Analysis comment Guest article

Johnson has only his own party to fear as long as Starmer is Labour ‘leader’

Left activist @damian_from argues that the only threat to Boris Johnson is from his own MPs, as long as Keir Starmer is the so-called ‘opposition’

This article is adapted from one originally published by ‘Damian from Brighton‘ at the end of last month, re-published with permission as a guest article.

Boris Johnson has only his own MPs to worry about as long as Keir Starmer remains what passes for Labour leader. Getting the Tories out of power is a matter of sequencing and I will reveal what that sequence is – and it doesn’t involve Starmer.


Keir Starmer could not have been handed a better opportunity to become prime minister. He faces an intellectually exhausted and morally bankrupt Tory government that has been in power for over a decade and which seems more concerned about saving itself than governing the country. ‘led’ by a man rejected by almost half his party’s MPs including a huge majority of those not on the ‘government payroll’. 

Bereft of new ideas, the government is aimlessly staggering forward like a zombie – well almost, it isn’t entirely mindless. There remains one dominating thought, a core belief which binds the Tories and propels them forward: neoliberalism. The policies of privatisation, austerity and deregulation have an almost religious significance to Tories. First introduced by Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan, the Tories have stayed on that path, rarely bothering to give their intentions more than a desultory camouflage and relying on their media allies to fool the public for them. Some are zealous believers – some would say fanatics – and some merely greedy servants of their corporate masters.

One way or another, then, neoliberalism is the Tory party’s orthodoxy and therefore its justification for everything it has done and everything it is going to do. Without neoliberalism the Tories have no justification and no defence for what they have done to the UK since 1979.

We have now tested neoliberal economic policy with both Tory and New Labour governments for forty continuous years. The results are clear.

The neoliberal experiment

Because of the Tories and their policies, poverty, inequality and debt have all increased over the last 40 years. Mortality rates are up, life expectancy is down and wages have remained stagnant while asset and equity prices have exponentially increased. Tory austerity caused over 200,000 avoidable deaths between 2015-2020 alone. Women, children, disabled people and people on low incomes have been worst affected. 14 million people in the UK live in poverty and the number of foodbanks and homeless people is at record levels. Those are the results. 

Those devastating consequences are why Jeremy Corbyn argued against austerity when he was Labour leader. His intervention was important and necessary because the major parties had formed a consensus on austerity, they all supported it. Corbyn broke with that consensus and by doing so caused significant political change in the UK.

I know that is a big claim to make but fortunately it is an easy one to prove: this Tory government is spending more than any government since 1947 and has just announced a windfall tax, a policy proposed by Corbyn in Labour’s 2019 manifesto.

Corbyn didn’t just argue against austerity: he won the argument against one of the three pillars of neoliberalism. By winning that argument Corbyn fundamentally changed the ‘accepted wisdom’ of British politics. He defeated the argument for austerity. That is his true legacy.

I can hear you say that is all very well and fairly interesting but you promised to tell us about the sequence that will get the Tories out of power. What has all this stuff about neoliberalism got to do with Boris Johnson being safe while Starmer is Labour leader? It is relevant because it is one of the two key reasons Johnson has only his own MPs to fear.

Reason 1

Starmer is relying on traditional Labour voters, who voted Tory in 2019 to ‘get Brexit done’, to naturally return to the party after Brexit settles down. There is a flaw in that assumption. Brexit isn’t settling down and it is unlikely to for as long as the person who tried to stop Brexit is the leader of the Labour Party. 

Johnson is safe from Labour while Starmer is its leader for two key reasons: Starmer tried to stop Brexit, trampling on the wishes of the voters in the 65% of constituencies that voted leave. Leave voters who fought hard for their victory will not be inclined to vote for the person who tried to reverse it before it had even been done and whose support base is made up largely of people who want the UK to rejoin the EU. The probability of leave voters voting Labour is significantly diminished by Starmer’s mere presence as Labour leader. Having ‘Mr Second Referendum’ as leader ensures leave voters who might otherwise think of voting Labour will stay away. 

If I am right that Starmer is an electoral liability then it should be born out by Labour’s election results, so let’s look at the numbers. 

Election results

Since Starmer became leader the Labour vote has collapsed at every single by-election Labour has stood in except for one. Labour lost 327 council seats and eight councils at the 2021 local elections – and Starmer did worse at the 2022 elections than Corbyn did at the same elections in 2018. Corbyn’s approval rating was also higher than Starmer’s at this point in his leadership.

Some exceptionally bad election results stand out. Starmer holds the record for achieving the worst ever by-election result in the history of the Labour Party. Labour won just 1.6% of the vote at the Chesham and Amersham by-election and lost its deposit. 

