Why Keir Starmer needs to rethink his praise of Margaret Thatcher

The Labour leader’s controversial remark

Keir Starmer, the leader of the Labour Party, has sparked a backlash after he quoted and praised Margaret Thatcher in a speech on crime. He said that the former Conservative prime minister was “right” about the rule of law being the “first duty of government”. He made this remark while launching Labour’s second national mission, which aims to make the streets safer and stop criminals from escaping punishment.

Many people, especially in Scotland, were outraged by Starmer’s endorsement of Thatcher, who is widely seen as a divisive and destructive figure. Thatcher’s policies of privatisation, deregulation, union-busting and austerity had devastating effects on many communities, especially in the industrial and mining areas. She also opposed devolution and ignored the democratic will of the Scottish people.

Mhairi Black, the SNP’s deputy leader at Westminster, said that Starmer’s comment showed that his Labour Party had “lurched to the right” and was “now little more than a pound-shop Tory tribute act”. She said that people in Scotland would be appalled by Starmer’s admiration of Thatcher, who left “lasting scars” on their communities. She also accused Starmer of denying Scotland’s democracy, ruling out any return to the EU, backing Tory cuts to public sector pay and benefits, attacking migration, and signalling greater privatisation of the NHS.

The context and implications of Starmer’s speech

Starmer’s speech was part of his attempt to rebrand Labour as the “party of law and order” and to appeal to the voters who deserted the party in the 2019 general election. He claimed that the Conservatives had failed to protect the public from crime and violence, and that Labour had a better plan to restore confidence in the police and the criminal justice system. He pledged to halve knife crime, reduce violence against women and girls, reverse the collapse in the proportion of crimes solved, and modernise the misconduct and vetting procedures for police officers.

Why Keir Starmer needs to rethink his praise of Margaret Thatcher

However, Starmer’s speech also revealed some of the contradictions and challenges that he faces as the leader of a party that is divided and struggling to define its identity and vision. By invoking Thatcher, he alienated many of his traditional supporters and core voters, who still remember and resent the harm that she inflicted on them. He also risked being seen as out of touch and insensitive to the current social and economic realities, as well as the historical and cultural differences, of the various regions and nations of the UK.

Moreover, Starmer’s speech failed to address some of the deeper and broader issues that affect crime and justice, such as poverty, inequality, racism, sexism, and corruption. He did not offer any radical or transformative solutions, but rather repeated some of the conventional and conservative rhetoric and policies that have been proven to be ineffective or counterproductive. He did not challenge the underlying causes and structures of violence and oppression, but rather reinforced them by endorsing the authoritarian and neoliberal legacy of Thatcher.

The alternative and progressive approach to crime and justice

Starmer’s speech on crime and justice was a missed opportunity for him to present a different and progressive approach that would distinguish Labour from the Tories and win back the trust and support of the people. Instead of praising Thatcher, he should have criticised her and her successors for creating and exacerbating the social and economic problems that fuel crime and violence. Instead of focusing on punishment and repression, he should have emphasised prevention and rehabilitation. Instead of relying on the rule of law, he should have advocated for the rule of democracy and human rights.

A truly alternative and progressive approach to crime and justice would recognise that crime is not a natural or inevitable phenomenon, but a product of the unequal and unjust society that we live in. It would acknowledge that the police and the courts are not neutral or impartial institutions, but instruments of power and privilege that often discriminate and oppress the most vulnerable and marginalised groups. It would propose that the best way to reduce crime and violence is to address the root causes and effects of poverty, inequality, racism, sexism, and corruption, and to empower the people and communities who are most affected by them.

Such an approach would also involve a radical and democratic reform of the police and the criminal justice system, to make them more accountable, transparent, and responsive to the needs and rights of the people. It would demand that the police respect and protect the human rights and dignity of all people, especially those who are often criminalised and victimised by them. It would support the development and expansion of alternative and community-based methods of resolving conflicts and restoring justice, such as mediation, restorative justice, and transformative justice. It would also promote a culture of peace and solidarity, rather than fear and division, among the people.

By Ishan Crawford

Prior to the position, Ishan was senior vice president, strategy & development for Cumbernauld-media Company since April 2013. He joined the Company in 2004 and has served in several corporate developments, business development and strategic planning roles for three chief executives. During that time, he helped transform the Company from a traditional U.S. media conglomerate into a global digital subscription service, unified by the journalism and brand of Cumbernauld-media.

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