By Ollie Campbell
Keir Starmer, 2020 Labour Party leadership election hustings" by Rwendland
The Labour leader seems unable to land a damaging blow on Boris, despite a long string of mishaps from the Prime Minister.
In April 2020, a promising new leader took over the shattered Labour Party after a dominant performance in the leadership election. Seen as a breath of fresh air, Sir Keir Starmer set off at a blistering pace, to use his centrist, cautious personality as a lawyer to rebuild the bridges that Corbyn had previously burnt down. This was a big ask, as Starmer required many new tactics to win back some support, especially that of the Jewish community that had been alienated by anti-Semitism.
Despite his furious beginnings, less than a year later, Starmer has become stuck. Cemented to the Opposition bench, no opportunity has been given to him to be seen as any contender to the Conservatives. Throughout the whole of 2020, the Conservative cabinet - that has been labelled as one of the worst since the Second World War - stayed even with the Opposition in the opinion polls. Now, this has changed drastically, as the Conservatives pull firmly ahead.
Now, there are several obvious excuses that Starmer can use for this. A strong start will always create a consequential loss of momentum. The pandemic can make life much easier for the government over the Opposition as everyone seeks to work together rather than scrutinise, the latter being the main role of the Opposition. The biggest issue for Starmer is that every criticism he has made of the government has been completely undermined by the world-beating vaccine rollout achieved in the UK. Serious worry is beginning to grip the Labour Party as Starmer’s stagnation points towards several foibles in his political abilities.
The most apparent flaw is his formulaic approach to his role is the idea of highlighting a problem and then immediately fixing it. Not patriotic enough? Display a Union flag. Claims of being too London-centric? Introduce policies impacting the north. Too far left? Get rid of Jeremy Corbyn. This whack-a-rat, paint by numbers style of politics is a dangerous game to play. Initial problems with this style are clear. Core supporters are immediately alienated and there is no clear plan or end goal. This creates the problem of being unable to convince the target audience that he means what he says.
Another shortfall of Starmer’s politics is his excessive caution. His wariness is the polar-opposite of the Prime Minister’s reckless, almost rambunctious style. The upcoming talent of Labour has been shattered by the dismissal of Tristam Hunt and Andy Burnham during Corbyn's 'nuclear winter’ and the dramatic reduction of MPs after the landslide Conservative win in the 2019 election. Even so, Starmer’s defensiveness means he can’t utilise the material he has effectively. The insistence of Starmer to leave some established talents on the backbenches, such as Hilary Benn or Yvette Cooper, but fill his shadow cabinet with more obliging ministers like Angela Rayner can only suggest an obsession with control or the fear of being overshadowed.
Subsequently, the output of these two weaknesses forms a much larger problem. A failure to produce a vision for the future. Sir Starmer has provided some hints towards ‘a new chapter for Britain’ and a ‘partnership between government and businesses.’ Who doesn’t believe this is the way forward? Especially when Starmer has said he is willing to embrace the ‘change that’s coming in science, technology and work.’
By all means, the current leadership doubt could potentially fly out just quickly as they flew in. Victories in the local elections, especially mayoral incumbents like that in Birmingham and Teeside, would surely panic the Conservatives. Deep failures are currently being well hidden by the large successes of a Brexit deal and the vaccine rollout, but there is only so much the Conservatives can cover-up. The extortionately high death rate and economic damage of Covid-19 will become all too clear in the future.
The big what if, is that: what if there is nowhere for Starmer to go? - and that is why he is stuck. For all his positive qualities, decency and incredible political knowledge, he may just not have what it takes to become Prime Minister. Previous lawyer-politicians have made it big on the world stage by their ability to captivate their audience and convince them of the change they can provide. The obvious examples being Tony Blair, Bill Clinton and Barack Obama - all able to hold the audience in their hand and get them to only focus on what they do well. Starmer seems to be the opposite. Immense strength in scrutiny and problem-solving, but when it comes to creating a compelling narrative to his supporters, he is nothing more than lacklustre.