The biggest criticism of Keir Starmer over the last eighteen months had been a lack of clarity over what he stands for. What does he believe in? What kind of Labour Party is he trying to build? What is his vision for Britain?
Well, he has stepped up to answer this this week with a 12,000 word treatise setting out the first decisive steps. And with it, a clear attempt to court those at the centre of British politics without whom a Labour government isn’t possible.
The worst defeat for Labour since the 1930s nearly two years ago now, has left Keir Starmer with a mountain to climb. To win an outright majority, he will need a swing bigger than that won by Tony Blair in 1997. But this task is only achievable if Labour learns the lessons of the New Labour era – that elections are won from the centre and that you must take the best traditions and values of your party and modernise them for today and tomorrow’s Britain.
The internal change required to do this – building a party that is fit to win elections and to govern – from the rubble of a hard left, ideologically bent protest group, built around the cult of one eccentric individual, is his greatest challenge, and his ability to do this will be seen in Brighton this week.
Keir’s Fabian piece, and the battle lines drawn on internal leadership elections and reselections show he is ready to face up to this challenge and publicly draw a firm line between his leadership and the Corbyn project rejected so decisively by voters.
The core concept of a ‘contribution society’ is a clear break with the sense the public were given – however unfairly – that Labour was just a party for the ‘shirkers’ and those most in need. It is clear from Keir’s piece that he recognises Labour needs to be the party of hard work, aspiration and opportunity – and above all that you will be rewarded fairly if you work hard and play by the rules.
He is clear that this will be married with core Labour values that put families and communities above individualism, and that the economy must work for people and cannot just be surrendered to market forces. But this is a decisive shift and one which will be challenging for many in the party – those who too often overlook the very clue in the party’s name (Labour): the party of work.
There is no doubt that post-covid and post-Brexit, Britain will look very different to what came before. There is a chance now for Keir Starmer and for Labour to set out what that vision for Britain could look like – one that is fairer, where your life is not defined by your postcode, where the sense of community forged in these tough times is resilient and endures, and one which is both radical but practical, and is one that mainstream British voters actively want to endorse at the ballot box next time.