What Keir Starmer needs to do to win back the trust of Yorkshire business - Mark Casci

Today sees voters head to the polling booths in Wakefield.

The city is once again going to represented by a new MP following the resignation of Imran Ahmad Khan, who stood down after being convicted of sexually assaulting a 15-year-old boy in 2008.

Prior to Khan’s disgrace, he had been the first Conservative MP to represent Wakefield since 1932. And, given the polls, chances are he may stay that way.

Some surveys have put Labour as much as 20 points ahead of the Tories, although much of this might be less to do with Sir Keir Starmer’s popularity.

Time for Keir Starmer to show what he is made of.

The cost of living crisis and partygate will have been kryptonite on the doorstep for the Conservatives.

Coming just three years after winning a thumping majority, the party has endured the pandemic, inflation and law-breaking - all of which has led to its standing falling with the electorate.

This has been particularly the case in Yorkshire, where promises made over HS2 and Northern Powerhouse Rail have been broken, levelling up remains just a slogan and needless gerrymandering into Leeds Bradford Airport cost us the chance to have the most modern airport in the UK.

All of this is of course to Labour’s benefit in the sense that it looks good by comparison. But what would it do differently?

The PM's popularity has been damaged.

This is the question Keir Starmer now needs to answer.

The Labour leader inherited a difficult lot when he was elected to the role. Five years of sixth form politics rule by the hapless Jeremy Corbyn and his equally naive acolytes virtually decimated the party’s standing with the business community.

Indeed, on numerous occasions, senior business personnel told me privately that they feared a Corbyn administration in Number 10 over a No Deal Brexit.

Since he took over, Starmer has worked to steady the ship and restore credibility. He has been successful in limiting the influence of the hard left Corbyn elements and brought its more talented MPs into prominent roles that befit their talents. This has meant that the likes of Leeds West MP Rachel Reeves has gone into the shadow chancellor role and Pontefract MP has become shadow home secretary.

Starmer need to spell out a vision for the nation.

So far so good for Starmer. But having spent two years clearing out the dead wood and bringing the grown ups back to the fore the question now really needs asking as to what his party now stands for?

Announcing policies four years away from a likely general election is never a wise move, especially in the midst of a global pandemic.

However, with now only two years to go to a nationwide poll, the time has come for Labour to spell out its vision for the country.

In order to win power, Labour will need to do some work.

Labour on course to win in Wakefield.

The Conservatives, despite their travails and almost certain defeats in today’s two by-elections, still have a large majority. Even if it were to retain its existing seats, shore up further support in other urban areas, Labour would still need to score significant wins in Wales, Scotland and of course its traditional heartland of the North.

In order to make these gains I suggest Starmer and his shadow cabinet make the following announcements at the party conference this Autumn.

First, a genuine, costed and bold policy that restores the Northern Powerhouse vision first spelled out by David Cameron and George Osborne.

It can pledge to tear up the vapid Integrated Rail Plan which delivers a fraction of the benefits that HS2 and Northern Powerhouse Rail would deliver.

Ministers can set out a detailed policy as to how to improve Britain’s ailing productivity, something which holds Yorkshire back in particular.

It can fast-track plans to make Britain a global leader in renewable energy, with Yorkshire and the North at the heart of this.

And it can commit in earnest to more widespread devolution to the UK and end the centralisation of power in London.

If it sets out this vision it can differentiate itself from the Tories to such a degree that it becomes a vision of modern Britain.

Over to you Sir Keir, let us see how serious you are.