One year on from his election as Labour leader, Keir Starmer faced his first test: the local elections. What was predicted to be a moderately successful evening for Labour, turned out to be one of their biggest failures in a decade. After losing control of eight councils, and facing a historic defeat in Hartlepool, it is clear that Labour is out of touch with their voters.
Why? Now, more than ever, they are out of touch with the British people.
Labour’s downfall began in December 2019. As the country geared up for what was dubbed as the ‘Brexit Election’, Labour’s campaign failed to deliver a clear message of their stance. Speaking to Andrew Neil in November 2019, Corbyn stated a deal to leave would be struck with the EU within 3 months, which will be put as “a Referendum to the people of Britain who will make that decision.”
For many pro-leave Labour voters, this was not what they wanted to hear. In their eyes, they had their say. After three years of waiting and debating, Brexiteers were restless and frustrated with a Labour party who did not make their position clear – a “neutral stance” was not enough.
Running on a different slogan, the Conservative party promoted the promise to ‘Get Brexit Done’, making their stance on the matter clear. For the 52% of voters who chose leave, this is the change they had been campaigning for. In their eyes, a vote for the Tories was a vote to finish Brexit. In an interview with the BBC before the election, Boris Johnson, given he would win the election said he wanted to “bring our country together”, citing Brexit and the “failures of the political class” as his reasoning.
It wasn’t surprising, then, to see Labour lose an unprecedented fifty-nine seats in the 2019 general election. Lifelong Labour voters fled to the Conservative party in a desperate attempt to claim Brexit. Despite this, Brexit wasn’t the only reason for Corbyn’s crushing defeat. In a YouGov survey of five hundred voters, a shocking 35% claimed they wouldn’t vote for Labour because they disliked Jeremy Corbyn. For many, his borderline socialist ideals were not the Labour party they aligned with.
Whilst it won over younger generations, with 56% of 18-24’s and 54% of 25-29’s casting a Labour vote, older generations expressed distaste for the party. Labour took a measly 22% of the vote in the 60-69 age group, compared to 31% of over 65’s in the 2010 general election. By that point it was abundantly clear that Labour was desperate for reform – then in walks Sir Keir Starmer.
A former human rights lawyer, Starmer was a relatively unknown name in politics to many. Although he had had a successful career, prospective voters (including myself) were intrigued to see his vision for Labour’s future. Defeating hopefuls Lisa Nandy and Rebecca Long-Bailey, Starmer swept up just over 56% of the vote – a far cry from Long-Bailey’s 27.6%.
After his victory, Starmer’s leadership began amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. It wouldn’t be an exaggeration to assert that last Spring, more than ever, the country needed a strong leader of the opposition to challenge the Government on every aspect of their policy.
Instead of this, Starmer fails to reach the issues that are at hand. Rather than debating Conservative party policy and ruling, Starmer would too often resort to wasted questions: ‘Why does the prime minister think that is?’ and not follow through with any hard-hitting demands to make sizeable change.
All of this, then, culminates in the May local elections of 2021. After the devastating loss of Hartlepool, Starmer announced he would take “full responsibility” for the defeat, and still holds a “burning desire to change our country for the better.” But, in my eyes, it’s too late.
For the past six years, Labour has had two leaders who have failed to capture the trust and representation of their voters. Labour is at a breaking point – just 17% of voters believe the leader is succeeding.
This proves my theory: Keir Starmer’s leadership win was nothing more than an attempt to appease traditional Labour voters who voted Conservative for the first time in 2019. It’s almost like Labour was sending the message, ‘look, we’re not too far left anymore, you can vote for us again!’ It still didn’t work.
Alas, Labour’s attempt to reclaim the centre ground has been a catastrophic misfire. In a Blair-like mission to unite the country after a controversial Conservative government, Starmer is left with less power, less respect, and a distinct lack of trust with the British public. What the party needs now is a new leader: progressive and persistent to push the demands of Labour voters through Parliament.
If the Labour party wants to continue as a leading figure in politics, a new leader cannot come fast enough.