Why Sir Keir Starmer is living on hope as rebuild starts

Could it be that the real Sir Keir Starmer is finally starting to reveal himself to the public?

After 14 months in the Labour hotseat, Sir Keir has taken the first steps in setting out what Labour would do if elected into government, something which he himself would probably admit appears a distant possibility at this point in time.

Better late than never, some might say, although many may question why it has taken Jeremy Corbyn’s successor so long to lay out anything resembling an offer to the British public.

In a speech delivered ahead of a visit to Bristol – a city which has four Labour MPs and has been treading a very different political path to the Black Country, Shropshire and Staffordshire – Sir Keir said the UK was “too divided” going into the pandemic.

Launching his first major policy review, he set out his “road map” to get Labour back into power, which covers six areas including better jobs, a green and digital future and improved public services.

Sir Keir’s claim is that things were bad before the pandemic. The inequalities that plagued Britain have deepened due to Covid, he says, but the crisis has also shown the strength of the country when people work together.

The Labour leader said: “When the pandemic hit Britain was too divided.

“We were too fractured as a country after a decade of the Conservatives. That meant we weren’t as well prepared as we could have been, so the pandemic hit us harder.

“But the way the British people responded showed we can achieve incredible things when we come together: looking after our neighbours and communities, getting behind key workers, supporting local businesses, volunteering to help our NHS and supporting the vaccine effort.

“Labour wants to harness that spirit to start building a better future for everyone in Britain.”

Of course, every political campaign needs a slogan, and Labour’s “stronger together” has apparently been pinched from US Democrat Hilary Clinton.

Sir Keir will be hoping it's third time lucky for this particular expression.

Mrs Clinton used it in her 2017 presidential campaign which she lost to Donald Trump, then Mr Trump borrowed it briefly in 2019 before losing to Joe Biden.

Sir Keir admits that he doesn’t yet have the answers, at least in terms of fully formulated policies.

They will come, he believes, after consulting with party members, academics, think tanks and communities across the country.

It’s not a new move by any means, and indeed Liam Byrne MP reached out to the public when producing his manifesto ahead of his campaign for West Midlands Mayor.

Mr Byrne lost heavily in May, and there is always the chance that Sir Keir will end up excluding the views of those who are not of a Labour persuasion – an all too common mistake for the party over the last decade.

Although the next general election is not scheduled until 2024, it already feels like this policy-building project is last chance saloon for Sir Keir.

The past year has not been kind.

His attempts to challenge the Government over its Covid response have hardly landed a blow. The focus on sleaze as a means of attacking the Tories has largely been met with a shrug of the shoulders from the British public.

And no matter what he does, his arch nemesis Boris Johnson towers over him in all the polls.

May’s local elections were an utter disaster, with Labour getting hammered in the Black Country and Staffordshire as the blue wave of the 2019 general election continued apace.

Plenty of local councillors who lost their seats were willing to publicly blame the state of the party – and its leadership – on a national level.

Labour lost the Hartlepool by election by nearly 7,000 votes, and another chastening defeat could be on the horizon, with the Tories strong favourites to win in Batley and Spen at the start of next month.

Meanwhile from inside the party, concerns are growing that Labour will never win a general election with Sir Keir at the helm. Some, rather unkindly, describe him as the Iain Duncan Smith of the Labour Party.

Many of those to the left are biding their time, waiting for the next major slip up before moves to oust him start in earnest. Sir Keir will know that behind him, daggers are drawn.

The next few months offer a chance – possibly his last one – to put a wasted year in the rear view mirror and offer Britain a viable alternative to the Conservatives.

In some respects Sir Keir is both offering and living on hope.

To start with he’s hoping that his road map leads to voters being able to see what the modern day Labour Party actually stands for.

And ultimately that Labour’s core support, which has been collapsing for the best part of 20 years, can be rebuilt in the next three.

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