An expert has warned the Tories that “savvy” Keir Starmer could lead Labour to an election win in 2024.
Dr Steve McCabe, a senior fellow at the Centre for Brexit Studies at Birmingham City University, told the Express that the new leader could “create the sort of turnaround in Labour’s fortunes that seemed inconceivable in the immediate aftermath of December’s election”.
People who voted Conservative in 2019 because they were “exasperated” by Brexit could now be swayed by issues like under-funding of the NHS and “questionable employment practices” like zero-hour contracts, he said.
Indeed, Starmer’s approval rating has crept up higher than even Boris Johnson’s, although more people would still vote Conservative over Labour if an election were held tomorrow according to YouGov’s latest data.
“Starmer will be under no illusion; he has a gargantuan task”, Dr McCabe said.
He starts from a state in which the party is at a low base in terms of seats but strength in terms of members. An overwhelming majority of members are cognisant of the fact that nothing can be done without power.
But the Labour Party has made significant gains before.
After the 1983 election, everyone said Labour was unelectable. Though it took another 14 years and three leaders — Neil Kinnock, John Smith and Tony Blair — it did manage to recover the winning habit.
Dr McCabe also believes that Starmer is personally well placed to oust the Conservatives at a future election.
Starmer has been praised since being selected as leader of the opposition for his level-headed approach to politics and “forensic” probing of the prime minister during PMQs.
Starmer is articulate and very savvy. He knows the landscape in which he has to work. Corbyn was possibly the worst leader that Labour could have chosen, but Starmer is unquestionably the best leader the party had available at present.
Four years is a long time in politics and much can change but, assuming that things return to some sort of normality, we can expect Starmer to hold Johnson to account using his forensic brain and legal skills that make life uncomfortable.
Aside from new leadership, Labour is now faced with a new political landscape to conquer.
During the December 2019 election, Johnson pegged his campaign around a single mantra, “get Brexit done”, which resonated with a public who wanted to see the issue put to bed. Corbyn’s arguments centring on protecting the NHS from privatisation failed to capture the public, whilst policies like free broadband were dismissed as ‘gimmicky’ even by Labour’s own members.
Now, of course, the NHS is at the heart of the national conversation, and free broadband would be fairly useful for the thousands of people suddenly forced to work from home.
As the coronavirus crisis began to escalate in late March, Corbyn announced “I didn’t think that it would take only three months for me to be proved absolutely right”.
The Conservative’s handling of the coronavirus could particularly sway voters, Dr McCabe said.
Many of those who voted Tory in exasperation at their situation and in the hope that Brexit would improve their prospects may discover that, given the magnitude of the current crisis, the ability of Johnson to really change may be extremely limited.
Such voters may be prepared to switch back to Labour and create the sort of turnaround in Labour’s fortunes that seemed inconceivable in the aftermath of December’s election.
The Conservatives should be aware that the mood of the public is likely to darken in coming weeks and months if the lockdown is not relaxed and economic prospects continue to plummet.
That there are allegations that the government under Johnson did not heed warnings of Covid-19 sufficiently seriously, and that the NHS was under-prepared, especially as to the availability of PPE, are open wounds into which any opposition leader, sensing the right moment, will rub salt.
The Conservative Party currently has an 80 seat majority in parliament. Ousting a party of that size with one general election is unprecedented.
But then, as the Tories are so fond of reminding us, we are living through unprecedented times.
With a new decade, political landscape and party leader, the Labour Party's fortunes could, indeed, change drastically.