Labour Leadership: Will Keir Starmer turn the party's fortune's around?

Labour leader Keir Starmer
Will Keir Starmer's gravitas prove a gamechanger?

As Keir Starmer and Angela Rayner assume the Labour leadership with a huge mandate, Paul Krishnamurty analyses their prospects of success...

"The reality is that - whomever the party leaders have been - British politics has been consumed by a culture war over the past decade, mirrored across numerous countries."

Sir Keir Starmer has been confirmed as the new Labour leader and Angela Rayner will be his deputy. Their victories were resounding. Starmer won in the first round of the party's AV system with 56.2%. Rayner won 41.7% in the first round and passed the winning threshold after the third round.

Labour's next election odds shortening

Will this prove a turning point for the party, a decade after they last held power? Considering how far behind they are currently in the Westminster stakes, the early betting signals are relatively positive. Labour have been matched this morning at 2.56/4 to win Most Seats at the Next General Election, and 4.47/2 for an Overall Majority.

Those targets are probably a long way off. The next election is 1.444/9 to take place in 2024. Moreover, we are living through the most dramatic and frankly terrifying period in history.

Harold MacMillan's famous phrase describing the unpredictably of politics - "Events, dear boy" - has never felt more pertinent. It is quite possible that Starmer will find himself serving in some form of 'Government of National Unity' before any election takes place.

Nevertheless, we can try and form a judgement about how effective his leadership will be. Let's start with the positives. The only way is up for Labour. They trail the Tories by more than 20% in the polls - more than twice as far behind than at December's General Election.

Starmer's gravitas is an essential boost

As a celebrated lawyer - a knighted former Director of Public Prosecutions - Starmer has gravitas on a scale that was unimaginable with Corbyn or his predecessor Ed Miliband.

That really matters. There was a wealth of polling evidence showing Labour policies to be popular over the past decade, but very little faith in the competence of the leadership or ability to deliver them. Starmer screams competence and therefore fills a gaping vacuum in the party's brand.

In this sense, his challenge is very different to the one Corbyn inherited. By 2015, Labour had lost its brand. Too many didn't know what it stood for or whom it represented. Whatever his wider failings, Corbyn re-established Labour as the party of idealism, redistribution, 'for the many not the few'. He inspired a massive surge in membership. A legacy they won't surrender quickly.

Angela Rayner is the perfect foil

I believe the choice of Rayner as deputy is a masterstroke. Young, self-made, authentic, Northern, working-class - she is an equally essential part of the brand. During the leadership contest, Lisa Nandy often accurately claimed Labour was a coalition between 'Lewisham and Leigh' or 'Hampstead and Hull'. The Starmer/Rayner duo perfectly reflects that coalition.

In parliament, Starmer's opposition will be highly effective. I'm sure he will be able to marshall co-ordinated opposition alongside the other non-Tory parties. Unlike the election just passed, it is easy to imagine a tactical arrangement being created with the Lib Dems.

Labour message could struggle to cut through

On the flip side though, I'm sceptical as to how effective that tactic will be. How many swing voters watch parliament? The last time we had a government with a clear majority, Tony Blair was regularly humiliated in parliament by William Hague or Michael Howard but it made no difference to his electability or their images.

During the last session, cross-party co-ordination to delay or reverse Brexit helped the Tories - enabling them to rebrand as anti-establishment. Will the voters Labour need will appreciate the optics of a liberal lawyer from North London opposing the government's agenda? It is easy to write Boris Johnson's lines about 'out of touch liberals playing politics whilst he gets the job done'.

Is a liberal London lawyer right for this era?

The reality is that - whomever the party leaders have been - British politics has been consumed by a culture war over the past decade, mirrored across numerous countries. Older, whiter, socially conservative, non-university educated voters moving Right. Younger, more diverse, liberal graduates moving Left. The latter are already largely in Labour's bag but I'm not sure Starmer is the man to win back the former.

There is a real danger that the Labour Right/Remainers have misread these dynamics, hastily buying a narrative that blames Corbyn and the 'hard left' for all their woes.

Yes, Corbyn's baggage was a massive handicap. Any reading of British political history says this isn't a left-wing country. Those that always said he was unelectable are congratulating themselves today although, in truth, the veteran socialist and anti-war campaigner came within a few thousand votes of becoming PM in 2017 and Labour were tied with the Tories just one year ago.

Dropping anti-austerity would be a mistake

If they now dominate the party and dismiss the legacy of Corbyn and (as importantly) John McDonnell, they risk a ruinous split. No bigger reason lay behind their victory in 2015 than the failure of rivals to oppose Tory welfare cuts. Some who championed that stance - Rachel Reeves, for example - are reportedly set for promotion. In the bubble that is Labour Twitter - I see little unity.

If and when normal life resumes, there will be an enormous deficit. The politics of 2010 will return. Who should pay? The rich in tax rises or the poor via spending cuts? The private or public sector? Should there be stimulus?

In that sense Starmer will be presented with the same dilemmas as Miliband, rather than Corbyn. That didn't work out well. Maybe the country is a very different place now. We will see. For now, I'm on the fence.

Follow Paul on Twitter and check out his website, Political Gambler.

UK - Next General Election: UK - Next General Election (Most Seats)

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