As the sun finally set on Jeremy Corbyn’s doomed leadership, it rises again for the Labour Party, and rises with Keir Starmer. Four election defeats and three leaders later, Labour must go again.
The bitter defeat of the 2019 General Election has laid bare just how far the party that founded the NHS is, from regaining public trust. The Conservatives had suffered under Theresa May but under Boris Johnson thrashed Jeremy Corbyn’s dreams of a socialist Britain and exposed the limitations of left-wing idealism.
Boris Johnson, with an assortment of bigoted comments against nearly everyone, gained credibility and trust where Labour lost it over his repeated promise to get Brexit done. Labour by contrast, were undone by muddled thinking.
Understanding where Corbyn went wrong is important for Starmer so that Labour can see where it can go right. The country is not a university society club that indulges in academic glorification of Marxism. It is not representative of your Twitter feed, where polls repeatedly hash out how terrible the Tories are, while the rest of the country continuously votes for them.
Nor is the country at all receptive to a party so openly hostile to the Jewish community. These were failings that began, on a personal level, with Corbyn but soon reached an institutional one with the entire party. We can recall this boiling out into the BBC Panorama investigations when the scale of Labour’s failure to deal with its anti-Semitism was exposed.
This is a warning to Labour that left-wing populism, which blurs the line with far-left politics in rhetoric, can never sustain itself in Britain. Labour offered a manifesto with a bottomless wallet, including mass nationalisation pledges, including free broadband for all and the abolition of tuition fees. It wasn’t that individually they were bad policies, but they often weren’t fleshed out and simply fed the narrative of Labour being reckless spenders.
The leadership contest itself was brutally long, perhaps shaped by Lisa Nandy more than anyone else. On pure talent and charisma, she was the worthy candidate and would make for an excellent Prime Minister. But as important as it would have been for her to win, it is arguably as important that Rebecca Long-Bailey lost. She was the Corbyn continuity candidate and defended Corbyn’s leadership far too much, citing him as a ’10 out of 10′ leader during her interview with ITV’s Paul Brand.
Keir Starmer is not cut from this cloth. He hailed from a background in law and has spent the last few years carefully attempting to stitch together a coherent Brexit plan. Although many regard him as coming from the Labour right factions, he is not a Blairite and probably recognises that for party unity to not dissolve, he cannot do away with anti-austerity politics.
Indeed, Labour should continue to immerse itself in the politics that offers solidarity to the most vulnerable, campaigns for living wages, fair rents and investment for homes and public services through increased taxes. The failure of the Labour right over the years has been to believe that the technocratic politics of Tony Blair could still be a guiding torch for the party. Labour cannot be anything but anti-austerity.
Recovering the lost Labour heartlands in the north however, the former mining towns and coastal communities, will not simply be achieved through promise of greater redistribution. Labour has lost its communitarian streak and had little to say about the atomised lives people are living.
When everything is moving to London, a city that is cosmopolitan but also individualistic, everyone else suffers by comparison. Lisa Nandy spoke very well about this, about focusing on towns and villages. People care about their communities and the country they are living in. They won’t vote for a party that they deem to be fiercely anti-British.
What does Labour have to say to the millions of voters who believe in England and are more socially conservative on issues around family, drugs and crime? How does it build a coalition of voters to win back the seats it so emphatically lost to the Tories?
Where Starmer will face big challenges however, will be convincing a country to show compassion to refugees and migrants. Labour will have to forge a new immigration model now that Freedom of Movement (FoM) has ended. There will be strong resistance, particularly as Covid-19 has emboldened support for reactionary right-wing authoritarianism.
But Britain has not done its humanitarian duty to refugees, has had terrible conditions for asylum seekers and allowed migrant workers to be treated poorly by employers and landlords. FoM allowed migrant workers to be hired on extortionate wages whilst draining poorer European countries of their labour force.
Starmer – pressed by members during the leadership contest to back FoM – has to find a new immigration model that doesn’t only accept immigrants but finds a way to immerse them in everyday communities, rather than leaving them as disenfranchised, isolated, and powerless individuals in society.
Finally, where Labour must gravitate as much as possible away from Corbyn’s stances is on foreign policy. Under Corbyn, the party turned a blind eye to atrocities in Syria committed by the regime and Russia, failed to build solidarity with the people of Iran against its regime, has failed to condemn Venezuela’s terrible regime and ignored China’s internment of millions of Uighur Muslims.
Rather than offering solidarity with the people of the Global South, it has been supportive of the dictators and their oppressive state apparatuses. In the context of Covid-19, Labour cannot be a passenger when inquests are made into how China sought to cover up the outbreak of the virus in its mainland.
Labour’s road back to power is a long one with no guarantee of reaching the desired destination. But the last five years were a failure on uncharted scales and cannot be repeated again. It is now over to Keir Starmer to mend the damage, steady the ship, and sail Labour to victory.