Why Labour cannot afford to be complacent despite record poll predictions - Jayne Dowle

Apart from compulsory tooth brushing for primary school kids and a non-dom tax plan that will now raise £1bn less for NHS funds than initially calculated, we know little of what Labour plans to do with its predicted 120-seat majority at the forthcoming General Election.

This should ring massive alarm bells. Not just for the Tories, currently pole-axed by the bombshell of a new poll commissioned by arch-Brexiteer and Boris Johnson ally Lord Frost and Tory donors, but also for Labour.

It’s not enough to want rid of a government that has become mired in division, conflict and sheer nastiness to simply replace it with, well what?

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Free toothbrushes for under-10s, but no word on how schools might be judged and graded without causing teacher suicide? More NHS staff, but no new hospitals – or improved hospital car parking, a huge national issue for staff, patients and visitors – to give them places to work?

Labour Party leader Sir Keir Starmer during a visit to a Boots pharmacy. PIC: Ian West/PA WireLabour Party leader Sir Keir Starmer during a visit to a Boots pharmacy. PIC: Ian West/PA Wire
Labour Party leader Sir Keir Starmer during a visit to a Boots pharmacy. PIC: Ian West/PA Wire

This new YouGov survey, published earlier this week, finds that if the election was held right now, the Conservatives would lose a staggering 196 seats, including every ‘red wall’ seat won from Labour in 2019, and those of 11 Cabinet ministers, including well-heeled South West Surrey, where Chancellor Jeremy Hunt is the sitting MP.

By comparison, in the Labour landslide election of 1997, outgoing Conservative PM Sir John Major lost 178 seats to Tony Blair’s New Labour.

Those of us old enough to remember that particular election night will never forget the twin emotions of shock and elation as we toasted an epoch-defining sea-change in British politics. It was all about fairness, equality and aspiration, a heady cocktail after 18 years of Tory rule.

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If this Labour inertia continues, when the swingometer turns resolutely red, we’ll probably just have another cup of tea, shrug our shoulders and go to bed, still no wiser as to what the majority have actually just voted for.

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer, who’s clearly gunning for Rishi Sunak, needs to start putting his money where his mouth is.

He’s told us his ‘five missions’ for government, which turn out to be both ambitious and vague at the same time; the highest growth in the G7 (means little to small businesses still battling the aftermath of the Covid pandemic), a better NHS and schools (yes, but how?), clean energy (dare we mention cheaper energy bills first?) and safer streets (and the shortage of prison places perhaps?).

Yet when it comes to detail, or operational blueprints, or economic rationales, we are left lacking. Any attempts to nail the Labour leader down are met with a defensiveness that’s becoming more wearisome every week.

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Instead, we are fed occasional gobbets of seemingly unconnected ideas that fail to coalesce. For example, we’re also told that Labour would liberalise planning and build a generation of new towns, but with no insight into what the party might do in government to revitalise hundreds of ‘old’ towns, or where the land might come from, given widespread concerns over lack of green space, to build them on.

It's so frustrating, and Sir Keir needs to realise that such complacency will breed resentment from voters. It’s also disrespectful to those of us who are desperate to learn and engage with what Labour might be planning to offer.

When the date of the General Election is finally announced, the Labour leader should also consider the fate of his party’s parliamentary candidates campaigning on doorsteps and at public meetings.

What will they say when asked if Labour would stop the boats? How might they respond when the thorny question of re-joining the European Union arises, remembering of course, that Labour’s refusal to commit to either side during the 2016 EU referendum scuppered the Remain camp?

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How quickly, given that the General Election could be upon us within months, can the Labour high command come up with the detailed manifesto – capable of bearing close scrutiny – we expect?

Sir Keir deserves praise for reassembling a party riven to near-destruction just a few years ago by former leader Jeremy Corbyn. But as far as voters are concerned, this is now ancient history.

We want to feel both reassured and buoyed by future plans, not constantly reminded of the achievements of the past.

It might be acceptable to duck and dive and avoid being pinned down by television and radio interviewers, but out there in the real world, the public are not as forgiving.

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