• Jacob Powley

Starmer’s Polling Well – Now It’s Time to Expand The One Man Band

The Labour Party has many lessons to learn after December’s disastrous defeat. The recently released Labour Together report highlighted the obvious factors of Jeremy Corbyn and Brexit, as well as long term apathy in previously Labour constituencies, where many residents felt the Party had not been talking to them for a while. Since becoming leader, Keir Starmer has emphasised the need to reconnect with lost voters. In the last month, he has conducted #CallKeir sessions with residents in these areas, and secured a monthly phone-in on LBC, one of the UK’s leading digital radio stations. This is a far cry from the previous leader, who was often criticised for preaching to the converted, rather than reaching out to the swing voters that ultimately decide elections, and left his post with only 11% of the public of the opinion that he was performing “fairly well” or “very well”.

Polling released by Ipsos Mori showed that Starmer’s net approval rating currently stands at 31%, matching the figures achieved by Tony Blair during the height of his popularity. The leader having a positive image crucial, however support for the party doesn’t match support for Starmer– The Conservatives are still the party most voters trust with the economy and are polling at similar levels to the General Election. Although the gap has now narrowed into single figures, the fact that Labour trail a government whose response to the Coronavirus has disappointed many voters, implies that the Party brand has been damaged in the last few years.

To combat this, Starmer must develop a core team of popular figures to articulate the party’s newfound moderate approach. So far, the communications strategy has been effective – instead of regular appearances from marmite characters like Emily Thornberry, Shadow Foreign Secretary Lisa Nandy has already appeared twice on Question Time since the change in leadership. This is a good start, but a platform needs to be given to more of the Shadow Cabinet to illustrate a break from the past. Nick Thomas-Symonds is a charismatic politician who represents a rural seat and is on top of his brief – a stark contrast from his predecessor as Shadow Home Secretary. Anneliese Dodds and Bridget Phillipson’s calls for a “Back to Work Budget” shows the Shadow Treasury department is focused on delivering tangible and visible benefits to working people rather than big ideological gestures. In the post-Covid era, the economy is likely to become the defining issue, so championing a bold but realistic economic agenda will go a long way towards restoring trust in Labour in a policy area that the Conservatives have dominated for the last decade.

Keir Starmer’s strong appointments to the senior shadow departments show that he is serious about winning elections and shifting the debate away from the manufactured culture war and into areas where Labour can win – a fairer economic agenda, more policing and public safety etc. However, with such a gargantuan task to overturn the largest Tory majority since the days of Margaret Thatcher, these senior figures must be given the platform to show that the Labour Party has a vision beyond the qualities of its’ leader.

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