With a new prime minister to oppose and a general election less than two years away, what’s the Labour leader’s new message to voters?
Keir Starmer has been the leader of the Labour party since April 2020, and in that time, he’s made it his priority to change it.
Under the previous leader, Jeremy Corbyn, Labour was further to the left on the political spectrum, a stance that ultimately proved unpopular with voters.
“We are looking at a Conservative majority of 86 if the votes actually tally up with this prediction, and that will be the biggest Conservative majority since Margaret Thatcher’s third victory back in 1987.
Let’s look at that Labour figure over 191 for Jeremy Corbyn – that would be the worst Labour result in modern times.”Huw Edwards reading out the results of the exit poll on the night of the 2019 general election, BBC News
So Keir Starmer has focused on moving the party away from Corbyn’s left-wing style of politics towards the political centre.
In the last two and a half years, he’s made clear his determination to stamp out anti-semitism in Labour, and he suspended Corbyn as a Labour party member and MP over the issue.
“Jeremy Corbyn’s reluctance to apologise has cost him dear – suspension from the party he once led.”ITV News clip reporting Corbyn’s suspension in 2020
And he has distanced himself from Labour’s plans for the economy under Jeremy Corbyn.
“Look I’m not in favour of nationalisation – there’s different ways of doing business, but the top-down version of nationalisation I don’t think really works and I’m not in favour of that.”Keir Starmer giving his opinion on nationalisation of public utilities during an LBC interview
But now Keir Starmer needs to appeal to the wider electorate. There’s often been a feeling among voters that they don’t know what exactly Labour stands for, and what they would do in government.
The next general election is thought to be around two years away, but it could come sooner. So what’s Starmer’s message to the people he needs to attract?
Well, Keir Starmer opposed the last prime minister, Boris Johnson, by positioning himself as his polar opposite when it came to personal and professional conduct.
He was someone who would obey the rules and not bend or break them, as Boris Johnson often did.
“It’s about who I am, what I stand for, and I stand for honour and integrity and the belief that politics is a force for good and we shouldn’t all be dragged down by this cynical belief that all politicians are the same and I’m here to make it clear that I am not the same.”Keir Starmer, explaining his pledge to resign if fined over “beergate”
When Boris Johnson was in Downing Street, Keir Starmer’s message to the country was essentially this: you can’t trust the current prime minister to abide by the rules and tell you the truth – but you can change that by electing me.
But now Boris Johnson has left Downing Street, and Liz Truss is running the show, he’ll need a new approach. So what should he do?
We’ve already had a few clues about the dividing lines Starmer will try to draw between his party and the Conservatives. Earlier this month, he and Liz Truss locked horns for their first Prime Minister’s Questions.
“When she said in her leadership campaign that she was against windfall taxes, did she mean it?”Keir Starmer at Liz Truss’ first PMQs as prime minister
The key dividing line appears to be based on how each party would manage the economy as the country is gripped by a cost-of-living crisis.
Labour’s approach would focus more on taxing the energy companies to help households with their bills. The Conservatives want to encourage economic growth by cutting taxes.
Starmer criticises what he calls trickle-down economics. This is the idea that if society’s richest people and biggest corporations are allowed to make lots of money, it will benefit everyone. It’s been at the centre of Conservative thinking since the 1980s.
“Clearly what will be the main issue now is how Sir Keir Starmer carries on this attack on what he said was nothing new but the ‘Tory fantasy of trickle-down economics.”News clip, GB News
At a time when paying bills and putting food on the table is at the forefront of so many voters’ minds, it looks like he’s keen to position himself as being on their side.
But politics is about more than just having the right policies. Charisma counts for a lot. And the verdict on Starmer is that he doesn’t seem to have much of it…
“My issue with Starmer is… I mean he is boring and people perceive him as boring – you look at focus groups of what voters think about Keir Starmer and one columnist put ‘it’s like a thesaurus entry for the word dishwater’…”John Ahmore, Editor of CapX, giving an interview to GB News
Another problem is Labour’s distance from its working-class roots. The party was born out of the trade union movement, and its traditional strongholds were working class areas in the north and midlands of England, Scotland and Wales. But at the last general election many of these seats went to the Conservatives, and it’s uncertain whether Starmer can win them back.
“Labour has lost it for the working class. They was always for the working class people, wasn’t they? But they have really lost it and that where they – the Conservatives – have upped their seats.”A voter in Sheffield, interviewed by Sky News
One big problem for the Labour party in recent years has been that what the party members want is often very different to what its target voters want. For instance, at this year’s party conference, party members and trade unions are piling on pressure for Labour to commit to reforming how governments are elected in the UK.
They want to move away from our current first-past-the-post system towards proportional representation – or PR. Angela Rayner, the party’s deputy leader, has said that the leadership isn’t set to embrace this position…
“The debate is live and kicking in the Labour Party but there’s no suggestion that at this moment in time we’re gonna be moving to a PR system… me, I’m yet to be convinced by PR.”Angela Rayner, Labour’s deputy leader, giving her thoughts on PR
While it may be a big issue for party activists, it isn’t for the British public.
Tortoise’s Democracy in Britain poll found that only 20 per cent of people ranked it as one of the worst things about British democracy. That came way behind other issues including the quality of things like the justice system, the media, our MPs and local government.
If Labour is to win back voters under Starmer, the party will need to prioritise the issues people actually care about. Which, to be fair to him, is what Keir Starmer seems to be doing at the moment. And, to an extent, it’s working. Right now, Labour has an average poll lead of 9 points. But if the party were to win by that amount at a general election, it still wouldn’t be enough for it to form an absolute majority in the House of Commons. And Starmer should remember that Labour also had a poll lead a year before the 2015 general election, which they went on to lose – catastrophically. There’s still time for it all to go wrong.
This episode was written by James Wilson and mixed by Imy Harper.
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