Starmer also lost Hartlepool, a seat Corbyn had held twice when he was leader and which Labour had held since 1974. In another stand-out result, under Starmer Labour lost its majority on Durham County Council, a council the party had controlled for a hundred years.

A leader who achieves those kind of results is not on his way to Downing Street, it is far more likely that he is on his way to the Job Centre. 

Starmer’s supporters will counterargue that Labour is ahead in the polls. True, but a very feeble truth. Being just 3-6 points ahead of arguably the worst Tory government in modern times – and with the media giving Starmer the easiest imaginable ride – is not something to crow about. In 2017 Labour were 8 points ahead on 45% and Tony Blair said that Labour should have been 15-20 points ahead. Yet today, when Labour is on 36%, he says Starmer is doing a good job. The UK needs many things at the moment but one thing it does not need is any more Blairite spin. 

Reason 2

Some people might argue that the fact Starmer tried to stop Brexit is not in itself enough to guarantee Johnson’s safety from Starmer’s Labour – but combined with the second key reason it is more than enough. That second reason is that  Starmer is not offering voters any real alternative to the Tories – he is only offering to manage neoliberalism better and even that is not convincing. In Starmer’s version of the country, slightly fewer people will die, homelessness and hunger will reduce a little, but nothing will fundamentally change to address the causes of the problems. He offers adjustments to what already exists, he isn’t offering anything new or different. It is a timid, weak offer, especially from a Labour leader. 

His offer to voters is so weak it allows Boris Johnson to continually outbid him – on minimum wage, on tax, public sector pay and more – while still keeping his own Tory MPs in line. They are losing confidence in his credibility with voters – but Johnson hasn’t gone too far for them on pay, emergency measures and economic stimuli. He hasn’t needed to and has still been able to ‘outflank Starmer on the left’.

The most recent example of this happening was with the windfall tax on energy companies. Labour proposed a means tested method of distribution which would pay people on low incomes less than the Tories have offered. How on earth did Labour find itself in the position of being passed on the left by the Tories?

Starmer keeps miring himself in this type of political problem because where Corbyn challenged the neoliberal consensus, Starmer accepts it. As a result, he formulates policies in a way that will not challenge the status quo and the result is as thin as dishwater, so weak and ineffectual that the public again believes, with reason, that ‘they’re all the same’. Corbyn won the argument against austerity but Starmer to run away from that victory as far and as fast as he could. He didn’t press home the attack on neoliberalism, he didn’t press home the advantage Corbyn had carved out for him. He told Labour members he would, until he won the leadership election – then did the exact opposite, revealing the pro-privatisation, anti-nationalisation, pro-bigotry reality. Starmer is defending neoliberalism.

The sequence

At the beginning of this article I promised to reveal the sequence Labour will need to follow to get the Tories out. To defeat the Tories Labour must replace Starmer with a leader who did not try to stop Brexit and who will make a bold offer to voters similar to the offers Labour made at the 2017 and 2019 general elections.

It is a simple sequence and the only path to power for the Labour Party. But instead Starmer and his faction are trying to brick up the door and ensure that no hint of a path to it ever appears again.

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  1. Given that the most likely replacements for Starmer would be either Wes Streeting or Lisa Nandy I’m unsure where getting rid of Starmer is going to get you.

    1. As usual, steveH, you are attempting to re-frame an argument that was not put.

      The author of this article did not, as you clearly imply in yet another of your insipid contributions, put the argument in the terms you have claimed.

      He did not argue that Starmer simply must be replaced to win a GE against the Tory Party. He went further. Laying out the minimum terms for the kind of replacement leader and program. Try reading the terms which were put. Here it is for you – again:

      “To – defeat – the -Tories- Labour – must – replace – Starmer – with – a – leader – who – did – not – try – to – stop – Brexit – and – who – will – make – a – bold – offer – to – voters – similar – to – the – offers – Labour – made – at – the – 2017 – and – 2019 – general – elections.”

      With a leader who did not try to stop Brexit and who will make a similar offer as Labour made in 2017 & 2019.

      That clearly means a leader and a LP totally abandoning the Blarite continuity conservative platform of neo-liberalism/neo-conservativeism.

      Keep reading it until you’ve got it and properly understood it. (assuming you are capable of understanding anything outside the fantasy world in your own head)

      1. You can fantasise all you like but back in the real world the most likely outcome of a leadership election is the one I’ve given above.

