By Aisha Sembhi
The most recent general election saw the opposition brought to its knees. The subsequent resignation of Jeremy Corbyn, former leader of the Labour Party and a champion of socialism and left-wing politics, came as no surprise to anyone. The result of the following leadership election, which saw Sir Keir Starmer elected, will undoubtedly be hailed by centrists and those belonging to the ‘soft-left’ as a fresh start, and a chance to rebuild following Labour’s worst election defeat in 80 years.
The 2020 Labour leadership ballot was monotonous, to say the very least. A three-month long race between Keir Starmer, Rebecca Long-Bailey and Lisa Nandy offered little to no promise of an innovation in Labour politics, instead leaning towards a more tentative narrative. Perhaps the most dynamic candidate was Long-Bailey, who’s promise of ‘aspirational socialism’ bridged the gap between the ambitious left wing of the party and disillusioned moderates seeking fresh representation on the national stage. Regardless, her candidacy was plagued with her alignment to Corbyn’s governance, something the membership appears to have lost faith in.
It’s only natural to compare the candidates to the previous leader. Whilst Corbyn has repeatedly been credited with the demise of the Party and its electability by his opponents, his charisma as a leader and public speaker is undoubtedly the integral method behind the revised politicisation among a new generation of Labour voters, as demonstrated by the boost in turnout among younger voters in both general elections he led party through.
Sir Keir Starmer, elected in the first round with 56.1% of the vote, offers an alternative – a kind of progress that is less radical and instead encourages dedication to the current status quo. Among those who opposed Corbyn’s pull to the left, Starmer had a head start. His short political career has been defined by his disagreements with Corbyn’s leadership, beginning with his resignation as Shadow Minister of Immigration in 2016. Though he has since announced a dedication to the continuation of several of Corbyn’s policies and goals, Starmer has so far succeeded in distancing himself from the controversial image of Labour’s self-identifying left-wing representatives.
It’s difficult to define what Starmer actually stands for. Though his leadership could potentially bridge the divisions between the opposing faction of the Labour Party, Starmer lacks where both Corbyn and Prime Minister Boris Johnson prevail – a staunch dedication to a particular cause or devotion to a specific sect of society. Though a ‘soft-left’ stance is an easy line to play, it leaves more vulnerable members of society who rallied around the optimism of Corbyn’s campaign in the dark.
The state of the opposition is always critical in holding the government to account, but even more so now given the unprecedented fallout following the spread of Covid-19. Given the government’s questionable response to the crisis, initially calling for herd immunity and quickly abandoning it for a dichromatic policy only days later, Starmer should not have a difficult time holding the Prime Minister to account. I predict positive feedback to Starmer’s first months as leader – not attributed to his capabilities as a politician or leader of the opposition, but rather to the lack of spotlight and the ease of the tasks he faces.
Ultimately, there was no perfect pitch. Whilst his politics may lack the revolutionary flair Corbyn ran with, Starmer’s more cautious approach to progressivism could very well succeed in gaining the trust of the public back. The current state of the Labour Party is one of severe division – perhaps electing a middleman is the best option in regaining lost votes and constituencies. My first impression of Starmer characterises him as a hesitant leader, unwilling to make the big statements and decisions required for a party founded on revolutionary principles to protect those it stands to represent. I certainly hope he proves me wrong.
Image: Jeremy Corbyn via Flickr