Why Keir Starmer’s win puts the focus on our leadership

Yesterday saw Keir Starmer, the broadly moderate pro-EU MP, elected leader of the Labour Party with more votes in the first round than Jeremy Corbyn got in 2015. This is a welcome change, with the old hardcore socialist vanguard being swept away and replaced with a softer, more broadchurch team.

Compared to the past 5 years under Corbyn, the bar is very low for Keir to be successful. However, his election also shows just why who we pick as our next leader is so crucial to the success of our party.

No longer do we have two extremes on the ballot paper, no longer is the fear of Corbyn and his throwback socialism of the 60s/70s enough to scare people into voting Conservative as the ‘least bad option’. Against the Boris Johnson’s bombastic figure, we now have an intelligent but somewhat muted character of Keir Starmer.

Don’t get me wrong, I think Keir will be a very effective sparring partner for the PM at the dispatch box, but his very rigid and calculated manner of speaking and answering questions outside of set piece events (like PMQs) leaves a lot to be inspired.

So why is this important for the Liberal Democrats? The answer, because it outlines clearly the type of person and type of leadership that we need to make our voice heard.

We need a firebrand, someone who has courage of their own convictions and can make that passion for clearly felt by those who hear them. We need a newer MP – someone who can contrast themselves against the characters of Johnson and Starmer.
But most importantly, we need someone who can offer hope to our activists and galvanise them to want to get out there and campaign. It’s only by doing this, by genuinely reinvigorating our grassroots right across the UK, can we begin to truly rebuild our party.

Who we pick as our next leader is vital. It will determine whether we can capitalise on the big increase in our vote at the General Election and turn that into future successes – or whether we will continue to idle along, content with being a third party pressure group on the national stage.

People often ask me what the Liberal Democrats stand for and I always say ‘Fairness, Opportunity, Inclusivity and Hope’.
I want our next leader to be someone who can encapsulate those values into an emotive pitch for liberalism. I want someone who can embody those liberal values and ensure we stand up and champion them every single day.

And, most importantly, I want someone who can ensure we rebuild our party across the UK – someone who will ensure every state and region is given the support they need to grow and succeed.
As for who that is, my mind is not made up yet. But I hope that, whenever our leadership contest may be, we finally get that robust and frank debate about what the future of our party is and what the individual candidates will do to help shape it.

* Callum is a member of the Welsh Liberal Democrat Board. He was previously been Co-Chair of the Young Liberals and worked for Jane Dodds during her time in Parliament.

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18 Comments

  • Michael Hall 5th Apr '20 - 1:58pm

    Thank you Callum
    I am sure we would all agree that ‘Fairness, Opportunity, Inclusivity and Hope’, is a good summary of our bore beliefs. It would be a good idea, it seems to me, to differentiate our- selves from the other main parties, who would also endorse those ideals. What do you think should be our unique selling point? Maybe that we do not just endorse those principles in theory, but put them into practice – some examples would be helpful here.

  • “We need a firebrand, someone who has courage of their own convictions and can make that passion for clearly felt by those who hear them”.

    You may well be right, Callum, but looking at the present parliamentary party, as Lord Nelson might have said, ‘I see no ships’. The last such Special boat Commander is very sadly no longer with us…

    The last High Admiral, a Sir Nicholas, scuttled the fleet almost up to the entrance of Scapa Flo some years ago – and the last leader had an inflated notion about crossing the Atlantic in a patched up (well financed) rubber dinghy before – and without hesitation- being able to press some sort of independent button.

    I’m afraid what’s left of the crew are up against a very skilful highly intelligent human rights lawyer of good judgement who may well turn out to be a reassuring second Attlee. Over and out ??

