Sir Keir Starmer has in recent weeks come under fire from the commentariat, who, around one-year into his reign, have criticised the Labour chief for failing to show “authentic” leadership and “sitting on the fence”. Pagefield looks at whether these arguments are harsh, unfair or unfounded.
Entering as Leader of the Opposition several weeks into the first lockdown was always going to be a challenge. During this time, the political focus has firmly been on responding to and dealing with the pandemic, which has meant that Starmer has had little room to branch out and publicise other policy areas. The pandemic will likely remain central to the political agenda for months and years to come but Labour has an opportunity to seize the gradually shifting spotlight.
And they need to take this opportunity quickly. According to a poll conducted by Savanta ComRes – released last week by The Independent – only a quarter of voters believe Sir Keir has presented a clear vision of what Labour stands for 12 months after becoming leader. The public’s lack of awareness of Labour policies including, Sir Keir’s 10 Pledges, is an issue which needs addressing urgently. The Opposition must better communicate how and where they take different stances to Boris Johnson’s administration.
Success on the high street
The high street is, so far, one of a few good examples where the Party has distinguished itself, unveiling a clear set of proposals on how to save and revitalise bricks and mortar shops in the post-pandemic era. This includes reversing new planning rules introduced by the Conservatives that could arguably lead to poor quality housing and levelling the playing field between high street businesses and giant online firms.
The debate around domestic vaccine passports/certificates also offers Sir Keir the chance to assert an opposing view to the Government’s direction of travel. Labour MPs are reportedly set to vote against measures to require people to show proof of vaccination to access shops or pubs and, if they receive enough support from Tory rebels, this would go down as a significant (and much-needed) win for the Labour leader.
The identity crisis
Labour’s ongoing identity crisis is a consequence of two things. First, Sir Keir wants to shake off Corbyn’s legacy but also keep those voters on side, which is even more challenging when both are neighbouring London MPs and, therefore, receive inevitable criticism for being too focussed on the capital. Second, the Tories have shifted towards the Keynesian spending space, with flagship infrastructure policies and investment in the NHS, marginalising Labour from owning its traditional policy areas.
Figures from the centre of the party have called for a clean break with those on the left in a move to shred Corbynism. However, this might not be the smartest approach if Labour wants to keep its support base wide and diverse.
The division dilemma
It is often said that ‘divided parties lose elections’, but looking back at the run-up to December 2019, the Conservatives were not exactly one big happy family: expelling 21 back benchers in September and another ten in the month which followed.
The manifesto that launched Johnson into the hot seat offered promises to please a broad range of voters – with progressive environmental policies for the left and, for example, the introduction of a tougher immigration system for the right. And while the pandemic has obviously impacted fiscal spending commitments, Boris still plans to implement the record boost for schools and hospitals, and “level-up” the North.
Being politically fluid can be an effective tool in appealing to the masses, and Sir Keir has a chance to find mutual ground under which he can mobilise support from across the Party, as opposed to alienating one side and becoming a less forceful challenger.
This article originally appeared on Labour in Communications.