December 4, 2022

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Keir Starmer’s strategy is working – but soon he will have to stand firmer on policy | Politics News

Sir Keir Starmer should have been addressing Labour conference this weekend – giving his pitch to the party faithful as leader.

Instead, thanks to coronavirus, he was in Sky News’ Westminster studio to outline his vision for Britain.

Despite the different setting, I thought the interview was particularly illuminating on Keir Starmer’s strategy – even if he is still resisting being pinned down on policy.

The new slogan unveiled in time for the virtual conference is very simple: “A new leadership” – a not very subtle way of underlining the differences between Mr Starmer and his predecessor, Jeremy Corbyn.

When I pressed him on what the actual differences are, Mr Starmer said: “The big difference is about recognising that we’ve lost not just one election but four; recognising that we have got to listen to those that used to vote Labour and don’t vote Labour anymore or those that have never voted Labour; that we have to be focused on winning the next general election in 2024.”

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Pressed again, he said the differences between the new leadership and the old were “listening to people, taking difficult decisions, making it clear on things like antisemitism that it won’t be tolerated.”

Other than the divide on the approach to antisemitism, it is still unclear to me what in concrete terms would be different about the “new leadership” that Starmer is promising.

Rather than project a clear policy platform, it seems that the strategy now is to simply remind voters (again and again) that Keir Starmer is not Boris Johnson or Jeremy Corbyn.

Jeremy Corbyn during his final PMQs as Labour leader
The new Labour leader wants to make clear he is different from Jeremy Corbyn

The polls seem to suggest that the strategy is working – with Labour drawing level with the Conservatives in recent surveys, and Keir Starmer’s personal ratings outstripping Boris Johnson’s.

But at one point he will have to pick a side.

I also spoke to the Unite leader Len McCluskey – one of Jeremy Corbyn’s firmest backers – on the show.

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He dismissed the “new leadership” slogan as a “bit meaningless” and warned that Mr Starmer “needs to listen to the left… without the left Keir will, I’m afraid, sail the ship on to the rocks”.

There’s nothing clear for them to latch on to now, but the left are getting twitchy. They know change is coming.

Keir Starmer’s strategy of painting himself as more competent than Boris Johnson and more electable than Jeremy Corbyn is working.

But at some point in the months ahead he will need to define his leadership more clearly than merely saying what he is not.

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