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Keir Starmer is good now
The Labour Party's welcome embrace of O'Malleyism
Since he was first elected Labour leader, my broad opinion of Keir Starmer has been that he is completely fine. A welcome step up in competence from the previous regime, and given where they were starting from, he is a leader who can pull the Labour Party out of the nosedive and back towards credibility in the minds of the electorate. “He’s Kinnock, not Blair,” was the lazy but probably accurate assumption on my part.
But it turns out I was wrong. Because Keir Starmer is absolutely brilliant and is practically my best friend now.
Announcing details of the plan exclusively to the Observer, the Labour leader says he will double the amount of onshore wind, triple solar and more than quadruple offshore wind power, “re-industrialising” the country to create a zero carbon, self-sufficient electricity system, by the end of this decade.
Starmer says the move – far more ambitious than any green policy advanced by the Tories and the most far-reaching of his leadership so far – would release the British people from the mercy of “dictators” such as Russian president Vladimir Putin over energy bills.
It would also, he says, cut hundreds of pounds off annual household energy bills “for good”, create up to half a million UK jobs, and make this country the first to have a zero-emission power system.
Don’t worry, I’m not unhinged enough to think he has read my Substack2 – but what he’s reportedly going to announce at conference are all the sorts of things that I’ve been banging on about for ages.
Starmerism, it turns out, is basically O’Malleyism. And because of this I feel strangely optimistic for the first time in a while.
That’s right, I’m posting this in a doomed bid to claim that I’m basically the Marx to Starmer’s Lenin. So subscribe now to hear what the Labour Party will probably (not) be announcing next.
A short guide to James O’Malley Thought
If you’ve ever read my Substack posts about climate before, you’ve probably noticed that they have a roughly similar schtick: I think climate change is really, really bad, and mitigating it is really, really important. But – and this is the twist that gets the clicks – the people on the left, on my half of the political spectrum, are approaching it wrongly and are advocating bad ideas.
For example, last year I argued that lefty-activists types need to stop indulging in ideological fantasies about overthrowing capitalism to stop climate change.
I also said that if we want a Net Zero world, we actually have to build it. So the Green Party arguing against building infrastructure like HS2 is insane. I think this piece contains an absolutely key thing that not enough people appreciate: That tackling climate change is NOT the same as conservationism.
Following the same logic, I also wrote about how environmental campaigners should focus their efforts where better outcomes are actually achievable. For example, it is futile and stupid to focus on air travel, when it is easier to reduce emissions from almost everything else that produces emissions.
Then there is the electoral politics angle. Writing about these ideas, I realised that taking the politics of climate change seriously means linking it to a positive, growth-focused agenda, because people aren’t going to vote to make themselves poorer.
And finally, when writing about the energy crisis, I argued that the way to square the circle, and achieve growth and Net Zero is to go big, and aim for an green energy abundance agenda, that would simultaneously reduce the cost of bills, and give us an energy surplus that we can use to make ourselves richer and even further decarbonise.
So as you might imagine, it was a bit of a shock to see an actual politician actually pitch the things that I want. To quote more from The Observer:
The idea at its core is to build a self-sufficient power system run entirely by cheap, homegrown renewables and nuclear, by the end of the decade. This, they argue, would also allow the country to become a major energy exporter.
Unless I’m badly mistaken, it appears that Starmer is advocating almost exactly what I want: A balls-to-the-wall renewable investment in solar, wind and nuclear, to create energy abundance, reduce bills and the cost of living, and stick it to Putin all in one go. It’s strange to unironically praise a politician but if he can deliver this, it will be brilliant.
Can my ideas actually win?
Obviously, I should add about a billion caveats to this positive appraisal. Not least so this doesn’t age incredibly badly if Starmer stands on stage on Tuesday and announces that, by the way, Labour is also going to make building houses harder and cancel HS2.
There are lots of enormous unknowns about what is apparently called the “green prosperity” plan: My optimism is predicated on a few paragraphs the party pre-briefed ahead of conference, and if I was more sensible I’d probably wait for more details to be announced before getting too excited.
For example, perhaps the plan will not survive contact with the party, let alone the electorate. Or perhaps bold ambitions will inevitably fall victim to parochial concerns, with infuriating local candidates finding it politically expedient to oppose solar farms and on-shore windmills because of course they fucking will.
There’s also the actual policy substance. Obviously there are tonnes of second-order questions around what policy mechanisms would actually be used to make the solar farms and nuclear power plants happen, and how to pay for them. Certainly there are some clever people on Twitter who think that a decarbonised grid by 2030 isn’t actually achievable because in infrastructure-time, Starmer’s proposed deadline isn’t really that far away.
But what I like about this agenda is that it is clearly a statement of ambition. That Starmer, and Ed Miliband who apparently masterminded the plan, clearly understand that this is the way3. The details might need to be filled in, but the goal is the right one.
For me though, what I find slightly strange is that assuming Starmer does actually try to push this agenda as a campaigner in opposition and then maybe even as Prime Minister, is that there will be a live, political vessel for the exact things I want.
And this conceivably put me into a similar position to the Corbynites in 2015, or the crazies supporting 'Trussonomics’ right now, in that the ideas I like will be tested in the court of public opinion, and on the battlefield at Westminster4.
I’m particularly conscious that one of the most consistent mistakes people make when talking about politics is assuming that your own preferred policy preferences will be popular and will win elections. And this is what I don’t know about the ideas that undergird ‘green prosperity’. But if Starmer does stick to this agenda, now I’ll get to find out if any of these ideas can actually win.
I just really, really hope I was right all along.
Congratulations, you made it to the end of my attempt to take credit for something I had absolutely nothing to do with. If you enjoyed it, be sure to subscribe to get more blazing hot takes in your inbox on climate, media, politics and other topics too. And don’t forget to share this post and follow me on Twitter, so that when O’Malleyism is discredited in a 1989-style uprising and statues of me are pulled down across the world, you can help me argue that True O’Malleyism has never been tried.
Admittedly I am still trying to persuade him that ska-punk is due a revival.
Though one of the strange things about writing these Substacks, is the number of people with actual important-sounding jobs doing important-sounding things who have read or followed my content. It turns out if you write about ideas on the internet, sometimes people will pay attention, even though I suspect in most cases I’m just flattering the priors of people who already share my opinions.
The correct direction to go happens to be where all of my political opinions are.
I’m particularly curious how it will play out in the meta-battle between the “progressive” parties. The LibDems and the Greens have been incredibly effective recently at weaponising NIMBYism to steal Tory votes, so I wonder if this agenda will force them to either embrace growth to stop Labour stealing votes, or whether this will just entrench them as the parties of not-building-anything as an alternative to Labour’s agenda.