Two years of Starmer’s leadership has plunged local Labour parties into crisis

Disillusioned with Starmer’s moderate stance, his dithering on key issues and his failure to appeal to a once-galvanised base, Labour’s prospects look bleak

Liam Barrett
Monday 11 April 2022 08:52
Comments

Related video: Starmer hits out at government’s ‘pathetic’ response to cost of living crisis

On the surface, it’s hard to fathom why Keir Starmer’s Labour is flailing against the calamitous and incompetent Conservatives.

With a government that is fixed on impoverishing the UK with higher taxes during a cost of living crisis, it’s as if over a decade of austerity was not enough to endure. Moreover, let’s not forget the prime minister and his cronies’ flagrant disregard for Covid lockdown rules as they partied their way through the pandemic.

All that being said, however, Labour under Starmer is failing to counter the Conservative narrative. Recent polling has shown how voters’ support for the opposition is only narrowly ahead of a reckless Boris Johnson.

The local elections are looming, but Labour parties across the country are in crisis mode after a sizable drop in members since Starmer’s rightward shift. Recently, shadow cabinet ministers Rachel Reeves and Wes Streeting voiced disdain at those critical of Labour’s new branding.

Streeting called members positioned on the left “barnacles on a boat” who fail to understand the party’s history and traditions, whilst Reeves defended the exodus of members as a “good thing”.

In total, Labour has proscribed seven groups affiliated with the party’s left and, in the meantime, is expelling members who merely liked or commented on social media posts that bear the groups’ name. It is clear that Starmerism has so far been defined by the eradication of Corbynism, which has had damaging consequences at grassroots level.

Constituency Labour parties (CLPs) are feeling the strain of divisive rhetoric coming from the top. For example, Berwick-upon-Tweed and Newham CLPs have seen exasperated members quit just weeks away from local elections. Those who have quit are quick to lambast the party’s purging of its left-wing base, its failure to tackle Islamophobia and the incessant ousting of Jewish socialists who hold pro-Palestinian views.

With the ongoing war in Ukraine, party members in Bolton North East condemned Starmer’s derision of the anti-war movement. In a resolution, they stated how “dismayed” they were at reports of left-wing Labour MPs being pressured to renounce their signatures in solidarity with the Stop the War Coalition. The pressure came from Starmer himself, who threatened to withdraw the whip from 11 MPs who stood in direct contrast to his unequivocal support for Nato.

Starmer is clearly in conflict with party members, but it’s these grassroots networks he’ll be relying on when canvassing for the local elections next month. He was even brave enough to launch his party’s local election bid in Bury, where the recently defected Tory MP Christian Wakeford has caused quite a stir. Labour members in Bury South, who campaigned vigorously in 2019 to keep Wakeford out of Westminster, have offered scepticism at his defection, with some calling for a trigger ballot before the next general election.

To keep up to speed with all the latest opinions and comment, sign up to our free weekly Voices Dispatches newsletter by clicking here

Starmer and his allies’ increasing tensions with subordinates is happening across the board. Just last month, Unite’s branch of parliamentary staff overwhelmingly elected a left-wing slate of representatives at their annual general meeting, which is likely to result in fraught relationships between parliamentarians and their respective aides.

With many local parties also preparing to host their annual general meetings, there are concerns about whether the Labour right is set to tighten its grip. However, some CLPs are waiting with bated breath for the local elections in May to see how well Labour performs and whether they can put more pressure on the leaders’ office to be more radical.

As Starmer grapples with a plummeting membership, local Labour parties are certainly bearing the brunt. More than 200,000 members have left the party since Starmer became leader, representing a loss of £8m in membership dues per year.

As the number of people disillusioned with Starmer’s moderate stance, his dithering on key issues and his failure to appeal to a once-galvanised base grows, Labour’s prospects look bleak. As of 10 March, 46 per cent of people believe that Starmer is “doing badly” as Labour leader.

Without the steadfast loyalty of members, or an inspiring leader at the helm, Labour should expect to continue sitting comfortably in opposition.

Register for free to continue reading

Registration is a free and easy way to support our truly independent journalism

By registering, you will also enjoy limited access to Premium articles, exclusive newsletters, commenting, and virtual events with our leading journalists

Please enter a valid email
Please enter a valid email
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Please enter your first name
Special characters aren’t allowed
Please enter a name between 1 and 40 characters
Please enter your last name
Special characters aren’t allowed
Please enter a name between 1 and 40 characters
You must be over 18 years old to register
You must be over 18 years old to register
Opt-out-policy
You can opt-out at any time by signing in to your account to manage your preferences. Each email has a link to unsubscribe.

By clicking ‘Create my account’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Already have an account? sign in

By clicking ‘Register’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Register for free to continue reading

Registration is a free and easy way to support our truly independent journalism

By registering, you will also enjoy limited access to Premium articles, exclusive newsletters, commenting, and virtual events with our leading journalists

Already have an account? sign in

By clicking ‘Register’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Join our new commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies

Comments

Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in