Jonathan Eida | Opinion
So, Sir Keir Starmer has taken over at the helm of the Labour Party, having defeated Lisa Nandy and Rebecca Long-Bailey in the Leadership contest. He is certainly a different prospect to that of Jeremy Corbyn and offers many different dynamics to the Labour Party that are worth discussing, in order to see what sort of Labour Party we will see under his leadership and the problems he will face.
Coming off the back of the last election, the Labour Party had a few problems to contend with. A divided party, anti-Semitism rife in the grassroots, the extreme Socialist policies, a Brexit policy shunned by the electorate and, of course, the unpopular figure of Jeremy Corbyn. These, in a nutshell, are the issues that Starmer will have to negotiate if he is to see electoral success.
During Corbyn’s time as Leader, Starmer always held the mantle of the supposed moderate in the Shadow Cabinet. Especially towards the end, it was made up almost entirely of Corbyn loyalists, apart from Starmer. This, presumably, was why he was elected leader. He is seen as an established figure who commands a lot of respect and will put forward more moderate policies. However, this may not be as simple as an equation as it might seem.
Proposing a candidate who is the antithesis of Jeremy Corbyn threatens to widen the divide in the Party further. Corbyn’s popularity, although not widespread, was very strong in a large chunk of the membership. Lots of the Momentum-minded members will see Starmer as the beginning of the unravelling of the Corbyn legacy and therefore an enemy. Having a section of the membership that is hostile to your agenda may cause a host of problems for Starmer when it comes to elections. For all their faults, Momentum were always good at getting their members to turn out to vote, as well as creating an excitement around candidates. Their role in enthusing younger voters is also important to note. Starmer will have to consolidate their support if he is to see any success.
However, what impact this has on the actual policies is something worth considering. Will we see more radical policies from Labour in order to satisfy the far Left, or more moderate ones that risk losing their support? This is perhaps where Starmer will face his biggest challenge.
The biggest policy problem for Labour in the last election was their stance on Brexit. This saw the Red Wall break down in the north and almost complete abandonment by the traditional Labour Leaver voters.
The problem for Starmer is that this was his policy – he owned this. To have him be the candidate on the ballot paper asking for their votes back may not go down too well. The Brexit-supporting Left who gave their votes to the Tories in the last election may not be so keen to come back to Labour if Starmer continues down his preferred line.
How much of an effect this has depends on how much of an influence Brexit has on the next election. It could be that, by the time of the next election, we will have already left the European Union fully and there will be no further discussion of the issue. If so, then Starmer’s Brexit betrayal may not impact upon his electability. But for the time being, his stance remains an issue.
In conjunction with this point about Sir Keir’s Brexit ideology is the fact that Starmer is part of the ‘globalist elite’, which – in both the Labour Party and the country more broadly – is currently an unpopular image. Boris Johnson was able to play a more populist card, while Sir Keir on the other hand may not be able to do the same, since his ideology is based very much around that of elitist politics.
As for the anti-Semitism issue, since the election last year, the radical ends of the party have strengthened their hold upon it. Sir Keir will have to have to start strong to lay down his stance or the problem will continue. Only time will tell how successful he will be, but he faces an uphill task to solve it.
All in all, Starmer is a divisive character in the Labour Party, for better or for worse. He has a difficult job ahead, keeping the party cohesive, while also repairing the damage done by both himself and the previous Shadow Cabinet. The Labour Party may be looking for some relief after the Corbyn nightmare, but it is by no means certain that they will find it in Sir Keir Starmer.