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Former Labour Leader Fears Party Has Lacked “Savvy” With Handling Of Crises

Neil Kinnock speaking in 2016 (Alamy)

2 min read

Former Labour leader Lord Neil Kinnock has said the party’s leadership has sometimes lacked political “savvy” with its handling of recent crises, including its green spending pledge and the Rochdale by-election.

Kinnock was critical of the way the party communicated its decision to scrap its £28bn funding pledge for its Green Prosperity Plan, which last Thursday leader Keir Starmer confirmed the figure was no longer in play. 

“The presentation of the démarche has been absurdly bad, they [Starmer’s team] know that,” he told students at City University, London, on Monday. 

Kinnock said that he had “great respect and huge trust” for his Labour successors, and that Rachel Reeves’ decision last year to adjust the timings of the policy to better meet its fiscal rules was a “common sense” move. “But they didn’t spell it out, they made themselves inadvertently hostages to the £28bn, which was then an easy target for our enemies,” he continued. 

“Any real change in the strategy would [have been] represented as defeat and retreat, so they should [have] qualified things sensibly by saying this is how we’re going to make the £28bn work. I think they might do a little bit more of it now.” 

But while Kinnock was critical of Labour’s messaging, he agreed that the reversal was necessary after successive Conservative governments left the country “nearly bloody bankrupt”.

The Labour grandee, who lost two elections as leader in the ‘80s and ‘90s also commented on the row surrounding comments made by Rochdale by-election candidate Azhar Ali in the wake of the 7 October attacks. Speaking just hours before Labour withdrew its endorsement for Ali on Monday night, Kinnock said the situation was an “absolute bloody gift” to the Conservatives. 

“[There’s] no rationale, no justification, for what [Ali] said, in any circumstances. But he did say it and the party is now, instead of being on the front foot dealing with alienation of Muslim voters, on the back foot,” he said. 

Kinnock remained optimistic about Labour's plans ahead of the next election. “Up until now what we’ve had from the current Labour leadership is loads and loads of strategy, which is fine, and very little savvy, which is a pity, and I think we’re about to see more savvy emerging,” he added. 

On Tuesday Starmer said it was a “huge thing” to have taken decisive action to withdraw support from Ali. 

“It is a tough decision, a necessary decision,” he said during a campaign visit to Wellingborough. “But when I say the Labour Party is changed under my leadership, I mean it.”

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