Keir Starmer visits Portsmouth on Leap Day to explain why he should be the next Labour leader. Local writer and editor Abbie Headon shares her experience of the event.
I don’t think I’ll ever forget the wave of despair that hit me at 10pm on election night last year, when Huw Edwards announced exit poll results showing a huge Conservative majority. How – but how – could Britain’s voters reward the Tories for almost ten years of callous austerity politics by handing them a thumping victory? It didn’t make any sense.
Except the problem is that it did make sense. Despite every blow the Conservatives had inflicted on the country, in constituency after constituency voters thought that what the Tories had to offer was more convincing than anything Labour promised.
So now we find ourselves starting a new year and a new decade with the search for a new leader to bring Labour back to power. I’ll be totally honest: I rejoined Labour two days after the election in order to play my part in this process. I have skin in this game. I care about who the next leader will be, because I don’t want the next election exit poll to take us back to 12 December 2019 again.
Those of us who live in Portsmouth South are lucky to have one of the few Labour MPs in the south of England. Stephen Morgan became our first ever Labour MP in 2017, and in 2019 he tripled his majority. Hopefully when the next general election arrives, we’ll see a Labour MP in Portsmouth North too.
If Labour’s going to win the next election and start undoing the damage we’ve suffered since 2010, we need an effective leader, someone who can convince not just party members but voters all over the country that they’re ready to form a government. On 29 February, we had the opportunity to see one of the three remaining candidates in person, as Keir Starmer spoke to a packed house at St George’s Church in Portsea.
After introductions from Stephen Morgan, climate activist Paula Savage and Pompey footballer Christian Burgess, Starmer took the stage to prolonged applause. He started by saying, ‘I never want us to go through an election like that, ever again.’ It was devastating for the candidates who lost, but more importantly, for the millions of people who needed change and who won’t get it. ‘I’ve never known a time when we so desperately need a radical Labour government,’ he said.
Starmer outlined the three priorities he would bring to his leadership: firstly, to unify the party; secondly, to become an effective opposition now, and hold Boris Johnson to account for all his actions; and thirdly, to be unrelentingly focused on winning the next election. He pointed out the huge achievements of previous Labour administrations, such as the founding of the NHS and the signing of the Good Friday Agreement. These things are only possible when Labour pulls together.
Questions from the floor included electoral reform (he’s open to this and wants to see an elected second chamber replace the House of Lords), free TV licences for the over-75s (he’d restore these), the climate emergency (his number one priority). The Labour parliamentary candidate for Havant, Rosamund Knight, raised the issue of inadequate support for non-marginal seats such as hers, and Starmer replied that the party’s strategy for which candidates it supported had been ‘totally hopeless’ in 2019. Under his leadership, the next general election campaign would begin on 4 April 2020.
Another questioner asked how Starmer would convince someone who thinks the leader should be a woman or from the north to vote for him. He answered, ‘None of us are putting ourselves forward because we’re a woman or because we’re a man.’ His view is that each candidate is making their case based on their own view, and that whoever wins will have to speak for the whole country. Whatever the outcome of the leadership election, he sees all three candidates forming the team that will lead Labour back to power.
The lengthy applause and jubilant mood in the room showed that here, at least, there is strong support for Starmer as the next leader of the Labour party. In his introduction to the event, Stephen Morgan said we need Labour to be united, radical and relevant, and that Keir Starmer is the leader to achieve this. I haven’t put my tick in any candidate’s box yet, but I think he could be right.
Image by Abbie Headon.