The Labour Party’s road to 2024.
The construction of the shadow cabinet by Sir Keir Starmer has become what he said it would be: “balanced” and “diverse”. There are some problems within the cabinet, mostly concerning who it doesn’t have in it and why. But for the large part, Starmer has succeeded. He has been able to produce an overall strong cabinet that has the potential to undermine the government and highlight their shortcomings with effective prejudice.
However, before all this, Sir Keir’s position as leader must be recognised and respected not just by the many factions of the Labour Party, but by the entire British political sphere. He must present himself as the next Prime Minister and run an effective campaign for 2024. That campaign must begin now. There are five main issues that Starmer must address and act upon if he truly desires reaching №10.
The Antisemitism that has scorched its way through the Labour Party since Jeremy Corbyn’s ascendency in 2015 has cauterised the very party that was meant to be most affiliated with the Jewish community. Corbyn, whilst setting up the Chakrabarti Inquiry in 2016 which did investigate allegations of Antisemitism and racism in the Labour Party, failed to effectively address the issue and completely dismantle it. For Starmer to even begin on his road to 2024, he needs to address this issue. He cannot afford to allow Antisemitism to accompany him on this journey. Another inquiry would effectively draw a clear line between Corbyn and Starmer, whilst reconnecting with members of the electorate who were lost. Sir Keir has already said that he will be only satisfied that the issue has been quashed “when people who left [the party] because of Antisemitism feel that they can return”.
Mobilise the base.
Since 2015, the base that of the Labour Party has been largely neglected, thus becoming de-mobilised. Corbyn and his cabinet over-estimated how ideologically socialist the base was and even after the 2017 election, failed to realise. Consequently, the 2019 manifesto went even further, towards a degree of Democratic Socialism that many people were not prepared for. Some people were, but many could not realistically understand and theorise the manifesto.
This is what Sir Keir must change. He understands the base far better than his predecessor and realises that the majority of the electorate are not ready for that radical level of Socialism. Being a member of the ‘soft’ left himself, Starmer is not as radical as Corbyn and is slightly more centrist. This will sit well with the base of Labour; however, Sir Keir will need to stress this comparative centrism to the base if effective mobilisation is to occur.
Starmer also needs to mobilise both the young and the old members of the Labour Party. The young members were attracted by Corbyn’s dynamism in 2015, when 100,000 new members joined. Starmer needs to retain this green base; listening to why they joined and trying to advertise policies and a political vision that they can support. But also, he needs to reconnect with the older members of Labour, who were largely disillusioned by Corbynism. Accommodating these two demographics will mobilise the base in a way that hasn’t been done since Tony Blair in 1997.
Lastly, Starmer must place specific emphasis on the constituencies that were lost in the 2019 election. He needs to take back the North. Scotland and Wales are also an issue as well, however those nations will take many decades to reconnect with. The North however only leant their vote to Boris Johnson in 2019, and Starmer will need to forge a special relationship between himself and the North, if he wants to regain the heartlands in 2024.
Mobilise the Unions.
The unions were largely left out to dry when Corbyn was in power. He failed to engage with union members, who felt as if Corbyn didn’t represent them; thus, pushing them towards other parties. The unions are deeply rooted in the foundations of the Labour Party, going back to the creation of the party in 1906. Starmer was endorsed by five of the largest unions in the leadership race, including Unison, the largest of all the UK unions. Starmer therefore immediately has a large support base with the unions and has the persuasiveness to mobilise and re-energise them. Alongside the mobilisation of the member base, this will give Starmer a large foundation which will make the road to 2024 a lot smoother.
Internal party conflict.
It is already clear to everyone that the Labour Party is internally divided, as it has been for a long time. The Labour Party is an extremely broad church, ranging from neo-liberal Blairites to theoretical Marxists. This split is something that has been inherent in the party since the latter part of the 20th century and will never be completely reconciled. Starmer understands this and indeed sits within the middle of this split. To bring the party together as much as he can, Starmer must consolidate his cabinet and fuse the ministers together to form a coherent, articulate cabinet that is capable of taking on the government and scrutinising them effectively. His cabinet contains intelligent, charismatic politicians who, when normal parliament resumes, will be ready to take on the government.
His cabinet, fully announced only a few days ago, contains politicians from all internal factions. Appointing his recent competitors, Lisa Nandy and Rebecca Long-Bailey with positions creates a sense of unity, which Starmer knows he needs. Appointing Long-Bailey as Shadow Education Secretary gives a lot of power to the ‘hard’ left and the radicals, which they will need to retain if they want to stop the leadership shifting to the right of the party. Moreover, Starmer is sympathetic towards the radical left and through Long-Bailey, who he respects as a strong politician, he will be able to harness the radicals of the party. On the other hand, Ed Miliband, former leader of the party, has been selected for Business secretary, giving more of a centrist backing to Starmer, which will also provide some protection from the hostile right of the party. Starmer will be able to comfortably sit in the centre-left of his cabinet and govern both sides by using members of his cabinet to tame the internal factions.
Building a policy agenda.
Tony Blair said that the next Labour leader will need to “build a policy agenda that is radical but is attached to a future reality”. For all Blair’s shortcomings, this is precisely what Starmer needs to produce. A policy agenda that appeals to the young, hard left of the party which is radical enough to draw their vote, but also needs to be connected to the future and be realistic, attracting the older members, unions and right-centrists of the party. He needs a ‘realistically radical’ policy agenda, which also needs to be competitive towards the government’s own. There is no doubt that Starmer already has the outlines of this agenda in place. He needs to combine the ideas of the cabinet and the base to flush out the agenda.
Sir Keir has a monumental task ahead of him. Reversing the last five years of conflict in the Labour Party is not an easy feat. He has to respect and understand why Corbynism came about, and how it was maintained for so long. He must respect the fact that the hard left of the party and a large proportion of the base were attracted to Corbyn’s policies and so to disregard them would be fatal to his potential success. However, he must also respect the other side of the coin. The people who rejected Corbyn but not Labour, the centrists, the old-right of the party and the North. This will require a synthesis not seen before in political history, trumping even Tony Blair. He will need to effectively recover the pieces of the left that have shattered over the past five years of confusion, resentment and disappointment; creating a beacon of hope that will allow Labour to enter government for the first time in 10 long years. Its quite a task, but if there was ever a man for the job, Sir Keir Starmer is as good a leader as any.