Governments are tricky things. They require leadership, policy initiatives, fiscal responsibility, reason, unity, and sometimes even catastrophe in order to operate effectively. While I frequently demonstrate the shortfalls of Britain’s current government, this is only one side of the story. In order for a government to operate most effectively, it also needs an effective opposition. The yin to the yang. The regulator to the engine. The red to the blue.
Following the downfall of Jeremy Corbyn in April 2020, the opposition party made a clear statement in electing Sir Keir Starmer as its next leader. Starmer represented a move towards the soft-left, away from the out-and-out socialist agenda pedalled by Corbyn. As had been proven by the failings of the Corbyn agenda, Britain’s socialist past seems to have been left behind for the time being. Starmer was something new! The stage was set for Labour to once again provide a viable alternative to the Conservatives. There was nothing stopping them from blowing our socks off, and yet, after a year of Starmerism, we still do not really know what it means to vote Labour in 2021.
Corbyn had many drawbacks which included the inability to give his opinion on Brexit, disenchanting the right of his own party, and his entanglement in issues of an anti-Semitic nature. He divided Labour like a knife through butter, but he did possess one redeeming feature: you always knew what he thought. Corbyn has been in touch with socialism since his teenage years, and frankly, it showed. When it comes to his successor, some people have not even heard of him. A problem easily remedied, right?
Wrong. Sir Keir the outsider has remained something of a vanilla mystery to the British public. While he frequently disagrees with Conservative policies and makes a courtroom level argument in the Commons, his leadership is somewhat lacking in direction. What does Sir Keir want to achieve and what policies is he going to use to get there? Voters have questions that Labour need to find answers to if they want to retain seats in the Commons.
The recent local elections were an opportunity for Labour to find these answers. A fresh opposition party on the ballot was exactly what was needed. New blood, new leader, new policies. Unfortunately, the opportunity came and went without much to show for it. Apart from some amusing footage of the Labour leader being ejected from a pub in Bath, not much came from the campaign efforts of Sir Keir either. The local election results, as one might have predicted, reflected the inadequacy of Labour’s efforts, as they lost 327 councillors and 8 councils across the country. Most of their losses went straight to the Conservatives.
So, can Labour truly reform itself, or will Keir Starmer simply be the last watchman of a steadily receding party? Both options currently seem equally as unlikely, but one thing is for certain: Labour will not win a general election in its current state. In a shocking twist, Labour’s failure to appeal to young voters has even created room for the Green Party to steal votes. 38% of under-35’s are dissatisfied with Starmer, and only 26% are satisfied with the newest Labour leader. The socially progressive and economically insecure votes of younger people will continue to dwindle if Starmer does not put some policies on the table. This should not be the hardest task for Labour either. After all, the climate emergency, according to Sir Keir, “is the defining challenge of the next decade” which “will determine the society we live in, and the kind of planet we live on”. Reclaiming those votes from Green should not be that hard, should it?
Labour is now in a position where being opposed to the Conservative Party is not good enough. People not only wish to hear that Labour disagrees, but what it would do instead. An effective opposition must be a viable alternative to the governing party. Currently, Labour is a second-rate second choice at best. This cannot be blamed on the Tories either, as their small successes during the pandemic have been far outweighed by their failings. It is not like they have just discovered the Holy Grail. There is still a race to be run if Labour can make it to the starting line. There are Labour voters up and down the country who are ready to put their faith in Starmer. There are many more who could be convinced. Equally, there is a growing number of voters who can see through the fog of Westminster politics well enough to notice that the Conservative government could definitely have handled COVID-19 better.
The next general election is in 2024. If Labour want to win it, they will have to change soon. The opposition party must demonstrate its ability to outclass the current government if it is going to have a chance in this fight. When the current government is in such poor shape, with ministerial extra-marital affairs, dangerous new COVID regulations, and painful new trade deals piling up, the iron it hot. Now is the time to strike. If Keir wants Number 10, he is going to have to go and get it.
Written by Isaac Knowles
Isaac Knowles is a columnist at DecipherGrey.
Photograph: UK Parliament|Flick.com