|Sir Keir Starmer, House of Commons (Image: The Irish Times)|
Election season in the UK is soon upon us. On my 30th birthday, there are Assembly elections in Wales and Scotland, while we find out whether Sadiq Khan retains his place as the Mayor of London. We also have some council elections which will give the larger parties an indication as to how they're doing locally. I'm personally pleased to see these taking place at all, as Covid-19 delayed any election that would have taken place last year, including the Mayor of London's. We're promised that they're taking place with appropriate safety measures, so let the battles commence.
I don't believe these elections will reflect on the nation's mood towards the Conservatives. My gut feeling right now says that Sadiq Khan continues to be the Mayor of London, purely because he's not done too much over the past five years to put Londoners off him, and I don't see any of those who he's facing against have the strong urge to really push him to the edge. In Wales, I feel that even though Labour's Mark Drakeford has had it tough over the past year, the public have been largely supportive of his approach to the pandemic and this could strengthen the party's position at the Senedd. In Scotland, it's a matter of whether SNP can increase its already overwhelming majority. If Nicola Sturgeon's crew lost any ground, I'd be stunned.
Weirdly enough, the leader arguably the under the most pressure is Sir Keir Starmer. This April marks a year since he took over from Jeremy Corbyn as Labour leader and the expectation for him to turnaround the party's fortunes has been huge. He started off well enough, with political commentators delighted to see the 'far left' MPs away from the shadow cabinet. He used the tagline 'a new leadership' at the background of his press conferences to portray that Labour is moving forward.
However, fancy buzzwords and a cabinet reshuffle haven't been translated to good poll ratings. Right now, nationally, Labour remain behind the Tories, despite the government's handling of the Covid-19 pandemic. While Starmer has been emphasising the fact that Prime Minister Boris Johnson's indecisions at the start led to care homes being scandalously exposed to the deadly virus, the fact the UK has an appalling positive cases and death rate, and that the nation should have locked down sooner than the government decided to, it has so far made little difference to how the public see Labour. And neither really has his work on handling Labour's infighting, which continues to give him headaches.
His actions have had little impact and recognition. It doesn't help when he has little to criticise over things in our immediate consciousness, i.e., the current vaccination programme, which has been considered a great success to date. The government is taking big delight from it, and Johnson and his party are thriving in the polls because of it. Starmer cannot oppose the idea that the scheme, which is so important for public safety, is going as well as it is currently. He's right to give credit where credit is due. But of course, he's following the science to the letter, like many of the leaders in other countries, and is holding the government to account at the appropriate moments, not at every moment.
So, why are people calling for Starmer's head, with some saying he's an 'ineffective' and 'useless' opposition leader? It's starting to really bother me. What does he have to do in order to win the hearts of reporters and the voting public? I'd rather not dwell on why he isn't Mr Popular, but I do have plenty of reasons why he probably should be.
Politics isn't meant to be sexy, yet it still needs to be relatable, otherwise none of us would be engaged. Politics isn't meant to be exciting either. It is only exciting when there's something to vigorously oppose enough to protest against it. Labour members don't need to do this every time just to be relevant. Starmer is a lawyer by background - he calculates things logically and concludes with the same patience and resolve. Call that boring or ineffective all you like, in reality, that's exactly what is needed. He's like an Angela Merkel; straightforward, without an agenda and yes, you can't tag a 'wing' on him.
We need to start embracing Keir Starmer, not because of the title he currently holds, but because he is providing the 'kinder politics' Jeremy Corbyn pledged to introduce in 2015. Under Starmer, we may see the House of Commons less of a theatre and more of a place where grownups can have a healthy debate about the policies that matter to the public. Starmer is a measured leader, just not a traditional name-calling pantomime one that we've seen other opposition leaders in the past perform.
Therefore, I'd rather the May elections not reflect on how Starmer is doing. These are crazy times where policies have been influenced by a global pandemic that has forced progress to halt in many areas. Covid-19 won't magically go away by then either and anything can happen in the forthcoming journey to defeating it too. And you bet that Starmer will be there holding government to account and making the right calls weeks before Downing Street decide to. Hopefully one day, others will notice this too.