“The Lady’s not for turning…” if you remember that famous quote from one of Margaret Thatcher’s Conference speeches. It made her seem a Lady of Iron – a name she well deserved after the Falklands, Miners’ Strike, and so much else that the great lady did to save Britain from being the “sick man of Europe” which the Labour Party had left us (as usual).
I admire her steely determination; but I have never quite understood why people are so dismissive when lesser politicians change their minds. “A screeching U-Turn; what a flip-flopper; can’t he/she make their mind up; they say one thing and do something quite different.” You know the kind of criticism I mean which is so beloved of tabloid front page headlines. Surely listening to people, weighing up the facts and the arguments; and just occasionally being ready to admit that you are wrong ought to be a merit, albeit one which few of us can boast.
So well done, Keir Starmer. When this week he dropped his commitment to £28 Billion a year on the ‘green economy’, he was just repeating the flip-floppy change of mind he has now demonstrated on virtually every former ‘firm commitment’. You will remember that he promised to nationalise rail, mail, energy and water (ditched); he promised to remove the private sector from the NHS (ditched); he promised to support Trades Unions and strikes; he wanted a second Referendum on Brexit; he was going to abolish Universal Credit; he was Jeremy Corbyn’s ‘best friend’ ; he was going to scrap University Tuition Fees (he should have taken a lesson from the Lib Dems over that one); he was going to guarantee free childcare until the end of primary school; he promised to “increase income tax on the top 5 percent of earners;” he was going to abolish the House of Lords; raise taxes on Amazon and Facebook; he was all in favour of Ultra Low Emission Zones ; he described the cap on two-child benefits as “heinous, inhumane and obscene” (but now he is “not changing that policy.”); he was committed to a wealth tax targeting shares and buy-to- lets; he promised to end charitable status for private schools (thereby increasing fees by 20%); he was committed to a ‘Right to Roam’ in our countryside; he was all in favour of giving the Commons a vote on going to war (but now he agrees with me on the matter); he opposed the sale of arms to Saudi Arabia, (which has now become a ‘review’); he joined the chorus of opposition which met the government’s decision to remove the cap on bonuses earned by city-slickers. All of these things- the very platform on which he stood as leader - have now been ditched. The trouble is that there is precious little remaining.
So I do support a readiness to listen and change one’s mind. But when it amounts to a wholesale cancellation of every single thing you have ever believed in; when it’s a matter of scrubbing every known Labour Policy and belief; when it becomes a matter of misleading the electorate in a cheap pursuit of votes and popularity; then that freedom of thought and direction has gone too far.
Labour joins the Lib Dems on the political shelf reserved for those who stand for nothing. When we get to the General Election, the voter has a right to a list of promises – the Manifesto- which they can reasonably hope to be fulfilled. Labour’s record in Opposition should not fill you with any such hope.