As the polls show Labour pulling ahead of the Conservatives, Dominic McCarron discusses how Keir Starmer can maintain the increased support of recent weeks and win the next general election.
The Conservative Party is an electoral machine. They were in charge for the majority of the 20th century and have had 11 continuous years of being the largest party in Westminster. As Labour leader, Starmer has a massive mountain to climb. Coming off the worst Labour electoral defeat since 1935, winning back enough seats to form a majority is an incredibly difficult task – but not an impossible one.
Boris Johnson’s Conservative Party is imploding. Self-destructing. Folding in on themselves. Stenches of sleaze and corruption stink up the current Government, and the public is angry. The Boris Johnson that so many voters related to because you’d fancy going to the pub with him is now drunk on his own power - and it’s getting annoying. The question for Starmer is simple: is this disdain among voters enough for Labour to win? And if not, what is?
The answer to the first question is quite clear: No. The Conservatives can have as much internal fighting as they like, they can argue till the colour of their faces matches their logo, but they will not lose Government. They are the default winners. They are the favourites. However, all hope is not lost for Starmer. If there’s one thing that is true of the British public, we love an underdog.
Two ingredients are needed in the potion that will cause the Tory demise: anger and hope. People are already angry at the Conservatives. The elitism that they have tried to disguise over the past 100 years has come to a head in the media recently. People have realised that the Conservatives are taking them for granted; pocketing as much money from as many jobs as possible while pretending to be fully committed to their constituents. Their arrogant attitude is catching up with them and it’s being reflected in the polls.
Labour needs to keep this behaviour in the public eye. People need to be reminded of what the Tories have done. They cannot be let off lightly. It cannot be forgotten. Their misconduct in the pandemic must be remembered, their litany of broken manifesto promises must be remembered and the rife corruption in the party from the top to the bottom must be remembered. The anger people feel towards this is a powerful tool.
The second ingredient that Starmer must provide is the most important: hope. He must invigorate the public so that people are willing to take a risk on a Labour Government. We must have a positive relationship with our past Governments and emphasise the difference we made at that point, while acknowledging errors. The obvious example of a campaign to compare to is Blair’s. While this is still painful to admit for some, Blair won. That’s what the Labour Party must do in the next election.
A big differential between Blair and Starmer at the moment is their personalities. Blair was seen as a charismatic, vibrant, breathe-of-fresh-air politician while Starmer is more mundane, forensic, and competent. While Starmer seems to have taken criticism on this onboard and has recently shown his personality a bit more, the slightly ‘boring’ streak might not be a disadvantage. The positive opinions about Johnson’s personality have turned into negatives. His energy is now erratic, his statesmanship has become scruffy, and his intelligence is now seen as ignorance. The contrast between these characteristics and Starmer’s could be beneficial to an election effort.
The biggest reluctance holding voters back from voting for a Labour Government is economic incompetence. Blair countered this by guaranteeing to stick to the current tax rates for the first term. Starmer does not need to steal this policy verbatim, but as taxes are high now it would not do Labour a disservice to stick with these rates. A policy that guarantees economic proficiency from the Labour Party would convince an array of swing voters – whether it be through assurances about tax policy, government expenditure, or inflation rates.
Ironically, voters want to see a vision of the future that is not utopic. The 2019 campaign suffered from this, among other things. Starmer needs to focus on specific and limited issues to address and offer practical solutions. Limiting the focus to a few main policies stresses them to the public. The Labour Party cannot afford to spread itself too thin. Issues like health, the economy and education are most important just now.
While a fully funded manifesto would not be expected without a general election on the horizon, Starmer can make moves towards this now. A consistent emphasis on the continuous failure of Conservative Governments over the past decade as well as the current one in these areas would reap rewards. While under Johnson Starmer can almost leave the Tories to destroy themselves, it is the vision that is important now. A realistic, optimistic future that voters could envisage is vital to the Labour effort, and vital to winning back voters all over the country.
Dominic McCarron is a Law Student at the University of Glasgow and is currently involved in the Erasmus Programme, studying at Bocconi University in Milan. He is a law student and tweets @DominicMcCarron.