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May 17th 2024

Five missions, six first steps, seven… dwarfs? This week Keir Starmer added ballast to his election proposition by outlining how he and his government will begin work to deliver a richer, fairer, less broken Britain. Surrounded by members of his Shadow Cabinet and emblematic endorsers (including some clients of Lodestone!), the Labour Leader was seeking to distil the intent of his five missions into specific policy deliverables.


It’s an old trick, and a good one. What happens at the end of long, fractious governments is that voters grow cynical about the capacity of politics to deliver for them. They’ve had too many promises broken, they’ve seen the downsides of the ones that have been kept. And so whilst the electorate may have made up its mind not to trust the last lot again they are suspicious about the attempts of the maybe next lot to seduce them. But boiling down grand themes (a better NHS) into specific, tangible things (reduced waiting lists) demonstrates a level of seriousness and accountability that makes it easier to trust, or at least to hope. Labour wants to show how it will get to work and how you will be able to test its success.

That’s the theory, how about the practice? Well, truth be told Labour needs to do better at the detail. If the point is to offer specifics - so that voters at the very least know what they can judge you by in five years’ time – then the ‘six first steps’ are a very mixed bag indeed. Recruit an extra 6,500 teachers? Good, precise, clear and straightforward to assess at the end of a term. “Sticking to tough spending rules in order to deliver economic stability” and “setting up Great British Energy, a publicly owned clean power energy company”… less so, to be honest.

The problem Starmer has is that his ‘first steps’ are too close to his ‘missions’ and so the objective - clarity - gets lost in the delivery. We would not bet the house against these steps being refined over time to become more specific and to trip slightly better off the tongue.

Why were they launched this week? The answer is, as much as anything, why not? Labour has been convinced that an election is imminent for months. They have done a lot of work. There is a manifesto in a safe somewhere. They are almost there in selecting candidates for the seats they must hold or win (give or take a few that are being kept warm for a favoured red prince or princess when the time comes). But Rishi hasn’t called an election and it looks like he won’t do so until the autumn. And goodness knows there’s not a lot going on in the Commons. So Labour has a lot of time and airwaves to fill, and with a poll lead like that it also faces a great many questions about what a Labour Government will look like and do. And so why not have a big do in Essex and launch your six first steps? And why not launch six more in a month’s time? Because Labour have it about as easy at the moment as any opposition in living memory. And no amount of Jeremy Hunt promising tax handouts at some indeterminate point in the future is going to significantly change that.

But it’s not all bad news for the Conservative Party, this year’s Sunday Times Rich List brings the welcome news that the Sunak family fortune grew by £120 million this year. Which is nice. One wonders for how much longer Mrs. Sunak will be prepared to look on as her husband suffers the consequences of the poisoned apple gifted to him by his party. Surely, she must be thinking, time to let Sleepy, Dozey or Sneezy have a go? This being the Conservative front bench, of course, there isn’t a Bashful available.