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19th October 2022

Drama for Starmer: Does the Labour party have what it takes?

Two years before the next general election and battling factionalism, reports of transphobia, and the Forde report, does the Labour Party have what it takes?
Drama for Starmer: Does the Labour party have what it takes?
Keir Starmer speaking in 2020Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Echoes of Blair’s election anthem ‘Things can only get better’ have resurfaced for many following a tumultuous summer in British politics. From the match that sparked the fire, Johnson’s resignation, this summer’s Tory leadership race and disastrous mini-budget have seen Labour take a commanding lead in opinion polls. In light of the Labour Party Conference in Liverpool, Labour now holds a 33-point lead over the Conservatives.

However, there is often more than meets the eye when it comes to opinion polls. Looking closely, 17% of Conservative voters state they would now vote for the Labour Party. This raises questions as to whether the Labour Party is gaining success of their own accord, through good policy and leadership, or whether they’re simply benefitting from the current Conservative demise.

Reception from the recent Labour Party Conference would suggest Labour has been able to present itself as a party of adequacy amongst voters. The party utilised the Conference to display itself to the nation as a united and competent front. To those on the right and the centre wing of politics, Labour Leader Sir Keir Starmer MP’s speech was thorough and compelling; addressing the climate crisis, the prospect of a publicly owned energy company, and help for first-time buyers. To those on the left, Starmer’s speech was dubious and abandoning.

Perhaps the biggest question left to ask is to what extent would the Labour Party work as a government? The presence of over six hundred business leaders at the Party Conference last month would indicate an attempt from Starmer to distance his party from the left. This indication is reinforced by Starmer’s instruction to Shadow Ministers not to attend picket lines, which led to the sacking of Shadow Transport Minister Sam Tarry MP after attending a picket line in support of rail, maritime and transport workers this July. Starmer offered, by way of explanation for sacking Tarry, that he had been sacked for making up policy “on the hoof“. This explanation is dubious, in my opinion.

After working in 2016 as a director of Jeremy Corbyn MP’s Labour leadership campaign, Tarry is a key ally of Corbyn within the party. Perhaps this is an attempt from Starmer to wash his party clean from the association of Jeremy Corbyn, in a bid to regain support in Labour’s lost heartlands. Tarry has become the first victim of Starmer’s purge of the left in favour of his centrist ‘holy grail’ of the Labour party, through the process of deselection whereby Labour members remove their support from an MP, making them unable to stand in upcoming elections as a Labour candidate. This is one of many of Starmer’s acts that have failed the left, which includes the sacking of Rebecca-Long Bailey MP from the Labour front bench, and the suspension of Corbyn from the party.  The left has been marginalised by Starmer; therefore, it resonates that the Labour Party will only work as a government for voters who rest their beliefs in the centre. For those of us on the left, it is going to be a gruelling reign.

The current state of affairs can be likened to the not-so-distant 1997 election of Tony Blair: divisions in the Conservative Party mirror the current divisions in the Conservative Party following sacked Chancellor Kwasi Kwarteng’s disastrous mini-budget. Furthermore, the recession of the 1990s, fuelled by Black Wednesday in 1992, emulates the current cost-of-living crisis fuelled by high rates of inflation and low wages. For Blair, the only cure was to rebrand. The birth of New Labour meant distancing the party from the left in order to create a fresh new appearance that the nation could trust. For Starmer, rebranding appears to mean dropping the so-called drama, repairing factionalism under Jeremy Corbyn, and stressing their economic competency. Overall, it seems it is a vexatious victory of the centrist wing of the Labour party.

If there is anything the current state of British politics has proved, it is that two years is a long turbulent time in politics. Starmer will have to work hard to continue gaining momentum amongst existing Labour supporters and fluctuating Conservative voters if he is to win the next general election. However, if there is any form of an unfulfilling glimmer of hope centrist voters can take from this is that, in my opinion at least, “things can only get better”.

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