Voices: Keir Starmer has forced me to do something unthinkable with my vote

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Faced with this year’s local elections, I feel lost (EPA)
Faced with this year’s local elections, I feel lost (EPA)

I’m not someone who would usually consider wasting their vote. I grew up understanding the importance of casting my ballot in elections, and was taken to polling stations in slightly smelly church halls by my parents when I only came up to their knees. I remember my dad lifting me up in the makeshift booth to look at the paper slip as he marked his cross.

But faced with this year’s local elections, I feel lost. Will I spoil my ballot? Will I chuck the Greens a vote? Who knows.

With the ongoing Partygate scandal, allegations of harassment and bullying in Westminster, sleaze, dodgy PPE contracts awarded to mates and the government’s lacklustre – to put it incredibly mildly – response to the cost of living crisis, this election is a referendum on Boris Johnson and the Tories.

Conservative MPs, the only people with the power to get rid of Johnson, will find out whether their leader, now widely considered to be a liar, is more of an electoral liability than an asset.

The local elections are also a test for Labour under Keir Starmer, and it is here that my voting pencil falters.

When I was able to vote for the first time in 2010, I eschewed Labour for the Lib Dems in the aftermath of the Iraq war. The Lib Dems formed a coalition government with the Tories and reneged on their election promise to abolish tuition fees, tripling them instead. Under the coalition, an austerity programme of brutal cuts trashed the lives and life chances of millions of people. It’s possible that I might have had some political trust issues after that.

I voted for Ed Miliband in 2015, and then for Jeremy Corbyn in two leadership and two general elections. Under Corbyn, the Labour Party had a vision for Britain and I knew exactly what its values were. With Starmer as leader, I genuinely have no idea what the party stands for.

As we face a spiralling cost of living crisis, and the Tories attack our right to protest and criminalise refugees seeking safety, political values are perhaps more important than ever.

Starmer was elected Labour leader by party members on a platform of party unity and continuing the policy agenda of his predecessor, Jeremy Corbyn. His 10 pledges, building on the Corbyn project, were useful in garnering member votes, but he was quick to discard them. As Aaron Bastani writes, Starmer’s dishonesty is of a different breed to Boris Johnson’s ridiculous, barefaced sort – but it is dishonesty nonetheless.

Over the past two years of Starmer’s leadership, he has proved himself far better at attacking his own party and sacrificing the support of left-wingers and people of colour (including members, staff and MPs) than holding the increasingly shambolic and scandal-ridden Tories to account. Starmer hasn’t had the media vitriol that showered his predecessor to contend with. Brexit’s obviously a massive mess. Fixed penalty notices are flying all over the place. This should be a cakewalk (sorry!) for Labour.

Unfortunately, Labour feels like a party that has lost its way. The failure to back an open door policy for Ukrainian refugees was a particularly disappointing example of this. As was Starmer’s professed disagreement with Amnesty International’s analysis that the state of Israel’s treatment of the Palestinian people amounts to apartheid.

The hope and energy that surrounded Labour with Corbyn as leader has evaporated, members have left Labour in droves and the party has undeniably shifted to the right.

Starmer has gone to great lengths to distance himself from his predecessor, and Corbyn’s common sense policies for tackling inequality and building a fairer Britain that doesn’t operate in the interests of the privileged few have been kicked into the long grass.

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One of the reasons for voter apathy in the UK may well be the poor opinion many people have of politicians – they can’t be trusted and “they’re all the same”. Keir Starmer isn’t doing much to counteract that narrative. Maybe I’m expecting too much from our political class, but leaders who will say anything depending on which way the wind is blowing and rip up their pledges as soon as they get their hands on power don’t get my vote.

With the Tories in such obvious disarray, one might expect Starmer’s approval ratings to be higher than 27 per cent, as of early April. Perhaps this is a product of the disdain with which left-wing voters have been treated, or the lack of a coherent vision – aside from transparent flag-waving strategies to win back people in red-wall seats, as though northern voters are easily swayed by a few union jacks and MPs in nicer suits.

If people want the Tories, they’ll vote for them. Labour as a Tory-lite B team with a different colour palette doesn’t promise transformative governance with a commitment to economic, social and climate justice at its heart.

Do I want the Tories to do well tomorrow? Absolutely not. But I don’t trust Starmer and I can’t reward Labour under his leadership.

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