Behind the scenes at Labor HQ – Can Keir Starmer enjoy a boiling Tory party?

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It’s an ill wind in politics that brings someone good luck – and the Conservatives’ fuss turns into a golden opportunity for the opposition.

So much so that the prospect of regaining power in the next general election seems so real that even the Tories who booked Keir Starmer in the featherweight challenger category are beginning to wonder if their battle for leadership might turn out to be a chant of the election swan. And, as Team Keir headed to Liverpool to deliver today’s keynote address on the economy, the speech – for the first time since he took control of the party following the defeat of the Corbynites in 2019 – is to aim for an overall majority in a snap election. which, according to the Starmerites, could arrive as early as next May.

Boris Johnson’s ruthless defenestration in a putsch that alienated the Prime Minister’s supporters and sparked a bitter battle for the Tory succession had a Viagra-like effect on Labour. And crucially, as voters ponder an economic slowdown, rising inflation and worries about energy security and bills amid geopolitical tensions, the fight has shifted to territory where conservatives have long held. the top: economic competence.

In the North West today, a resurgent Starmer will hammer home his priorities for the next Labor government as ‘grow, grow and grow’, with a promise to ‘make the country and its people a better place’. As one of his closest advisers put it, “We are stepping out of our comfort zone and into the great battle over who will lead Britain best.” Plans to focus primarily on public services, a traditional Labor electoral battleground, were redirected to Bill Clinton’s 1992 election-winning centerpiece: “It’s the economy, you idiot.” As one campaign expert put it, “We need to meet voters where their concerns lie, rather than telling them what we think the election should be about. »

As the Conservatives gear up for a televised brawl over the same topic tonight, with Rishi Sunak and Liz Truss presenting opposing ideas about what the country needs to weather a looming recession and cost-of-living crisis, strategists Labor spy a breakthrough. “Rishi offers a recipe for eating your greens. Liz offers jelly and ice cream (with promises of sweeping tax cuts that Sunak opposes.) We have our own recipe – and voters are finally ready to give us a hearing.

The combination of a ‘not guilty’ verdict over Starmer’s beer-drinking working dinner in Durham, which the Labor leader has referred to a police investigation, has boosted morale. And so it is with the impact of Tory infighting. An aide said: ‘Our top social media hit was 3.5 million views in one day just for a video we posted about the Tories in the final lap of the leadership race ripping the record for government over the past decade. That, and the dismay at Johnson’s shameless mismanagement of Partygate, put the opposition in a strong position to shape its case for power and prepare its members and backbench MPs for the fight.

The opposition is in a strong position to shape its case for power and prepare its members and backbenchers for the fight

But, a veteran backbencher is cautious, saying the risks of “carrying a Ming vase on shaky ground” also loom. The economy has always been an issue that divides the party’s spendthrift, public service-oriented left and its more cautious managerial wing. Negotiating this, while providing a winning ‘recipe’, requires a stronger Labor core message than previously apparent.

This “pincer move”, as one of Starmer’s senior team members describes it, is inspired by the Cameron-Osborne ascendancy in 2010. It sees Rachel Reeves, the ambitious shadow chancellor, come under the limelight. She will deliver a speech this week, announcing the formation of an “Industrial Strategy Council”, aimed at giving investors a more certain vision.

Starmer and Reeves – a bit like a Jermyn Street gentleman’s outfitter – will emphasize a “double act” status to reassure swing voters that Labor has a strong team at the top. So much so that Reeves raised her eyebrows in a recent interview when she spoke of Labour’s ‘change under Keir and under my leadership’. With a wealth of experience as an economics graduate from Oxford and LSE, and stints at the Bank of England and shadow Chief Secretary to the Treasury, Reeves certainly brings weight to the game. It also reflects a candid realization that Starmer’s background as a human rights lawyer and head of the Crown Prosecution Service has left a void around a clear message about voters’ pocketbooks and prosperity.

In the coming weeks and in the fall, the duo will target the UK’s poor performance in recent years under the Tories. They will try to make their case that the economy fared much better under the last Labor government. “One problem the Conservatives have now is that they have had to raise taxes to compensate for weak growth,” says an economics aide. So Starmer and his aides have been maneuvering around, talking to business leaders about why the UK is floundering. On a recent visit to Scotland, Starmer stopped at a wind farm outside Glasgow and questioned its management as to why the turbines had been imported rather than made in the UK. Expect a similar push on energy replacement plans, with a commitment to put Britain ahead in the race to replace fossil fuels and economic dependence on autocracies by boosting the expansion of hydrogen.

Sir Keir Starmer said he and Shadow Chancellor Rachel Reeves will deliver ‘sound finances’ and ‘strong, secure and fair growth’ (PA)

/ PA wire

In truth, both parties are grappling with growth and productivity — but the Conservatives are split on solutions, and that friction is being aired in voters’ living rooms every night. Beyond critics like Rebecca Long Bailey of Corbyn’s former Shadow Treasury team (she called on her party to return to greater state ownership and abandon its “cautious economic plans”), the front bench de Starmer finally sings from the same song sheet.

A nine-point lead in the latest poll has lifted spirits in what insiders are calling a “summer of hope” for the party. So much so that Starmer will leave next week for a long-delayed holiday abroad (after staying safely near his home in Devon last year). One MP jokes: “No one doubts now that Keir and Rachel will be in office in the next election. It is up to the Conservatives to meet the challenges of leadership.

There are, however, some reality checks. Personal polls on Keir Starmer have yet to rise decisively, so the poll gap seems more a result of the Tory doldrums than a wave of support behind the opposition figurehead. A fresh start in September (Labour planners believe Truss is their most likely opponent), would cauterize at least some of the damage from the recent Tory turmoil – hence the push to prepare Labor for an election as early as May 2023. , there is a new wave of strikes testing the party’s reputation for being soft on union demands.

Starmer’s front bench finally sings from the same song sheet

The culture wars are also bubbling beneath the surface, particularly over trans rights, and the opposition of many Labor feminists to embracing gender self-identification remains corrosive. It is a powder keg in which we are unlikely to hear searing speeches from the leaders. This is a marginal issue for most voters who anxiously check their tax burden. Reeves hinted that Labor could seek to fund tax cuts for workers, at the expense of shareholders – another potential flashpoint ahead.

For now, an opposition used to being the underdog appear more confident of a breakthrough than they have in more than a decade. And its biggest enablers turn out to be a divided conservative party, trapped in disarray.

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