(Photo by Leon Neal/Getty Images)

Labour’s Local Election launch 

Keir Starmer and Angela Rayner failed to convince the electorate that Labour has totally renounced Corbynism

Sir Keir Starmer had a good run of questions at PMQs yesterday and having successfully road-tested them to a near empty Commons chamber he reused many of the same lines today in launching Labour’s local elections campaign.

The Conservatives were “a party that gives a 40 per cent pay rise to Dominic Cummings, but a pay cut for our nurses”, and when Sir Keir clapped for the NHS “I meant it” unlike Boris Johnson who clapped and then “slammed the door on them”. That line was an obscure pun on having to close the front door after coming back from clapping on the street. Is Sir Keir’s front door permanently ajar?

There was a lot on the NHS. Sir Keir informed us that his mum was a nurse and his sister was a nurse and that his wife works for the NHS. A set of facts that, if used too much, will probably be mocked in the way that Sadiq Khan being the son of a bus driver was, or the way Jeremy Hunt being an entrepreneur was used as the butt of jokes.

During today’s launch event, it seemed like the party is trying to convince the electorate that Labour has given up on the grievance-fuelled politics of Corbynism. But it came across like an alcoholic attempting to convince you that he’s clean whilst occasionally taking a swig from a hip flask.

The most amount of thought probably went into this section, which was likely marked “I’M NOT CORBYN” on an early draft:

Since Angela and I were elected 11 months ago, Labour has changed. We’re reconnecting with the British people – in every region and every nation of the United Kingdom. We’re working hard to rebuild trust. We know there’s a long way to go but I’m incredibly proud of what we’ve achieved. Whether that’s rooting out anti-Semitism in our Party. Or rebuilding our relationship with British business. This is a different Labour Party. Under new leadership. And we’re making a different offer to the British people.

As well as this there were references to business and the tax burden on families peppered throughout. But there was also a lot in there that seemed inappropriate for a party trying to capture back Red Wall voters. The Conservative Party had “no idea how to tackle the single biggest threat Britain faces…”. What was coming … a new variant? Mass unemployment? The answer was pure Corbyn: “…the climate emergency”. For unemployed or furloughed workers, does this even factor into their top ten?

Starmer is trying to distance himself from his former leader, yet the PLP retains its cadre of Corbynistas

When he handed over to deputy leader Angela Rayner who appeared remotely on a video feed (with terrible quality) she said she couldn’t promise “a £2.6 million TV studio like the prime minister has built with taxpayers’ money and by the way, a nurse would have to work for a hundred years to earn that kind of money”. There’s a fairly productive mine that the party can exploit over the prime minister’s lavish interior decorating, but for official business don’t people want the seat of Government to look the part? Who could forget the embarrassment of Boris Johnson borrowing House of Commons equipment to take part in PMQs via Zoom last year? What proportion of the millions who voted Conservative in 2019 were expecting Boris to emulate José Mujica, the former Uruguayan farmer turned president who drove himself to official business in a beat-up Volkswagen Beetle.

It’s clear that Starmer is trying to distance himself from his former leader. Yet, the parliamentary Labour party retains its cadre of Corbynista MPs. What is more, the pandemic has made state-run enterprises the only secure place to work at the moment. In this environment, it is not easy for Labour to find the optimistic, aspirational appeal that Blair gave voice to in 1997.

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