Starmer was elected to the leadership in a landslide, on the first ballot. He took with him a significant amount of goodwill. Now, after Corbyn has inexplicably had the whip withdrawn, many voicing support for Jezza have been suspended, and amidst an exodus of members, Labour is behind in the polls. Behind a Government which has made incompetence its middle name, mishandled the Covid-19 pandemic, and fouled up Brexit.
So someone not unadjacent to the leadership decided that a relaunch was in order. And yesterday it came to pass. Sadly, what we got was not Tony Blair at his most astute, but Gordon Brown at his most accident prone. The sum total of today’s front page press coverage is very little, barring the i Paper, and a mention from the FT.
What went wrong? Simples. It seems the new Labour leadership is borrowing from the previous New Labour leadership. And what worked then is not going to work now.
New Labour was all about focus groups and triangulation. A focus group nowadays is not going to behave as it would have done in the 1990s: then, there was no social media, no incessant barrage of conspiracy theories, very little flag-waving, next to no ramped up Europhobia, rather less overt migrant bashing and blaming.
Small wonder today’s focus groups bring messages of flag-waving, patriotism, and an exceptionalism that is inevitably English. It won’t win back Scotland and will increasingly alienate Wales. And then we come to triangulation. Like the 1990s, this too is not going to work as the new Labour leadership might expect. Because we no longer have any kind of honesty in Government. John Major had his failings. But he was not an habitual liar.
Not only is alleged Prime Minister Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson a serial and indeed congenital liar, those who back him, in politics and in and around our free and fearless press, are not tired and in favour of change as they were in the 1990s. They are fervently and indeed enthusiastically in favour of joining in with the falsehood and misinformation. The phoney “Culture War” is right up their street. Starmer can’t triangulate out of that.
So what can he do? Sadly, what is needed is something he may not be able to pull off, and that something is authenticity. Like or loathe Corbyn, he was authentic. Starmer comes over as not being authentic, and guess what? We already have Not Authentic in Downing Street. Some in Labour are therefore beginning to think the previously unthinkable.
If Keir Starmer cannot provide the authenticity, perhaps he should yield to someone who can. Being competent and, indeed, forensic is not enough in the new world of post-truth politics. All is not lost: there are authentic and competent Labour politicians who could command a wide range of support and not alienate the party’s left wing.
Deputy leader Angela Rayner is one. Greater Manchester Mayor Andy Burnham is another. Starmer is not cutting the mustard. So someone needs to make a decision.
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