Image Credit: BBC News
Sir Keir Starmer has been elected as the next Leader of the Labour Party, after a four-month-long contest that concluded on Saturday, which also saw Angela Rayner elected as Deputy Leader. The former Shadow Brexit Secretary defeated rival leadership candidates Lisa Nandy and Rebecca Long-Bailey who have accepted roles in his Shadow Cabinet as Shadow Foreign Secretary and Shadow Education Secretary respectively.
Nearly 800,000 Labour members, registered supporters and affiliated members were eligible to vote in the leadership contest, with Starmer receiving 56.2% of votes. Long-Bailey came second with 27.6% of the vote, followed by Nandy on 16.2%.
Starter’s victory follows Labour’s worst general election result since 1935, under the leadership of Jeremy Corbyn. The campaign was heavily criticised for being poorly managed and for having a lack of clarity over Labour’s Brexit position.
During the course of the drawn-out leadership election campaign, Starmer empathised the need to bring together people from all strands of the Labour Party. He was initially criticised for his pro-remain stance as Brexit Secretary where he was a key voice in pushing Labour to support a second referendum.
However, this decisive result has shown his ability to unite Labour, after what has been a turbulent time over the list five years under the leadership of Jeremy Corbyn which saw an attempted coup from MPs and two election defeats.
Nandy focussed heavily on Labour’s losses in leave-voting northern areas which she identified as the biggest reason for Labour’s December election defeat. Long-Bailey was dubbed by critics as being ‘continuity-Corbyn’ for rating Corbyn’s leadership as 10/10 in a January interview.
It appears that Starmer’s desire to reach across the Party has been reflected in his Shadow Cabinet appointments, by bringing in his former leadership rivals, as well as MPs both associated with the leaderships of Tony Blair and Jeremy Corbyn. Former Labour leader, Ed Miliband has been taken up the role as Shadow Business & Energy Secretary.
The results of the elections for Labour’s National Executive Committee (NEC) were also revealed over the weekend, with two positions being won by moderates directly elected by the membership. This means that non-Corbyn supporting members of the NEC now have a majority, meaning it will be easier for Starmer to make organisational changes and have greater influence over the Party. Other prominent appointments include Remain-campaigner David Lammy as Shadow Justice Secretary. Overall, the new grouping can be considered broadly of the soft-left, with a roughly even mix MPs considered to be both on the left and right of the Party.
Sir Keir’s new appointments have also led to a series of dismissals, with the departure of key Corbyn-loyalists such as Richard Burgon and Ian Lavery. These follow the resignations of John McDonnell and Diane Abbott over the weekend.
Critics of Starmer’s newly formed team cite the clear-out of many MPs on the left of the Party, as a sign of the leader moving towards the right. However, supporters have argued that the new Shadow Cabinet appointments reflect a broader range of MPs within the party.
An increased number of positions are now held by MPs who were elected for the first time in 2015 and 2019. With an even split of male and female MPs, 20% of Shadow Cabinet members identifying as BAME and 75% being state educated, Starmer has created a Shadow Cabinet which is more representative of the country than the current make-up of Parliament.
Shadow Health Secretary, Jonathan Ashworth continues in his position, as both Starmer and Johnson redoubled their commitment over the weekend to work together in a constructive manner to tackle the coronavirus crisis. In an interview with Andrew Marr, Starmer made it clear he did not believe in opposition for opposition’s sake and would not be needlessly critical of the government, which he explained is easy to do in a crisis.
Only time will tell if Starmer’s moves to unite the Labour Party will last. With significant immediate pressures surrounding the current global health pandemic, and upcoming debates concerning Britain’s future relationship with the European Union, it is not yet know which path Starmer will take.
Equally, with the more centre-left elements of the Party content with Starmer’s election and new Shadow Cabinet appointments, it is not yet known how Momentum and other Corbyn-loyal MPs will respond to his new direction and loss of power over the Party.