There is an old saw about the sort of person who follows at the end of the parade carrying a shovel – they miss the best parts of the day and have to clean up after everyone else. While this refers to those whose job it is to clear up after others, it can also show the risk of being the last person to latch on to something – whether a procession or an idea.
Sir Keir Starmer risks joining the parade of left-wing has-beens espousing woke cultural policies and Net Zero. He attended a gathering in Montreal of “progressive” politicians coordinated by the clown prince of woke, Justin Trudeau. They discussed the role of “active, muscular centre-left governments in providing the answers to modern public challenges”.
But Starmer may well come to office – if he gets there – just in time for the public, as they have in Canada and New Zealand, to swing back against them. Of course, one would never dare directly compare Sir Keir with the young and hip former New Zealand Labour leader Jacinda Ardern and the Canadian Liberal leader. The excitement that overcame the electorates of both countries – Labour support almost doubled from 24 per cent to 37 per cent in seven weeks in New Zealand and “Trudeaumania” doubled the backing for the Canadian Liberals, elevating them from ranking third to an overall majority in only two years – is definitely not being replicated for Sir Keir.
But although the personalities may be very different, the policies are – for those who believe that freer markets are the route to economic growth and prosperity for all – depressingly familiar. A focus on listening to environmentalist and Nimby lobby groups rather than creating the conditions for private sector growth, as well as focusing on niche cultural crusades and the “causes of the crime” rather than robust policing.
Yet the evidence seems to show that the attraction of these sorts of policies is falling both here and abroad. The Conservative Party of Canada has taken a strong lead in polling, with the 338 projection project moving the Conservative likelihood of winning the most seats at the next Federal Election from 48 per cent three months ago to 98 per cent today. An August poll showed that 56 per cent supported Trudeau stepping down rather than fighting another general election.
Meanwhile, the New Zealand National Party led in 22 out of 25 opinion polls prior to Jacinda Ardern retiring as Labour leader and Prime Minister after barely five years in the job, and the Nats alongside their right wing allies ACT are in the driving seat to win next month’s general election. One of the most extraordinary aspects of the Labour election campaign is that Ardern, who only two years ago was the preferred prime minister for more than half of all New Zealanders, is utterly absent from it.
And while both leaders saw a bump during harsh lockdowns, they’ve seemingly failed to notice that voters still care about inflation and the economy. People are less interested in transgenderism than they are in paying the bills, as conservative opposition parties are fully aware.
Sir Keir does have two massive advantages compared to his colonial relations. The first is the Conservative Party. Many of the brickbats thrown at both the Trudeau and Ardern governments, namely that they ineffectively focus on policies such as Net Zero rather than robust economic growth and increasing the housing supply, could easily be applied to the British Tories.
The second is being in Opposition. Thirteen years of Conservative rule makes any competent opposition look like a reasonable alternative even if their ideology is at odds with that of parts of the electorate. But further, having likely at least a year before going to the country, Sir Keir has the opportunity to be more flexible and respond to changes in the electorate.
Both Trudeau and Ardern swept to power on the back of personality and a willingness by the electorate to focus on more niche issues rather than the economy. Both saw that popularity evaporate as the personality started to grate and the policies they espoused ceased to give an answer to the key issues facing voters. In a time of high inflation, low growth and economic uncertainty, Sir Keir really ought to reconsider just how desperate he ought to be to join a cosy coterie of woke has beens.