A political expert has warned the Tories that Labour’s new leader Sir Keir Starmer is well equipped to take advantage of the growing anger surrounding the government’s coronavirus response to turn around Labour’s fortunes.
Dr Steve McCabe, a senior fellow at the Centre for Brexit Studies at Birmingham City University, noted that Labour was deemed unelectable until Tony Blair managed to turn around the party’s fortunes ahead of the general election in 1997.
He said that while Starmer faces a ‘gargantuan task’, the coronavirus has blown open some of the arguments the Tories have made about spending on public services, including the NHS.
Dr McCabe told the Express: ‘After the 1983 election, everyone said Labour was unelectable. Though it took another 14 years and three leaders – Neil Kinnock, John Smith and Tony Blair – it did manage to rediscover the winning habit.
‘Starmer will be under no illusion; he has a gargantuan task.
‘He starts from a state in which the party is at a low base in terms of seats but strength in terms of members. An overwhelming majority of members are cognisant of the fact that nothing can be done without power.
‘The crisis concerning COVID-19 has exposed problems such as under-funding of the NHS and the fact that questionable employment practices such as ‘zero hours contracts’ leave those under such conditions in a desperately plight when economic circumstances later as alarmingly as has occurred in the last couple of months.’
And he warned the Tories that those who had lent their vote in the election to Boris Johnson to ‘get Brexit done’ may now be tempted to switch back to Labour having seen failures of the Covid-19 pandemic.
‘Many of those who voted to Tory in exasperation at their situation and in the hope that Brexit would improve their prospects may discover that, given the magnitude of the current crisis, the ability of Johnson to really change may be extremely limited.
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‘Such voters may be prepared to switch back to Labour and create the sort of turnaround in Labour’s fortunes that seemed inconceivable in the immediate aftermath of December’s election.’
The professor said that Starmer was the best leader that was available to Labour after the election defeat – and that he could make things very tricky for the government, even with its 80-strong majority in the House of Commons.
He explained: ‘Starmer is articulate and very savvy. He knows the landscape in which he has to work. Corbyn was possibly the worst leader that Labour could have chosen, but Starmer is unquestionably the best leader the party had available at present.
‘Four years is a long time in politics and much can change but, assuming that things return to some sort of normality we can expect Starmer to hold Johnson to account using his forensic brain and legal skills that make life uncomfortable.
‘2024 is a long way off and, with such a whopping majority, the Tories may believe they don’t have too much to worry about in the short-term.
‘They should be aware that the mood of the public is likely to darken in coming weeks and months if the lockdown is not relaxed and economic prospects continue to plummet.
‘That there are allegations that the government under Johnson did not heed warnings of Covid-19 sufficiently seriously, and that the NHS was under-prepared, especially as to the availability of PPE, are open wounds into which any opposition leader, sensing the right moment, will rub salt.’