KEIR Starmer is a man in a hurry.
The Labour leader is in a race against time to convince the centre ground of public opinion he has jettisoned himself and his party from the failed socialist experiment of Jeremy Corbyn.
Given the smart money at Westminster is on a General Election in 2023, he hasn’t got long to turn the Labour tanker around.
The three latest opinion polls have given the Conservatives leads of seven, nine and four per cent.
But Boris Johnson’s “vaccine bounce” appears to have stopped as his personal approval rating, +9 three months ago, is now -6.
Asked how Sir Keir would have done as PM during the pandemic, the public returned a rating of -7.
Soon the Labour leader will emulate his predecessor with a summer visit to Scotland – part of his Grand Tour of Britain – to listen to, in particular, disaffected Labour voters of whom there are many, and to set out his vision for the country.
Earlier this month, Anas Sarwar, the Scottish Labour leader, urged Sir Keir to recognise the first red wall to fall was not in northern England but in Scotland.
He warned him candidly: “Until we get Labour back on the pitch again in Scotland, credible again, there is no route back to a UK Labour Government.”
LABOUR ROSE AGAIN?
QUITE a Herculean task given Scottish Labour’s poor electoral performances of late and the Labour leader’s own lacklustre leadership.
Indeed, this was narrowly saved from the abyss by the party’s victory in the Batley and Spen by-election, won by just 323 votes.
As with every party leader, Sir Keir has two battles to fight – one within his own party to unite it and one without to convince voters his lot are better than
The dilemma for the Labour chief is how to calibrate his approach that keeps his party together and united behind a moderately Left agenda, while convincing enough voters Labour is beyond Corbynism and presenting a credible alternative to Johnson’s Conservatives.
Go too far one way or the other and he could alienate enough people to doom Labour to yet more years in the wilderness of opposition.
Last week, Starmer began the process of what one ally said was flushing out a “toxic” mix of four far-left groups – Resist, Labour Against the Witchhunt, Labour in Exile Network, and Socialist Appeal – whose views cover, among other things, support for a Marxist revolution and a denial of the anti-Semitism within the party.
One source close to Starmer branded the groups “poisonous,” committed to undermining Labour’s processes and procedures.
Party HQ said the ruling National Executive Committee had decided to ban them because they were “not compatible with Labour’s rules or our aims and values”.
TOO BROAD A CHURCH?
LABOUR, it stressed, was a “broad, welcoming and democratic” organisation. The problem, of course, is that if a party becomes too broad a church, it loses any core identity.
But the purge sparked some angry fallout from the Left.
Richard Burgon, a loyal member of the Corbyn shadow cabinet, argued the Labour leadership should be fighting the Tories, “not chasing young socialists out of our party for being part of a political tradition the Labour leader started his political life in”.
John McDonnell, the ex-shadow chancellor, said the purge looked “desperate” and was “standard Blairite fare to try to show how strong a leader you are by taking on your own party”.
Rob Sewell, editor of Socialist Appeal, claimed Starmer wanted to expunge socialism from the party and “return it to Blairism and make Labour a safe pair of hands for capitalism”.
The purge of the far-left groups sets the scene for acrimony at Labour’s conference in Brighton, a tradition going back years. In September, Sir Keir will seek to reassert his authority after the humiliating by-election loss in
Hartlepool and the narrow escape in Batley and Spen.
One key date before then will be August 26 when Len McCluskey’s successor as general secretary of Unite, Labour’s biggest donor, will be announced.
McCluskey has endorsed leftwinger Steve Turner. Starmer will be hoping Gerard Coyne is elected after pledging to concentrate on the pay, pensions and working
conditions of the union’s 1.4 million members.
Sir Keir will need all the allies he can muster in the long pre-election campaign,
which Labour will use to focus more and more on the leadership, or lack of it, of the PM.
After another week of U-turns by Boris, the Labour leader told the Peston podcast: “In the end, integrity, honesty and accountability do matter and there will come a point at which the road will run out for Johnson on this.”
The pandemic has hampered Starmer’s ability to project himself and his ideas,and with the Tories spending so much money, the Labour knight will have to be extremely canny in the economic and social justice policies he puts forward.
Intriguingly in the interview, Sir Keir failed to rule out pre-election pacts with the Liberal Democrats.
Asked about such a prospect, the Labour leader replied: “There’s a majority, broadly, against the Tories in the country and, obviously, we’ll have to see how we go into the next General Election.”
Sir Ed Davey, the LibDem leader, has already spoken of creating an “anti-Tory progressive alliance”.
Given the mountain Labour must climb to win power – a swing of 13 per
cent compared to the 9% achieved by Blair in 1997 – then Starmer may have
no option but to do a deal with the LibDems to prevent another Tory term.
In politics, winning is everything.
The far left has always believed Blair hijacked Labour to create a Torylite party. For them, socialist purity is more important than political compromise.
The results of that were seen in 2019 with Labour’s worst General Election defeat since the 1930s.Love him or loathe him, Blair made Labour history by winning three consecutive elections. The party cannot afford another defeat.
For Sir Keir, the clock is seriously ticking.