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24 February 2023

Why Keir Starmer’s critics are failing to inflict any damage

The Labour leader’s five “missions” were dismissed by many, but Starmer is undoubtedly improving the party’s electability.

By Zoë Grünewald

Yesterday Keir Starmer outlined the five “missions” that the Labour Party will focus its policies on if it were to win the next general election.

There were some rather predictable and vague promises (make Britain’s streets safe, prepare young people for work), some more targeted and ambitious (secure the highest sustained growth in the G7, make Britain a clean energy superpower, reform health and care services).

Not only did Starmer expand on Labour’s priorities, but he revealed several long-term goals. This wasn’t just a local election pitch like Rishi Sunak’s five pledges, but a direct challenge to the Conservatives. Starmer’s plan seems ready to be put in place, and carried a sense of inevitability. He was positioning Labour as a government-in-waiting.

There were the usual criticisms. Unsurprisingly, the left of the party remained unimpressed with his move away from his leadership pledges. The left-wing political organisation, Momentum, said Starmer’s “promises lie in tatters, ditched in favour of the reheated Third-Way Blairism typified by these latest, vapid ‘missions’”. Some on the left have privately criticised his lack of radical reform, with one source calling it “a vacuous collection of empty bromides and management consultant speak”.

These criticisms are unlikely to concern Starmer. With no MPs openly briefing against him, Labour still looks far more united than the Tories. The party’s 20-point poll lead, although there still remains a significant amount of time before the next election, means Starmer can overcome any internal descent easily.

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Starmer also has a strong defence for his change in direction. Today’s challenges are different from 2019 – who could have predicted a war in Ukraine or a global pandemic? – and require different responses. And Labour intends to win, after all. The membership voted for a new leader and their intention was change and electability. Arguably, Starmer is delivering.

Then there was the Conservative critique. Allegations of fickleness came in quickly. The Tory House of Commons Leader, Penny Mordaunt, mocked the Labour leader’s “11th relaunch” in two years, whilst the Conservative Campaign Headquarters began a tirade of tweets about “same old Labour” and their “five meaningless slogans to be changed at a later date”.  

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Unfortunately for the Tories, 13 years of five prime ministers, a greater number of chancellors and an abundance of broken promises, has left their criticism sounding like a death rattle, It merely draws attention to their own indecision, infighting and thin legislative agenda. What do the Conservatives stand for these days? It’s a fair question. Sunak must consult and manage multiple parties and competing interests over the Northern Ireland protocol and abandoned housing targets. As I said at the time, his own New Year’s speech was little more than a commitment to clearing up the mess of their own making.

Labour remains’ cautious about declaring victory too soon, wary that its lead is contingent on Tory failures. But fortunately for them, it looks increasingly the case that the Conservatives are out of ideas – thin on policy, weak on vision and tired on attack.

Read more:

Is Keir Starmer setting himself up for failure?

Keir Starmer ignores the housing crisis at his peril

How will Keir Starmer fund his “national missions” for Labour Britain?

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