This week in British Politics #4: A guide through the headlines (Monday 20 Feb to Friday 24 Feb)

This week seems to have thrown up similar topics of conversation to last; the SNP’s leadership, and Keir Starmer, among other things. The Labour leader, after ruling out Corbyn’s return to the Parliamentary Labour Party last week, is forging on with presenting his vision for the country. SNP leadership candidates – Kate Forbes, Humza Yousaf, and Ash Regan – are forging on with their own visions, for Scotland. In both cases, Starmer and the SNP’s candidates’, their words and actions are not going uncriticised by opponents.

At the start of the week, Kate Forbes got in some hot water after comments she made regarding gay marriage. She said that she wouldn’t have voted in favour of legalising gay marriage, which was voted through in 2014 in Scotland. This stems from her Christian faith, and she has also taken socially conservative views on abortion (she “couldn’t conceive” of having one) and sex outside marriage. She has notably taken an opposing view to Sturgeon on the Gender Recognition Reform Bill – this week, she said that she “didn’t support self-id” and couldn’t vote for the GRR bill in its current form. Several of her backers have dropped their support (such as Clare Haughey MSP) for her, and she was publicly criticised on twitter by Mhairi Black on friday, who is the SNP’s deputy leader at Westminster and who married her wife last year – Black said she’s been “especially hurt so far” in the leadership contest because of the views expressed by Forbes. She added that the idea that Forbes was being persecuted and abused for her views which was suggested by SNP MP Joanna Cherry (rather than just being held to account), was “utterly fanciful at best and a dangerous conspiracy theory at worst”.

Regarding Forbes’ main rival, Yousaf has come under fire recently for the state of the NHS in Scotland, which comes under his responsibility as Health Secretary, and also for his own views of gay marriage after criticisms of his missing of a vote on equal marriage in 2014 – including criticism from Labour’s Shadow Health Secretary, Wes Streeting.

Now, on to Keir Starmer. The Labour leader, in a speech on Thursday in Manchester, laid out the Labour Party’s five ‘missions’ for government, the basis upon which Labour will write their manifesto for the next general election. These five missions were: delivering the highest sustained growth in the G7 group, breaking down the barriers to opportunity at every stage, turning Britain into a ‘clean energy superpower’, making Britain’s street’s safe, and building an NHS fit for the future. Though these pledges were vague, Starmer said that they will be fleshed out over the coming months, starting next week with a speech on the economy, and he aims to have a more complete platform before contesting local elections in May.

The main two criticisms that Starmer has faced are vagueness and dishonesty. The first – these missions amount to little more than baseless slogans and are meaningless, which plays into earlier criticisms of Starmer as lacking in depth of policy. However, I think we ought to wait for these to be fleshed out, as Labour claim they will be, before we make this judgement. The second criticism is that these pledges seem quite removed from Starmer’s previous 10 pledges that he pitched to Labour members in his leadership campaign. Namely, there is little mention in these missions of taxing the wealthy, which ought to be a necessary step to have the finance to pursue the missions themselves, and common ownership, another key one of Starmer’s 10 pledges not mentioned here. There’s also the question of whether outstripping the other G7 nations in growth is realistic; this seems to be a bold promise that may come back to haunt the Labour Party later if they do win power but can’t deliver this growth.

In terms of seemingly changing his values, Starmer explained it as such; to be able to implement anything, whatever the policies, first you must win power. And so he believes that this platform is more suited to winning power than the one he pitched to Labour members in early 2020. On top of this, he claimed that the vast majority of Labour members were 100% behind what he is doing.

In other news, Sir Bernard Ingham, formerly press secretary to Margaret Thatcher and also a reporter for the Yorkshire post for almost a decade, has passed away at the age of 90.

Today, Friday 24 February, marks the one-year anniversary of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Finally, on Monday it is possible that Rishi Sunak will present a new deal on the Northern Ireland Protocol; stay tuned for that.  

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