Keir Starmer: The first six months

Many current students will have grown up with Jeremy Corbyn as Leader of the Opposition – arguably the most left-leaning Labour figurehead in a generation.

In December 2019, they watched him deliver Labour’s biggest electoral defeat since 1935, resulting in the end of Corbyn’s era as leader of the party, and fresh leadership elections.

The winner of those elections, Keir Starmer, was announced on the fourth of April.

Starmer rose to political prominence as Brexit Secretary in Corbyn’s shadow cabinet, where he pushed for Labour to adopt a more overtly “Remain” stance.

Corbyn and his shadow chancellor John McDonnell pushed for Rebecca Long-Bailey to compete with Starmer for the leadership of the party, believing that Starmer would shift the party closer to the political centre.

Following Starmer’s success, MPs and voters to the right of Corbyn may be starting to hope that Starmer’s Labour party consequently will be a broad tent, and they will thus be more welcome in it.

Starmer’s attention to detail is well known, honed during his time as a lawyer. It is expected that he could use this ability to hold government to account on policy matters, as well as during Prime Ministers’ Questions.

What must Keir Starmer do, in his first 100 days, to put himself in with a chance of beating the Tories at the next election?

The first priority is likely to be dealing with Covid-19.

Voters won’t be looking for Labour to score political points over the government: some polls have Boris Johnson’s approval rating past 60 per cent.

Starmer must instead involve himself with Johnson, provide input and create cross-party action for the good of the country. Being able to claim that Labour contributed in the fight against Coronavirus will be an enormous benefit in the next campaign.

Secondly, Keir Starmer must unite the Labour party, in order to stand a chance of winning the next election.

Labour must take a minimum of 124 seats from the Conservatives in the next general election in order to form the next government.

First up must be reconciliation with the Jewish community, after what some may perceive as Corbyn’s failure to deal appropriately with anti-semitism.

The second is to assure voters and MPs that Labour is a broad church, with space for the centre-left.

Primarily, Starmer must push back on deselection threats from pressure group Momentum.

Should they threaten MPs who they may not view as being ideologically pure, Starmer and other senior Labour figures must make it be known that it isn’t acceptable nor is it party policy.

The shadow cabinet is also important, and the appointment of people like Ed Miliband and Bridget Phillipson, both not in Corbyn’s cabinet, is potentially a good start.

Starmer’s final objective in his first six months, to help win the next election, is to start to move to get back the “Red Wall” of constituencies that was lost in 2019.

Of the eight most marginal seats that went from Labour to the Conservatives, five are in the North West and North East and two are in the East Midlands (this being the area described by pundits as “the Red Wall”.)

The interests of voters in these areas is obviously not homogeneous, but generally there is a different set of priorities to the young, educated, urban base that backed Jeremy Corbyn.

Accepting this fact, and finding policy initiatives to reach across this divide, is likely to be a key goal for Starmer.

Boris Johnson himself said that these voters are merely borrowed from Labour, thus it is imperative that Labour shifts their focus to winning them back.

No party has ever come back from a landslide such as 2019, and formed the government the next election.

The two most recent landslides were Tony Blair’s in 1997, which ushered in 13 years of Labour rule, and Margaret Thatcher in 1983, which created 14 years of Tory rule.

For Keir Starmer and the Labour party to form the next government, they may need to play the next five years perfectly. The first six months could set the tone for the years to come.

Image: Chris McAndrew via Wikipedia

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