SIR KEIR STARMER is reshaping the Labour Party after five years of Jeremy Corbyn at the helm – but a new report suggests that the Labour leader’s biggest weakness is his focus on “prosecuting” the Government, rather than spelling out policy.
Sir Keirs success at being elected as Mr Corbyns replacement signalled to many Labour members that the partys fortunes had changed. Mr Corbyn was heavily criticised for his hard-left stance throughout his time as leader and he has been blamed for leading Labour to its worst electoral defeat since 1935 last December. The former leader was also blamed for his indecisive stance on Brexit, which many believe led Labour heartlands to vote for the Conservatives instead last December.
Sir Keir has so far stuck to his promise of changing Labour, and is attempting to root out antisemitism within the party.
He made waves last week when he sacked Mr Corbyns protégé and his electoral rival Rebecca Long-Bailey from the shadow cabinet for sharing an interview with a supposed anti-Zionist slur in it.
Yet, The Observers chief commentator Andrew Rawnsley wrote last month that Labour still has some way to go to recover and became a feasible opponent to the Government, especially after Brexit.
He explained: “The peril is that Labour will be seduced by the idea that being an effective opposition against a Government that is currently flailing is all it has to do.”
A report released last month from Labour Together, a party group which has examined the December election, addressed how the party must be careful not to be complacent at this time as the party needs to change within.
Mr Rawnsley added that “it is a fair assumption that [the reports] thoughts broadly reflect his own”, as it was written by the “Starmer kind of people” who now occupy most of the shadow cabinet.
The commentator continued: “To win next time, Labour will have to increase its total number of seats by 60 percent, a feat the party has not achieved since 1945.
“A key contention of the report is that it is a mistake to think that a different leader, with Brexit no longer the defining issue, would in itself be sufficient to change Labours electoral fortunes.
“I am told that the Labour leader does not demur.”
An insider told Mr Rawnsley that “Keir would say that himself”.
The report claimed Labour can only return to No.10 by creating “a winning coalition of voters that spans generations, geographies and outlooks” — a feat Labour has always needed to win a parliamentary majority in the past.
However, Mr Rawnsley critiqued the new leader by saying he focused too much on prosecuting the Government rather than pushing Labour.
He claimed: “Mr Starmer has had almost nothing to say about policy since he became leader.”
Labour’s approach to Brexit was cited as one of the main blunders of the party in the lead-up to the election.
As the Conservatives have so far delivered on all of their Brexit promises, to start the transition period at the end of January and leave completely by the end of the year, Labour will have to compete against that backdrop of success too.
Others have critiqued Sir Keirs decision to remove Ms Long-Bailey from his cabinet, which has been his most decisive move since becoming leader.
The BBCs Iain Watson explained last week: “In demonstrating firm leadership, Sir Keir Starmer has inevitably highlighted his partys divisions.”
He did also point out: “Some don’t believe Maxine Peake’s [the article’s interviewee] assertion — that the American police had learned the technique that killed George Floyd from the Israeli security services – was antisemitic. But in any case Mrs Long-Bailey hadn’t specifically endorsed this and Peake had admitted she’d been wrong.
“So they will question whether Sir Keir was looking for an excuse to marginalise the left.”
However, Sir Keirs allies claim that the sacking was based on the leaders promise to remove antisemitism within the party.
Still, the divisions within the party have also been recognised as another of the driving forces which led to Labour’s devastating loss last year.