      2. And in the real world, steveH, such an outcome will result in a continuous Tory Party victory at General Elections and/or a continuation of failed neo liberal and neo conservative policies which, again in the real world, will result in the eventual destruction of the Country and its society.

        the fact you cannot accept this reality is irrelevant. I suggest you deal with it.

      3. Dave – I’m simply reporting what the polls indicate, I have not endorsed this outcome. There has been a lot of churn in the membership and the political makeup of the membership is different from what it was in Corbyn’s era

    2. Two Cheeks
      The only outcome for Red Tories is millions of votes lost and bankruptcy

      1. Two Cheeks
        Have you tried watching paint dry
        Would be more productive than your contributions on here

      2. Breaking news
        Temporary Embarrassment has finally given us his flagship policy, his USP
        Honesty and Integrity

      3. Doug – Is that really the best riposte you could come up with. 🥱

      4. “Have you tried growing up.”

        The observation ‘Physician heal thyself’ occurs.

  2. I think that Lisa Nandy was one of the very few
    Labour MPs who opposed a second referendum-
    I think she expressed extreme doubts anyway?

    However that is the ONLY point in her favour for
    I would never vote for her as leader. My choice
    would be Dawn Butler who might get through
    the rightwing Labour MPs for having the cojones
    to call Johnson a liar in the HoC. If she were
    on the list of candidates she would have a good
    chance with the LP membership – for there are
    more of us on the left than Labour Party HQ

    However I cannot think that Starmer would be
    deposed at the moment – worse luck for the very
    reason that the Tories are so weak .. If they manage
    to get rid of Johnson and appoint someone sensible
    as Tory leader – that would be the moment.

  3. I think there would be problems finding someone
    who was prominent in NOT supporting a second
    referendum. I take the point though that Starmer
    was the leader of Ref2 ..

    I doubt though that apart from Starmer –
    supporting Ref2 is not something most of the electorate
    remember now. Support for Labour from traditional
    “red wall” seats has been decreasing for many years
    – Johnson is still regarded as “someone who
    got us through..” by some red wall voters.

    What IS important is to have clear positive policies –
    and I think the 2017 Manifesto was a good one –
    short and with good ideas. The 2019 Manifesto was
    too long – unsurprising for as John McDonnell admitted
    – it was meant for two terms! We need positive policies
    which allow for the changes in Society after COVID and
    which have arisen after input and discussion from
    grass roots.

    I was watching a program about Putin and Russia – and
    was struck how the same idea was put forward by some
    there after the oil price fell and the Russian economy
    crashed. The importance of *democracy* was stressed
    in the putting forward of new ideas. This point of view
    was crushed by Putin and I was struck that Starmer was
    just like him in that respect – we definitely need someone
    who will bring back democracy in the Labour Party.

  4. “I was watching a program about Putin and Russia …”
    Where was the programme that you watched? The BBC or ITV or Sky or what?
    You have sense enough to realise that these people lie to you about domestic politics and people like Jeremy Corbyn. You might even realise that they lie about Venezuela and Cuba. And that they slander and misrepresent Palestine ten times an hour.
    So, please consider the possibility that they are not reliable sources on Russia or VV Putin either. Whatever you say about Putin you cannot say that he is a member of the US based Trilateral Commission, as is Starmer.
    Pesonally while I feel that Putin is a little too moderate for my taste he cannot be faulted for coming to the assistance of one of Europe’s biggest concentrations of industry and working people and putting an end to the massacres which killed thousands in the past eight years.
    Look up the Odessa Trade Union Hall- that is what would happen to us if the people who run Ukraine and have killed off all legal defences of workers rights and banned all opposition parties, plus media, including websites like this one, had power here as they do in Ukraine.
    Do you realise that people expressing your opinions in Ukraine are traced by the police, beaten, tortured and in many cases killed for sying the ‘wrong thing.’

  5. Was there really any more actual democracy when Corbyn was in tenure.
    We had lots of promises about democratising the party but in reality all we got was ‘trigger ballots’ and we still had to contend with loads of expulsions and imposed candidates.

    1. Corbyn neverr suppressed members’ choices, democratic instincts and actions. Starmer does. In fact, his survival depends on it!

      1. qwertboi – Really, how would you describe the parachuting in of PPCs and the sneaky imposition of ‘trigger ballots’ against the members wishes?

      2. “how would you describe the parachuting in of PPCs and the sneaky imposition of ‘trigger ballots’ against the members wishes?”

        I wouldn’t. Under Corbyn it never happened. CLP members had to chose whether to ballot and who they wanted as their PPC.

    2. Was there really any more actual democracy when Corbyn was in tenure.

      I don’t remember Corbyn sacking any MPs from their posts for going against a single line whip to ABSTAIN.

