Editors note: This article was originally submitted for publication on 13th October.
Eighteen months into Keir Starmer tenure as leader of the Labour Party, he remains an anathema to the majority of the public. With very few definable policies and a lack of political mettle that has been consistently exposed in interviews, those who believe that he is the man to beat Boris are in a shrinking minority. In a period where the appetite for radical policy and reform is growing, Starmer is floundering. He and his Blairite advisors must be unseated if Parliamentary Labour Party is to disrupt the Tory hegemony and survive as the Labour movement’s representative body in Westminster.
In the run-up to the party conference in Brighton, it was clear that it would be a pivotal moment for the Starmer project. It provided him with the perfect opportunity to lay out a formidable policy plan and to change the tide of public opinion in his favour. While his speech, which included a pledge of 28 billion in annual spending to tackle climate change, polled well, the event was marred by a witch hunt of left-wing party members (including filmmaker Ken Loach) in the leadup to the conference as well as what was viewed as an unnecessary focus on conference rule changes.
While these rule changes did Starmer no favours – appearing to the electorate as predictable Labour navel-gazing – they were of huge importance to the leader and his team as they looked to bolster the Labour right’s control of the party. The most significant of these reforms proposed by the National Executive Committee that successfully passed through conference voting was the change to the rules for leadership candidacy that increased the number of MP endorsements required from ten to twenty. This was a tactical move from blue Labour, that aimed to inhibit left-wing candidates (if this rule had been in place Corbyn would never have been elected leader) and represents a move away from the bottom-up structure on which the party was founded toward a system that is weighted heavily in favour of the Westminster elite.
It is also emblematic of Starmer’s biggest weakness: his preoccupation with a cull of the Labour left. While Johnson has been leading the country from catastrophe to catastrophe and taking a Trumpian view on objective fact, Starmer’s policy program has forced the party to face inwards, squabbling over conference rules, and allowing the Tories to rule on, unchallenged.
Under Starmer, Labour is missing its chance to propose radical policies, policies that are required to enact the economic reform needed to tackle the climate crisis and policies which, according to Opinium’s latest polling, the public are ready for. The study found that that 69% of people supported the introduction of a Universal Basic Income, 68% supported a wealth tax, 57% were in favour of a four-day working week and an overall majority believed that the financial responsibility to insulate and decarbonise Britain’s homes and energy supply respectively, fell to the government. Evidently, the pandemic and the climate crisis have acted as catalysts for public acceptance of radical policy.
Labour must take this opportunity to provide a clear and concise alternative to the Tory party, and what the eighteen months since his election as leader has proven, is that it is not Keir Starmer but the Labour grassroots that recognise this fact. It is the Parliamentary wing of the party that is failing with Starmer at the helm, while the CLP’s (Constituency Labour Party) Unions and activist organisations formulate the sort of exciting, radical, reformist policy that will be the lifeblood of any future electoral victories for the Labour party.
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