Tomorrow will see the end of a Labour leadership campaign that was far too long to begin with and has been mostly overshadowed by Covid-19. Whatever your thoughts are on how the contest was organised, from tomorrow we will have a new Labour leader and that new leader is almost certainly going to be Keir Starmer. This date seems to have crept up on us all while attentions have been elsewhere, and over the next few days there will no doubt be a scramble of people trying to work out what exactly ‘Starmerism’ will look like.
There is only so much you can gather from his leadership campaign. Starmer wisely went down the path of trying to appeal to all bases within a fractured party, painting himself as both a competent and professional leader promising a return to stability and credibility, as well as a radical with a strong left-wing pedigree who will continue the anti-austerity politics that Corbynism brought into the mainstream Labour thought. But which of those two sides is the real Keir Starmer?
Starmer’s politics have always been primarily influenced heavily by his time as a barrister in the 1980s, where he was driven by a desire to champion human rights and fight the institutions that infringed them, with an overall intention of bringing about change at a time when the Parliamentary Labour Party was unable to do so.
He has always been a committed internationalist too. He has been one of the most pro-European voices in the Shadow Cabinet over the last few years, and whilst he now accepts that there is little appetite for the UK to re-join the EU, expect him to be one of the loudest voices in the UK calling for an extension to the transition period.
In addition, a strong environmental streak has run throughout his politics. Indeed, a key policy pledge has been about marrying Labour’s Green New Deal with internationalist principals, to ensure we stop exporting our carbon emissions to the developing world and speed up the global path to net-zero.
But regardless of what he believes in, one of the most important attributes will be his leadership style. Here reviews are mixed, comments from those who have worked closely with him range from describing him as a micro-managing centraliser, to a consensus-building collaborator. What is clear though is that he sees leadership as one of his key talents, and his ability to lead effectively will be a key test of his first weeks in office.
Starmer is coming into the role right in the middle of a top-tier national crisis, something no other Leader of the Opposition has ever faced. There will be no honeymoon period and no new-leader bounce as long as the public continue to broadly back the Government.
There are no easy choices here. On the one hand, he could stick to his radical principals and step up the party’s efforts to hold the government to account – calling for faster and further state intervention and capturing the public mood for lasting change to the status-quo. However, he would risk looking side-lined and inconsequential (much like Joe Biden has been over in the United States).
Alternatively, he could take a unifying, statesmanlike approach, working closely with the government and, as some have speculated, even joining a government of national unity. This would certainly signify a break with the tribalism of the Corbyn years but would also likely play right into the Conservatives’ hands.
Whatever he chooses to do, his response to the current crisis will likely show us Keir’s true colours and define the rest of his leadership.