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Sir Keir Starmer for 2024: what must be done…

By Ellie Smith

Westminster political turmoil continues to grow, but what can Starmer do to secure election in two years time?

One leadership election, two resignations, and three leaders in as many months- the Conservative Party is falling apart. Just over a year after the Owen Patterson lobbying scandal began (and arguably so did the downfall of Boris Johnson’s premiership), the Conservative Party has appointed Rishi Sunak as its new leader, and the new prime minister. With no clear policy direction, a severe cost of living crisis, a question over his mandate, and a party wrought with internal divisions, Sunak has his work cut out to not only tackle the economic crisis that the country is currently facing, but to try and bring the Conservative party back from the 11% drop they have seen in recent polls. 

It is hard to see how this situation can benefit anyone, but it is possibly the best sequence of events that could have happened for Sir Keir Starmer, leader of the Labour Party. Starmer has seen a 28% rise in the polls and has been able to use the current state of the Conservative Party to push forward his own agenda, and explain why a Labour government would be preferable to the current Conservative government. However, his poll lead has begun to fall, and it is looking increasingly likely that if Sunak is able to provide answers to the economic crisis, he may well lead the Conservatives into the 2024 general election. So why has Starmer been unable to maintain this lead in the polls, and what does he need to do if he wishes to see victory at the ballot box in 2024? 

Starmer has been leader of the Labour Party since 2020 after former leader Jeremy Corbyn resigned following the major electoral defeat of 2019, which saw Boris Johnson winning an 80-seat majority while crucially destroying the so-called ‘Red Wall’ (a group of northern constituencies that had historically only ever voted Labour). The Labour Party under Corbyn moved further to the left than it had been for a long time – with policies such as nationalising the key industries and abolishing tuition fees – broadly appealing to the young. However, accusations of antisemitism and a refusal to take a position on Brexit led to his resignation, which catapulted Starmer into the leadership role. He inherited a party divided – there was a rift between the Corbynites and the more centrist members who felt that Corbyn had cost them an election victory. The past two years have seen a tumultuous time for Starmer and the Labour Party – with the Covid-19 pandemic preventing the party from being a true opposition, and investigations into antisemitism still hanging over the party. Despite this, the recent Conservative chaos has given the Labour party its first true chance at election victory since the days of Tony Blair’s ‘New Labour’, if Starmer is willing to make certain changes. 

It is abundantly clear that Starmer needs to ensure that he gains the favour of the political ‘middle ground’- those voters who have been turned away from the Conservative party, who perhaps previously voted Labour under Blair. This goal can be achieved in two ways – through releasing a manifesto that sits more centre left than the previous 2019 manifesto, or alternatively through an electoral pact with the Liberal Democrats or another party. An electoral pact would involve the two parties deciding not to stand candidates in areas where one of the parties is more competitive than the other, as to not split the vote. This was seen in 2019- the Brexit Party stood down in some constituencies for the Conservatives. Starmer has already said that he will not go into a deal with the Liberal Democrats or the SNP. This may please members of the Labour party, but ultimately may be a misguided decision. If Starmer’s goal is to have an outright Labour majority, he may need to consider at least an informal post-election deal with the Liberal Democrats to ensure that his majority in Parliament is large enough. If he does not wish to do this, he will need to make a large policy shift to the centre, particularly concerning taxation and spending. Traditional economic policies are what will win these crucial centre ground voters over, while also proving that a Labour government can be fiscally responsible. 

Starmer also needs to ensure that the left wing of his party is appealed to as they make up a large amount of the voter base, and there has been talk of this faction feeling alienated. This will admittedly be harder than winning over the centre, but it could be achieved through his social policy. In the 2019 manifesto there were pledges for Sure Start centres, and to abolish tuition fees for university students. Starmer has already pledged to nationalise energy, and these types of policies are what will appeal to the more left-wing voters. What is important to note is that if a Labour government does make it into power, they will be able to implement more left-wing policies. While he has ruled it out, there is still a call in the left wing of the party for Britain to rejoin the customs union of the EU. If he has a large enough electoral mandate this should be something he should seriously consider – it would win over a large number of unsure left-wing voters. 

In order for Starmer to be in 10 Downing Street in 2024, he needs to remember that the Labour Party is his to shape. He should ignore the calls to return to the days of ‘New Labour’, and to go even further back to ‘Old Labour’. He cannot concern himself with trying to make an old party fit in the 21st century – he needs to create a changed party, one that can win elections. 


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