Right wing Labour politicians have been sharpening their knives for Keir Starmer as—despite the Tories’ crisis, and the cost of living social emergency—the party struggles to break through. Starmer had to confront his own shadow cabinet last week after some of them complained to the right wing press that he was too boring.
This followed a lengthy discussion on the need for unity, which one shadow minister immediately described to the right wing press as “ironically very boring.” It came after shadow cabinet ministers complained to the right wing Times newspaper that Starmer was “boring everyone to death.”
They added that Starmer’s “locker is empty” and he “doesn’t exist” to voters. And they warned that the Labour Party conference in September would be Starmer’s “last chance” to prove himself to the right. Another said, “There’s no energy or direction from his team. We don’t need a full manifesto but we do need a big vision, clear priorities and a bold offer. What are they waiting for?”
Labour politicians are frustrated that Starmer’s war on the left and lurch to the right hasn’t delivered the runaway success they had hoped for. Some—such as Wes Streeting—are even widely reported to have begun preparing for leadership challenges. Their warnings came ahead of the Wakefield by-election on Thursday of this week.
If Labour wins, Starmer will be able to present the result as evidence that his leadership is delivering the results the right want. If it loses, most Labour politicians will likely argue that it needs an even more right wing leadership.
Streeting told the Mirror newspaper on Sunday that the by-election was a “big test” for Starmer’s leadership. “We win it—it shows Labour is on the path back to government. We lose—we will face serious questions,” he said.
On the same day, his friend and ally MP Stella Creasy wrote in the Observer newspaper that Starmer hadn’t done enough to denounce the outcome of Brexit. She called on Starmer to say more about how Britain should have a closer relationship with the European Union in the interests of British businesses.
Labour’s real problem is that it has nothing to say to ordinary people on the defining issue of the cost of living. All of Labour’s leading politicians went out of their way to show they didn’t back this week’s rail strikes. Shadow cabinet member Lisa Nandy boasted that only Labour would be able to get strikes called off for talks with bosses who don’t want to pay up.
“The reason that you haven’t got strikes in Wales and you have got strikes in England is because in Wales you’ve got a Labour government, and in England you’ve got a Tory government,” she said. “It’s not about whether workers go on strike. It’s about the fact we have got a government that is currently on strike and not doing its job.”
And in a speech on Sunday, Starmer accused the Tories of wanting strikes to go ahead so they could “feed off division.” In contrast, he said, Labour would be able to get strikes called “in the national interest.”
It’s a signal that, as class battles over the cost of living come to dominate politics and people’s lives, Labour is the party of compromise—whether it’s Streeting, Nandy or Starmer in charge.
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