I have a spring back in my step. The first 48 hours of Keir Starmer’s leadership of the Labour Party has gone as well as I could have hoped for given the extraordinary political circumstances which form the backdrop.
For those who are not quite as politically nerdy as me will probably be wondering what has happened in the last 48 hours to generate so much excitement. Its amazing that 48 hours of competence should be so warming to see. But that’s how low the bar had been set.
Starmer started off on the right foot on the first day – taking on the issue of anti-Semitism as his first act. The letter of apology to the Jewish Community shows just how easy it should have been for Corbyn. He then set the right tone for his MPs by calling for respect inside the Party and in social media. I will try my hardest on this front too – much let me enjoy this moment a little longer. The 5 years in the wilderness for the Party has been painful.
Watching the Marr show on Sunday was the start. It was sensible mature politics back in full view. There was nothing exciting or dramatic or really that memorable, but given where we have come from that was fine!
Today the final parts of the Shadow Cabinet have fallen into place. This is what has cheered me up. Starmer is able to call on the various talents left (in a somewhat smaller PLP than envisaged) and still have some of the heavyweights on their powerful positions as Chairs of Select Committees. In recent years these have become more powerful in their scrutiny of Ministers than the monthly Ministerial Oral Questions. Most of the deadwood has been dropped! I am happy for the likes of Yvette Cooper and Hilary Benn to use their skills on Select Committees rather than the Shadow Cabinet.
I am sure if you don’t follow politics too closely they will just be a list of names of people you haven’t heard of. That’s fine. Don’t worry you won’t be alone. You will be surprised how few of the Government the public can recognise and name in any polling. All I will say is that most are competent and able to cover their policy brief with passion, enthusiasm and skill. Competence itself has been a much overlooked virtue under Corbyn.
Rest assured this is a good solid Shadow Cabinet that has thrown off the remnants of the dead wood being propped up by the Corbyn leadership. No longer will I sit and squirm every time a Labour Spokesperson is wheeled out to the media. Hopefully the days of seeing the car crash interviews by Burgeon and Lavery are now behind us. There are plenty of grown ups around the table at last. There are one or two I know very little about (Like the Shadow Chancellor) Anneliese Dodds. We will wait to see how these perform. Let’s be honest the real Cabinet is hardly brimming with talent at the moment.
Even on the Queens message to the nation last night I thought it was right that Starmer said the right warm words about the message and the Queens impact on the country. Again gone is the time Corbyn pretended he watched the Queens speech on Christmas morning in the background! Traditional Labour voters are proud of the monarchy and military and a Labour leader needs to acknowledge this.
It is way too early to make any predictions about anything political at the moment. And there is a Coronavirus pandemic to deal with for the rest of 2020. The consensual words from Starmer to working with Johnson and the government I think set the right tone here too. It is the job of an Opposition to ‘oppose’ but not just for its own sake. Opposition is taken more seriously when it does so for the right reason but also supports a government when it does the right thing. Starmer shouldn’t allow himself to get too close, because when the inevitable inquiry into Coronavirus is held the governments shortcomings will be badly exposed. Labour needs to show it was onto these!
Starmer won’t have excited too many with his Marr performance but he will certainyl have reassured people he is sensible and can handle the Sunday Morning media round with comfort.
Next we have to see the clear-out in the back office team that surrounded Corbyn. These really should have gone straight after the election defeat. The Likes of of the four M’s were far worse than Corbyn for me – Murphy, Milne, Murray and McClusky.
At this point Labour will have a serious leader, a strong and capable shadow cabinet, a functioning Leaders office and the time to build a case for sensible opposition.
We have no idea what politics will look like after we come out of the current situation. Even at this stage I am struggling to comprehend what the government will do on so many fronts – from public spending to the NHS and the economy.
Actually all the hard work starts now rebuilding a shattered party and policies after the worst election defeat since the 1930s. There are 4 years until the next general election. There is plenty of time to use the period wisely to rebuild the party and the trust of the electorate. That starts with listening! The first 48 hours won’t decide the election result, but it shows we are back and serious.
So if you are sympathetic to Labour but have drifted away in recent elections – what would it take to win you back? What does Starmer need to do to win back your trust.
Andy Reed – 6th April 2020