James Forsyth James Forsyth

Keir Starmer isn’t Labour’s biggest problem

[Getty Images]

Keir Starmer has turned a drama into a crisis. The local elections were always going to be difficult for Labour. The government is enjoying the political dividend of the vaccine rollout, and approval for its handling of the Covid crisis is now back to where it was a month into the first national lockdown. Much of the world is still struggling, but Britain has the lowest Covid levels in Europe and Boris Johnson’s approval rating is far higher as a result. He triumphed, and Labour struggled. But Starmer made this so much worse by his actions before and after polling day.

The first error was to hold the Hartlepool by-election on the same day as the local elections. Not only did this mean that the previously unknown Tory candidate could associate themselves with the hugely popular Tory mayor of the Tees Valley, who was up for re-election, but also that the Hartlepool result would set the political narrative. Starmer promised to take full responsibility for the election results — then showed how little he meant that by seeking to fire Angela Rayner, the party chair. Word leaked, her allies fought back, and the situation escalated.

In the end it was Starmer’s own parliamentary private secretary who resigned — amid accusations that she spread rumours about Rayner’s private life. Rayner is now behaving like a member of Theresa May’s cabinet, declaring in a BBC interview that ‘What I heard on the doorstep is they didn’t know what Keir Starmer stood for’.

‘I draw the line at leading the Labour party.’

Just a year after becoming Labour leader, Starmer’s approval rating is minus 48 — not quite the level Corbyn sunk to at his nadir, but not that far off. Another poll after the local elections found that his leadership (or lack thereof) was the most commonly cited reason for not voting Labour.

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