What's the point of Keir Starmer?
Since becoming Labour leader a little over two years ago, Keir Starmer has gone out of his way not to rock the boat.
After the tumultuous Corbyn era, the strategy has been about making the party electable once more, no longer a basket case but a grown-up alternative to a Tory government mired in sleaze and incompetence.
That strategy appears to be working. Recent polling shows the party opening up a six-point gap on the Conservatives and tantalisingly close to squeaking a Commons majority.
But at some point Starmer needs to show us who he is and what his party stands for.
Asked during a BBC interview earlier this week whether he supported inflation-matching pay rises for public sector workers, Starmer equivocated, giving an answer not too dissimilar to the one you would expect from Boris Johnson.
His sacking of junior shadow transport minister Sam Tarry, who flouted instructions not to join striking rail workers on picket lines, has left the Labour leader at odds with the unions and many on the left of his party.
Indeed, Kevin Lindsay, Scotland organiser for Aslef, quit the party earlier today in protest at Tarry’s sacking and called for his union to disaffiliate itself with Labour.
With two-and-a-half years until the next general election, the Labour leader’s reticence about alienating voters, business and sections of the media is understandable.
But at some point – perhaps sooner than he would like – he will have to become less risk-averse.
Amid an unprecedented cost-of-living crisis which threatens to push many hard-working families to the brink, is it really too much to expect a Labour leader to be on the same side as public sector workers fighting for a much-needed pay rise?
What is the point of a Labour party, and a Labour leader, that doesn’t stand up for working people?
It remains to be seen whether a wounded Tory party will be re-energised under the leadership of either Rishi Sunak or Liz Truss, but whoever is elected leader next month, we must assume it will give the party a lift.
Starmer’s strategy of presenting himself as a serious alternative to Johnson’s free-wheeling, seat-of-the-pants premiership will no longer have the same currency and much of the momentum that has been built over the past few months will be lost.
For those in Scotland who believe in the future of the United Kingdom, who believe in social justice and who care about tackling the sickening inequality which has become endemic, Labour remains the best hope.
It’s time for Starmer to start showing why.
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