The right should fear Rachel Reeves more than Keir Starmer

In one of the most famous psychological experiments of the past thirty years, researchers Christopher Chabris and Daniel Simons of Harvard University asked a group of young people, three in black T-shirts and three in white, to pass a basketball around in a small space.

Viewers of the subsequent video were told to silently count the number of steps in their heads. What more than half of them missed, it seemed almost incomprehensible, was the person in a gorilla suit walking through the passing game, looking at the camera, slapping his hands on his chest and walking out of frame.

The Invisible Gorilla experiment was an example of the phenomenon of ‘selective attention’. The audience is so busy focusing on one thing that they completely miss another important thing happening right in front of them.
For the purposes of this pageant, the person in the gorilla suit is Rachel Reeves. If you really want to know what’s happening in the game, watch her every move.

After fourteen years of Labor opposition, polls suggest the party will be almost assured of victory on election day. Sir Keir Starmer becomes Prime Minister and Reeves the first female Chancellor of Great Britain. The first 20 pages of the Labor manifesto, published last week, depicted only one person who was not the Labor leader. It was Rachel Reeves.

Despite her struggle to maintain some form of unity on how best to combat the coming Labor tide (from “they have no plan” to “they have a socialist plan” to “they have a secret plan”), at least one striking point. Starmer has a problem with consistency and the voters know it. A senior Labor figure I spoke to last week said fears of tax rises were real among the public and business leaders – who also believe that a confetti of policy proposals will be thrown up and scrapped with alarming regularity after July 4.

The attack has legs precisely because Starmer’s political history is his greatest weakness – Mr Flip Flop. He now says he did not believe Jeremy Corbyn would win in 2019, despite his wholehearted support for exactly that outcome at the time. Such an answer stretches credulity.

On Europe, Labor has pledged that Britain will ‘remain outside the EU’, including the customs union and the single market, cutting off any return to free movement. This promise comes from the former shadow Brexit secretary, who passionately supported a second referendum.

He has promised to “reduce net migration” but would not say by how much.

And in his more foggy romantic moments he calls himself a socialist. It is not absolutely clear why, given that Starmer does not advocate workers, through the state, taking ownership of the means of producing and distributing goods and services.

When the going gets tough, Starmer tends towards slackness – reversing the £28bn green policy pledge, another example where delay was a sign of indecision at the top. The right smells weakness, and the fairer voices within Labor know this to be true.

Step forward Reeves – a woman who is extremely sharp and with a degree of consistency that the Member for Holborn and St. Pancras lacks. For those worried that Starmageddon is in the offing, Reeves should calm a few eyebrows.

She declined to serve under Corbyn, preferring to spend several fruitful years as chair of the Business Select Committee. She was a very reluctant supporter of a second referendum, representing the Leave voting seat of Leeds West, rather than a Remain voting seat in North London. She has studiously avoided the label ‘socialist’.

If it is successful at the election, Labour’s economic growth plan is hers and will either succeed or fail under her leadership. In a country desperate for some form of change, Reeves believes in an industrial strategy and an active state, ‘Yes, In My Backyard’ home and infrastructure building and closer trade relations with the EU.

She will test Ronald Reagan’s claim that the nine most dangerous words in the English language are: “I’m from the government and I’m here to help.” The public sector tends towards bureaucracy and inefficiency and the ministers towards infighting and ego. The Shadow Chancellor is betting she can reverse these trends.

If her plan for economic growth works (and that’s an if in capital letters), then everything else will follow. More money for public services, reform of the NHS and social care, defence, tax cuts.

It is a high stakes game. Every month, Reeves waits with nervous anticipation for the latest growth figures from The Office for National Statistics. Stay anemic, and they’ll be a millstone around her neck. If there is a revival, it will show a route to prosperity that millions of people have had enough to wait for. The GDP figures will be the Chancellor’s ruthless judge and jury.

Reeves has to believe she will be successful. If the economy grows, it may be worth betting on tax thresholds being lifted – a way to undermine the Institute for Fiscal Studies’ substantive argument that £11 billion in tax increases are on the horizon under Labor as the Conservatives are frozen. thresholds and surcharges, meaning that more and more people have to pay higher rates.

When I spoke to her last week, the shadow chancellor repeatedly emphasized that she wanted to see taxes fall for working people – and by that she means people on middle incomes, not the rich. She would wear it as a badge of honor.

If government finances are somehow better in its first budget in the autumn, that could well be the rabbit out of the hat.

At the launch of the manifesto in Manchester, Starmer admitted that Reeves, who sat in the front row closest to him on stage, had “written up all the costs” of the plans for the government. This throwaway line meant more than Starmer intended to convey. Nothing with a price tag moves in Labor without Reeves saying so.

In 2019, the opinion question was “Who would make the best chancellor?” saw Sajid Javid with a 16 percentage point lead over John McDonnell. Reeves now has a two percentage point lead over Jeremy Hunt.

The right has plenty of ammunition to shoot at Starmer and is already readying its guns for election day plus 1. His government will not deliver, economic disaster will follow and voters will be left with little more than buyers’ remorse.

Labor believes Reeves is the insurance policy, an Iron Chancellor who people have not yet fully noticed.

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