This article could simply be some form of optimism rearing its head after having digested the general election result and decided to look on the bright side of life again. Bear that in mind. But I think Keir Starmer might have a much better chance at winning the leadership contest early next year than a lot of people – including myself at times this week – have assumed.
I think it will come down to Rebecca Long-Bailey versus Starmer. I would love to think that Yvette Cooper had a real shot because she would be amazing, or that Jess Phillips had a genuine chance. Perhaps the membership isn’t where it is assumed to be and this is possible, but I don’t think so. If it does come down to RLB v Starmer as I’ve just said, then Keir has several strengths amongst the membership.
Trying to paint him as a latent Blairite won’t wash given he was in the shadow cabinet. His clear anti-Brexit stance will be a big plus to the Europhile membership. Yes, you can say the whole People’s Vote thing is down the drain, but no matter; if we were talking about a group of people who are only thinking clearly and rationally about the current political terrain and choosing their next leader accordingly, Yvette Cooper would win the leadership in a massive landslide. The members put up with Corbyn’s Brexity nature for many reasons – why should they have to suffer it now just because Len McCluskey tells them they should vote Long-Bailey? I still think the candidates’ position on Brexit will be a factor and this suits Starmer.
Starmer is also well placed as he would represent a move away from pure Corbynism to something most of the them could live with, whereas RLB clearly represents a continuation of the project that just got electorally crushed. In other words, Starmer is the compromise candidate that moderates could swing behind if it seems an inevitable fight between him and RLB, while being the choice for leftists who want someone who won’t break with everything Corbyn represented but enough of it to clearly be something new.
Could Starmer beat Johnson at the nest general election? I wouldn’t bet on it, but I wouldn’t totally bet against it either. One, don’t underestimate what it will do for Labour just having a leader who seems like a rational human being again. Two, Labour’s short term hopes mainly rest on Boris bungling Brexit. So, an abrupt end to the transition period at the end of next year that is felt hard, particularly in some of the parts of the country that used to comprise the “red wall” but went blue in 2019. Starmer is far better placed than RLB to take advantage if this happens. He can offer a cogent critique of what has gone wrong, getting the credit for having never bought into Lexit at all. I don’t see what Long-Bailey would be able to say other than that a Corbyn-led government would have negotiated a better settlement, something that won’t wash with anyone.
Again, who knows where the membership are at right now following the defeat. Perhaps they are as gullible as some are crediting, and they will simply vote for whomever their Corbynite overlords tell them to. Maybe it’s the whole other way round and Yvette or Jess really will win by a large margin. But from where I’m sitting now, Starmer probably has the best chance of being the candidate who will boot Milne and co out of HQ and try and rebuild.