  • Richard Underhill. 5th Apr '20 - 2:18pm

    Callum James Littlemore | Sun 5th April 2020 – 1:12 pm
    So has Keir Starmer picked his Shadow Cabinet already? He refused to answer Andrew Marr on that issue this morning. He should remember that when the incoming Labour government cancelled the hospital building programme after the general election of 28 February 1974 they gave the nurses a pay rise. He said NO to Andrew Marr today (5/4/2020) on the basis that a lengthy negotiation would be needed. Nurses are currently working large amounts of unpaid overtime which deserves practical recognition in the current crisis. Before the virus jumped species in mainland China the UK had a dispute involving junior doctors, achieving sympathy from older doctors in NHS hospitals and in general practice. The elected government of Boris & co seems willing to spend heavily and promise repayment at undefined time/s in the future.
    Despite what Labour members and supporters seem to think, Keir Starmer is not Keir Hardy, but he seems to have tied himself in NOTS. Does he need a little more time to strengthen his position in the Labour Party? Is he afraid of corporate obstacles in the trade unions?
    He has made specific promises on anti-Semitism, but why use such narrow language? Does he only want Jewish members back so that they can pay membership subscriptions? At some stage he will need to think about international policy, including perhaps the withdrawal/s from Empire and perhaps including explosions at a hotel called David happening under lax security and the killing of large numbers of Sikhs at the time of the partition of India, which the then UK government under Clem Attlee was unable to deter politically or prevent militarily.
    Our experience/s of hitch-hiking in Kenya in the early 1970s led to comparisons with the monasteries in England one millennium ago. There was no obligation to pay for Sikh overnight hospitality, although we were free to make donation/s in the morning/s before moving on.

  • Have to agree with David. Most, if not all, of the most able potential leaders of the party (I include Jo Swinson) were among the losers in the 18 seats we were closest to winning. Actually, one hour before the polls opened, I wrote down the number of MPs I thought we would get: 29. We really should have achieved this.
    Starmer may actually prove to be the revitalizing figure the Labour Party (and the country) need. I have to say, as a Lib Dem, I fear for our future. I think both Jess Phillips or Clive Lewis would have made fine leaders of our party. I think they would ideologically be right at home with us. Alas, they will now remain safely ensconced in the Labour Party.

  • “Does he only want Jewish members back so that they can pay membership subscriptions?”

    You’ve crossed the line there, Mr Underhill.

  • Tony Greaves 5th Apr '20 - 2:30pm

    This thread is basically just a load of eccentricities.

  • I think the party itself needs to be “firebrand”. Failing to organise a leader between December and the middle of March indicates that it simple fails to grab the moment and to others we represent a match that cannot inspire itself to even light.

  • Richard Underhill. 5th Apr '20 - 3:38pm

    Michael Hall 5th Apr ’20 – 1:58pm
    The Liberal Party participated in the WW2 coalition, providing the Liberal Leader as Air Minister, despite criticism from Lord Beaverbrook, who was in charge of Aircraft production.
    During the war there were not supposed to be contested elections. Beveridge (an academic) calculated what the post war government could afford and managed to gain the support of the PM, Winston Churchill, (not then knighted). He also became an MP (not admired by Liberator magazine).
    Labour’s claim to have founded the National Health Service refers to an argument about money. The Health Minister (Aneurin Bevan) said he had “stuffed the doctors’ mouths with gold”. Bevan resigned over Attlee’s decision to fund the defence of what is now South Korea against attacks from the communist North and communist China. Bevin did not. Harold Wilson resigned in sympathy, but later recovered politically, stressing party unity. (I do not recall who was against party unity).
    Labour later introduced prescription charges on a range of policies including dentistry and spectacles (My generation can remember John Lennon wearing spectacles that looked like NHS specs., perhaps a sort of reverse snobbery?)

  • Trevor Stables 5th Apr '20 - 4:24pm

    Look at history. When Labour do well and not seen as a Security threat 1966,1997 Liberals do well too.
    Next time hopefully à Progressive Pact for Electoral Reform m cabn be achieved and change the system for good.
    We now need à Leader sooner than next year.

  • Let me be blunt. Many of the electorate and political journalists no longer take the party seriously. We have all heard the jokes about the conference being cancelled because someone was using the phone box.

    At a more serious level there is a vision of Jo, the self proclaimed, confident next Prime Minister presiding over a shambles of another referendum where the Leave vote will be ignored or a Revoke policy where the electorate is ignored.

