Sir Keir Starmer’s u-turns are risking Labour’s lead in the polls, but is he simply being honest with the electorate, asks TERRY MURDEN
As delegates gather for the three-day Scottish Labour conference in Glasgow this week party leader Sir Keir Starmer is doing his best to throw away a comfortable lead in the polls by scoring regular own goals. From his praise for Margaret Thatcher to his latest u-turn on a £28bn-a-year commitment to green energy investment, the Prime Minister in waiting risks forfeiting hard fought gains in Scotland.
Energy industry leaders in the north east are particularly incensed by the change of plan. Starmer has insisted he had no choice because the Tories had crashed the economy and made the plan unaffordable. Straws are being well and truly clutched.
He was ridiculed by Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, who said Labour’s plan for government was “in tatters”, and handed the SNP a penalty kick, allowing it to declare itself the party with a meaningful plan and Labour as the party of flip-floppers, lurching from one policy reversal to the next.
More worrying is that £28bn was never going to be enough to achieve the UK’s net zero targets by 2030 and yet Labour still believes it can do it with a revised budget of £4.7bn.
There may yet be some salvation for Starmer with one political analyst not persuaded that the decision will have lasting damage on Labour’s prospects of winning the general election. Getting the issue out of the way now is at least expected to lessen its impact when the campaign gets properly under way.
He can still regain some credibility by arguing that he’s just being honest about fiscal responsibility and the reality of achieving emission targets. Starmer has clearly decided that, climate crisis or not, he will not allow critics to portray Labour as binge borrowers playing fast and loose with public finances.
That’s not to say that he doesn’t have some bridges to rebuild.
Offshore Energies UK, which represents much of the oil and gas – and now renewables – industry wants urgent talks with the Labour leader, particularly as he is now rowing back on commitments he made during face-to-face talks in the north east last year.
Beyond axing the renewables investment, he wants to raise the windfall tax and ban new oil and gas licences that has created alarm at the impact on the region in terms of lost investment and jobs. Renewables were promised in exchange for running down oil and gas, but as things stand, we face the prospect of a new government with the same old muddled thinking.
Terry Murden held senior positions at The Sunday Times, The Scotsman, Scotland on Sunday and The Northern Echo and is now editor of Daily Business