New leader, new era, new Labour?

This is the first excitement I’ve had in weeks

Finally! Something of a break from COVID-19! We recently saw the very exciting announcement of the new leader of the Labour Party and I, frankly, forgot excitement levels could get so high. In what proved one of the most predictable results of the century, Keir Starmer romped to a first round majority, with an impressive 56% of the first preference votes. Meanwhile, Angela Rayner comfortably took the position of deputy leader in what was a highly congested field of many very talented candidates.

What, then, is the Labour movement (and country by and large) to take away and forward with this? Are we seeing a great departure from Corbynism, with many on the Labour left arguing that Starmer has Blairite credentials? Or are we seeing a continuity candidate, as many in the media and on the Labour right have been arguing (though appeasing them seems impossible in any case these days)?

The most immediate and obvious takeaway is how stunningly strong Starmer’s jaw line is. Next, I suppose we ought to look at policy. I reject both predispositions that Starmer is either a Blairite or a continuity candidate: I think this branding does an injustice to a candidate that clearly has his own and well-formed views. Namely, he should be judged according to himself; not as a comparison to a war criminal nor a man who lost two consecutive elections. Rather, I believe Starmer can be regarded as representing the electable and modern face of a genuinely centre-left Labour Party.

Now, I can already hear the sighing on both sides of the political spectrum, but hear me out. I greatly respect what Jeremy Corbyn has done policy wise for the Labour Party, cementing the party’s position as a firmly left of centre party: where it belongs. He’s been incredibly successful at bringing to the spotlight the forgotten people and the need for genuine policy change. Gone are the days where an opposition party could get away with merely mirroring the government  outside of a few, noncontroversial issues: a lot of this is owed to Corbyn and his genuine and very reasonable concern for the ignored people within our society, who are increasingly struggling.

We must not, however, ignore the two election defeats that came under his leadership. Of course, much of this can be owed to the repugnant portrayal of him within the corporate media and we would be wise to not forget the impact mass media in all its forms still has on all of us. In this sense, I don’t think it’s an incorrect assertion to say that Corbyn was slightly ahead of his time for many within the UK, though he has certainly sped up the development of legislation that will be needed to take this country forward. The Labour movement largely recognises this, as does Keir Starmer, and I don’t think this can be understated.

Rather than the Labour Party being a hub of ideological infighting, as it has been for decades, it seems that on all ends of the spectrum, the party has somewhat conceded to the leftwards legislative direction the movement has taken. Rather, then, the battle occupying the party currently seems more personality-driven and petty than previously, but as tribal and territorial as ever.

In this sense, I think the ideological crusaders within Labour, on the left and the right, seem to believe they are fighting for the heart and soul of Labour, but in reality they are fighting furiously for the appendix: unimportant, but deadly in certain circumstances.

Now, more than ever, we have a Labour party truly behind a near ubiquitously agreed agenda, blocked only by their own petty in-fighting. In the midst of all this, perhaps the party has slightly lost sight of what matters: improving the lives of the most vulnerable in our society. If they are to portray a united front, both sides of the party must once again come together as friend not foe, with the same ultimate vision for how society should look. It seems they may have forgotten that the Tories are the real enemies here.

Keir Starmer is a means to an end for Labour: a small step backwards policy-wise but a large step forward into Downing Street. In the eyes of many across the nation and media, he is far more palatable and, while we may not like to admit it, we do seem to love a nicely polished, middle class white man as Prime Minister (lest we forget Blair’s three consecutive election sweeps). There’s a depressing levity to this fact.

The future of the Labour Party, as stated previously, is with the ideas of Jeremy Corbyn, but the present isn’t quite ready for that yet. Keir Starmer is the necessary transition into a palatable Labour left, he neither represents continuity nor departure from current Labour ideas: he is the person who I regard as being best to get us back into government to implement some of those dismissed Corbyn ideas. After this, I think Corbyn will be vindicated, his ideas legitimised and himself recognised as the best Prime Minister we never had.