• Development Intelligence

Can Starmer break through?

With the current backdrop of a rather anaemic performance at this local election, the cold hard truth is that the Starmerbot is really struggling to break through to the voting public. And this is both perplexing and completely against the grain of all historical election cycles to date. At this point in the cycle Cameron was +20 points clear of Brown; Blair was +40 points clear of Major. Despite the Tories very publicly committing virtual political hari-kari on an almost daily basis, pouring political lighter fuel on themselves and igniting it every half hour or so, the Starmerbot is only scraping a stubborn 5-point lead. Why?

His situation

First off, and to give him his dues, we must remind ourselves of his absolutely dire electoral inheritance bequeathed to him by St Jezza of Corbyn. He is starting from the lowest of start points, the worst Labour Party election performance since 1935. To win office in one election cycle requires him to achieve a 12-point swing. For context, that is larger than Blair's 10-point swing in 1997 and Thatcher's 5-point swing in 1982, to date the largest recorded swings in British electoral history; the Starmerbot is many things but a Blair or a Thatcher he is not.

Also, he was elected to office just as Covid hit. If he'd tried knockabout party politics then, he would have been crucified by the media. So he spent his first year or so sombrely supporting the Government through gritted teeth and with his looney Left criticising him from the side-lines.

But his association with Jezza will dog him right up to General Election Day. The Tories will run and run the images of the Starmerbot’s public support for Corbyn. ‘He wanted Jezza to be PM. He supported Corby for four and a half years. He campaigned for Magic Grandpa’. You can see all those campaign posters and Facebook ads coming down the track. The ghosts of Corbyn past will take a long time to exorcise.

As a ready reckoner, almost all opposition parties only win office when they are around 2000 council seats ahead of the sitting government. On this basis alone, Labour is way behind, still in negative territory even after the current local election.

His character

Alistair Campbell once famously remarked that “…tacticians are two a penny, but strategists are few and far between”. And therein lies one of the Starmerbot’s main weaknesses. His time as Leader of the Opposition has been a constant search for the sugar rush of this week’s cunning headline and not the implementation of a long-term strategy of how to win back power.

There is also a dull, wooden, robotic whiff of Theresa May about him. He seems incapable of thinking on his feet either at the despatch box or in media interviews when his well-rehearsed line is going nowhere. He resorts to repeating the same phrase or argument over and over which means he can look defensive, evasive and even a bit stupid. In truth this highlights that his professional history is that of a public sector lawyer; he can ask well-rehearsed questions but he cannot conjure up quick fire distraction answers when under pressure like a leading private practice QC. And like the Maybot, the Starmerbot has trouble connecting with us humans. These two are a special non-human sub species. And politics is ultimately about seeming relatable, appearing likeable and pressing the flesh.

His ‘beergate’ problem in Durham has inevitably dented his holier than thou approach to Boris’ ‘partygate’ problems. He has set the bar impossibly high by calling for the resignation of both Boris and Sunak, Sunak’s only crime being to arrive early at a meeting room within which there was a cake in a Tupperware container. So if Durham Police, under the cosh of unrelenting media and political pressure, do a reverse ferret like the Metropolitan Police did and reopen the investigation into beergate, he will face tricky accusations of hypocrisy. He will have to work out a convincing answer as to why he shouldn't follow his own advice and resign. It would be rich irony indeed if Starmer were to find himself in that position as the bad ship Boris bumbles on.

Time is against him

And in truth, the situation the Starmerbot has right now could possibly be his best case scenario: a tired, chaotic, scandal ridden, increasingly unpopular Tory leader in the middle of all manner of crises. It is very possible at the next General Election that he will be facing a new, more competent Tory leader, with a new agenda and some sexy new retail offers for the electorate, after two budgets and two spring statements containing all manner of bribes. Right now could be as good as it gets for the Starmerbot.

Right now, the pollster Britain Elects has the Starmerbot almost exactly where Jezza was in voter net favourability after 700-odd days in office, and that didn’t end so well. Polls tend to narrow during election campaigns, so the Starmerbot and Labour really need to get their act together as, to copy a phrase from Michel Barnier of Brexit negotiation fame, “the clock is ticking”.