Labour government: What Sir Keir Starmer's biggest task will be

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I remember Friday, May 2, 1997 very clearly. It was the day after the first election I voted in, and the weather was warm, with clear blue skies.

It felt that the world had been swept up on a tide of optimism after 18 years of the Tories; it felt like a clean slate after John Major’s stumbling government, with its sleaze, brown envelopes and Maastricht treaty “bastards” (At this point in columns it used to be traditional to write “kids, ask your parents”, but let’s face it - kids, just Google it. It’s proof that the Tories have been stabbing themselves to death over Europe for decades, not just since 2016). As the man said, Things Can Only Get Better.

Anyway, today I write this on a grey, overcast, cold July morning. Where I am, it has stopped raining for now, but my children’s primary school fair this evening has been postponed as it is predicted to chuck it down later. And it doesn’t need much leaning towards the pathetic fallacy to find this weather strangely emblematic.

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Make no mistake, thank God this Conservative government has gone. It’s the worst government - including Major’s - that I can recall, and ran the worst election campaign surely anyone can remember. By the end it was ideologically bankrupt, riven into several pieces, susceptible to right-wing pressure from outside, and basically incapable of governing. The ridiculous National Service plan, plucked from nowhere during the election campaign, is entirely of a piece with how kneejerk Downing Street had become.

The fact that the one piece of legislation that would make one look warmly on Sunak’s tenure, the move to effectively ban smoking, was shelved at the last, is baffling. He leaves with a tattered reputation, a man who simply wasn’t up to it. Probably a decent bloke at heart - but one who could not deal with opposing arguments and one who should remain among spreadsheets for the foreseeable future.

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer speaks to supporters this morning Picture: Jeff Moore/PA Wire Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer speaks to supporters this morning Picture: Jeff Moore/PA Wire
Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer speaks to supporters this morning Picture: Jeff Moore/PA Wire | Jeff Moore/PA Wire

There is deep relief that we can start again, but the reason I am not filled with complete joy is the huge change that is needed in our political culture. Partygate has probably ruined politics for a generation. The absolute “one rule for us, one rule for them” arrogance of it, and the fact Boris Johnson lied and lied about the existence of parties - making the offence much worse - has led cynics to be able to dismiss politicians as “all the same, just in it for themselves”.

And so many scandals - Owen Patterson, the PPE VIP lanes, and contracts going to Matt Hancock’s mates and Michelle Mone, Dominic Cummings breaching the rules he helped to devise and MPs lining up to defend him and then, to crown it all, Tory candidates and party officials  betting on the election date. Using insider knowledge to feather their own nests; how to distil a sense of corruption into one sordid act. And that’s just some of the important stuff. We haven’t even touched on Neil Parish MP watching porn in Parliament and claiming it was a video about tractors, or major donor Frank Hester’s vile views on Diane Abbott. 

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The amount of filth that has accumulated over 14 years, most of which has the aura of coming from a group of people who think they can behave with impunity, is a clean-up job of Augean Stables gravity. And that’s the major task that Sir Keir Starmer has to attack. It is absolutely crucial that we see a zero-tolerance approach to public service, respect, dignity and proper standards of behaviour.

NationalWorld produced a manifesto for the election of policies that we would want to see implemented and we stand by all of them. The country needs a Brexit inquiry, to have an honest assessment of the situation we are in. We want to see a windfall tax on banks to help fund the public realm, and see free university places for doctors and nurses to help bolster the NHS. We also called for the water companies - speaking of filth over the years - to be nationalised. Given they were debt-free when they were privatised, are now £50bn in the red and have paid roughly that in dividends to shareholders in that time, it’s not hard to see why this must be done. 

And we also called for an Ofsted-style MP regulator to grade MPs’ work, with the power that several bad grades in a row could lead to a by-election, to make it easier for their constituents to remove the lazy or the inept. And it’s on that front that Starmer must be boldest. Bang into his MPs that they are not here for personal enrichment (though they are paid well enough), but to serve. They must behave impeccably - and if they do not then they will be cast out. 

Starmer has been criticised for being boring; well, I’ll take boring over Johnson any day. Let’s see a return to political decency, and once we do perhaps that weather will become a little bit warmer. 

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