      I don’t remember any VoNC’s being ignored, or kyboshed altogether.

      And I don’t remember Corbyn or his deputy publicly stating they intend to rid their clique of thousands of dissenters under the false pretence and fabrications of antisemitism.

      Qwertboi is entirely correct. Keefs survival’s completely dependent on suppression of any dissent. By any means.

  6. Dear Skwawkbox

    …”who will make a bold offer to voters similar to the offers Labour made at the 2017 and 2019 general elections.”…

    Over 50s (saves all ages) party offers even bolder policy, updating 2017 Corbyn’s manifesto, to fully solve the dire cost of living crisis, poverty, hunger, homelessness, early death of working class, lack of properly affordable decent social housing, full nationalisation of energy, water, Royal Mail, railways, buses, and even free electricity for homes by sustainable solar and wind power on your roof, fitted and maintained for free. And so much more.

    Will you care to contact me via my email to this post, please, to gain a blog entry by your, so as to encourage knowledgeable people to volunteer admin the Over 50s (saves all ages) party into existence?

  7. Good to hear from greyswans again and a reminder of what a Corbyn government could have been.I somtimes wonder would my two brothers be dead now if Corbyn had not been sabotaged by his own labour party and employees of the labour party and the hundreds of thousands more that have perished under Tory rule because people like Steve H were members of the labour party….Theres a reckoning coming and a new working class party .Labour must go before that to begin the inevitably of a fightback in Britain.

  8. “Some exceptionally bad election results stand out. Starmer holds the record for achieving the worst ever by-election result in the history of the Labour Party. Labour won just 1.6% of the vote at the Chesham and Amersham by-election and lost its deposit.”

    Perhaps Starmer should have been chosen as presenter of the 1% Club instead of Lee Mack.

    This result cannot be entirely attributed to tactical voting because the Liberal Democrats did not really expect to win. The result reportedly took them by surprise.

    Latest poll in War Monger’s Weekly aka the Observer:

    Labour 2% ahead on voting intention for a general election.

    Who would make the best prime minister?

    Starmer 2 points behind Johnson!

    I wonder whether Starmer would be ahead against Vladimir Putin.

    1. Tony – You forgot to mention that in the same poll Keir’s approval index is 21% points ahead of Johnson’s. A mirror image of where Corbyn was against Johnson on the same metric.
      It is also worth noting that on the ‘best PM’ polling that you quote Corbyn wasn’t just 2% behind Johnson, he was 20% points behind Johnson.

  9. I’m not convinced that a ‘kick the Tories out’ rallying cry is sufficient to do anything of the kind, nor that Labour, under any leader, would be a worthy victor. I have a preference for democratic socialism, others don’t and, acknowledging those differences I believe that we need a system where contrasting views are meaningfully considered and hopefully, the best approach prevails rather than a one-party-takes-all scenario, as at present, where there is nothing for anyone else to do until the next election rolls along. If the Starmerite and Continuity Corbyn factions of Labour were separate entities then they might use the proportional seats they gained to make their respective cases in Parliament (just as one would hope separate ERG Tory types and liberal Tories might emerge as more cohesive and coherent distinct groupings) rather than expend so much energy ripping into each other to the ongoing indifference of the public.

  10. It has been revealed that Davis Buttress, Boris Johnson’s new cost of living tzar, doesn’t have a very high opinion of his new boss

    Johnson’s cost of living tsar said PM must quit and voting Tory is ‘self harm’
    David Buttress, founder and former chief executive of Just Eat, said Boris Johnson is not “particularly blessed” with “intelligence or integrity”
    In a series of eyebrow-raising tweets which emerged today, David Buttress, founder and former chief executive of Just Eat, said the PM had “to go” over over rule-breaking parties in Downing Street and that voting Conservative in Wales was “self harm”.
    He has also accused the government of “prejudice, lack of common decency and humanity” over its treatment of asylum seekers crossing the Channel.
    In a tweet sent in January, when the PM was under fire over Partygate, the businessman said: “Why is that the worse people often rise to the highest office and stay there!?
    “For me, it isn’t important what job you do or your title, but it is vitally important why you do the job and what you achieve.
    On April 26, of this year, just ahead of the local elections, he fumed at the “cost of decades of Westminster Conservative neglect of Wales” and a “total absence of investment strategy for the country”, claiming the government had “destroyed Welsh communities and the concept of society in England”.
    And in March, as part of a tweet about leadership, he said: “A person’s character is formed from many places and experiences. ‘Surprisingly’, Eton, Oxford, into politics and then Prime Minister doesn’t necessarily capture the best gene pool.”

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