Sir Keir Starmer reached for the Vote Leave lexicon in his New Year speech yesterday, vowing that devolution would allow people to “take back control” of their communities in a naked bid to Brexit voters.
The move was objectively audacious – Starmer, the architect of Labour’s pre-2019 second referendum policy, co-opting the language of Dominic Cummings, hoping to turn it “from a slogan to a solution” by spreading power beyond Westminster.
Trolling of an epic nature? Perhaps. And the leader writers divided on broadly party-political grounds. The Mirror, Labour’s most reliable cheerleader, remarked prosaically that “Take Back Control is what Keir Starmer intends to do as he puts Labour on a path to election victory”. The Guardian, albeit more sceptical, did note that by being “dressed up in Brexit colours”, Starmer recognised “that Brexit was as much a revolt against Westminster as against Brussels. Such a dispersion of power would be welcomed”.
On the right , the Daily Mail (after 18 pages on why people should be spared Prince Harry’s memoir) described Starmer as “an ocean-going dud with no answers” and mocked him for “mimicking the language of Brexit.” The Times, seeing which way the wind is blowing, said that his “proposal to devolve power via a Take Back Control Bill – an audacious attempt to speak the language of Brexit – at least addresses the public’s crisis of confidence in the political process”.
And on Twitter, politics watchers were equally as divided.
Beth Rigby, Sky News’s political editor, described the language as “smart”.
As did the Times‘ Jenni Russell.
But for the self-styled anthrojournalist Will Black, Starmer’s language was “drivel” (interestingly, Michael Crick responded to this tweet to say Ukip had used the slogan many years before Vote Leave).
The Conservative-voting comedian Geoff Norcott wondered whether Starmer was “technically trolling Remainers” rather than Brexiteers.
But the Telegraph‘s Christopher Hope thought Conservatives should be concerned.
Jeremy Corbyn supporters were obviously unhappy.
As were many, many pro-Europeans.
Pro-proportional representation campaigners hoped, probably very hopefully, that the phrase was a nod to their cause.
While, for some, it was simultaneously smart and depressing.