Weak, aimless leadership: Keir Starmer’s annual report card


IF JUNE 2017 was the peak of success for Jeremy Corbyn, then April 2019 wasn’t too far behind.

Consistent poll leads over the Conservative Party from the start of the month all the way up to the end of May – when the Brexit Party was conceived – meant that, as per usual in British politics, the opposition were enjoying a comfortable lead over the bumbling incumbents.

Of course, the writing was on the wall just a few months later when Boris ‘Get Brexit Done’ Johnson drove home his message to the British electorate.

Unable to handle the Brexit divisions in his party, Corbyn rightly stood down after a disastrous election loss.

But for four years, the former leader had inspired many, gave a mainstream voice to the British left and, as polling history shows, provided genuine opposition to David Cameron, Theresa May and (less effectively, mind) Boris Johnson.

In addition to suspending him from the party, Corbyn’s replacement has failed on all of these counts.

Keir Starmer got off to a storming start by distancing himself from his predecessor’s legacy. His Shadow Cabinet, which included leftists like Rebecca Long-Bailey, appeared a finely-balanced Broadchurch.

Even an apparent lack of opposition during the start of the pandemic didn’t dent Starmer’s soaring approval ratings. Despite criticisms as one of the ‘Liberal Elite’ or an ‘out-of-touch London lawyer’, he appeared to be cutting through to voters.

This wasn’t necessarily a difficult task – with Brexit out of the way, all the focus was on the pandemic response. And whether it be bungling PPE procurement or refusing to lock down early enough, there were plenty of open goals for Labour.

In the spirit of national unity, Starmer chose to instead ‘support’ the government and avoid the appearance of trying to score political points. This worked – for a few months.

For many in the long term, this only allowed the Tory leadership to get away with making a complete hash of the pandemic response. It has meant that, coupled with declining cases and a successful vaccine rollout, that Labour have been left helpless in opposition. To start attacking the government on their failures in 2020 now – after taking a soft approach for over a year – would certainly help the ‘Captain Hindsight’ name stick.

Since the end of January, Labour have been left anywhere between three and 13 points behind the government, and this looks unlikely to be made up anytime soon.

Elsewhere, Starmer’s unnecessary war on the left of the party has left many unsettled. Sacking Rebecca Long-Bailey, suspending Jeremy Corbyn, and parachuting a candidate into Hartlepool have all caused outrage among the socialists that remain in the party.

If Starmer was trying to distance himself from the left wing of Labour in order to appeal to the centre ground, the effect has clearly worn off. A recent YouGov poll showed his net approval rating at minus 24 percent – his worst ever performance. Among 2019 Labour voters, it’s now minus seven.

Compare this to Boris Johnson, who has a positive 63 rating among voters who backed the Tories in 2019.

It turns out that not being Jeremy Corbyn is not quite enough to become Prime Minister. Voters are confused to what Starmer’s Labour stands for.

Naturally, Redaction Politics could be proven wrong next month during the local, Scottish and Welsh elections, as well as the Hartlepool by-election. Starmer could see his new coalition of voters – perhaps disillusioned Tories, the odd Lib Dem and former Labour voters who couldn’t handle Corbyn – unite to give him a vote of confidence.

But with Shadow Cabinet ministers already warning of a “struggle” on May 6, according to the Financial Times, we could see more ‘Red Walls’ shatter in the most unexpected of places.

He could have transformed the party in his own ilk when he came in last April – but it appears that, for Starmer, the moment is gone.

Featured Image: Official Portrait/Chris McAndrew

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