Sir Keir Starmer marked his 100th day as the Leader of the Labour Party last week, following his triumphant victory over challengers Rebecca Long-Bailey and Lisa Nandy in the early days of UK lockdown. He won the contest with a clear 56% majority: a margin of victory not been seen since Blair’s 1994 landslide.
In these first 100 days we have seen a decisive leader emerge, one that is able to go head-to-head with the Prime Minister over his handling of the coronavirus; take a zero-tolerance stance on antisemitism; and emphatically replace both Labour’s General Secretary and Education Secretary with more centrist figures. From a party on its knees to climbing in the polls, former barrister Starmer is winning plaudits – but the jury is still out for some critics.
Starmer has proved he is a strong opponent for Boris Johnson in these last two and half months – often appearing more composed, articulate and informed. He takes Prime Minister’s Questions in his stride, leading the debate with his vast public prosecution experience, and forensically questioning the Prime Minister – particularly on the Government’s response to Covid-19.
His performance is proving popular with the public, too. Recent YouGov polling shows an approval rating of +32, with 47% of people believing that he is doing a good job as Leader of the Opposition. However, the fact that just 29% believe the current Labour Party is fit for government shows the progress still to be made.
In a bid to rebuild Labour’s relationship with the Jewish community and differentiate his leadership from the previous direction of travel, Starmer has been tough on antisemitism. In the week of his election, he was praised by Jewish leaders for achieving more “in four days more than his predecessor did in four years”, after he held a video conference outlining how Labour would tackle the scourge from within.
He has been true to his word: the swift removal of Long-Bailey from her Shadow Education brief over an article she retweeted which contained antisemitic sentiments sent shockwaves through the party. Her sacking also gave Sir Keir the opportunity to remove one of the old guard from his Front Bench, but has antagonised the party’s left-wing in the process.
Despite his strong stance on antisemitism, his handling of the Black Lives Matter protests has been less successful. Initially showing solidarity with the movement by taking the knee, he has been roundly criticised for calling the campaign “a moment”. BLM then described him as a “cop in an expensive suit” after he characterised calls to defund the police as “nonsense”.
What is seen by many as the deteriorating relationship between black people and law enforcement, coupled with his recent comments and tenure as Director for Public Prosecutions during the London riots, means Sir Keir runs the risk of alienating a large section of his electorate. And as reported by the Huffington Post last month, some feel that racism directed at Diane Abbott and Dawn Butler has not been taken as seriously as antisemitism. The Labour leader now needs to proceed with caution in the way he deals with black issues.
In his first 100 days in office Sir Keir has breathed renewed optimism into British left-wing politics and taken huge in strides turning around the Labour Party in uniquely difficult circumstances. That said, the next 100 could prove even trickier with Brexit, a challenging economic climate and a potential second spike of coronavirus looming large.
His success at the dispatch box now needs to be matched with an electable policy platform that brings traditional Labour voters back into the party if he is to catch the Tories in the polls. Starmer’s effective navigation of these obstacles would mean we would likely see a real force when we return to the ballot box in 2024. While his first 100 days have been important, all eyes are on the next four years.