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Keir Starmer has a lot to offer

All the candidates for the leadership of the UK's Labour Party have presented themselves well on the hustings. I confess to being sad that Emily Thornbury will not go forward into the final round.

It bodes well for the future.  Labour has the potential for an excellent frontbench team. What is also clear is that Keir Starmer can command respect across the party. His brief as Shadow Brexit Secretary has been the most difficult of all to take on. I believe he has performed that duty brilliantly in the house of commons and it didn't surprise me that he received a resounding standing ovation during his speech at the party conference.

But what he is showing now is his breadth and vision.  As a leader, Keir Starmer can unite the party and reach out to voters with a credible platform.

Now, more than ever, The United Kingdom needs a robust opposition.  Boris Johnson's Tories have a commanding majority, and there is the danger that he will move towards what Lord Hailsham once described as a parliamentary dictatorship, where a party with a massive majority can ride roughshod over the constitution and shackle dissent. 

Boris Johnson is a populist in an age of political chaos.  He will say what people want to hear but do what is best for big business, the paymasters of the Tory party.  

It is already clear that Austerity is far from being over.  The money Johnson will throw at major projects like HS2 and other infrastructure projects will come at a price.  The price will be the burden of the poorest as austerity bites deeper with more cuts of 5% in budgets for overstretched services. As a result, the poor will be getting poorer with more reliance on food banks, and our social fabric, children's services, youth services, social care and the NHS will continue to crumble.  

Austerity has not ended.  It will bite deeper.

The Labour party needs to become the Party of hope, not despair.   There are now so many speculating and opining on 'what went wrong' in the general election.   How did 2017 turn into 2019? In just two years Labour lost its heartlands.

In 2017, the Labour party under Jeremy Corbyn defied the odds by generating enthusiasm and hope for the future.  A tired Tory party under Mrs May lost the election.  Voters were tired of austerity.  Mrs May's slogan of 'strong and stable' looked and sounded lame.   Labour judged the mood.

In contrast,  in 2019 Boris Johnson galvanised the Brexit vote, and more, with 'getting Brexit done'.

After ten years of austerity and crumbling public services, you would think voters would turn to Labour.  But they didn't.   Labour had its worst percentage of the vote since 1935.

Labour needs a positive vision for the future. Merely saying "we are socialists", doesn't cut it with many voters.

Labour must offer a vision that reflects the concerns voters have.  Brexit has been a deflection from the real issues - the EU and migration became easy targets. Yes, they reflect genuine concerns - not all of it is racist.

There are legitimate concerns about jobs and communities.  At the heart of the problem is underfunding of infrastructure.  Migrants didn't cause the crisis in the NHS or social care.  But it was easy pickings for the right-wing populists.

Brexit will not be a panacea.  It won't herald a new dawn of prosperity, at least not without substantial change in how we live and work.

Labour must offer a new vision of a future outside the EU, in which the UK must take opportunities to rethink and restructure its economy.  It must be a green economy and a more self-sufficient one.  It must be an approach that rebalances the North-South divide, thus creating fairer opportunities across the country.

The details of any trade deals will matter.  If we simply buy into Trump's world view, then we are doomed.

We must move away from a consumerist society dependent on continuous growth and world trade.  We need to become more creative and locally self-sufficient.

We must create communities that feel secure and not ignored, and this can only happen if we have decisive leadership to enable it. And to provide investment in our social fabric and not just bridges and roads.

Our social fabric is how we look after each other: from the police through to libraries, community centres, our high streets, our local transport, our hospitals and schools.  It is the way we engage and work with each other to stop loneliness and isolation.

Speaking at rallies to the faithful, isn't addressing the nation.  This is what Michael Foot found in 1983.

Like Corbyn, he drew enthusiastic crowds.  He had a 'good' campaign, but the rallies didn't translate into votes.  It didn't appeal to aspiring working families up and down the country who were buying into the new populism.

The Tories are very good at hiving off the deserving from the undeserving poor as they have done with austerity, cutting benefits of 'shirkers'.  Yet, hard-working families,  forced into low paid jobs, are the majority in need of benefits.  In some parts of the country, housing costs are so high that people can't afford the rents or to get on the property ladder.   Homelessness is growing.   These are the stark realities, but for Labour this time it was insufficient to encourage voters to back them.

Voters do not turn into socialists overnight if they ever do.  The Marxist left could wait around for the awakening of 'class consciousness', but it isn't going to happen, and meanwhile the rabid 'free-marketeers' rule.  Socialists must be prepared to work with others.  It cannot merely present a 'take-it-or-leave-it' set of 'socialist' policies.

They need to find common ground with those concerned about climate change, civil liberties and democratic change.  These are not issues confined to socialism.  They transcend old political divisions.   Working with others requires compromise and pragmatism.

In the last few years, Labour's message has been one of despair, in large part.  Despair at Brexit, despair at austerity, despair at inequality.  Of course, there is a lot about which to be in despair.  But despair alone won't win votes.  Labour must decide if it is to be a party of real practical change, or one of the hand-wringers.

Labour has been good at saying what it is against, but it needs now to offer a vision of a better future.  It also needs to build a consensus around that vision.  Being 'for the many, not the few' isn't itself sufficient.   Labour needs to appeal to a broad church of voters.

Voters have not bought into the idea that taxing the rich more will be an answer to their problems.

All this is why the leadership is now so vital.  Labour needs someone who can cut across the issues and speak to the country.  To do that he needs a united team.

There is no point in Labour members electing a leader who cannot lead the parliamentary party. Whatever the rights and wrongs of it all, Labour cannot survive another four years of parliamentary disagreement.  The Party in Westminster has to be on the same page as it is in the county.  They cannot be expected to win an election if they are not.   The seeds of the loss in 2019 were sowed much earlier.

But that isn't the only reason why Keir Starmer offers what the party now needs.  He brings a wealth of experience, and he has demonstrated he can forensically hold the government to account.  He can reach out to voters and offer a credible alternative vision and programme. 


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