    The next leader must show some humility. Mistakes were made. A policy on the EU would be useful but difficult. A rejoin policy would be problematic but honest if that is what the party intends. At the moment, I have no idea what the policy is. As a Leave supporter, I would urge the party to accept the democratic will. Not accepting it will lose votes but that is a decision for the party.

    Spouting about LibDem values means nothing to the electorate and socialist slogans are the bread and butter of Labour supporters. The Party needs a number of intelligent policy propositions that appeal to the broad electorate because they make sense, they are logical yet innovative and elegant in their simplicity.

    Common sense policies are key. Voters do not welcome ideology, they look for sensible suggestions that solve problems without creating more. They look for logical arguments and are impressed by clever ideas.

    Labour is dominated by large vested interest groups such as Momentum and the trades unions. It is therefore more difficult for Labour to adopt innovative initiatives unless they survive the scrutiny phase and have each interest group tick all the relevant boxes. I have no idea if the party has the thinking power to develop such ideas but it does have the time. For me, that would be a good strategy for the LibDems and I think it is achievable.

  • In an ideal world, one would decide on the strategy, policies and tactics then select the person best qualified and experienced to implement such a programme.

    Alternatively, one can hold a beauty contest of people promoting their own objectives, strategies and tactics and select the one that best fits the ambitions of those doing the electing.

    The worst possible scenario is to have a vacuum of ambitions inadequately filled by a few candidates with mediocre plans and not much to offer.

    I do not have any knowledge of the current status of the leadership activity but if this site is a guide then not much is happening. It is clear that some people here are crying out for leadership sooner rather than later but I see no signs here of anyone offering any, not to mention objectives, policies, tactics or much else. When almost everyone is confined to staying at home, one would expect a political site to be fizzing with activity.

    But not this one, yawn….

  • Alex Macfie 5th Apr '20 - 11:16pm

    Peter: “As a Leave supporter, I would urge the party to accept the democratic will.” Democracy is a continuous process. The whole point of having regular elections is that the “democratic will” can be changed, and that we the people can campaign democratically to get it changed. “I respect the outcome of the last election, so we should follow all of the policies of the last elected government” said no-one at all.

  • Fairness, Opportunity, Inclusivity and Hope” doesn’t sound very radical. Turning the first sentence of the preamble to the Constitution round, Liberal Democrats aim to eradicate poverty, ignorance and conformity in a fair, free and open society where everyone is valued, treated equally and is able to fulfil their full potential.

  • If Kier was really clever – which he seems to be – then he would persuade the other Left parties to join Labour, the Conservatives seemed to have maxed out at around 40 percent. Modern socialism as per our European friends is probably quite palatable to LibDems but not to the hard left who basically want to rip all the wealth out of the country and hand it out to the deserving (themselves). Immigration is still a weak point for the Left, though, and FOM will have the working class leaping up and down again.

  • Joe Bourke,

    What does a Liberal and Social Democratic government look like. A lot like the Blair/Brown administration minus foreign wars I would say.” (sic) I hope not. The Blair / Brown government was illiberal, conservative and it made conditions worse for the poorest in society – those not in work. During the Blair years we were a radical liberal party which often was “to the left of Labour” on many issues. I hope members will do everything in their power to ensure we again become a radical liberal party and not a New Labour type party.

  • Katharine Pindar 6th Apr '20 - 9:43pm

    Yes, we do need to show ourselves as a radical liberal party, as Michael says. We do have the principles laid down in the Preamble, and we do, Peter, have many intelligent policy propositions. However, the rapid succession on this site of new suggestions and opinions is good, because one hopes that the proponents of our disastrous election campaign have slunk away, and that we can achieve a reshaping of our collective leadership this summer and autumn so as to have the chance of making an impact with our messaging once again.

    Trevor Stables is right, I believe, to point out that when Labour does well so do we, and we must attempt to elect a new leader who can work as well with Keir Starmer as Paddy Ashdown apparently did with Tony Blair, pre-1997. However that may be, I do think like Trevor that we should elect our new leader this year, and that working out a progressive pact for Electoral Reform should be a priority for our new relationship with Labour.

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