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Elections 2021: Where does Sir Keir go from here?
7 May 2021, 13:39
The importance of this morning’s Hartlepool by-election result should not be underestimated.
For Labour leader Keir Starmer, it is disastrous. And it will only give credence to calls from the left of his party that his strategy not to be outflanked by Boris Johnson, on everything from flags to nurses’ pay, is a flawed one.
And then of course for the PM, the result will cement his standing as the Conservative Party’s greatest asset at the ballot box.
Rumblings of challenges to his leadership in the wake of the row about luxurious home furnishings and what was said or not said in the Cabinet Room will now float away.
For the next few months at least, he is untouchable.
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Interestingly, the Labour leader’s outriders were refusing to lay any blame for the Hartlepool result at their leader’s door.
Shadow communities secretary Steve Reed was adamant: it was a hangover from former leader Jeremy Corbyn that did for Labour at the ballot box yesterday.
Now – he insisted – it was time to double-down on the plan to rebuild the trust voters in Red Wall seats like Hartlepool no longer placed in the Labour Party.
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The problem is that to pull this off, Keir Starmer needs to out-do Boris Johnson in every respect. He needs to cut through. He needs to have a bigger personality than the PM and he needs a bigger platform.
But more importantly, he doesn’t just need to price-match the Prime Minister when it comes to policies in key areas like crime and immigration. He needs to outdo the Prime Minister and the Conservatives in every respect. And given he has a much more liberal base in cities like London, it’s very hard to see how he does that without splitting his own party.
For now, Keir Starmer seems to be in a holding pattern trying to avoid some unwelcome turbulence. The danger of course is that Labour faces a crash landing which is far worse in a general election in 2024.