Why Keir Starmer is fighting for his future as Labour leader – Andrew Vine

THIS should be the best week that Sir Keir Starmer has enjoyed as Labour leader.

With petrol pumps running dry, gaps on supermarket shelves and the cost of heating our homes about to go through the roof, he should be the voice of millions worrying about making ends meet and flaying the Government for letting the country slide towards a winter of discontent.

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But he isn’t. Instead of looking like a Prime Minister in waiting, with a set of policies to make life better for Britain, Sir Keir looks like a man who might be lucky to lead his party into the next election because colleagues are ready to stab him in the back.

Sir Keir Starmer with Labour deputy leader Angela Rayner who has made a foul-mouthed rant against Tories.

He may just turn that around tomorrow, with a barnstorming set-piece speech to the Labour conference in Brighton that reaches out beyond the hall to the hearts and minds of the country, but I doubt it, and so do all the party members I know.

Sir Keir doesn’t do inspirational. Nor does he have the knack of filling his audiences with a sense of optimism that is one of Boris Johnson’s greatest strengths.

No, my money’s on his speech being a slightly more animated version of the dreary 12,000-word essay about his political vision published last week, which might as well have been knitted as printed because it was so woolly.

Writing stuff like “We will always put hard-working families first” simply doesn’t offer any practical answers to people worried about paying the gas bill when the weather gets cold, or help those in the most precarious financial circumstances for whom a looming £20 a week cut in Universal Credit could plunge their lives into turmoil.

What would Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer do differently over the fuel and energy crisis? Columnist Andrew Vine poses the question.

Sir Keir’s attempt to define himself in print came across as well-meaning but vague – and it will take much more than that to persuade the good people of Yorkshire seats, including Keighley, Dewsbury, Rother Valley and Wakefield who deserted Labour in 2019, to return to the party at the next election.

There are open goals in front of the Labour leader – a keen footballer himself – yet he just isn’t scoring.

A measure of blame for most of the relentlessly accumulating problems facing the country can be laid at the door of the Government. On gas prices, part of the problem was the failure in 2017 to press ahead with increased storage capacity that would, to a degree, have mitigated Britain’s vulnerability to fluctuating wholesale prices.

On petrol panic-buying and empty shelves in supermarkets, the shortage of HGV drivers that is the root of both was flagged up months ago by industry, yet nothing was done until last week when temporary visas for foreign drivers were announced.

What would Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer do differently over the fuel and energy crisis? Columnist Andrew Vine poses the question.

A Labour leader on top of the game would be putting the boot into the Prime Minister, and rightly questioning his competence.

These are not issues that can be blamed on the pandemic, as the Government has done with so much. They are matters of poor planning and the country needs an Opposition that holds the Government to account for them.

Yet, far from looking like a 
government-in-waiting, Labour looks like a bunch of fractious individuals more concerned with their own future prospects and dogma than winning office.

The noisy and substantial faction which still believes the disastrous Jeremy Corbyn was the best thing that ever happened to Labour, despite delivering its worst electoral result in 80 years and gifting Boris Johnson an unassailable majority, remains a thorn in Sir Keir’s side.

Sir Keir Starmer at the Labour conference where doubts persist about his leadership.

So, too, are colleagues who ought instead to be doing their damnedest to help him, like his deputy Angela Rayner, who makes no secret of her ambition to be leader, or the Greater Manchester mayor, Andy Burnham, who also fancies his chances.

Whether by accident or design, both are creating a clear impression that Sir Keir is not an election winner and that they would do a better job of connecting to voters.

They may be right, though Ms Rayner’s pride at defining Government Ministers as “a bunch of scum” at the weekend doesn’t play well with voters in our part of the world who decided to give the Conservatives an opportunity to address their concerns.

If they are to give Labour another chance, they want well thought-out policies and mature leadership, not juvenile abuse which repels mainstream voters.

With supposed friends like Ms Rayner and Mr Burnham, Sir Keir doesn’t need 
to go looking for enemies. He’s got his work cut out tomorrow if what should 
be his best week as leader doesn’t turn out leaving him farther from power 
than ever, and voters wondering if Labour will ever again be a party of government.

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