UK Politics

Labour faces an uphill struggle in the hope of being elected

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There are times when forgiveness appears impossible and the benefit of the doubt has been given one time too many. A willingness to trust the government’s judgement goes too far. 

Strangely, I speak not even of the coronavirus pandemic. The government’s management of A-level results has been astonishing. It is easy to look at the broad statistics: over a third of pupils were given downgraded marks.

What is sadder, and elicited more empathy, were the individual stories. The person who’s lost out on a chance at their dream university. Poor grades that were on CVs, which bear no reflection on their work, hampered their chance in the economic market which has been hugely affected by the pandemic.

This is a problem universal to sixth form education centres. Parents who swung behind the Conservatives last Christmas will have seen their children educationally suffer.

And yet despite this, the Conservatives are still ahead in the polls, with a recent Opinium survey showing the Tories three points ahead. There has been no ‘Black Wednesday’ moment. 42% of the country remain aligned to the Conservatives come what may.

This should terrify Keir Starmer. Despite the leader polling well himself, his party remains far behind the Conservatives. Despite questions over the accuracy of opinion polls, their accuracy was quite high at the last election.

Despite having four years to turn his party’s fortunes around, the challenge facing Keir Starmer cannot be underestimated. This is the most obvious electorally. Labour currently holds 203 seats. This is their lowest number since 1935. Turning that number around to enter government would be a remarkable achievement.

Candidates for the next election need to be selected quickly to be embedded within their communities and take up local causes. An individual candidate will not be enough, however. The approach towards the whole party will impact how individuals vote at a future election. 

This was what negatively affected many Labour MPs in 2019, with Labour’s Brexit policy and the prospect of Jeremy Corbyn as Prime Minister meant that voters backed the Conservatives. Keir Starmer, for whatever his merits, faces clear mathematical issues in ensuring that those voters return to Labour.

This must be done alongside holding many seats, which only narrowly remain Labour. It also involves gaining swing seats held under the Blair years but fell to the Conservatives when David Cameron took office. Starmer has a huge number of voters to win over and political tribes to appeal to.

Overcoming those difficulties look minor in comparison to winning back Scotland. Successful Labour election campaigns rely on winning over the vast majority of Scottish seats. This is likely to be extremely difficult when a second independence referendum looks more likely by the day. If the SNP win an overall majority in the Scottish Parliament elections next year, it will become increasingly harder for the government to refuse them a referendum. Were the ‘Yes’ campaign to win, a Labour victory reliant on the three other parts of the UK would appear impossible.

As the severity of the coronavirus has eased, the government has pushed more responsibility onto individuals. When so much power had been given to the state, it was only possible that more would be returned to individual choices. Rather, the increase in individual socialising has led people to assume that a second wave will be caused not by government action but foolish individual decisions.

Having intervened hugely, the government is now trying to reduce the responsibility they hold over citizens.

This has also been the case economically. As the furlough scheme draws to a close, unemployment will severely increase. This is inevitable now due to the pandemic’s economic costs. The government couldn’t save every business.

Let us remember however that the 2008 financial crisis under a Labour government didn’t lead to a Conservative victory. There was only a hung Parliament. While the economy has shrunk by a quarter during the worst of the pandemic, in June, the economy increased by 8.7%. The Conservatives may be able to effectively use the small recovery as a catalyst for their next election campaign.

Labour have also struggled in their response to the crisis. Keir Starmer became the leader on 4th April at the height of the pandemic. Throughout the months, he has needed to balance constructive opposition with holding the government to account properly. 

Escaping this divide and becoming more critical has not been easy for the Labour leader. With regards to coronavirus, it’s important not to fall into hindsight. Labour can only do well if they effectively state how they would have acted differently.

Despite a candidate’s merits holding little significance, it is likely to play a key role with regards to Keir Starmer. He would be presenting himself as the next Prime Minister. However, he has so far been unable to fulfil that role of a vibrant, bubbly leader that voters like.

I oppose the rise of celebrity politics as much as anyone else, but it seems to impact the decisions voters make. Of his opponents, Rishi Sunak could have a significant influence as the potential next Prime Minister. In the short term, his ‘Eat Out to Help Out’ scheme could deliver him victory.

Labour is in an undoubtedly better situation than six months ago. A new leader who looks somewhat Prime Ministerial gives the party credibility. Starmer’s leadership ratings against Boris Johnson reflect this. However, the party faces great challenges.

Electorally, the path to victory is momentous. On a constitutional level, Scotland could cost them victory. Campaigning wise, the Tories could present the economic recovery positively with a new leader. Without any of these factors, voters may decide to reject Keir Starmer. Only time will tell.

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