When Geri Halliwell stepped onto the stage at the 1997 Brit Awards in the now legendary Union Jack dress, she symbolised a sense of patriotism during the Cool Britannia period. Her celebration of all things British went down in history. However, the Labour Party’s similar aim of embracing the flag will certainly not have the same effect on the British public.
The leaked strategy report on Keir Starmer’s vision for Labour, compiled by an external consultancy firm, has been heavily admonished in the media. A Morning Star article featuring Labour left figures criticised the party’s new direction as “flag-waving gimmicks”. Meanwhile, the Guardian’s analysis was that a re-branding would alienate Labour’s core voters and the only ones the leadership can ultimately rely on.
Starmer should know that the party, and the world, has changed considerably since Corbyn took office. With income inequality on the rise, a climate disaster ravaging our planet, a culture war propped up by the right and a pandemic causing turmoil to the economy, hugging the Union Jack will not solve these widespread issues. Starmer must lean into the more successful aspects of the previous leadership and acknowledge it as a positive force for change. New Labour’s patriot act under Tony Blair won elections, but failed dismally without an inspiring movement behind it.
The real litmus test for Labour is how they will regain their broad coalition of voters. With no headway in policy, just focusing on image and reputation will be insufficient in gaining traction in seats that were once stronghold territory. The former Labour voters of the North and Midlands yearn for thriving communities with jobs, infrastructure, and a vibrant local economy at the forefront. Instead, they are being targeted as a homogenous group solely attached to defending the troops, the monarchy and Brexit. The latter issues, driven by the right’s war on culture, is now being pontificated by Starmer and his acolytes. There is no shame in being patriotic and passionately remembering those who fought for our country, but the lack of policy and unclear alternative to the Tories will be Starmer’s downfall.
Whilst Johnson and his Cabinet rollout a mass vaccination programme all through state means, Starmer embraces a nativist image. Claiming the Union Jack as Labour’s is an insult to the devolved nations that make up the union and who are desperately seeking further independence. Not only that, Starmer’s past record as a human rights lawyer for environmentalists and trade unionists is in stark contrast to his push to pander to the Tory narrative.
The strategy of levelling up the economy in northern parts of the country has been relentlessly advertised by Johnson’s government. Unsurprisingly, no adequate plan has been put in motion so Labour should take the reins with an effective initiative. Sadly, Starmer has yet to do so and a poll to suggest his leadership is failing to galvanise those disgruntled voters should be the boost he needs to come up with a prosperous plan. The government’s consistent claim to represent those in the northern quarters is keeping the prime minister’s newfound voter base at bay.
To win back those “foundation seats” that Starmer is allegedly so desperate to do, he must tap into the similar exasperation in the party’s current seats compared to its former. This means promoting a unionised workforce, a deservedly funded NHS and a renationalisation programme of utilities fit for all.
Unlike Spice Girl Halliwell’s world-renowned moment of Union Jack spirit, Labour’s bizarre attempt to do the same would recoil those who slander the party as fake and scrambling for votes. The back of Halliwell’s dress is more attuned to Labour’s modern values and ideals, featuring a logo used by the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament. Starmer must use his flag-bearing remarks, like Halliwell’s iconic moment, to bridge a divide and not let Labour be trampled on by the Tories for another 11 years. This means talking to and inspiring all voters, “foundation seats” and beyond.