10 years ago Gordon Brown launched Labour’s general election campaign in the home counties. Keir Starmer’s job is to make that realistic again

by David Talbot

Ten years ago this week, in a break with tradition, Gordon Brown strode out from No 10 with his Cabinet lined up behind him and addressed the nation. The then worse kept secret in politics, that the country would go to the polls on May 6, was announced and Brown immediately sped off to the home counties – back when Labour held such seats – to begin his campaign for a fourth Labour term.

Labour’s clear intention that day was to portray the strength of the party’s top team, compared to that of the perceived lightweight Conservatives.

Prime Ministers usually like to claim all the spotlight when calling an election, and the Conservatives, quite rightly in riposte, pointed out that the tactic highlighted how, unlike most leaders, Gordon Brown was clearly not seen nor portrayed by Labour as their strongest card.

Ten years on, and three leaders later, Labour’s latest leadership contest was long on process and short on suspense. The commanding victory for Sir Keir Starmer, which avoided the razor-thin margin of 2010, or the factionalism of 2015 and 2017, provides stability at the top of the party arguably not seen since the halcyon days of 2007 when the prospect of an early election closed Labour’s ranks.

Starmer has already brought some much-needed dignity to his position. The early strokes of his leadership are at once encouraging, but when pitted against such a pitiful predecessor, objective analysis becomes ever more difficult. He has been bequeathed a party left in appalling health; not just electorally, but exhausted, riddled with division, tormented over its past and unsure of its future.

Starmer’s election as Labour leader marks the end of Corbynism’s stranglehold over the party. The left’s relentless claim that its programme was popular hit the bulwark that is the British electorate. Win the argument, Labour did not. Corbyn’s emphatic defeat should put these arguments to rest. In the end, Corbyn’s hard left vision proved no match for Johnson’s soundbite populism.

The task facing Starmer is daunting; the party’s working class base has been under assault for the best part of two decades. The latent Euroscepticism of the working-class Labour vote shifted into open revolt over the free movement of people. Immigration became a totemic issue for these voters, typifying the toxic disengagement between the Labour leadership and the party’s grassroots.

In Scotland, the party is in a generational retreat. The collapse of the Scottish Labour vote, from hegemony for fifty years to near wipe out, is one of the greatest electoral shifts in British political history. A majoritarian Labour government remains highly unlikely unless hundreds of thousands of Scots return to the Labour fold. This, coupled with Labour’s retrenchment to English cities and university towns, is all the more damaging to the party’s electoral prospects.

When Gordon Brown visited the Home Counties, somewhat optimistically, admittedly, in the early throes of the 2010 general election, he did so because the Labour Party had constructed a broad coalition of voters. It was the natural party of working people, the less affluent and the less well educated. At the same time, its election victories in 1997, 2001 and 2005 were built upon deep raids into traditionally Conservative territories where the middle classes predominate.

The erosion of Labour’s electoral base did not occur overnight. Labour’s electoral problems are deep-rooted and prolonged. Labour won a seemingly comfortable third term majority in 2005 with just 35.2% of the votes, or an active support of only 21.6% of the electorate. No other government has been elected with so little support from the ballot box since franchise reform in 1918. Amongst the large democracies, only Turkey has ever had a majority government with a smaller share of the vote.

Starmer starts from one clear position of strength to reverse this malign decline; firstly, he is not Jeremy Corbyn. The second is that, at long last, the Labour Party appears heartedly sick of losing.

As if to typify the malaise which has infected the party over the past ten years; the constituency Brown visited back in 2010 was a thrice-won Labour marginal – it now boasts a Conservative majority of over 17,000. Only by learning from the preceding four election defeats in every part of the country can Labour once again earn the right to a hearing from the general public.

David Talbot is a political consultant

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8 Responses to “10 years ago Gordon Brown launched Labour’s general election campaign in the home counties. Keir Starmer’s job is to make that realistic again”

  1. John P Reid says:

    Ok I’ll give it except for Naz shah and lloyd Russell mould
    The front bench is good

  2. Alf says:

    Cutting disability benefits and attacking the unemployed didn’t work back then. It won’t work today either.

  3. Dave Roberts says:

    I am encouraged by his first statement on anti-semitism because he actually means it. This will of course entail expulsion from the party of the die hards who simply will not give up the beliefs in worldwide Jewish conspiracies which is rampant throughout Momentum. He also needs to look at how two of his MPs, Apsana Begum and Sam Tarry got their nominations and carry out a thorough examination of some constituency parties for outright criminality involving if necessary the police.

  4. Tafia says:

    Naz Shah, she of “Those abused girls in Rotherham and elsewhere just need to shut their mouths. For the good of diversity” fame, made Shadow Minister for Community Cohesion.

    A piss-take if ever there was one.

  5. Anne says:

    Circumstances also influence voters. It is only a couple of months since the general election where the Tories won a resounding victory, but who could have predicted this pandemic – Brexit is hardly mentioned at the moment but we still have to negotiate some form of trade deal by the end of the year. Nicola Sturgeon continues to hold most of the cards in Scotland – if Scotland did manage to get a second referendum it would be a very close call. A lot can happen before we go the polls for a general election – for example how the Tories handle the economy post Covid 19, or a predicted world recession could have a detrimental impact on the Tory popularity. Starmer and his team are ready for the challenge.

  6. Dave Roberts says:

    Well said Tafia. The whole of the left were a disgrace over the groomings never mind just Shah. UAF tried to claim the whole thing was racist and Islamophobic and used the Guardian to spread their vile views.

  7. Tafia says:

    Anne, has the world passed you by? The tories lead grew through the floods, coninued to grow through the Patel bullying nonsense and his continued to grow through this. They now stand at over 50% with three separate pollsters.

    Brexit talks resumed last week on the 7, 8, 9 April. Item 1 – the UK informed the EU it will not be asking for an extension and will not entertain an EU request for one. This was widely reported in the press so how come you don’t know?

  8. Anne says:

    Feeling better Dom? Bye they way our farmers aren still looking for fruit pickers – I think you might qualify for this job.
    Just a reminder here and on all web sites. Scammers and Trolls are very dangerous people.

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