Keely Starmer is shadow Brexit secretary for the Labour Party. He previously headed the Leave campaign in the EU referendum.
Last week Jeremy Corbyn said he would use the first PMQs of the new parliament, on Monday, to say “there should be a new relationship.”
That’s a remarkable acknowledgement by the Labour leader. The natural route from the Tories’ Brexiteers’ obsession with bowing and scraping out of the single market and customs union to the second referendum option championed by some members of Labour, such as Keir Starmer, is the general election.
I would recommend him to reconsider.
But first – and I think this is useful context – we are in an election year. We have the biggest budget deficit in 40 years, hundreds of thousands of job losses in the recent slowdown, and confidence in the economy at its lowest level for nine years.
Against that backdrop, with opinion polls showing the public narrowly supporting Theresa May’s plans for Britain’s post-Brexit future, the politics is very different.
It would probably be wiser to encourage the Tories to start in a sensible direction. They could start by focusing on how they could leverage what is a healthy economy in order to help people. We could look for joint ideas with the Tories to assist on tackling some of the root causes of social divisions – including the huge and growing long-term deficit in Britain’s infrastructure that has such a negative impact on labour productivity.
Given the current atmosphere of entrenched hostility towards Prime Minister May, I do not imagine Labour will have much clout with the Tories to threaten them with a general election in the very near future. That’s not our aim and perhaps that is a mistake, but I think it’s better to demand more pragmatic steps from the Tories. They could start by presenting economic ideas that are genuinely affordable.
If they did, and MPs within their own party, including Mr Starmer, did not have a different narrative, then I could see Labour MPs supporting an election.
It might end up being a better compromise for us politically: more of Boris Johnson’s praise, particularly for the UK’s post-independence cultural success and our links with European countries, and less of Mr Starmer repeating his obvious challenge to the Prime Minister.
Moderation, reality, indulgence, and a little more niceness and decorum in this house are more politically effective for the Labour party now than government-threatening recriminations.