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Keir Starmer: Prime Minister in Waiting?

Updated: May 23

Adam McCartan

Following the May 4th council elections, in which the Conservatives lost 1,060 local council

seats and Labour polling at 45%, many commentators are now openly discussing if Sir Keir

Starmer is set to be the UK’s next Prime Minister. The question, therefore is obvious, will

Keir Starmer be the next British prime minister after the next general election?

Let us first turn back to before Tony Blair and New Labour’s landslide victory in 1997

general election to highlight clear indicators that Blair was on track to walk through the

famous black door of Number 10. The major pre-election indicator was, of course, the 1996

Local election results. Of the 3,000 seats across 150 local councils up for grabs, Blair’s new

Labour successfully claimed 1,744, equating to 58% of the total number of seats up for

grabs. One year later, in the 1997 general election, Tony Blair’s New Labour returned the

party’s biggest ever electoral win of 418 seats.

Now I am not suggesting that Sir Keir Starmer’s labour is on track for such an electoral

victory, however the fact remains that their success in the recent local elections and general

polling data is a clear indicator that Labour’s electoral chances of forming a government are

increasing. Of the seats up for grabs Labour won a total of 33% of all seats, and gained 571

seats across England. Included in these victories were the taking of key battleground seats,

such as Swindon, Medway, Plymouth and the retaking of the former labour stronghold of

Stoke-on-Trent. Finally, on top of all this according to YouGov, Keir Starmer’s personal

favourability as of 14-15 May stands at 35%, compared to Rishi Sunak’s 31%. All of this

points to a surge in Labour’s electoral chances, so what could go wrong?

Well firstly most voters seem wary of Starmer. The Economist reported that most voters

“remain unsure what he stands for”. This voter wariness is a key liability to Starmer’s prime

ministerial ambitions. The Conservatives have been quick to jump on this, Boris Johnson

nicknamed him “captain hindsight” whilst Rishi Sunak has taken to referring to him as “just

another lefty lawyer”. This image of the opportunistic politician that has been to undermine

him not just by the conservatives but by opponents within his own party could turn out to

be a major weakness. If come the next general election Starmer is unable to portray a sense

of sincerity and more importantly portray effectively what he stands for to the wider

electorate then his chances at reaching No.10 become slimmer.

The next issue facing Starmer is his lack lustre performance during PMQ’s. Let us be frank,,

unlike some of his predecessors and opponents, Starmer appears inept at the cut and

thrust of British politics. He lacks the killer instinct that marked Tony Blair at the dispatch

box, having missed some key opportunities to push against Johnson, Truss and now Sunak.

To wary voters who are used to seeing Prime Ministers, and potential future Prime

Ministers, dominate at the dispatch box it could dissuade them from voting for Starmer’s

Labour, reasoning that if he can’t best his domestic political opponents in the regular cut

and thrust of British politics, how will he represent the country on the international stage?

To focus on these weaknesses is to however ignore his considerable strengths as a possible

Prime Minister. A former Lawyer and head of the Crown Prosecution Service he worked

diligently as its head. Starmer proved to be a reforming Director of Public Prosecutions

implementing reforms during his tenure from 2008 till 2014, including the introduction of

paperless hearings. This reforming zeal, and obvious knack for management has translated

into his political leadership style.

The Economist and New Statesmen have both reported

that insiders on his Shadow Cabinet recall Starmer leading meeting by asking questions like

“and what are you doing to achieve this?”. The skill of strong management is central for a

modern British Prime Minister, examples abound of Prime Ministers, most recently Liz

Truss, s whose weak leadership and management resulted in a chaotic Cabinet. At a time of

economic crisis, international unrest and just a general bad time for Britain, Starmer

represents a cool and calm hand at the helm especially when compared with the chaos of

the last 13 years of Tory governments.

In addition to this Starmer has effectively been able to purge the more radical left of the

Labour party, allowing for the creation of a veneer of party unity. Over the 3 years he has

spent so far as leader, much of his time outside the cut and thrust of politics has been spent

reorganising his party and purging the more extremist parts on the left of the party. He

removed the whip from former leader Jeremy Corbyn, Dianne Abbot and others. Under his

leadership candidate selection has favoured more calm and less ideological candidates

rather than those more ideologically driven like under Corbyn’s leadership. He has shown he

is capable of being ruthless in this regard, a key and useful characteristic for leadership,

showing he is unafraid to make the hard decisions and potentially decisions that will make

him unpopular in the short term.

Naturally a lot can change between now and the expected 2024 general election, but

barring a drastic swing in polling data in the Tories favour, or key elements of Starmer’s

electoral weaknesses coming back to bite him, it seems a pretty solid bet that Sir Keir

Starmer will be able to, as Disraeli said, “climb the greasy poll of politics” and become the

UK’s next Prime Minister, bringing labour back into power after 13 long years in opposition.

Image: World Economic Forum (WEF/Manuel Lo)

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