The real work for Keir Starmer starts here

by Rob Marchant

Given that Boris Johnson’s prime ministership, however corrupt and venal it may have been, was always made of glass, one hopes that Labour’s leader and his team have been preparing for this sudden change at the top.

It is true that Johnson himself benefitted greatly from having, in Jeremy Corbyn, a disastrous figure as his initial chief opponent. And it is certainly open to question whether he would even have won against a half-decent opposition leader.

But just as the outgoing prime minister has benefitted from facing Labour’s worst-ever leader – as did his two predecessors – across the despatch box Starmer must also recognise that he has been the lucky recipient of the Tories’ own historic low point.

A man who was never going to last the distance, Johnson’s main gift has always been his success in selling undeliverable promises in the campaigning stage. But, to use Mario Cuomo’s adage, he could not handle the “governing in prose” stage.

If his only real achievement in government was to “get Brexit done”, then it was a Brexit that polls now show even most Leavers unhappy with. As it is, he has departed under the cloud that has followed almost all his other jobs; the cloud that all that have followed his miserable trajectory over the years predicted he would.

What, then, of a leader who is significantly better than Johnson, by the simple expedient of not being Johnson? We might look at the field of Tory candidates for the leadership and be uninspired. But we have no reason to believe there will not be a marked bounce in the polls for them, whoever is chosen. And that incoming PM will now very likely have two years to get their feet under the table before a general election.

There is an obvious conclusion to all this: Starmer now needs to up his game.

While we should not dismiss that he has made a great deal of progress in cleaning up the party, and gradually steering it towards being a party of government, he is not there yet. And, with Johnson’s political demise imminent, any honeymoon for Starmer’s leadership is now definitively over.

There are three areas which urgently need attention.

One: as Dan Hodges has pointed out, without the convenient own goals that Johnson has consistently provided in the guise of Partygate, Jennifer Arcuri, crony contracts during Covid, and so on, Starmer will need to tack from the personal to the political. No longer can Johnson’s personal failings be his stick to beat the Tories with.

His new opponent is rather likely to be dull, and little prone to scandal. They may be vaguely competent enough to convince the public that they know what they’re doing (let’s face it, the bar has not exactly been set high recently). You never know: they may even, God forbid, create some eye-catching policies of their own, and win support the traditional way.

Two: Labour urgently needs eye-catching policies of its own. While, to be fair, the first three years of a parliament are not necessarily a good time to be announcing initiatives which will be out of date by the election, by the last two years this needs to start happening.

Cost of living is one obvious area where Labour was starting to get some cut-through, but this seems already to have been clocked by most of the Tory candidates for leader; you can pretty much guarantee that there will be heavy attention paid to this by the incoming PM, which will likely leave it neutralised.

Three: it is perhaps stating the “bleeding obvious”, but Starmer needs to clean up Labour’s act on women’s rights. A leader who, at his own party conference, struggled to state clearly what a woman actually was, is now not trusted by a growing segment of Britain’s women, particularly those who are politically active. And, while Labour continues to support the politically-suicidal policy of trans bself id, that group will continue to grow.

If you are one of Labour’s many members and supporters who still firmly believe “this never comes up on the doorstep”, or “it’s not important, it will never swing anyone’s votes”, let me tell you two things.

First, you are probably a man. Women understandably find it hard to duck this one.

Second, please wake up: you are underestimating the potential of this single issue to provide a razor-sharp dividing line between Labour and Conservatives come the election (if it is not, why are almost all the Tory leadership candidates coming out against self-id, including Penny Mordaunt, so desperate to row back from her previous support that she outright lied about it?)

In short, the Tories see clearly the importance of this issue: why is it that Labour seemingly cannot? Perhaps, we might reflect, because it is not yet as serious about the pursuit of power as the Tories perennially are.

These three areas are where Starmer should now pay some urgent attention. If he does, he may just stand a chance in the general election now likely to come along in 2024 (one cannot imagine any of the current candidates for PM being foolish enough to do anything except wait the maximum time to get their feet under the table).

If he does not, it looks highly uncertain that his recent midterm poll bounce will survive the corresponding Tory new-leader bounce which is likely to happen over the coming weeks and months. And he is already on the back foot, as Dave Talbot pointed out here at Uncut in May, working to a highly accelerated timetable compared to previous Labour leaders in preparing his party for government.

Either way, it seems clear that things are about to get much tougher for Starmer.

Rob Marchant is an activist and former Labour party manager who blogs at The Centre Left

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8 Responses to “The real work for Keir Starmer starts here”

  1. John P Reid says:

    If it wasn’t for party gate, Paterson or pincher not only would BJ have lead the Tories into the next election he’d have won
    And labour doesn’t twig there’s more red walls that can fall, if The Tories appoint a Harold McMillan one nation Tory for leader like a penny mourdant and the Labour Party becomes a Nick Clegg Libdem party , I know people who voted labour in 2019 who’d prefer The Tories in next time if The Tories go beck to the post war consensus , As for could labour have won last time
    Well that’s if labour is prepared to do ehat it takes to win
    Thr conferences weeks and a year before the election
    Julie Bindel side talk on trans rights having students demanding lesbians suck trans with penises, “girl D1cks” Palestinian flags calling the working class thick and racist, denying there’s anti white racist Muslim grooming gangs or the second referendum for remain
    A tall order to change the parties view in all that
    Saying that Caroline flint ot Liz Kendall may have been able to do that and yrs then labour could’ve won the 2019 election

