Labour: Left has to ‘regroup’ says Len McCluskey
Sir Keir was this week called-out by members on the Left for failing to address Health Secretary Matt Hancock’s delay in publishing contracts at the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic last year. Today, he went as far as to claim that the public does not want Mr Hancock to resign after his department was found to have acted unlawfully. Speaking to LBC this morning, he said: “At the moment in the middle of the vaccine, my strong feeling is that the vast majority of the public would say, for heaven’s sake what you should be doing here is making sure he’s working really hard to get that vaccine rolled out properly, rather than calling for him to resign.”
Instead, he suggested the Health Secretary should “apologise” for his actions.
Sir Keir added: “He should apologise and come and explain to the House, of course, he should.”
Many, like the radical publication ‘The Canary’, argued that the Labour leader let the Conservative minister “off the hook”.
It follows in a string of accusations against Sir Keir that he is not “political enough” to lead Britain’s opposition party.
Yet, despite failing to hold the Government to account in the eyes of the party’s more radical element, Steven Fielding, Professor Professor of Political History at the University of Nottingham, told Express.co.uk that much of the Left will be forced to back the Labour leader or face yet more Conservative rule.
This was especially true of the country’s trade unions.
Unite, the UK’s largest, is led by Len McCluskey.
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The outfit’s General Secretary has clashed with Sir Keir on a number of occasions, most notably when Labour momentarily suspended former leader Jeremy Corbyn last year.
Mr McCluskey reacted by withdrawing 10 percent of Unite’s funding to the party – of which it is the single biggest donor.
However, as Professor Fielding explained, Mr McCluskey and his colleagues will in the future be forced to back Sir Keir or risk becoming obsolete for another four years.
Reflecting on Tony Blair’s moving the party into its ‘New Labour’ stage at the turn of the century – a far cry from its traditional socialist roots – and comparing the response from unions then to today’s landscape, he said: “Tony Blair had a great advantage when he became leader – Labour had been out of power since 1979.
“Union leaders might have had some misgivings about Blair and the direction he wanted to take the party, but by that point they were so fed up with losing elections, and they were persuaded that Blair was the man that would win the next election – they just wanted power.
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“By that point the party basically rolled over in terms of what Blair wanted to do.
“There were of course voices of Jeremy Corbyn, Ken Livingstone, Diane Abbott, especially around Clause 4.
“A lot of union leaders piped up and didn’t want it to happen, but a lot of them by that point – and I think we’ve reached that point now – were fed up of having a Government whose basic object was to bash them over their heads.
“They were willing to accept what little Blair offered them; they basically accepted anything that Blair was willing to give them because the alternative was to stay in opposition and the Conservatives to roll them further down the road.
“I think we’ve reached that point: Labour’s been out of office since 2010, most trade unionists, most union leaders, most Labour members, reluctantly or not, will probably think ‘Keir Starmer might be our root back into power’.
“Ultimately, they’re going to accept what Starmer is saying Labour needs to do to win the next general election.”
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While discontent among party members emerges, Sir Keir also faces a challenge in the public arena.
From November last year to the beginning of 2021, both he and Labour enjoyed positive figures in the polls.
In that time, voters suggested they would elect a Labour government if a general election were held at that time.
Now, as Mr Johnson’s mass vaccination programme continues to roll out at breakneck speed, along with the announcement of his out-of-lockdown road map that could see society open up by summer, things have turned for Sir Keir.
Some 41 percent of people would vote Tory if an election were held tomorrow, while 37 percent would opt for Labour, according to YouGov.
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It is a drastic shift on the month before when 41 percent of voters said they would pick Sir Keir over Mr Johnson.
This, the renowned historian Robert Tombs, told Express.co.uk, proves Sir Keir has a momentous task in reclaiming lost ground – a potentially impossible feat.
He said: “Whether Labour wins back those Red Wall voters very largely depends on how successful the Johnson government is in keeping those voters.
“Labour won’t win them back whatever it does unless the Government messes up, which it could do, and in some ways it’s bound to.
“Somebody once said ‘Governments lose elections, oppositions don’t win them’.
“The other problem for Labour and Keir Starmer is that much of the Labour Party membership is still much less representative of its voters in that there is a strong Remainer identity politics, a woke element of the Labour Party membership.
“This isn’t very attractive to many of the Red Wall seats who voted Conservative, so Starmer has quite a job on.”
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Others are more confident in Sir Keir’s ability to turn things around.
Political commentator Stephen Bush notes that it is near impossible for Sir Keir to be written off when the UK’s next election is three years away.
Writing in the New Statesman, he said: “Asking people how they plan to vote in a general election is a bit like asking people whether they’d drink a glass of red wine or a mug of hot tea.
“The question is situation-specific: the answer hinges on whether they are at the beginning or end of the day, if they have had a hard time at the office, and what they are expecting to eat with their beverage of choice, if anything at all.”