Keir Starmer will obviously want to fight in next year’s election by promising change and exciting voters with his brilliant ideas – but to what extent will the public expect him to transform the UK? United ? And how much is actually achievable in a single term when infrastructure and services are in such a precarious state?
Sunny, hopeful plateaus and £350 million a week for the NHS helped the Leave campaign in the Brexit referendum, appealing to hearts over heads. Boris Johnson also launched a campaign of blind optimism in 2019 by promising 40 more hospitals and not increasing the national insurance rate.
But after numerous scandals, a cost of living crisis, broken promises and two new prime ministers, public opinion is now more skeptical. This is why the wisest leaders and veterans of the Labor Party are exercising great caution before making excessive promises in the election manifesto.
They know there is no money to inject massively into public services without breaking their self-imposed budget rules which are designed to make Labor appear trustworthy in the economy. .
And they are well aware, as the IPPR report details, that it will take more than one term to clear the backlog in the NHS, the judicial service, educational outcomes and other areas of public service such as the forces border guards and prison officers.
Like David Cameron in 2010, Labor’s rhetoric will be aimed solely at fixing the problems caused by the Tories, with only a modest range of expensive offers to attract voters in areas from childcare to housebuilding .
The problem lies in whether voters will have realistic expectations of how quickly the UK’s difficulties can be resolved.
The language currently used by the party is that of “turning the page” on 13 years of poor Conservative governance. We’re not completely starting from scratch, but one party member says we need to give voters the impression that the Conservatives have razed public services and that rebuilding will be a slow process. The Labor Party will also have to make it clear that the transformation will be attempted on a tight budget.
The great Labor thinkers know that the party will have to innovate and not hesitate to reform, and probably also invest substantial sums if we want public services to return to an adequate state, in line with the demands of voters.
Some of IPPR’s ideas for rebuilding public services are likely to be controversial, the most striking being the proposal to adopt artificial intelligence to save billions of pounds and retrain those whose jobs are rendered useless as a result. This would likely prove difficult for many in the labor movement and some in the party to bear. Other ideas include shifting public spending from hospitals to prevention and community care.
Such proposals are unlikely to win big votes, but the goal is a reformed public sector that performs well over the long term. Some would say any over-promising would only become a problem for Labor as it fights for a second term, but other Labor strategists say the party needs to start by making credible promises and maintaining its reputation.
The balancing act for Labor sets a tone of hope and confidence, as well as the promise of enough change to entice voters to give them a chance – without presenting themselves as miracle workers.