Illustrations by Megan Le Brocq
The recent Hartlepool by-election has demonstrated Keir Starmer’s inability to convince the public that the Labour Party is a viable voting option, or that it has their best interests at heart. It is a devastating loss – a constituency which has been Labour since its origin. The decision to put a Remainer candidate in a constituency where just under 70% voted to leave the EU was shockingly irrational. Starmer, having championed the second referendum policy in the last Labour manifesto too, clearly has not learnt his lessons. However, just like this election was linked with Brexit, so was 2019’s.
While Corbynistas rushed to twitter to remind everyone that Corbyn had kept Hartlepool, actually – luckily for him, the Brexit Party split the vote; the Conservative and Brexit Party’s votes combined were a third greater than Labour’s share. Nevertheless, Labour’s share of votes in the 2021 by-election decreased dramatically, as did the turnout. This suggests voters were indifferent, unenthused and uninspired; Starmer failed to galvanise voters to put their faith in him for the future of the country.
But this does not mean we need a return to Corbyn. Corbyn lost two elections. Richard Burgon’s and Dianne Abbot’s continued repetition that their policies were popular – after losing two elections in a row – is exasperating.
Labour needs to win elections in order to actually improve people’s lives. Corbynistas and the far-left are too intent on pushing their ideology and claiming they hold the key to elevation. But, unless Labour win elections, they are ensuring the Tories remain in power and thus are not improving the lives of the people who they claim to care about.
So, what should Labour now become? Angela Rayner herself said that voters didn’t know what Starmer stood for – but what does Johnson stand for? The Labour Party are distinctive in that they are guided by an ideology. They are the “good ones”, those who strive for improvement and restoration. The Conservatives will bend and mould to gain power, any way they can. The trouble is – for some reason – Boris Johnson is popular. The Tories want to hold an early general election because they know that, at the moment, they have no possible competition.
Starmer needs to outline his values, but he also must ensure that people believe him. He currently seems to change to be whoever the public want, only, he hasn’t worked out which part of the public he wants to persuade. That is the next question Starmer and the Labour Party need to ask themselves: who do they stand for? If they still maintain to be for the working class, they must understand the working class, shift their practiced policies and values, and convince them that they are their party.
David Lammy, on the other hand, has suggested that Starmer should forget the North and the Midlands and instead focus on taking constituencies in the south. Lammy here shows that he is not interested in appealing to the traditional working class, instead wanting Labour to continue as a party of the middle class. But even here it is falling short.
To help the largest number it can, politics needs to be effective and impactful, generating real change. People need to be able to trust in the government to facilitate the right conditions and deal with real issues, such as looking after the economy and ensuring there are enough jobs and affordable houses. This is what Starmer and the Labour Party must focus on. So far, however, the Labour Party has been indecisive and inconsistent; Starmer now needs to convince the voters that he is the man who can make these things possible.
Ultimately, therefore, Starmer has a decision to make: will he continue trying to win back the working class, or is he going to push on with Labour as the new middle-class party?