Keir Starmer is terrifyingly close to turning Britain into a one-party state

Labour Party Leader Keir Starmer
Labour Party Leader Keir Starmer

A couple of years ago, Labour MPs voted to outlaw cosmetic fillers and Botox treatment for under-18s. The then shadow minister for secondary care, Justin Madders, said his party backed the ban because it was “intended to safeguard children from the potential risks associated with these procedures”.

That’s right: children. That’s what the law considers you until your 18th birthday. Being a minor, you are not allowed to buy fireworks, serve on a jury, get a tattoo, shop for a bottle of wine, watch porn, open your own bank account, purchase cigarettes, use a sunbed or be tried as an adult. Or, indeed, have toxins injected into your face in pursuit of a creaseless smile.

Labour does not dissent from any of these prohibitions. It imposed several of them itself, and enthusiastically endorses the others. Yet it has the brass neck to claim that 16-year-olds, although too young to do any of these things, should vote on whether the rest of the country can.

Sixteen-year-olds seem more likely to be doing homework at their parents’ home than filling in tax returns, but if Labour gets its way, they will none the less shape our budgets. They are too young to leave education or training, but they will decide on tuition fees. They can’t buy a kitchen knife, but they will have a say on police priorities. They are not allowed mortgages, but they will vote on housing policy.

What grates is not so much Labour’s disingenuousness as the credit it is giving our intelligence. The party clearly wants to enfranchise 16- and 17-year-olds for one reason only, namely that it expects them to vote Labour. While there is limited opinion-poll data for under-18s, a survey towards the end of last year showed that, among 18- to 24-year-olds, Labour led the Conservatives by 69 per cent to 1. Yes, 1 per cent.

But Labour MPs won’t openly say, “We’re doing this because we reckon that children are the single most solid Labour constituency.” Instead, they pose as so many Chartists and Suffragettes, extending rights to the hitherto excluded. Sir Keir Starmer has argued that 16-year-olds “can work” and “serve in your armed forces”, so “ought to be able to vote”.

But this is the purest piffle. Sixteen-year-olds can leave school, but are required to be in training or education. The only way they can “work” full-time is through an apprenticeship. And who made that the law? The last Labour government.

Kids under the age of 18 need parental consent to join the Armed Forces, where they are not allowed to serve in front-line roles. Parental consent because they are, you know, children.

Labour used to add “get married” to its list but, last year, the marriage age was raised to 18 in England and Wales. And what did Labour think of that change?

“The fact that a young person must remain in education until they are 18 but can marry at 16 is bewildering and has no place in the 21st century,” said the then shadow justice minister, Anna McMorrin.

Indeed, Sir Keir himself recently fulminated against the SNP’s gender self-identification rules on grounds that 16 is too young. Even by the standards of political hypocrisy, he is taking shamelessness to a new level.

Be in no doubt about the breadth of Sir Keir Starmer’s ambition. When it comes to economics and public services, he says as little as possible and lets people project their aspirations onto him – which, to hand it to him, has been a brilliantly successful tactic.

But when it comes to constitutional change, he is clear. Possibly he senses that no one cares about the subject. Possibly he wants a mandate. Either way, we see a man who intends to load the institutions of the state in such a way that they list Left long after he has left office.

Changing the franchise is perhaps the most blatant example, but it is far from being the only one. Labour also promises to weaken the recent measures against fraudulent voting – measures it opposed at the time on the ludicrous (if inevitable) grounds that they were a form of racist “voter suppression”.

It will set up new agencies to police MPs and peers – an idea that always polls well, but which means that quangocrats, rather than voters, get to kick people out of Parliament. If you think wokery is out of hand now, wait until parliamentarians are being sanctioned by bureaucrats for saying something deemed offensive.

It wants more devolution – despite its last attempt having led directly to the rise of the SNP. It aims to replace the House of Lords with “an alternative second chamber that is more representative of the regions and nations” (no doubt complete with gender and ethnic quotas).

Starmer has learnt from Tony Blair that the key thing is to switch the settings of the government machine. The most persistent problem the Conservatives have faced since 2010 is the unresponsiveness, often outright truculence, of the bodies that are supposed to carry out the instructions of elected ministers. That phenomenon dates largely from the Blair years.

Civil servants who don’t want to apply Tory policies can point to one or another of the pieces of legislation that supposedly take precedence: the Human Rights Act, the Equality Act, the Climate Change Act. In each of these cases, the statute is accompanied by a bureaucracy that, in the name of ensuring compliance with the law, appears able continually to expand its scope.

Starmer will follow Blair’s approach. Although people claim that his opinions are opaque, he has always been very clear about one thing, namely the precedence of judges (British, European or international) over ministers.

Thus, for example, he wants more power for quangos dealing with racial equality, creating a corpus of laws and policies that are, in practice, immune to the ballot box.

How far Starmer will get with all this depends on the size of his majority. My guess is that, at first, his popularity will hold. Immigration, after all, is falling sharply, driven in no small measure by the changes the present government has made to the system, and for which it has received literally no credit. NHS waiting lists are likewise well down from their peak. So is inflation.

Starmer will use his honeymoon to push through his constitutional changes, starting with votes for minors. He surely understands that, with Britain spending vastly more than it can afford, the mood will eventually turn sour.

This is where the number of Labour MPs will matter. If Starmer’s majority is no more than comfortable, he will soon exhaust the benefit of the doubt. Like every previous Labour government, this one will run out of money. With a functioning Conservative Opposition, we may get a measure of retrenchment, even – however reluctantly – of public-service reform.

But if the current polls are right, Labour’s majority will be larger than any single party has managed before. The Tories will be reduced to the smallest number of seats they have ever had – fewer than in 1906, fewer than in 1832, fewer even than during the long decades of Whig ascendancy in the 18th century.

This extraordinary outcome will come about not because there is a surge in support for Labour – I shouldn’t be surprised if Starmer ends up getting fewer votes than Boris Johnson did in 2019 – but because many Right of centre voters will either stay at home or back Reform, which will at most win two or three seats (the polls currently suggest zero) and I see as the main alternative to Labour in only one constituency – Lee Anderson’s Ashfield.

Anger at a four-term government, plus a quirk of our voting system, is likely to land us with the closest thing to one-party rule we have ever known. That party has already signalled that it will alter the rules to keep itself in office. And we don’t seem to care.