Napoleon Bonaparte once advised aspiring commanders to never interrupt their enemies when making a mistaken. So one can understand why Sir Keir Starmer’s instinct might be to hunker down and leave the Government to its foot-shooting spree.
But the current rail strike has exposed the shortcomings of this approach. Even as the country braces for a ‘summer of discontent’, the Leader of the Opposition is struggling to capitalise.
On a tactical level, it shows that he is still struggling to impose discipline on his party.
Whilst it might have been expected that a hard core of very left-wing MPs would defy orders to join the picket lines – and it might have even provided a flattering contrast with Starmer.
But it is harder to explain at least four members of the shadow front bench doing so.
But the bigger problem, as on other occasions, is that it isn’t exactly obvious what Labour’s alternative is.
At Prime Minister’s Questions today, Starmer pressed Boris Johnson on whether he or Grant Shapps had yet made time to meet with the unions (they had not). So far, so good: Labour would meet them and take a more conciliatory approach.
But what would be the outcome of the meetings? The most obvious way to end the strikes would be to capitulate to the RMT’s pay demands. But as Karl Williams explained on this site this morning, that risks setting in train a whole slew of concessions, with potentially very serious consequences for the public finances.
Yet if Labour’s plan isn’t to fold… what is it? And what is their broader strategy for combating inflation? One can pick plenty of holes with the Government’s theory that it is best staunched by holding down wage, but at least it has a theory.
Until Starmer has an actual, pro-active vision of what a Labour government would mean for the country – not least for the benefit of his own MPs – he is going to be continually on the back foot and at the mercy of events.
Another apocryphal Bonapartism is that he’d rather have lucky generals than skilled ones. In his opponents, at least, the Prime Minister seems to remain a lucky general.
According to the Times, the members of the Opposition payroll who have joined pickets are:
Other Labour MPs the media have reported supporting the strike include: