Is Starmer’s soft socialism distinctive enough for post-pandemic politics?

Ben Hutchins discusses why Keir Starmer has failed to make much of an impact as Labour leader.

Ben Hutchins
16th March 2021
Image: Jessica Taylor on Flickr
Temporarily, the Tories have become the party of public spending. This begs the question whether Keir Starmer’s soft-left stance is enough to provide a distinctive character for the Labour Party. With the unpredictable nature of modern politics, who knows when Starmer could be challenging for Number 10. To be a great political leader, it takes more than policy. The public vote on personality. I would suggest the problems he’ll face will stem from his lack of charisma, rather than ideological position.

If Corbyn’s crushing defeat in 2019 taught Labour anything, they’d move towards the centre. Starmer’s undoubtedly a soft-left sympathiser, and a figure I believe can ideologically unite the divided Labour Party.

If Starmer’s going to succeed, he can’t allow to be swayed by the radical factions within Labour. This is the only way he’ll win the ‘Middle England’ vote. The Labour party loyalists (who weren’t as loyal in 2019) are likely to return to how they voted previously, given the Brexit mismanagement.

23 years on from their introduction by Blair, Starmer plans to “support the abolition of tuition fees”; An obvious vote winner amongst the youth, and one of the only remnants from Corbyn’s 2019 election pledges. Starmer is shifting Labour towards the lighter shades of red in the centre ground, away from the ‘maroon’ of the hard left.

In the long run, the Conservatives aren’t going to provide any challenge to the ‘party of public spending’. It’s in the name: ‘conservative’. Post-covid, under the Tories, the country will return to the dark days of Cameron-era austerity. From a medical pandemic, to one of economic inequality and social instability.

In my opinion, Starmer’s struggles are instead more likely to stem from his character, or as some would say, lack of it. You would expect some serious government criticism from Starmer during the coronavirus pandemic. However, all he’s managed are a few comments surrounding the government’s “slow” response” to implement tighter restrictions. This would be seen by many as amicable: he’s putting the national interest ahead of party politics. But I think Starmer’s recent refusal to call for Matt Hancock’s resignation following his failure to publish COVID contracts is misjudged. Starmer has a crisis of conscience. He needs to balance his innate lawyer-like morality with an equal portion of party political ‘point scoring’. Only then can he cement his position as a viable alternative to Johnson.

Starmer may be lacking the charisma of other notable leaders, but drifting further left won’t help his cause. However cynical this may be, to get into government, Labour needs to profit from the mistakes made by the Tories during the pandemic.

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