Private Eye: Starmer Appoints Pro-Tory Supporter of Middle Class as Head of Strategy

This fortnight’s edition of Private Eye for 23rd July to 5th August 2021 has a very ominous piece, ‘Keir Review’, reporting that Blair Stalin, I mean, Keir Starmer, has appointed Deborah Mattinson as his new head of strategy. The satirical magazine reports that when she previously held such a post advising a Labour leader six years ago, she wanted him to hold a review into the party’s economic performance, headed by a Tory, and to go after middle class swing voters. In other words, it was more Blairism after Blairism had failed with the election of David Cameron instead of Blair’s chancellor and successor, Gordon Brown. The article reads

Deborah Mattinson, Keir Starmer’s new director of strategy at Labour, has the job of relaunching his ailing leadership. The last time Mattinson advised a Labour leader in 2015, offers some clues of what’s to come: back then she wanted the party to have a review of its economic performance that would be “headed by a Tory”, and to start focusing more on the middle class.

Mattinson is a “public opinion” specialist who has worked for the party on and off since the New Labour years. She and her company, Britain Thinks, specialise in focus groups: the company has lucrative contracts with the Home Office and does opinion research for McDonald’s, Capita and Virgin Money. She will be stepping aside from her role there to work for Labour.

Starmer’s appointment of Mattinson is part of his attempt to rejuvenate his leadership with what is briefed as an undefined but “bold” new direction. Her previous political prescriptions were certainly bold, but were not popular with the party.

After Labour lost the 2015 election and Ed Miliband resigned, Britain Thinks produced a report for acting leader Harriet Harman called Emerging from the Darkness, advising how the party could recover from the defeat. The private report, which was leaked to ITV News, advised Harman to pull sharply to the right after the failure of Miliband’s modest move left.

One piece of advice was to commission an independent review of Labour’s economic performance in government “ideally headed by a Tory” – which Labour would publish because the party had to start “atoning for the past”. Mattinson also advised that Labour needed to “be for middle-class voters, not just down and outs.”

The report was based on conversations with focus groups of swing voters, relying on their opinion to form policy rather than just test potential messages. Harman did appear to follow the report’s logic, instructing Labour MPs not to oppose the government’s welfare bill or limiting child tax credit to just two children – decisions that were deeply unpopular in the party.

MPs, members and voters await the new direction the focus group guru will take Labour in now.

Basically, it’s going to be more Blairism: a return to neoliberal policies, the use of focus groups to test the popularity of policies, a concentration on the middle class to the neglect of Labour’s traditional base in the working class and absolute determination not to oppose Tory policies but to copy them. And her contempt for the working class is shown very clearly in the reference to ‘down and outs’. It comes after the massive success of Jeremy Corbyn in winning back Labour members and the popularity of his traditional Labour policies – a mixed economy, strong welfare state, renationalised NHS, powerful trade unions and strengthened workers’ rights – showed how bankrupt Blairism was. Under Blair, the party had been haemorrhaging members and the number of people who actually voted for it was lower than under Corbyn. Blair beat the Tories only because they were actually less popular than he was.

But all this has changed. It ain’t 1997 and these policies won’t work against a revived Tory party. Quite apart from the fact that they’re noxious policies that run directly counter to the Labour party’s whole raison d’etre. It was set up to defend and fight for working people, not abandon them and side with the employers and landlords who exploit them. But Starmer clearly hasn’t learned this lesson. Either he’s stupid and fanatical, pushing a set of policies long after they’ve been proved to be wrong and disastrous, or he’s deliberately trying to destroy the party. Either way, there’s a simple way to revive the Labour party:

Get the noxious Tory cuckoo out!


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5 Responses to “Private Eye: Starmer Appoints Pro-Tory Supporter of Middle Class as Head of Strategy”

  1. Brian Burden Says:

    Takes me back to the 1he 1950s when Labour Leader Hugh Gaitskell, an Oxford don, announced that to win elections, Labour had to lose its “cloth cap image”. At that time Britain had a far larger industrial base than it does today and a lot of citizens did indeed wear cloth caps. Gaitskell effectively kept Labour out of office till his death led to Harold Wilson’s leadership and victory in the first general election Harold fought as leader.

    • beastrabban Says:

      Thanks for that, Brian. I’d heard that Gaitskell had tried to get Clause IV removed, and his comments about cloth caps sheds a lot of light on the problems Labour had winning back the working class in this period. I’ve seen a book in one of the secondhand bookshops that attacked Labour for being too middle class and excluding working class people. I think it dated from the 60s/70s and so the problems with Blairism were beginning then.

      • Brian Burden Says:

        Back in those days, the (pre-)Blairites called themselves Social Democrats and would often introduce themselves as “We Social Democrats…”, suggestive of a religious sect – the Wee Social Democrats! When dangerous leftie Michael Foot became leader, the SDs split away and formed their own party, effectively barring Labour from victory until the advent of Blair.

      • beastrabban Says:

        I remember the SDP split from Labour, the so-called ‘Gang of Four’. According to Lobster they did some nasty politicking. They all voted for Foot in order to make Labour unelectable.

      • Brian Burden Says:

        Nasty politicking certainly, but you need to check your sources on voting for Foot. I thought the main dynamic for the GOF came from Mandelson, outraged that Foot hadn’t given him a plum job in his shadow cabinet. I don’t think Roy or Shirley wanted Labour to be unelectable. As for David Owen, Denis Healey summed him up as “a shit”!

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