Keir Starmer is Labour’s last best hope

by Jonathan Todd

Bookmakers have Keir Starmer as the 7/19 favourite to be the next Labour leader – a 73% probability. In a party whose membership was swollen by Jeremy Corbyn, and which was largely loyal to him, Starmer did not enter the race as Corbyn’s presumed heir apparent. With early personal branding, Rebecca Long-Bailey carried this torch.

“No surrender, a 4-day week, and a 3-day bender,” proclaimed her supporters. Dancing on the political graves of Tony Blair and Gordon Brown, Zarah Sultana derided “40 years of Thatcherism” in her maiden speech in the Commons. Long-Bailey said “no surrender” by having Sultana speak at her campaign launch a few days later. It takes the same defiance to think a 4-day week a sensible policy commitment from Labour – from the perspective of hard-pressed workers, it challenged free broadband as the most otherworldly of Labour’s 2019 pledges.

You’d need a 3-day bender for this continuity Corbynism to make sense. After which, the breweries will be nationalised, and the beer will be free. Or, at least, Labour might commit for it to be so. But incredible commitments from opposition change little. They might get some in opposition more drunk, but the real effect is to help keep the Tories in government in perpetuity.

Such folly should, therefore, be debarred by rule 3 of our rule book (“promote the election of Labour Party representatives at all levels of the democratic process”). But the extent to which the membership has an appetite for continuity Corbynism remains unclear. If that appetite remains unsatiated, it will carry Long-Bailey, now benefitting from the formidable endorsement of Unite, to the leadership.

We cannot consistently criticise both Long-Bailey for making insufficient accommodation with the electorate and Starmer for being too accommodating of the membership. Yet there are those who see Starmer’s campaign launch video as overly tailored to traditional Labour themes. This would be a valid criticism if this were a general election and he were seeking to convince the general public. Starmer is calibrating his message to his audience – precisely what the uncompromising Corbyn was criticised for not doing and the “no surrender” mindset threatens to maintain.

Instead what should be taken from Starmer’s video is the impressive length and texture of his professional experience. While politics needs people with such experience, it seems increasingly rare. “Never had a proper job” is not something that can be said of Starmer.

“Looks like a prime minister” should, hopefully, be the more usual reaction. Which Ed Miliband rarely elicited, and Jeremy Corbyn even less frequently did. Few could close their eyes and see them in Number 10 – at least not without breaking into a cold sweat.

If Starmer can – as it feels to me, he would – walk, talk and chew gum like a prime minister as leader of the opposition, it is a massive step forward for Labour. The most telling polling questions invariably involve leadership. Corbyn’s terrible polling was, for example, a harbinger of Labour’s worst general election result since 1935.

Everything else is a composite of views on leadership. When asked for views on, say, the economic policies of a party, voters are partly giving their opinion on these policies and partly on the competency of the leader to deliver these policies.

A leader who looks like a plausible prime minister gets Labour back in the game. Faced with this prospect, as well as the daunting challenges of smoothly exiting the UK from its most important international alliance and “levelling up” the underperforming parts of the UK economy in the face of strong structural headwinds, own goals from Boris Johnson can’t be ruled out.

Winning goals from Labour will rediscover the recipe of our greatest successes. New Labour had old roots in that 1997 looked like 1945 and 1964: Labour as the vanguard of an optimistic, future-focused national project. More bringing the country together, less bashing ideological deviants. A big tent, not a narrow church.

Those that say that Starmer starts from too left-wing a position to lead such a national renewal should recall that Blair, soft left during the 1980s, campaigned for the party leadership on a pledge to oppose rail privatisation and Harold Wilson first came to public prominence by resigning from Attlee’s government for not being left-wing enough.

Starmer also has the potential to move from the left to mainstream national leadership. There will, though, necessarily be ducking and weaving along the way. Not least to secure the leadership in the first place.

