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Keir Starmer

Why Labour has lost its way

Photo by Darren Staples/Getty Images

Keir Starmer has picked an odd fight to kickstart next week’s party conference, says The Times. He’s trying to change leadership election rules to stop far left members from muscling in a new Corbyn in the future. A laudable ambition, but it hardly inspires confidence to see a party leader worrying how his successor will be chosen, “three years before an election one supposes he hopes to win”. Starmer needs to pick better fights. The first is to get Labour firmly on the right side of the culture wars. It is to Labour’s shame that one of its MPs, Rosie Duffield, can’t attend conference because of violent threats from trans activists, while a largely silent Starmer has failed to meet her. The second is a credible economic message: Starmer must explain how Labour can reverse rather than accelerate what appears to be a “slide back towards the 1970s”. The alternative is another decade of irrelevance.

This ought to be boom time for Britain’s centre left, says Andy Beckett in The Guardian. A divisive Tory government is running into trouble, the far left is discredited, and the Liberal Democrats are in tatters after a “disastrous” spell in government. Yet Labour lags behind the Conservatives in every poll. Its critics blame Starmer, and “it’s easy to see why”: his stiff public persona, narrow circle of advisers, messy party management and failure to say clearly what he stands for. But the bigger point is that Britain’s centre left has failed to renew itself since Blair. Instead of coming up with bold and compelling ideas to address big contemporary issues – “the accelerating problems of capitalism, the rise of identity politics and the sharply diverging economic interests of the young and old” – Labour centrists have turned inward, obsessing over who gets to vote in leadership elections. While “the worst Tory government for decades runs amok”, Labour is fiddling with its rulebook.

Starmer’s real problem is being “overestimated”, says Fraser Nelson in The Daily Telegraph. One of the most successful lawyers of his generation, he was expected to “eviscerate” Boris Johnson at the dispatch box, cutting through the Etonian bluster with forensic courtroom brilliance. He has instead been an untroubling sparring partner, “more of a personal trainer than opposition leader”. His own vision is a mystery. After his 11,500-word essay published yesterday – so vacuous it reads “like a spoof” – the mystery runs deeper still. The Spectator ran the essay in full on its website and halfway through offered a bottle of champagne to whoever had read that far. “No one claimed it.” His message for the Labour conference is that he has travelled the country listening to voters, has had a long think and is now ready to talk. The test facing him now is whether, after all this, he has anything to say.