Labour Party leader Sir Keir Starmer has dismissed criticism of his leadership, telling the BBC “The vast majority of our party and our movement are behind what we’re doing.”
Starmer, who has not yet been a year in the position, has faced significant opposition from the left of the party – many of whom have called for a special conference in June – fuelling speculation of a leadership challenge.
These calls have been backed by various trade unions, including Unite, and the Socialist Campaign Group of MPs, which includes former shadow cabinet members John McDonnell and Richard Burgon.
Speaking to the Huffington Post, Mr Burgon was critical of what he perceives to be demoralisation amongst the membership as a whole.
He argued that a recall conference would “…unite the whole party behind the policies we need to force this government to change track.”
Starmer has also recently faced challenges as a result of the leaking of an internal party strategy presentation to The Guardian, which gave a detailed outline of the strategies the party should take in order to win back ‘foundation seats,’ a term which appears to now be used in reference to former ‘red-wall’ constituencies.
The proposed strategies, which included ‘dressing smartly,’ and making a greater use of the British flag, were criticised extensively by Labour MPs such as Clive Lewis, whilst the presentation also noted that Starmer is seen by some voters as ‘sitting on the fence’ when it comes to important policy decisions.
The current position of the Labour Party in opinion polls has also been criticised, although Starmer’s election to the post of leader in April 2020 resulted in a significant narrowing of the gap between the Conservatives and Labour, which has been maintained.
The two parties are now almost neck-and-neck.
Starmer’s opportunities to gain traction have been hindered by Covid-19.
Party conferences, for example, are considered an important area in which new leaders can receive positive press coverage or outline new policies.
In his first speech to the Labour Party conference as leader, Tony Blair announced plans to abolish clause IV, a component of the Labour Party manifesto which had made an exclusive commitment to socialism, and thus aligned the party to values which would later be seen as ‘New Labour.’
However, the Covid-19 pandemic resulted in both the planned spring and autumn party conferences being moved online, making it harder for the leadership to generate policy discussions and press coverage.
Starmer has been praised for his criticism of the government’s response to the pandemic; recently, he called for all international arrivals to the UK to be required to spend fourteen days in self-isolation in hotels, rather than just arrivals from red-list countries.
He has also questioned the government at length over the issue of free school meals, whilst the upcoming local elections may prompt him to further develop policies and pledges.
Responding to questions about Labour’s position in the polls, Starmer told the BBC, “…We’re now getting to a position where on the polls we’re about even, so that’s a step in the right direction.
“But we’ve got a long way to go between now and 2024 and we’re going to be working hard at this with real determination, every day, every week, every month, every year, into that election in 2024.”
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