This article first appeared at betting.betfair.com on 4th April 2020
Sir Keir Starmer has been confirmed as the new Labour leader and Angela Rayner will be his deputy. Their victories were resounding. Starmer won in the first round of the party’s AV system with 56.2%. Rayner won 41.7% in the first round and passed the winning threshold after the third round.
Labour’s next election odds shortening
Will this prove a turning point for the party, a decade after they last held power? Considering how far behind they are currently in the Westminster stakes, the early betting signals are relatively positive. Labour have been matched this morning at [2.5] to win Most Seats at the Next General Election, and [4.4] for an Overall Majority.
Those targets are probably a long way off. The next election is [1.44] to take place in 2024. Moreover, we are living through the most dramatic and frankly terrifying period in history.
Harold MacMillan’s famous phrase describing the unpredictably of politics – “Events, dear boy” – has never felt more pertinent. It is quite possible that Starmer will find himself serving in some form of ‘Government of National Unity‘ before any election takes place.
Nevertheless, we can try and form a judgement about how effective his leadership will be. Let’s start with the positives. The only way is up for Labour. They trail the Tories by more than 20% in the polls – more than twice as far behind than at December’s General Election.
Starmer’s gravitas is an essential boost
As a celebrated lawyer – a knighted former Director of Public Prosecutions – Starmer has gravitas on a scale that was unimaginable with Corbyn or his predecessor Ed Miliband.
That really matters. There was a wealth of polling evidence showing Labour policies to be popular over the past decade, but very little faith in the competence of the leadership or ability to deliver them. Starmer screams competence and therefore fills a gaping vacuum in the party’s brand.
In this sense, his challenge is very different to the one Corbyn inherited. By 2015, Labour had lost its brand. Too many didn’t know what it stood for or whom it represented. Whatever his wider failings, Corbyn re-established Labour as the party of idealism, redistribution, ‘for the many not the few’. He inspired a massive surge in membership. A legacy they won’t surrender quickly.
Angela Rayner is the perfect foil
I believe the choice of Rayner as deputy is a masterstroke. Young, self-made, authentic, Northern, working-class – she is an equally essential part of the brand. During the leadership contest, Lisa Nandy often accurately claimed Labour was a coalition between ‘Lewisham and Leigh’ or ‘Hampstead and Hull’. The Starmer/Rayner duo perfectly reflects that coalition.
In parliament, Starmer’s opposition will be highly effective. I’m sure he will be able to marshall co-ordinated opposition alongside the other non-Tory parties. Unlike the election just passed, it is easy to imagine a tactical arrangement being created with the Lib Dems.
Labour message could struggle to cut through
On the flip side though, I’m sceptical as to how effective that tactic will be. How many swing voters watch parliament? The last time we had a government with a clear majority, Tony Blair was regularly humiliated in parliament by William Hague or Michael Howard but it made no difference to his electability or their images.