During his leadership electoral campaign, Sir Keir Starmer made a series of promises to his voters, pledging to present alternatives to the Conservatives, but after two years it is still not clear what exactly the leader stands for and if those promises have been kept. The “remainer” lawyer from Southwark is a controversial and ambiguous figure in the British political scene, with contradictions piling up from his earliest days.
First elected to Parliament in 2015 – serving as a member for Holborn and St. Pancras – and then becoming Shadow Secretary of State for Exiting the EU from 2016 to 2020, Keir Starmer became the nineteenth leader of the Labour Party in April 2020.
What has happened since then? Which promises were kept and has he been able to present a valid alternative to Tories’ policies?
In the ten pledges of the Labour party, Starmer promised to be an effective opposition to the Conservative party and to work in order to guarantee economic and social justice by increasing the income tax for the top 5% of earners and abolishing. The party also promised to promote human rights and keep peace by preventing illegal wars and putting the protection of human rights at the heart of the foreign policy; in this context, Starmer pledged to defend migrants’ rights and the free movement of people, promoting a system based on dignity and compassion. Furthermore, labour wanted to strengthen workers’ rights and trade unions, tackling insecure work and low pay, as well as striving for equality in job opportunities. Another important pledge involved climate justice, as Sir Starmer announced his intention of putting climate emergency at the heart of his work promoting the Green New Deal and demanding more international action on climate rights.
Of all the promises made during the electoral campaign, many have been ditched by the Labour leader, who explained that the country’s situation has changed, along with its priorities. Making a U-turn on the pledges he made to voters and trade union members when he got the job, people and MPs have become more and more doubtful of Starmer and his leadership, often considered ruthless, especially with his own party.
From suspending his predecessor, Jeremy Corbyn, and the shadow education secretary Rebecca Long-Bailey in anti-Semitism row, to recently sacking Sam Tarry – MP for Ilford South – for supporting the striking rail workers at Euston station, Sir Starmer has always showed a tendency to attack the Left. In particular, by not supporting strikes, the Labour leader turned his back on the people upon whom the party is built, saying that if the party wants to succeed it needs to distance itself from unions and strikes.
Voters find it hard to take Sir Starmer seriously and, as a YouGov poll from last July shows, the majority of people (70%) believed that he would have made a better PM than Johnson, but mostly because of the Conservative leader’s weaknesses than because of Starmer’s strengths. If at first glance his policies appeared to move closer to Corbyn’s proposals, with his Green Paper on Employment Rights – where he promised to restore sectoral collective bargaining and to revoke anti-strike laws – the reality of the situation could not be more different and far from Labour’s ideals.
Two years after his election as Labour leader, many people in the party, as well as voters, lost their trust in a leader often described as an “empty suit” and someone who pushed the party continuously rightward. At the next elections in 2024, people expect to see a leader who supports his voters and stays true to those principles and causes he was elected to represent.