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What next for the new Labour leader – challenges and a historic crisis

Keir Starmer is expected to become Labour’s new leader tomorrow. But he faces a challenge not shared by any of his predecessors since Clement Attlee in the 1930s. 

The winner will have to rebuild a movement shattered by a historic election defeat which left Boris Johnson’s Tories with an 80-seat majority. 

Alongside his focus on party unity will be a bigger priority: proving to voters that Labour can be trusted to run the country again.  

But even that will have to wait. 

With the coronavirus crisis gripping Britain, Starmer – if he beats rivals Rebecca Long-Bailey and Lisa Nandy – will have to navigate his way through the weeks and months ahead.

If it is Sir Keir, he’ll have the choppiest few months in many people’s memory (Image: PA)

While the leadership contest has rumbled on, a partial void has opened up where the Opposition should be. 

The new Labour chief must offer serious and forensic opposition to a Government that is struggling both to protect the NHS frontline and the most economically vulnerable. 

But he must tread carefully between holding ministers to account and being seen to play politics with the biggest crisis facing Britain in a generation. 

If he manages to do that he will have cemented himself in the public mind as a credible and caring alternative to the Tory administration. 

It is years until the next election, so he has time on his side. 

Internally, the new leader must sharpen up the party – clearing out some of the old guard and dramatically professionalising the operation. 

He must deliver on his promises to the Jewish community with tough and decisive action to show that Labour will no longer tolerate anti-Semitism within its ranks.

Margaret Hodge, Luciana Berger and other MPs protest about Labour anti-Semitism (Image: PA)

But his biggest challenge will be whether he can genuinely bring his bitterly divided party together, persuading the Corbyn disciples and those who hanker after the Blair and Brown years to put their differences aside.

Many on both sides fear he can’t – and believe he will ultimately end up opting for one side or the other. 

At the same time, the new leader must look outwards and show the country that Labour is ready for power.

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Thousands of Labour voters lost trust in the party at the last election – over Brexit, the scale of its manifesto, patriotism and – crucially – over Corbyn himself. 

It will be a hard task to win that back.

Starmer already knows that he needs to listen to voters – not just in the Northern heartlands but across the South, Scotland and the rest of the country too. 

Thousands of Labour voters lost trust in the party – some over Corbyn himself (Image: AFP via Getty Images)

His allies say he is determined to equip Labour for the future – promoting social justice and defending the public services, yes, but also the green agenda and new technology.

They claim that he genuinely believes he can bring the Labour movement together.

And while he holds deep Labour values, those that know him well insist he will not cling to ideology if pragmatism offers a surer route to power. 

Because without winning, Labour can not bring about the change Britain so desperately needs. 


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