NORMAN LAMONT: When Keir said he'd focus on wealth creation, I laughed (2024)

This is the politician’s prayer: ‘Lord, give us the wisdom to utter words that are gentle and tender, for tomorrow we may have to eat them.'

When U.S. congressman Morris Udall coined that witty line, he might have imagined swallowing the odd contradiction or two. But all through this election campaign, Sir Keir Starmer has dined on nothing but his own words.

Everyone who follows politics will understand that party leaders sometimes get caught in situations where they have to reverse their opinions, because of overwhelming circ*mstances.

But that is not what Starmer is doing. He seems to be shifting his opinion on every single issue, from his support for Jeremy Corbyn to his definition of ‘what a woman is’.

The result is that none of us really knows what he thinks about anything. He appears willing to swallow any statement he ever made, and justify his vacillations as proof that he and Labour are ‘willing to change’.

In an interview with the Daily Mail’s political editor Jason Groves yesterday, Starmer repeatedly claimed he had ‘ruthlessly changed’ his party. ‘We have campaigned as changed Labour,’ he announced, ‘and we will govern as changed Labour’ — a direct echo of Tony Blair’s statement when he first entered No 10, except that Blair said ‘New Labour’ instead of ‘changed Labour’.

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer, in an interview with the Daily Mail’s political editor Jason Groves (right), claimed the party had 'ruthlessly changed'

‘Change’ is a vacuous promise. It guarantees everything and means nothing. In the mouth of Keir Starmer, it is an empty slogan. No doubt it has been chosen for just that reason, because in the near future he’ll be eating his words yet again.

The country has become so used to Starmer’s flip-flops that most people now take it for granted that he will say whatever is politically most expedient. That lets him get away with the most outrageous statements.

During one of the televised debates, he declared that he would not wish any of his loved ones to have private healthcare, even if they were ill and the waiting list for treatment was a long one.

That is a chilling thing for anyone to say, and coming from a politician with a reputation for sincerity it would sound utterly inhuman. But no one took him at his word, because we’ve learned not to bother. Starmer once again was simply saying what he thought would go down best with the audience.

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The biggest reversal has been his renunciation of his predecessor as Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn, who has now been expelled from the party. Notoriously, he declared Corbyn was his good friend and would be a great prime minister.

When challenged on this, he later suggested, through a mouthful of his own well-chewed words, that he’d backed Corbyn in 2017 and 2019 so loudly only because he was certain Labour couldn’t win those elections.

What a strange and unconvincing excuse.

If Starmer thinks he can say something which is untrue simply because he expects to lose, perhaps he is also open to the temptation of saying something false because he’s sure he’s going to win.

If he’d really felt Corbyn was a dangerous prospect as prime minister — which he certainly was — Starmer could have copied the example of his front-bench colleagues Rachel Reeves and Yvette Cooper, and declined to serve under him.

But he called himself ‘proud’ to have served as Corbyn’s shadow immigration minister, boasted he had sued the government to increase benefits for asylum seekers, and said he would close detention centres for illegal migrants.

In fact, his opinions about Corbyn have veered in all directions. He recently announced that Corbyn would have made a better PM than Boris Johnson. Starmer claims to have changed Labour. But has he changed himself or just the way he wishes to appear?

The surest indication we have of Starmer’s real political instincts is his stance on nationalisation when he was seeking the leadership of the Labour party in 2020. He was unequivocally in favour of wholesale nationalisation for entire sectors of the economy — energy, rail, water.

This was without question radical Socialist policy — and Starmer has proudly confirmed on plenty of occasions that he considers himself a Socialist. There is no more stark divide between Left and Right than the issue of nationalisation, state control versus free enterprise.

These are matters of profound belief. How can he possibly have sold himself to the Labour party as a disciple of state ownership, then with one bound claim to the electorate that his great passion is ‘wealth creation’? The two are mutually exclusive.

When I heard him say on TV that the whole Labour manifesto was committed to wealth creation, I burst out laughing. Socialism is about the redistribution of wealth, not its creation.

Shadow health spokesman Wes Streeting has admitted that the manifesto is not the sum total of Labour’s ambitions. Starmer adds that further government expenditure and investment can be financed through growth.

Not only is he promising growth by means unknown, but we’re expected to believe that Britain will magically soar to the highest growth rate of any nation in the G7.

As a former Chancellor of the Exchequer, I know full well that growth cannot be created by wishing. Any politician who claims to know what the precise future rate of economic expansion will be, or who pretends to be sure it will surpass that of any competing nation, is simply living in cloud cuckoo land.

Former Chancellor Norman Lamont says of Starmer (pictured with his Shadow Chancellor Rachel Reeves): 'How can he possibly have sold himself to the Labour Party as a disciple of state ownership, then with one bound claim that his great passion is "wealth creation"?'

But the naivety of business people who ought to know much better can be astonishing. The investor John Caudwell has done the rounds on television explaining his reasons for switching to Labour: he cites its promises of growth, as if that can be conjured out of the air.

Government interference, red tape, French-style trade union laws, regulation and more diversity targets are the enemies of growth.

Unnecessary government intervention usually stifles the economy, even in boom years. Labour’s plan for growth consists of the creation of a ‘national wealth fund’ which is going to, as they put it, ‘co-operate’ with the private sector.

In reality, that almost certainly means investment in a lot of white elephants.

We are also promised something called the ‘Great British Energy Company’, which will invest in renewable energy. This is to be financed at one fifth of the original cost estimated by Labour.

There may be a need for that if Labour shuts down North Sea oil and gas fields, and attempts to decarbonise the electricity grid by 2030, which is widely regarded as impractical and will impose costs of billions of pounds on business.

But the UK’s private sector already leads the world in renewable energy. There’s no evidence at all that a state body could add extra value.

A huge amount of this campaign has concentrated on the Conservatives, perhaps because their campaign has had a lot of mishaps.

Labour and Starmer have escaped proper scrutiny. As a result they deserve to have a credibility problem.

Labour fundamentally does not understand where growth or wealth creation comes from. Growth happens when it is allowed to happen — when government sets the right conditions to create prosperity and jobs — not as a result of burgeoning layers of bureaucracy. Whatever Keir Starmer might say.

Lord Lamont of Lerwick was Chancellor of the Exchequer from 1990 to 1993.

NORMAN LAMONT: When Keir said he'd focus on wealth creation, I laughed (2024)
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