Why Keir Starmer is the right person to lead Labour

Sir Keir Starmer during a Labour Party press conference in central London. Photograph: Jonathan Brad

Sir Keir Starmer during a Labour Party press conference in central London. Photograph: Jonathan Brady/PA. - Credit: PA Wire/PA Images

Labour peer ANDREW ADONIS believes that Sir Keir Starmer is the one electable leader in the race.

At last I have discovered an index on which Jeremy Corbyn is mainstream: He survived nearly five years as leader of the Labour Party, which is the average for its leaders since Ramsay MacDonald.

The only Labour leaders who have lasted much longer are the few who won elections: Blair and Wilson, 13 years each, and Attlee, who served an extraordinary 20 years, although that included the war and a decade when the House of Commons was frozen without an election. MacDonald also won two elections, but he in effect defected to the Tories while in office in 1931, so his leadership was terminated unexpectedly.

I say this as a warning to the next Labour leader: You don't have long to make your mark. Unless you look electable within a year or two, you will be out within five. And most Labour leaders are out by then. Against the four who have won elections in the last century, 11 have lost or not even survived to fight one.

Labour's default is losing elections and staying in opposition, just as the Tories' is winning them and governing.

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Labour chooses its leaders accordingly. Of its 15 leaders in the last century, more than half, from Miliband and Corbyn to Lansbury and Henderson, were almost certain losers even when they were chosen, but were put there for other reasons. Labour is only intermittently interested in power.

The candidates coming forward for the current vacancy should be seen in this light. Ian Lavery and Rebecca Long-Bailey are obviously Corbyn Continuity losers. But they have powerful Labour promoters among those whose party and union jobs and power depend upon the far left faction retaining the leadership, led by Len McCluskey of Unite. And they may get enough support from party members who think the 2019 manifesto was wonderful, if only Jeremy hadn't been trashed by the Tory media.

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Frankness interlude.... The 2019 manifesto was not wonderful. It was a Christmas tree of irrelevant and unaffordable commitments, including mass nationalisation and free broadband, which were never taken seriously, even by most Labour candidates, let alone voters. Oh, and the four day week, which appeared from left field as a whim of John McDonnell's which virtually no-one thought practical. A little bit of Bevan - "socialism is the language of priorities" - goes a long way.

Unless the next Labour leader gets a grip on policy, she or he will soon be a prisoner of the unelectable left, whatever their initial appeal.

Enter Sir Keir Starmer, the one obviously electable leader. On the face of it, Starmer has to climb both Everest and the Himalayas: The first to get elected as Labour leader, the second to win a general election from a position of 162 seats fewer than the Tories.

He has an initial advantage. He is heading up from base camp after a decade of leaders heading down. He showed this as shadow Brexit secretary. Doggedly, a crampon here and a pick axe there, he got to the right policy of a second referendum with an option to remain. This would have given Labour a winning message with a leader who believed in it and developed a strategy to win.

Starmer has done a big national job with distinction and is obviously fit to be prime minister. Just as I found almost no-one on the doorstep at the election who thought Corbyn was fit to be prime minister, I found almost no-one who thought Starmer was unfit, and many said they would have voted Labour with him as leader.

Starmer's lack of sparkling oratory may not matter either. He exudes the integrity and judgement which Johnson so obviously lacks: A kind of inverted charisma which could be more powerful than the usual thing.

His problem comes back to policy. How does he shed the unelectable 2019 manifesto while being fresh, compelling, relevant and radical? The first step, I suggest, is to find a single authentic theme and hammer away at it incessantly. For Harold Wilson it was technology. For Tony Blair it was education. After Blair made his "education, education, education" speech soon after becoming leader, John Major said he had the same priorities but not necessarily in the same order. He was playing catch up with Blair from the start.

What is the point of Starmer? This is the big question which now needs an answer. If he identifies one, maybe it doesn't require Everest and the Himalayas. But rather what Tony Blair said to me was the 'lion king' test of winning an election.

Lion king? You just have to run away from the lion faster than the other guy. And if that guy is first Long-Bailey, then Boris Johnson, you may not, after all, need to be Usain Bolt.

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