Keir Starmer is the only man who can lose the next general election for Labour. The leader of the opposition offers the best chance for the Conservative government to bounce back into power when the nation goes to the polls.
Given the United Kingdom’s political, economic, and social chaos over the past few years, the polls suggest Labour should win in a landslide. Lately, five Tory MPs have announced that they will not seek re-election. Rishi Sunak, the prime minister, must go to the country before January 2025. This presents a massive opportunity for a party that has been out of government for 12 long years.
After more than a decade of austerity and with the failure of Brexit becoming more obvious by the day, Starmer has the chance to propose a radical agenda and inspire a sense of purpose in an electorate that is approaching the next two years with a sense of dread. Instead, he is pandering to the same forces that brought the UK to its knees.
Recently Nigel Farage commended the 60-year-old’s comments on immigration and claimed that the Labour leader is “to the right” of the Tories.
Starmer is appealing to the same xenophobic and nationalistic instincts that underpinned the campaign to leave the European Union. The MP for Holborn and St Pancras is bent on recapturing the “Red Wall” seats that swung heavily towards Boris Johnson three years ago, but all indications suggest that Government mismanagement has turned the mood away from Conservatism in these northern constituencies.
Starmer is not offering an alternative, but a slightly milder version of a broken status quo. The problem Labour refuses to address is that they let Farage define the electoral battleground before the referendum—and ever since. Starmer is often described as the “grown-up in the room,” but any adults paying attention in the 2010s were aware that austerity, not immigration, was the biggest blight on British life. The aftermath of the credit crunch unleashed racist and nationalistic forces that were thought to be a thing of the past. They were merely in the closet. The migrant crisis of 2015 released them.
Jeremy Corbyn, Starmer’s predecessor and a Eurosceptic, did not challenge the Farage narrative strongly enough. Other Labour MPs blithely talked about allowing the Tories to “tear themselves apart over the EU.” A combination of cowardice and complacency delivered the UK into the hands of the Brexiteers and shifted the political landscape rightwards.
Corbyn deserves a portion of the blame for this. He was never a leader. He is, however, a conviction politician. Like many on the left who challenge orthodoxies, he is easy to demonize. Many of those who agreed with Corbyn’s positions recognized his unsuitability as a prime minister—mainly because of personality rather than politics. Starmer’s response to the man he replaced and anyone believed to be sympathetic to the former leader has been ugly.
During his campaign for the leadership, Starmer pledged that local parties would be allowed to choose their own parliamentary candidates. That has not been the case.
Starmer’s aides have attempted to unseat MPs who they believe are too close to Corbyn. In October, Sam Tarry, the member for Ilford South, became the first Labour MP to be deselected in a decade. Zarah Sultana had to undergo a challenge in Coventry South. This month, Ian Byrne, the holder of the MP of the year award, narrowly survived a vote in Liverpool’s West Derby after an acrimonious battle that involved accusations of bullying and a smear campaign.
Those around Starmer are ruthless. “They want to eradicate any semblance of socialism from the party,” one Labour insider said. That individual’s verdict on the leader was scathing: “Not popular. Not nice. Very cold. Ruthlessly ambitious.”
In the bid to convince Red Wall voters—many of whom were first-time Tory backers in 2019—Starmer is prepared to alienate some of the party’s most loyal supporters. The attack on Byrne caused dismay in Merseyside, but the Labour leader has provoked serious anger by forming a relationship with The Sun newspaper.
Rupert Murdoch’s red-top caused lingering fury for its coverage of the Hillsborough disaster in 1989. Starmer promised not to do any interviews with the newspaper while in Liverpool two years ago. The former director of public prosecutions backtracked and wrote columns for The Sun and this month attended their awards ceremony. That was the same week he accepted a politician of the year gong from The Spectator, a publication described as “the UK’s oldest Tory magazine.”
This pattern of behavior has created mistrust and resentment among Labour loyalists. Starmer’s acolytes see it differently. They believe he is taking strident positions on subjects that will appeal to the voters. “They used to say Corbynism was a cult,” a Labour MP said. “There’s a bigger cult around Starmer than there ever was around Corbyn.”
What has been lacking from Starmerites is policies. Those close to the leader say a raft of initiatives will be unrolled over the coming months. So far, the big ideas are plans to abolish the House of Lords and scrap tax breaks for public schools. They make eye-catching, populist headlines, but will have little impact on those suffering the effects of institutional austerity.
Will out-Torying the Tories work? Starmer ruled out a return to freedom of movement, accused Sunak of plotting to renegotiate Brexit and demanded long sentences for Just Stop Oil protestors who blocked roads. It is all straight out of the right-wing playbook.
Those sorts of stances are becoming less credible by the week. The UK needs a brave politician who is prepared to challenge the voters and admit that most of the policies of the past decade have been a crashing failure.
Starmer has no charisma. His attempt at populism is risible, and his credibility should be based on moving Britain away from the madness it has experienced. He offers no real alternative.
The center-left vote may well split because of him. Right-wingers are much more adept at dog whistles than Starmer. The next election is not the shoo-in it appears.
Especially if Labour is heading towards a trap set by Farage and co. Again.
Tags mentioned:Elections Immigration Keir Starmer U.K. politics