s campaign material sent out in the recent local elections.

            This contrast between the two leaders probably explains Labour’s apparent confidence in Starmer’s ability to win a presidential-style battle against Sunak, and also tells us a lot about what we can expect from the coming general election campaign.

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