Keir Starmer is somewhat of a controversial figure in the Labour Party. Sure, he might not seem it with his intelligence, forensic approach to parliamentary scrutiny, lobbying against the death penalty, and love for donkeys; but the recently emplaced leader does have his fair share of detractors – particularly from the socialist wing, who have criticised recent decisions such as the sacking of Shadow Education Secretary Rebecca Long-Bailey, and his polarizing take on the Black Lives Matter movement (that’s “movement”, not “moment”, Keir).
Yet despite these charges, Starmer has recently scored the highest satisfaction rate ever of an opposition leader on record. In an opinion poll published by The Observer, he overtook Boris Johnson as the public’s first choice preference for Prime Minister, while also scoring the highest satisfaction rating ever for an opposition leader (equalling Tony Blair’s net positive record of + 31 in 1994). It stands in stark contrast to the polling of the recently demoted Jeremy Corbyn – the opposition leader with the, um, worst ratings on record.
But while Corbyn’s ideological positioning, and track record as an infamously rebellious backbencher, made it difficult for him to command the respect of a lot of Labour MPs, the surge of young members joining the party under his leadership, many of whom drawn to his undeniable integrity, have been vital in its development.
During general election campaigns, Corbyn and his team utilised social media to target under 25s with colourful visuals, videos and tweets that could easily be shared or retweeted to gain a larger target audience. This authenticity was refreshing, especially for young people, with the Grime4Corbyn movement serving as a clear example of the momentum the MP for Islington North gathered. So is it possible Starmer could do the same?
In an attempt to unify the youth vote, Starmer recently teamed up with youth charity My Life My Say and the #iwill Campaign in hosting a zoom call with over 1000 young people. The takeaway? That he’s “definitely in listening mode”, is a “massive supporter” of the Votes at 16 campaign, and is keen to enlist the support of young people stating: “It’s your future more than anybody else’s future and you need to be a part of that.”
However, he still has a mountain to climb. Accusations are flying left, right and, ahem, centre that Starmer is too moderate in his ideology to lead the party into electoral success. Ben Norton, associate editor of Greyzone News and documentary filmmaker, called his culling of Rebecca-Long Bailey as a “purge of anyone with mildly progressive views”, labelling him as a “pro-imperialist Blairite right-wing leader”. Fedora proponent and former Labour MP George Galloway claimed that, ideologically, there is “no difference between Keir Starmer’s Labour and the Tories”. If true, Starmer faces a massive challenge in trying to appeal to both voters who have abandoned Labour for the Conservatives, and the youth movement who welcomed Corbyn’s socialist ideology with raised fists.
Starmer, for what it’s worth, has stood by the fact he is ideologically a “socialist” calling repeatedly for the “abolition of university tuition fees” and occasionally presenting ideas that are even more left-wing than Corbyn’s. He supports social ownership and a full end to privatisation. He’s voiced approval for “common ownership of rail, mail, energy and water”. And he believes in raising income and corporation tax, as well as the abolition of the unelected House of Lords.
So what did the 16 and 17-year-olds on the call make of it all? While Lila Wattis thinks that while Starmer’s views on the Black Lives Matter movement risk “‘isolating the Labour youth movement,” she also believes “his ardent advocating of policies such as Votes at 16 and the abolition of university tuition fees are fantastic policies and I’m sure many young people would wholeheartedly support them”. Ewan White, who helped campaign for Labour for Putney in the 2019 General Election, says that while he thought Keir “could be more critical of the Tories … [he’s] clearly working to win back the trust of voters who really lost out in 2019, and is been much better on tackling antisemitism than Jeremy Corbyn”. While Matilda Hayes adds that Starmer is “definitely Prime Minister material who can mobilise us”. It’s not an exact poll, sure, but the early signs are good.
Can Keir Starmer unite the youth movement, then? He’s certainly proven to be extremely competent politically, delivering overwhelmingly positive performances at PMQs, with a personality that is engaging, warm and popular. He needs to work on understanding why some of his comments, particularly towards the BLM movement, could be misconstrued. But, as a 17-year-old myself, he gives me hope that some politicians really do have our best interests at heart. If the politically-inclined youth can unite behind him, we might just have a chance of getting the Tories out of power.