Dec 26, 2020
4 mins read
This article reviews the opening months of Keir Starmer's leadership of Labour and examines his mandate, electability, trustworthiness and the political direction he is taking the party in. First published 5th August 2020.
The case against Keir Starmer
Keir Starmer was elected Labour leader on April 4th 2020. His supporters claim he has an overwhelming mandate and are quick to cite his 56.2% vote share win as evidence. However, the closer you look at the results the less credible that claim becomes.
Starmer spent more money on his #KeirForLeader campaign than any candidate has ever spent on any internal election in Labour’s history. Despite that advantage, and despite campaigning for several months, he won just 35% of the eligible vote. More people did not vote (300k) than voted for him. Mass disengagement from such a crucial election is very concerning. Starmer's inability to energise the Labour base does not bode well for building a broad coalition of voters.
Those internal election results show that even with the backing of rich donors, the full support of the Labour right-wing and a largely friendly press, Starmer still struggles to reach outside his largely remain-supporter bubble. To make matters worse, the leadership hustings revealed to those who hadn’t already heard Starmer speak that he is a pedestrian and uncharismatic performer.
At this point it is worth mentioning Starmer’s political backstory. He became an MP in 2015 and was one of the 172 Labour MPs who took part in the 2016 coup against Jeremy Corbyn. Keir Starmer is the party leader as a direct result of the coup against Corbyn, a coup which Starmer took part in. I believe that calls into question the legitimacy of his leadership and authority as leader.
The polls strongly indicate that Keir Starmer is unelectable. It follows that Labour cannot win power while he is leader. His dire polling is probably a result of him championing the campaign to stop Brexit. By trying to disenfranchise the 17.4 million people and 65% of constituencies which voted to leave the EU he permanently damaged his own electability and, by association, Labour's electability.
Will the millions of voters he tried to double cross over Brexit vote Labour while he is leader? If remain had won and Starmer was a Brexiteer and he had tried to overturn remain would those remainers vote for Starmer? It is highly unlikely.
Assessed purely on the data of election results and polling, Starmer's strategy of shifting Labour right and attacking the left in order to appeal to Tory voters, while also retaining the Labour base, has failed. It as always going to fail, he is attempting to create a highly unstable coalition. Starmer's electoral strategy is unsound.
Since becoming Labour leader Starmer has ignored the wishes of the left wing voters who helped Labour win 40% of the vote in 2017. Instead of securing and building on the electoral base he inherited from Jeremy Corbyn he has reneged on his leadership campaign pledges and abandoned the highly popular policies in the 2017 and 2019 manifestos.
Hilary Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign is a case study in what happens when politicians act as if it’s their turn and take their voters for granted. The centrist orthodoxy that voters have nowhere else to go led to Donald Trump becoming President. Starmer is repeating that mistake by taking Labour voters for granted.
Starmer is basically proposing Labour should form a coalition of voters ranging from socialists to Tories. When you write it down you can see how unfeasible and unstable that coalition would be. Not only is it too general an idea to be considered a strategy but by shifting right Starmer is abandoning Labour’s principles and values for no gain.
A matter of trust
The final part of the case against Starmer concerns trust. I predict the Tories will campaign on the theme of trust at the next general election. They will say we told you we would get Brexit done and we did. Starmer said he would deliver Brexit but went back on his word. They will say government is a matter of trust and Starmer has proved beyond doubt that he cannot be trusted.
The problem is, it is all true. Remainers who refused to respect the referendum foolishly cast Boris Johnson as the defender of democracy. Starmer was the driving force behind holding a second referendum with remain on the ballot. He is extremely closely associated with remain and with Labour breaking its word on Brexit. The Tories will not let people forget that fact.
Trust is also important between members and leaders of organisations. Starmer didn’t disclose his donors to members until after they had voted, and has already reneged on commitments he made just four months ago. Is his word his bond? Is Starmer upfront and trustworthy? It is not looking very good so far, is it?
These considerations and others lead me to believe that Labour cannot win power with Keir Starmer as leader. Current polling tends to support that conclusion. Labour is still trailing behind in many polls against arguably the worst Tory government in living memory. If he can’t get us ahead now, he never will.
Keir Starmer needs to be replaced for Labour to win power. We should be thinking about succession planning and start talking about who would form the best leadership team to take Labour into the next general election and into government.
I want a Labour government. I have presented the case against Keir Starmer and strongly believe he is unelectable for the reasons I have given.
How can Labour win power with an unelectable leader? That is the paradox Labour members and supporters must address and resolve quickly if we want to defeat the Tories at the next general election.