Does Keir Starmer have a plan to ‘reconnect’ with voters?
Sir Keir Starmer has just accepted that Labour needs to 'change' and 'reconnect' with voters, following the Hartlepool by-election result. In a rather stressed and evasive TV interview, the Labour leader repeatedly said his party needed to change, but refused to say whether there would be a reshuffle, or indeed what the party's message would be. He insisted that this went 'beyond' a reshuffle or other questions of personnel.
One senior MP tells me: 'You just can't keep putting people on television that nobody has ever heard of. Anneliese is just one of those: I often see colleagues, wonder what they're up to these days, and then realise they're in the shadow cabinet. These are the choices that LOTO make on a daily basis.' There are also calls for charismatic figures like Angela Rayner to be given more of a public-facing role and a proper policy brief that would mean she could get out and about more.
Chapman is being blamed for the selection of Paul Williams as the Hartlepool candidate when he had only recently lost a nearby seat, had campaigned fervently for 'Remain', and turned out to have sexist posts on his social media from years ago. One experienced campaigner warns that Williams' job as a doctor was just too attractive to the party when voters were less impressed and less interested: 'This is a wider issue with the party: they just think they can talk about the NHS when they still don't have anything to say about the future or a national story.'
McSweeney has been a source of frustration for frontbenchers who fear that the leadership is being pushed and pulled in different directions by social media tides, stakeholders and pressure groups. He is seen as placing too much of an emphasis on holding the party together when many MPs wish he would chart his own course and even make a few enemies in the process. One frontbencher moans: 'We are having to hold the line on things that Keir just ends up opposing because someone on Twitter is upset about it. He needs to have a stronger sense of what he wants to say.' Party grandees worry about there being far too much caution in the decision-making process. But that can't all be laid at the door of an aide when Starmer is the one who was elected leader.
Starmer has promised that in the coming days he will set out a plan for how the party will change. His camp have been working out how they can do more work on reconnecting with voters. Interestingly, he seems to be preparing to say that he needs to change course a bit, rather than asking for more time to continue the work he has already started. The question is whether this will just be a change that sees him being pulled in more directions by increasingly loud factions in his party, or whether part of the change involves filling the power vacuum.