What is Labour leader Keir Starmer offering to Yorkshire? It's time he told us - Jayne Dowle

I have absolutely no idea, have you? No idea what Sir Keir Starmer, ahead in national opinion polls, his party thrashing the Tories in local elections, and with a beleaguered electorate waiting for him to impress, is thinking.

This should be seriously worrying for the Labour leader, as voters look to him to come up with some kind of vision - any vision really - as to how he might see his party running the country in a year’s time.

In our part of our country, we’re not convinced. By either him, or the Prime Minister, Rishi Sunak. Recent polling by Bradshaw Advisory identifies Yorkshire as a key General Election battleground, but voters here are not impressed by any political leader on key issues, including crime, the NHS and education.

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What we want is radical and quite bold, what Starmer is offering us is “wait and see”. Rather than building up a steady momentum, this is leading to a vacuum, meaning that Labour is failing to win the trust of voters in such a crucial region.

Labour leader Keir Starmer. Photo by Ian Forsyth/Getty Images.Labour leader Keir Starmer. Photo by Ian Forsyth/Getty Images.
Labour leader Keir Starmer. Photo by Ian Forsyth/Getty Images.

As political advisor Alastair Campbell, a key architect of New Labour back in the day, says, it’s a problem when people don’t know what’s going to come next.

To which I’d add, this is especially true in such uncertain times. And even more so in towns like mine, Barnsley, where there could be such a groundswell of Labour support once more, if only the national party would reach out and stop embroiling itself in niche culture war issues.

In a speech to the British Chambers of Commerce last week, Starmer said that Labour will prioritise growth, which will mean, “better jobs, public services, holidays and more cash”, he added.

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Try telling that to an independent shopkeeper in Barnsley, struggling with everything going up except profits, eaten away by customers with no disposable income, or to a young person with a degree struggling to find a local job paying more than the minimum wage. Try telling that to the hundreds, if not thousands, of people relying on food banks, many of them in paying work.

Although not home to one of the infamous ‘Red Wall’ seats, the former Labour strongholds which fell to the Tories in the 2019 election, Barnsley did see support drop for its Opposition MPs, including Dan Jarvis, stalwart MP for Barnsley Central four years ago.

Much of this can be laid at the door of Boris Johnson, who had commandeered the Brexit lobby and found huge support for his mission in many Northern towns. That complex set of circumstances, not least of which was an endemic feeling of disassociation from Westminster amongst certain regional demographics, should still be concerning Labour strategists night and day.

Johnson’s clownish antics grabbed attention and people followed through by switching long-held Labour allegiances to Conservative in 2019, especially with Jeremy Corbyn as the alternative. Surely now, after the ultimate farce of Johnson’s leadership, his dissembling and disregard for ordinary people, those same voters will not still be convinced that the Conservatives have their interests at heart?

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So why is the new Labour leader not attempting to speak to these millions directly, to take the time to examine their concerns, and above all, to treat voters in regions such as Yorkshire with respect? We can take the detail.

Former Conservative leadership contender and ex-prisons minister Rory Stewart is right to remind us that a quarter of century ago, when Tony Blair was shaping up for a landslide General Election victory in 1997, no-one was in any doubt what New Labour would bring to the table. Fast forward to 2023, and although the players are vastly different, there are interesting wider political parallels. Voters are frustrated and fed up with discredited and untrustworthy Tory rule, after a long period in government, just as they were with Sir John Major’s sleaze-ridden Cabinet in the 1990s.

And there are also major elephants in the room which need tackling; immigration and Brexit still being two major concerns that impact daily on people’s lives. Starmer is apparently now saying that he would relax the rules about EU trade, but he needs to lead – not follow - an open and honest discourse about Brexit and its implications, and pick a side in the gathering debate about whether the UK could ever reconsider joining the European Union in some form.

With the cost of living crisis biting ever deeper, it’s no longer good enough to say nothing much.

Where’s the verve? The sense of anticipation? The confidence? Dare we say it, even the controversy? No wonder those of us with long political memories are yearning for past excitements.