A wafer-thin by-election win won’t solve the Labour Party’s problems.
The talk of the town has been that the Batley and Spen by-election was a victory for Labour. “Labour is back” and “Labour is coming home” were the football inspired words Keir Starmer used to describe this wafer-thin by-election win. He forgets the party only won by 323 votes, that Labour have held this seat since 1997 and that Kim Leadbeater is the sister of the murdered Jo Cox suggesting a sympathy vote might have taken place.
Starmer’s approval ratings are still dismal. He’s only the 5th most popular Labour politician, is disliked by 40% of the general public and only 22% think he looks like a Prime Minister in waiting. Compare this to Boris Johnson who is the 2nd most popular Tory politician and liked by 22% of the general public.
I spoke to a former member of the Labour Party about what he disliked about Keir Starmer. “I dislike his passivity” he tells me. “Understandably he is leader of the Labour party in unprecedented circumstances, but he still seems to lack a “fire” that the opposition needs. There’s no discernable personality or charisma to attach to”. He notes that Keir’s leadership was responsible for him leaving the Labour Party.
Keir’s apparent lack of charisma is evident not only in the Commons. On his recent ‘Life Stories with Piers Morgan’, the leader broke down in tears over his mummy. To Starmer sceptics like me, this was nothing more than a rampant PR job to humanize Labour’s robotic text speech leader. He is a charisma vacuum with a rather stiff and awkward habit of tucking his chin into his neck. No matter how bufoonish Boris may be, you can’t deny he has a deft touch with the public.
The Starmer scepticism runs in my family. “I think the problem with Keir Starmer is we don’t really know what he stands for” says my mum, a life-long Labour voter. “He seems to stand against anything the Tories do, but he doesn’t put an alternative, positive vision forward for what he thinks Labour should do”.
That’s the crux of my own Starmer scepticism. He has no clear, articulate vision for the party or the country. He has spent the majority of the pandemic criticizing Boris on all counts, but not offering up a solid solution that Labour would do any differently.
Jamie Morris agrees with me. “I’d like to see him take a harder stance on things and not try to be like an everyman” he tells me. It’s ironic that that hard stance preached by Jeremy Corbyn with ideas of re-nationalizing railways and public utilities would’ve taken Britain back to the Winter of Discontent. The Labour Party is in fractures since their worst defeat since 1935 at the 2019 General Election. It’s somewhat unsurprising therefore that they would go for someone a bit bland and boring considering Corbyn was dragging the party backwards.
Keir is Soft Left, but the definition of what that means is still up for debate. He’s certainly not Blairite as he has trashed the free market model and he’s certainly not Corbynite as that would make him a crypto-Communist. But what is Soft Left? Is that just a word for a left wing politician with nothing new or positive to say?
Most worrying about his interview with Piers Morgan was when he said he didn’t realise why Labour lost the 2019 Election. Isn’t the answer staring at him right in the face? They lost because they were too left wing! “People with their heart liked what Jeremy Corbyn was saying” says my mum. “But at the end of the day people saw it was unrealistic and it would be trying to unravel such a new and complex way of doing things that has evolved over the last 20 years”.
Corbyn dragged the party backwards. Keir is hoping to push the party forwards. But in his recent essay for The New Statesman, Tony Blair stated Labour needed “total reconstruction and deconstruction” or it will “die”. “The Labour Party that he developed and the policies that he developed (Third Way policies, much more Centre Left policies) seem to have fallen by the wayside” my mum tells me. “Labour has shifted back to the old-fashioned Left...The old-fashioned Left doesn’t fit the global context today”.
Labour is utterly skewed to the Left. Keir maybe a softie, but his party is riven with Hard Left loonies. Look at Nadia Whittome, look at Zarah Sultana, look at Diane Abbott. These are the last remnants of the Corbyn era making a lot of noise, but, as I’ve often said, empty vessels make the most noise.
Boris, on the other hand, won the 2019 election and the recent local elections because he has a much firmer grip of the British centre. The Tories have even shifted to the Left in recent months with their high spending, high taxes, high borrowing budget. That’s not the mark of a conservative government, that’s a social democractic government.
And, at the centre of it all, we have an enigma. And that enigma is Labour’s leader. Until he was elected, I knew nothing about him. I still don’t know most of his shadow cabinet. And I’m sorry crying over your mummy isn’t going to make people vote for you. He has no vision for the party.
Tony Blair is right. “Without total change, Labour will die”. That’s harsh words from the man responsible for winning Labour the biggest landslide in post-war history, but it’s the truth. A bigger statement, however, should be that “without a change in leader, Labour will die”. Sir Keir just isn’t up to the task...