So far, Keir Starmer, the new leader of the Labour Party has kept his cards close to his chest, portraying an image of competence in an attempt to distance himself from the Corbynite leadership which in his eyes did not succeed in regaining people’s trust in Labour (informed through the catastrophic 2019 election result).
Starmer’s self-styled image of competence is complemented through exposing the incompetence of the Conservative government through the Covid-19 crises. The fascinating question is, where will Starmer position himself on the political spectrum when it comes to policy?
On the face of it, Starmer has two options. Firstly, he can try and re-style the Labour Party as the Party of government, whilst providing continuity with the Corbyn-era administration when it comes to policy. Or, he can move into the ‘centre’, space which New Labour operated. The latter is what many people on the left of the Party fear him doing and will be vocal in their opposition to in a manner which could become destructive. However, what does the centre mean now?
The ‘centre’ is a concept and electoral strategy based on the notion of ‘median voter theory’. What this means is that the centre is calculated as the position on the political spectrum where most voters align. Therefore, electoral strategy dictates that to win an election you want to position yourself in the ‘centre’, as most people in the country agree with your policies and stances on issues. Now, I appreciate that winning elections is much more complex, media campaigning, the charisma of leader etc all inform voting. However, the point here is that if the concept of median voter theory is true, we need to establish where the centre is.
Politics has undergone a remarkable upheaval since New Labour. We have seen the growth of right-wing populism in the UK, across Europe and the wider world. The ‘centre’, is not where the centre was under New Labour. The centre has shifted outwards, to what was previously the margins. Nationalisation of the railways, water companies and gas and electricity companies now has overwhelming support from the populus according to YouGov. Something which quite clearly contravenes New Labour’s blind loyalty of the private sector.
In addition, tax increases on the wealthy are also surprisingly popular, as is the requirement that all companies give a third of places on their board to workers. Therefore, what is clearly obvious is that the centre in 2020 does not derive its name from the location of the traditional political spectrum. The centre is where people’s opinions lie, and they do not lie in the traditional middle as they did in the 1990s and the 2000s. In fact, the centre appears to be more closely aligned to Corbynism in terms of policies than Blairism.
Therefore, Keir Starmer and his team can effectively mobilise this theory of the new centre to provide relative continuity with the good work on policy which was done by the last Labour leadership. Whilst distancing himself from the last Labour leadership in terms of style, appearance and image in the public sphere. People did not trust Corbyn, people will trust Starmer.
Coming from a distinguished career in the Law, recognized by as worthy of receiving a knighthood; these are accolades which voters want to see in their leaders. Importantly, this does not mean abandoning the progressive policies which were popular. The Centre has moved, and the Labour Party must move with it.