By Declan Carey
AFTER winning the Labour leadership election in April, Sir Keir Starmer took over a party in the midst of civil war and on the back of a crushing General Election defeat – Labour’s fourth in a row.
The task ahead seems daunting – the Conservatives hold a clear majority in Parliament and won swathes of Labour’s traditional heartlands – but recent months have shown that Labour are not only rebuilding, but preparing to win in 2024.
According to pollsters, the Tories currently have an eight point lead ahead of Labour, down from 24 points on 2 April in the days before Starmer was elected.
And in an interview with HuffPost in February, Sir Keir admitted the ‘need to focus on winning’ in 2024, rather than simply rebuilding.
He said: “I’m very focused on the fact that not only have we lost the last General Election, and we’re having discussions about what the reason for that was, I think it was a number of reasons, but we’ve lost four.
“If we lose the next one, presumably in 2024, then the Labour Party will have been out of power for a longer period than anytime since the Second World War.
“So we need to focus on winning that election, we need to unrelentingly focus on that, and therefore it is for a project going into the next General Election, but we’ve got to turn the ship around.”
That has required immediate change and over the past three months, Starmer has indicated that he is ready to make those decisions.
He took a hardline approach in sacking fellow leadership candidate Rebecca Long-Bailey for sharing an article in The Independent with anti-Semitic references, causing objection from those on the Labour left.
Yet according to YouGov majority of the public backed the move, worn down by years of anti-Semitism allegations which caused deep division between Starmer’s predecessor Jeremy Corbyn and the shadow cabinet.
We’ve seen a drastically different Prime Minister’s Questions, not least down to the fact that most members are now tuning in through video conferencing software, bringing a new dynamic to debates without the usual cheers and jeers from backbenchers.
And the public have reacted well to Labour’s new man, placing Starmer ahead of Boris Johnson as he country’s preferred choice for Prime Minister in research conducted by Opinium.
But what does a Labour Party under Keir Starmer’s leadership promise to deliver?
The priority is ‘reconnecting’ with the country as Starmer outlined in his acceptance speech on 4 April, before going on to publicly apologise to Britain’s Jewish community who felt isolated from the party.
There is also the introduction of a ‘Back to Work Budget’ which seeks to extend current measures such as the furlough scheme and gradually ease employees back to work in line with looser lockdown restrictions.
On foreign policy, Starmer has consistently voted against the use of UK military force in overseas operations, writing on his personal website wanting to turn the UK into ‘a force for international peace and justice’ by putting human rights at the heart of foreign policy.
Starmer repositioned the party line on some issues such as Kashmir after talks with Labour Friends of India (LFI), issuing a statement declaring ‘any constitutional issues in India are a matter for the Indian Parliament and Kashmir is a bilateral issue for India and Pakistan to resolve peacefully.
Previously, Jeremy Corbyn’s relationship with LFI was described as ‘strained’ by the group in response to the lack of Indian Labour candidates in the 2019 General Election.
On Brexit, Starmer held the position of Shadow Brexit Secretary in 2019, bearing some of the blame for the party’s inability to set a clear policy in the election.
Yet since becoming leader he has remained vague on a number of topics, often refusing to be drawn into making policy commitments.
“I don’t need someone else’s name tattooed on my head to make a decision or hug a historical figure,” he told Sophy Ridge in an interview with Sky News in February.
“My message to our members is very straightforward which is the next stage of the journey between now and the general election is for us.
“I want a fundamental shift of power, wealth and opportunity.”
While we may have to wait to see Keir Starmer’s Labour make real policy commitments, it is clear that changes are taking place in the party and voters are beginning to recognise a different approach from the past few years.
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