  2. Anne says:

    Sorry Rob – don’t agree with a lot of this article. Regarding this trans issues – there is confusion here and clarity is required from the medical profession. This confusion is found not just in men but also women – it is not brought up on the doorstep because of feeling uncomfortable about the issue. Thinking about this issue in sport – boys who have gone through puberty will have developed muscle and have different hormone levels than females. To then change sex and say, for,example, boys who have changed to female can compete on a level playing field as women is wrong. There may be other areas where there is confusion.
    It is also said that Labour is still living in the past on race. This statement many of us find insulting. We have made great moves regarding ‘diversity.’ At times we are reluctant to make a statement in case we are called ‘racist.’ For example, Badenoch, contender for PM, spent most of childhood in other countries – coming to live in the UK to attend public school.Sunak maintained his green card, while his wife non Dom status. What do they really know about our history, culture, every day problems. What do they know about the Northern Ireland situation or the Scottish position on independence. Many of us have grown up knowing about these issues.
    Regarding Johnson ‘get Brexit done’ – Brexit is far from being ‘done.’ There are problems with trade, relationship with Europe- we have a long history with Europe – to mention a few.
    The Labour Party is in a much better place – the policies will come.

  3. Joe says:

    I read this site from time to time and generally I think that you perform a useful ‘critical friend’ role. But I think the ‘glass half empty’ approach risks turning into a Tory narrative (and what on earth are you doing citing Dan Hodges, of all people)?!?!

    The Tories are undoubtedly one of the most electorally successful parties in the western world and we should never underestimate our opponents – but we shouldn’t overestimate them either.

    For a party in power for twelve years and with an 80 seat majority, they have produced an unimpressive bunch of leadership candidates. And the Conservative party is behaving like Labour did in the 2015-19 period. They are talking to themselves – focusing on niche issues that matter to the membership but leave most other people cold – and running away from the middle ground. The extravagant promises of unfunded tax cuts are like a right-wing equivalent of the pledges that Corbyn’s front bench used to make.

    There may be a short term polling bounce for a new PM but the economic and political fundamentals are dreadful for the government. For a start, the cost of living is highly unlikely to be “neutralised” as an issue – inflation is the highest of any advanced economy. That’s also going to lead to a massive squeeze on public services, by the way – the NHS budget for this financial year is based on the assumption of inflation at 2.8%, whereas it is now estimated to reach 11% later this year.

    We’re unlikely to see Boris-style chaos and corruption again but with the toxic culture at No10 and Johnson’s total lack of ethics there are more scandals to come out. The next PM will have served in Johnson’s government. Every time another scandal is uncovered, they will be asked about what they knew and what they did to stop it. They are unlikely to give convincing answers.

    Finally you are doing what lots of Labour members of all persuasions like to do – capitalising on a setback for the party (or possible setback) to promote your own hobby-horse issue, although in my experience they usually pick more benign issues like proportional representation! We are not the USA (thank goodness) and we don’t do culture war politics here, despite the efforts of some Tory MPs and parts of the commentariat.

  4. John P Reid says:

    Anne -people are to afraid to mention race in case we are called “racist”
    Labours befn playing on this for 25 years to shut down in its own anti white racism from anti semitism, anti white racism in Tottenham
    Or calling police racist if they investigate Muslim grooming gangs
    So cops were to scared to arrest them as they’d be called racist

    And labour knew it was better to cover it up as there were Muslim voted in it for them
    Everyone from Diane abbott Naz Shah to ash sarker said about the Daily mirror snd dsn gorged
    Don’t criticise minorities when they do bad things it may cause racism revealing it
    Shut up for the good of diversity and if you do reveal it, we’ll call you racist, or uncle toms

  5. John P Reid says:

    The Forde reports due

    Calling someone a angry women who happens to be black is not racist and she is indeed a woman

    If the Forde report is used to see Corbyn allowed to rejoin the Labour Party as a way of diminishing thd findings of the EHRC , that found anti semitism in rhe Labour Party, and Corbyn not accepting the findings of thd EHRC then that’s labour basically saying agree with inquiries that fund things like institutionalised racism in rhe police but if the same people find anti semitism in the Labour Party
    We can post and choose who we agree with
    When the same body finds racism in us so we can say in this instance we can’t accept we’re anti Jewish but we can be quick enough to call other people institutionally racist

    The hypocrisy is sickening

  6. Imran khan says:

    As a visible ethnic minority who has done very well from the liberalisim of this country may I agree with John P Reid. I am sick of self appointed spokespersons like Ash Sarkar moaning and whinging about how bad everthing is. She has never had a proper job in her life. My Grandad arrive in London in 1948 with his five pound British Army discharge grant and I have my own Chartered Surveying company. Anyone can do it.

  7. Dear Imran Khan, I don’t want to be rude, but are you trying to be a parody account or are you for real? Yours, David Cameron.

  8. john P reid says:

    Danny, if you don’t want to be rude you’re not doing a very good job with that comment

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