Competent Corbynism? What we can learn from Sir Keir Starmer’s victory


by Alex Burchill, Account Manager & Luke Downham, Account Executive

You may have heard that on Saturday, Sir Keir Starmer won the Labour leadership election with more than 56% of the vote, signalling an end to Jeremy Corbyn’s troubled time at the top of the Party. Starmer, the former shadow Brexit Secretary and one time Director of Public Prosecutions, won in the first round as the top choice of members, affiliates and registered supporters.

Starmer’s resounding victory, combined with a clean sweep for Corbynsceptics in the elections to Labour’s National Executive gives the new leader an extraordinary mandate. Below, we take a look at what this result means both for the Labour party and the country.

The new leader’s in-tray will first be filled with the challenges of COVID-19. As the Government continues to grapple with a crisis that is reshaping not only UK society but also its politics, the official opposition will have an important role to play. Whilst Starmer’s immediate priority will be to effectively communicate the priorities of Labour’s members and MPs, it will be interesting to see if and how the Government seeks to involve him in the formal decision making process – especially as the crisis deepens.  Indeed, a number of senior Conservative MPs have mooted the idea of inviting Starmer to attend COBRA meetings, or even joining a Government of National Unity as the UK navigates through social isolation and a prospective recession.

Starmer, however, will sooner or later have to confront the challenge of leading a Party that has just been rejected by the country in the most brutal of fashions. In policy terms, this will mean making good on his promise to members to continue with the radical, anti-austerity policies of the kind that featured throughout the Corbyn era. The former Director of Public Prosecutions is a principled socialist who passionately believes in the moral cause of social justice and will look to build on popular policies such as the Green New Deal and the renationalisation of key industries. This does not mean that Starmer is a Corbynista, but be under no illusion that this victory signals a return to the Blairite approach of triangulation and managerialism.

Instead, the key takeaway from Starmer’s election should be the rejection of factionalism amongst Labour’s members; utterly exhausted from defeat after defeat, and ready to embrace compromise. Despite media portrayals of the party’s 500,000-strong membership as factional backers of Corbyn, most members are driven by balancing principles and winning elections.

Whilst it is too early to know exactly how Starmer will approach the top job, it is evident that he will look to reward those MPs who have avoided being drawn into Labour’s recent bitter internal conflict with seats at the Shadow Cabinet table. As someone who cites his political hero as being Harold Wilson – due to “the way in which he actually managed to hold bits of the party together” – it is likely that consensus and cooperation will be the order of the day, and we have seen this already in his initial frontbench appointments.

Consensus, cooperation and… competence.  This final word is a quality that has eluded the Labour leaders of the last thirteen years and it is hoped that the new man will buck the trend. With his glittering political pedigree, the Rt Hon Sir Keir Starmer KBC QC MP seems as well placed as anyone to unite his party and bring it back from the political wilderness. With the United Kingdom currently facing its darkest hour since 1945, the voters – and possibly even the Government – hope he’s up to the task.