Katy Balls

Can Keir Starmer cut through?

Can Keir Starmer cut through?
Keir Starmer (photo: Getty)
Text settings

It's been a difficult few weeks for Sir Keir Starmer with left-leaning commentators and MPs lining up to criticise the Labour leader. Among recent complaints include the idea that Starmer plays it too safe, has not held the Tories to account despite the high Covid death toll and has failed to make much of an impression on the general public. The polls also point to problems – with Savanta ComRes finding Boris Johnson has had a 5 point rise on the question of best Prime Minister in its monthly political tracker.

Today Starmer attempted to turn the page by setting out his approach on the economy. As Kate reports on Coffee House, this included the establishment of 'British Recovery Bonds', criticism of the Tory approach on Covid and a promise of fiscal responsibility. Already the speech has drawn criticism for a lack of substance. But one of the problems for Labour is that it's hard to announce much in the way of policies three years away from the next election when the situation is so fluid. 

This touches on a bigger problem the Labour leadership feels it has when it come to the current political landscape. With the Covid death toll over 100,000 and the Tories leading in several polls, many on the left of the Labour party believe an opportunity has been missed when it comes to holding the government to account on Covid. 

However, Starmer allies say this has been hard to do as there is little appetite for party politics during a pandemic. Focus groups have suggested that voters don't like the idea of point-scoring and instead back a national effort. Meanwhile, governments across the world have had a boost through the course of the pandemic. This has so far meant Starmer has limited his Covid criticisms.

So, where does Team Starmer go from here? Labour aides will openly admit that the vaccine programme makes things harder in terms of critiquing the government. 'The pandemic means that for now we are squeezed out more would be the case in normal times,' says an ally of Starmer. 'But this is a long-term project.' 

While speeches such as today's are viewed as important, the sense among senior figures is that the real opportunity to make an impact will come later down the line with several years still to go until the next election. In the post-pandemic landscape, aides believe it will be simpler to have the conversation on Labour's terms. 

For now, however, watch out for seeds being planted for the attack lines in the coming years. With Labour officials believing that the economic recovery will be a huge issue at the next election, they have Rishi Sunak in their sights. Landing political blows on the popular chancellor is seen as particularly valuable.