Keir Starmer has been urged in an online meeting of the parliamentary party tonight not to ditch the 2017 or 2019 manifestos, nor to ditch the ten campaign pledges on which he was elected last year.
Addressing the Parliamentary Labour Party after the May 6th elections that produced poor results for the party particularly in England, Starmer praised Mark Drakeford, Anas Sarwar and Labour’s elected mayors.
He also praised the new shadow cabinet team and celebrated Angela Rayner’s new “outwards-facing” role. The deputy leader was given new responsibilities after a row erupted over her sacking as party chair and campaign coordinator.
Starmer described a “mixed” set of results, but noted the Hartlepool by-election defeat was a “bitter disappointment” and said the Labour Party could not shirk or hide away from where it went backwards.
“I didn’t come into politics to tinker around edges. I came into it, as all of you did, to change lives and change Britain. This is a once-in-a-generation moment. We need to build a post-austerity, post-Brexit post-pandemic Britain.
“That is the challenge before us. We need to be bold enough to transform and modernise our country. A decade of tory austerity meant that we went into this pandemic with weakened foundations.
“We had an insecure economy with injustices and inequalities hardwired into our society. The pandemic has brutally exposed them,” Starmer told Labour MPs and peers on Monday evening.
The opposition leader added that Labour must “modernise” and “speak to the Britain of the 2020s and 2030s”, pointing to the ability of Clement Attlee, Tony Blair and Harold Wilson to look to the future.
Reiterating comments he made on Sunday at the Progressive Britain conference, Starmer argued that “we need to change Labour to change the country” and Labour must face outwards to voters.
He explained that this does not mean dropping Labour’s radicalism, but does mean looking to the future. “We haven’t won an election in 16 years and counting. We need to win 125 seats to win a majority of one. That’s the scale of the challenge before us.”
But after Starmer delivered his speech, LabourList understands that Nadia Whittome attributed the election results to a “lack of vision” from the party. The backbencher stressed the need to offer green economic transformation.
Whittome said it would be a mistake to ditch either the 2017 and 2019 manifestos or the ten pledges that Starmer campaigned on during the leadership contest, and criticised their absence from the May campaign.
Starmer revealed over the weekend that Labour’s policy review will not use the 2017 or 2019 manifestos as its starting point. John McDonnell highlighted in response that Starmer described the 2017 manifesto as “our foundational document” during his leadership bid.
Whittome also warned the Labour leader against triangulation, arguing that “we will never out-Tory the Tories and we shouldn’t try”, as such attempts feed Conservative rhetoric and alienate Labour’s base.
According to LabourList sources, Kim Johnson similarly said “we need policies we can get behind”, and criticised the sacking of chief whip Nick Brown, while Liam Byrne was also “fairly hard-hitting” in his contribution.
Sources in the meeting said the Birmingham MP, who ran as Labour’s candidate for West Midlands mayor, took responsibility for the defeat on May 6th, but also criticised a lack of policy from the national party.
Commenting on the meeting, one frontbencher present said there was limited time allowed for questions and answers, and instead Starmer delivered “a stump speech” and was “really uninspiring”.
Margaret Beckett, Barry Sheerman, George Howarth and Nick Smith were among the Labour MPs who expressed their support for the leadership, calling on the party to come together and refrain from attacking Starmer.
The Labour leader set out some of his vision: creating good, skilled jobs across the country, tackling the climate crisis, ensuring every child has a first-class education, and pushing power, wealth and opportunity out of Westminster.