Keir Starmer hit the ground running as the new leader of the Labour Party. That didn’t surprise those of us who knew of his work as a lawyer protecting human rights and trade union rights and had watched him handle the difficult situation the party found itself in over Brexit and the dramatic loss of support in recent years..
Now, on the Covid-19 virus, he is proving himself a very competent leader of an opposition that knows it has to challenge the government on its handling of the crisis but to do so in a constructive and responsible way – not just scoring political points.
I was particularly impressed by his statement on the VE Day memorial. There was great pride in what our country and people had done in the 1939-45 war but no triumphalism and no tub-thumping nationalism – just dignified patriotism and the acknowledgement that what Britain did in those desperately dark days, through which I lived as a young child, was crucial to the ideals of freedom and democracy.
Starmer will have to address the issue of Scotland in the Union.”
The Scots are not natural nationalists and the Labour Party’s tradition is one of internationalism. Starmer will have to rebuild the belief in internationalism here and in the wider UK, where in recent years nationalism has been growing at the expense of internationalism.
Starmer will have to address the issue of Scotland in the Union. Devolution has, in my judgement, been a success and a great tribute to previous Labour leaders – Gordon Brown, Donald Dewar, John Smith and other great politicians who gave Scotland a loud and clear voice in Government.
It is not impossible to rebuild that tradition of success by building on the strengths of a Union that has a reputation as the most successful political and economic union in the world – one that gave us the lead in an industrial revolution created here in Scotland as well as in Wales and England.
What is also new and very welcome is a recognition that after the virus crisis we can’t just go back to ‘business as usual’. That is not an option and Starmer recognises that hard political fact. But as with all crises there is an underlying opportunity to build a better world, just as Labour did in 1945 after the War.
Out of that Attlee government came the NHS, which has been so triumphant in this crisis. Now we have to rebuild in equally exciting ways. Is this the time for a basic wage to replace or modernise the creaking and often unfair social security system? I think it could be but don’t underestimate the size of the challenge.
Starmer has a huge mountain to climb if Labour is to win the next election.”
To defeat this virus and then to rebuild the UK requires creative thinking along with close co-operation and discussion between the four nations of the UK. That calls for leadership of courage, conviction and creativity. A big challenge.
Starmer has a huge mountain to climb if Labour is to win the next election. He knows that Scotland is crucial to Labour’s hopes for government so expect to see and hear more from him and the Labour team. This will be one of his biggest tests – and he knows it.
I think there is a climate growing in the UK for a new style of politics and particularly a recognition that although the financial crisis that goes with the virus will present really tough challenges there can be no return to the austerity policies that undermined our public services on which we now depend more than ever before.
Sadly, and thanks largely to the growth of nationalism across the world, there is currently no sign of the leadership that Gordon Brown gave to the world at the time of the banking crash. Then-Prime Minister Brown used British influence to start talks that coordinated an international response to that crisis. Where is that brand of leadership now?
This is why so many people with Labour values look to Starmer to provide the type of leadership that Britain showed after the war. It can be done – it is a mighty challenge but it is one that Keir Starmer is keen to meet.
As a politician who has spent too many of my years as an MP and member of the House of Lords in opposition, I want to be a cheerleader for the new Labour Party that is emerging from our sad political history of recent years.
It is time for change and I hope and believe that Keir Starmer can provide the leadership we so desperately need.
It is his to win or lose.
Clive Soley is a former MP and chair of the Parliamentary Labour Party who is now vice-chair of the Scottish Peers Association and a member of the House of Lords EU Select sub committee on home affairs. He lives in the Highlands.