Only a few months ago, Keir Starmer was hailed as a prime minister in waiting who was giving Boris Johnson serious jitters. Now the shine appears to be coming off Labour's leader.
Starmer's 'forensic' approach can only get him so far. And there are serious questions about whether he has what it takes to get the Labour party back to winning ways. The postponement of last year's elections hasn't helped, as it meant Starmer missed a chance to show what his party could achieve without Corbyn at the top; everything about how a Labour party with Starmer at the helm might fare with the electorate remains theoretical. For his critics, the worry is that Starmer could be Ed Miliband 2.0: a leader, not without strengths, but just simply not good enough.
To pile more pressure on Starmer, he knows that if he fails to succeed in 2024, Labour will be condemned to its fifth general election defeat in a row. While Starmer's supporters might well concede that he is far from perfect, though, his critics must answer a difficult question: who could do a better job?
Yvette Cooper is one answer. In many ways, she is actually a lot better than Starmer; a politician who is as clinical as him, yet with a lot more bite and instinctive aggression. She also sits exactly where Labour needs to be politically to try and win again; she is essentially a Blue Labour realist. Cooper has matured a lot as a politician over the last few years, too, by honing her skills in select committees. There’s one huge problem with her,though: she has absolutely no chance of winning a leadership contest. None. The membership would never come close to electing her. She knew that enough in 2020 to not even bother running. And nothing much will change when Starmer's time is up.
So, who else is there? Hilary Benn is a solid choice, and is at least as competent as Starmer. But again, there is no chance of him winning over the Labour membership in sufficient numbers to get elected. In fact, if you go down the list of potential next Labour leaders amongst the current parliamentary Labour party, their theoretical ability to win a general election is almost precisely inversely proportional to the likelihood of them being nominated by the membership of the party to try and do so.
Much more likely winners of a 2024 Labour leadership contest are MPs like Rebecca Long-Bailey, or Richard Burgon, both darlings of the Corbyn brigade. Even a young leftist MP, such as Zara Sultana, stands a better chance than Benn or Cooper. But these MPs don't have the slightest hope in hell of winning a general election. Zero. In fact, I think any of the above mentioned would almost certainly do worse than Corbyn did in 2019.
Moderates within Labour fool themselves that they have 'won their party back', ignoring the fact that Starmer snuck one past the very left-leaning membership. This is something that won’t happen again. When the time comes, members will be extra keen to vote for someone unabashedly on the left of the party next time round. They will also point to a Starmer defeat to justify their decision.
If so, centre-lefitsts like me should brace themselves for a grim reality: Britain heading into the 2030s under a Tory government, with little sign of a credible opposition.
Of course, this is politics, and things change quickly: would you have bet on Brexit five years ago, or believed Boris Johnson would be Prime Minister having been knifed by Michael Gove in the aftermath of the referendum?
But assuming there is no radical upset, anyone who wants the Tories out must do one thing: get behind Starmer with everything you have. Whether anyone within the Labour party realises it or not, he really is their last hope. He isn't perfect, and he might be a bit dull, but he is possibly the last crack at a Labour prime minister for a while to come.