• Development Intelligence

Why Starmer is still in so much trouble

Rwedland / CC by SA 4.0

He got a thumping in Hartlepool, lost his deposit in Amersham and although scraping a win yesterday in Batley and Spen, Sir Dreary Dull is very much still struggling.

Now to be fair, it isn’t all just Starmer or indeed Labour. Albeit in the UK the 2019 General Election result was Labour’s worst since 1935, the liberal Left are in trouble all over Europe. In Spain they’re at their third lowest point since democracy arrived in 1978. In Germany they’re at their lowest ebb since 1932. Austria, lowest since 1911. Sweden, since 1908. In Finland they’re at their second lowest level ever and in France, Italy and the Netherlands, the actual lowest ever.

But Batley and Spen aside, it is clear to all that Starmer is in reality a dead man walking. Why so?

Well first off, the long Corbyn shadow and the damage he did to the Labour brand will take a while to work off, possibly multiple election cycles. And, the metropolitan elite that currently control the Labour Party are very much on the wrong side of the very boring but very loud culture wars. But fundamentally, Starmer has three main problems:

Philosophical problem – The problem for Labour is that, in Tony Blair’s words, Labour is nothing if it’s not a moral crusade. And therein lies the problem: if you believe you are morally right, how do you completely change tack if you keep losing? What happens is that any loss tends to get explained away as bad luck: in 2010 it was because “we’d been in power so long”. In 2015 it was because they had the wrong Miliband. In 2017 it was Brexit. In 2019 it was Corbyn. In Hartlepool in May it was the Tories’ vaccine bounce. If you keep losing – or in your own heartlands, like Batley and Spen, you have to throw the proverbial kitchen sink at scraping a 323 vote win – then you really have to ask searching questions about why the punters aren’t buying your offer. That debate just isn’t happening within Labour with the intensity and vigour needed.

Strategic problem – Starmer is a tactician not a strategist. All his barrister training holds him back here; barristers focus on the immediate battle not the next 5-10 years after that. Starmer thinks he’s trying to win the next General Election. Corbyn’s 1935 low point in Parliamentary seat terms says otherwise. In truth, his job is to repair the party post-Corbyn and get it heading in the right direction so that the next leader (or maybe even the next but one) can romp to victory when the cycle turns and the Tories inevitably implode.

Tactical problem – The obvious truth is that elections in this country are won from the centre ground. Starmer needs to tack Labour Right but can’t due to the hard Left numbers and noise within his party membership from all the assorted hard Leftists that Corbyn let back into the party. Look at all their manoeuvring right now to try to oust Starmer. At his moment of greatest strength, just after his leadership win, he should have summoned his inner Kinnock and started kicking out the hard Lefties. He flunked it. And as the old saying goes in the Labour Party, you either kill the hard Left or they kill you.

So he will limp on, fighting any by-election hoping to scrape through, possibly being challenged by his own hard Left with regular monotony, and then go on to lose the probable May 2023 General Election.