The bookmakers imply about a one-in-four chance that he doesn’t make it to leader. If, instead, we embrace continuity Corbynism, we might do even worse at the next election. While Lisa Nandy has won plaudits for offering a different way forward, her chances of victory remain slim. If Nandy pushes Long-Bailey into third place, it would serve as a strong rejection of what Long-Bailey represents.

Only Starmer, however, now seems capable of winning decisively. Such a victory against the candidate of continuity Corbynism would be a powerful signal of a new direction and mandate for change. It is time to grant Starmer that victory.

Jonathan Todd is Deputy Editor of Labour Uncut

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13 Responses to “Keir Starmer is Labour’s last best hope”

  1. Alf says:

    Keir Starmer is a Tory-lite Chicken Coup plotter. He abstained on the Welfare Reform Bill in 2015.

    Owen Smith without the grin.

  2. John P Reid says:

    Oh dear
    what part of the main reason labour had its worsecredultvdince 1935 was due to, A second referendum with remain on the ballot paper
    As advocated by one, Keir Starmer

    Where too go on , he looks Prime ministerial! Because he’s A london stylised Hair Middle class Barrister , like Blair
    That’ll win those oh so needed London middle class votes that Blair managed to get his predecessors didnt
    Oh wait I’ll suit fitted scruffy haired blustering Etonian Boris Johnson never looking prime ministerial just won the working class North
    As if Attlee Wilson , or Callaghan looked swish in a designer suit

    I could go on
    Whatever RLB’s faults it’s not the fact Sultana backs her
    I mean paul mason backs Starmer as do the remainer Guardian snobs like Zoe Williams who blame the electorate for not voting for us
    Of course Starmers launch video was condemned the public didn’t rally behind the miners, as if his backing miners for compensation was a moral crusade that the party hit behind
    That’s the whole point,
    And Now Denis skinner has said
    lisa nandy for leader

  3. steve says:

    You’ve lost Scotland already. And now you want to lose the north.

    Starmer, as the driver of Labour’s disastrous 2nd Ref/Remain policy, will lead the LP only into political oblivion.

  4. Tafia says:

    “Keir Starmer is Labour’s last best hope”

    Surely in these grammatical days of the Oxford Comma and other iirrelevant drivel, the correct headline should be “Keir Starmer is Labour’s least worst hope”

  5. Stocksbridge CLP says:

    Given Starmer’s campaign effectively started 2-3 weeks before Long Bailey’s, is better funded and, if we’re honest, was a year in the making, I’m surprised he’s not doing better.

    Maybe the fact that he was a Chicken Coup plotter is holding him back.

  6. anosrep says:

    The major flaw in this article is that Starmer looks the least like a plausible Prime Minister of any of the four candidates. The one who looks most like a potential Prime Minister, by a considerable margin, is Nandy. Unless, of course, by “plausible Prime Minister” you mean “man”.

  7. Ian says:

    A leader needs to inspire.

    Whether Starmer can do so is left as an exercise for the reader.

    Circumstances dictate a brave, but not insane choice. Which is Nandy.

  8. Tafia says:

    The old Left vs Right battles have gone now all over the western world. The new political ideologies are Populism vs Globalism. There is nothing else anymore and if Labour thinks there is it will lose again.

  9. Ian says:

    I worry how invested this site is in a Starmer win. To the point where my earlier post in favour of Nandy was censored and never published.

    A leader needs to inspire and to bring some intelligence to the table, mapping out a strategy to motivate the party and attract attention from voters.

    From the hustings so far, Nandy has displayed those qualities.

    Starmer is boring and clearly engaged currently in trying to tell the membership whatever it is he thinks that they want to hear.

    If the party thinks this is the way back to victory, I fear it is in for a disappointment.

  10. John P ReiD says:

    Ian post it again see if they print it this time

  11. Tafia says:

    Ian, posts don’t appear until the blogger authorises them. Some bloggers do it fairly quick, within a couple of hours. Some don’t do it for days at a time.

  12. Carol says:

    I think none of the present contenders would have a hope in hades of winning a general election.

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