Given the catastrophic results for the Labour Party in the 2021 local elections, Starmer needs to rethink his strategy if we want to have any success moving forward. Starmer has somewhat revived Labour’s national polling from a low of 28% under Jeremy Corbyn to roughly 35% now. However, this will not be enough to secure the kind of mandate that Starmer needs to get the Labour Party back into Downing Street after 11 years. In my opinion, there are three things that the leadership should do to revive the party.
Kier Starmer’s likeable demeanour and polished Prime Ministerial composure is somewhat reminiscent of Tony Blair’s leadership style in the 1990s and early 2000s. Many in the Labour Party have warned against a move to the centre given the intra-party resentment towards Mr Blair. However, it is clear that Blair’s approach to leadership led to the most successful electoral strategy, that even the Tories grew envious of. The Blair coalition might just be exactly what Starmer needs to level up his leadership in the wake of a poor performance in the local elections. Some argue that this approach may have worked in the past but is not fit for the modern political climate. On this point, I would just point you towards Joe Biden, Jacinda Arden and Justin Trudeau. These three leaders have demonstrated the same collectedness, suaveness and moderation that propelled Blair to the political stratosphere and have recently received a sizeable mandate in this political climate.
Politics is a reactionary activity. Reactions towards leadership and direction seem to form the cyclical nature of the political climate. Hence we see a subtle return to moderation following the populist explosion of the 2010s. Many in the West have begun to grow tired of the divisiveness and isolationism of the populist wing of politics and have opted for stability and cooperation in the wake of the Covid Pandemic that has greatly changed the landscape.
This could be Starmer’s chance to counter the ostentatious style of Johnson’s premiership with and cool, calm and collected style that could deliver a fatal blow to the success of this type of British populism.
However, it is not just style that propelled Blair to success but also a strong set of policies. The most electorally successful leaders in the past have shared a common trait. A clear direction for the country. Take Margaret Thatcher for example, she was able to secure a decisive mandate from the country given her strong belief in neoliberal economic policies. The people knew exactly what Thatcher was going to do on day one, from regulation to lowering taxes and therefore were comfortable and confident in her ability to govern. The same is true for Blair and Boris. Both these men offered a seismic shake up to the policy direction for their party, but it was the assertive nature of their delivery that gave confidence to their supporters.
Starmer needs to offer the same level of confidence in his direction and policy choices that Boris is able to do in order to compete on the national stage. This idea of ‘levelling up’ in the wake of the devastation of the pandemic needs to be redefined on the left as it has been on the right. We see this demonstrated by a select few Labour politicians, most notably Lisa Nandy and Andy Burnham. These two politicians have a clear and vested interest in an equitable levelling up on a national level which predominately involves the working class. Both want to decentralise from London and bring all areas of the country into play from towns to cities. If Starmer were able to refocus his attention onto an equal opportunity platform with a focus on the north and especially towns, he would be in a good position to regain trust from the Red Wall voters that evacuated the party in 2019.
Finally, Starmer needs to be able to read the room better.
Coming from a Lawyer background, Starmer is used to theory and reality being relatively applicable to one another. However, in modern society, the two are barely ever compatible. What I mean by this is that what may seem popular or politically beneficial through research and social media is not the same as the public mood.
Boris is very politically astute to the mood of the public. He was able to utilise the feeling of anger towards the Labour Party’s remain factions in wake of the EU referendum which energised the ‘Leave’ base of voters. The increased turn out of ‘Leave’ voters in 2019 was enough to secure a massive landslide victory for Boris’s campaign. This lesson was clearly not learned by Labour as they nominated a ‘Remain’ candidate to run in the Hartlepool By-Election (which voted Leave by almost 70%). The dis-attachment between the Labour elites and the Labour voters is ultimately why Corbyn lost in 2019.
Starmer must return the Labour Party back to its heartlands, like Hartlepool, if they want a chance of victory at the next election. The working people feel abandoned by Labour’s elitist rhetoric that only really appeals to a small slice of the middle class. He needs to stop quizzing Boris on the refurbishment of his flat, an issue that does not matter to voters, and start grilling the government on issues relating to social care, welfare benefits and NHS funding. Furthermore, Starmer could even improve on Blair’s leadership by moving away from this elitist image in favour of a major focus on the working class and the roots of the party combining the successful aspects of both Corbyn and Blair to try and win back power, something Labour has lacked for over a decade.