Why Sir Keir Starmer Will Win The 2020 Labour Leadership Contest

The Labour Leadership Contest is in full swing and has very quickly become a 3-horse race. The 4th April finish line is in sight and the race is on between Rebecca Long-Bailey, Keir Starmer and Lisa Nandy.

Keir Starmer is out in front by some margin. The gap has closed slightly, but his lead is no surprise when we look at historical and recent patterns. The Labour Party has always been a coalition between harder left democratic socialists (“power to the workers, tax the rich!”) and the softer left social democrats (“let’s have a moderate, ‘let’s redistribute wealth but not tax the rich too much’ approach”).

The two sides have battled in the past. Sometimes Labour leaders attempt a ‘broad church’ approach, trying to keep both sides happy (Attlee), and other times they may aim to crush the other side of the party (Blair). Both approaches can work, but never does political stability last eternally.

The Labour Contest is split roughly with these labels in mind. Long-Bailey for the socialists, Nandy for the softer left (though she is still not particularly centrist), and Starmer is the ‘broad church’ candidate that is attempting to satisfy all party factions.

Keir is the man for the job.

They need someone who stands for hard left, soft left and left without a concrete position all at the same time. Keir is the man for the job.

But is he the right man for the British public?

Broadly speaking, the people of Britain generally fall somewhere in the centre on most issues, and parties win parliamentary majorities by satisfying more of the centre than the other side can. The only reason that a centrist party doesn’t dominate is because the first past the post system is binary – people don’t want to waste a vote on a smaller party in case their least favourite large party wins.

“the contest will soon be back to policy and leadership.”

Historically, whenever Labour appears to be too socialist, unpatriotic and monarchy-doubting, it is rejected by the public. Wouldn’t the Labour Party be more likely to win if they chose a centrist? Many of those further on the left would still vote for them since they are better than a Tory, whilst also attracting the floater voters – the deciders. This is exactly what Blair managed when he capitalised on a tired Tory party and a hunger for something positive, pragmatic and progressive, gaining a gigantic majority in 1997.

Well, being a social democrat may not be a guaranteed win. Miliband lost the election with a moderate manifesto. However, there are many other historical and present factors to consider like leadership qualities, issues that don’t fall perfectly along party lines (e.g. Brexit) and previous government performance to name just a few curveballs. The public may have slightly favoured the Conservative’s more moderate policies in 2019, and Brexit dragged some heartland Labour voters away to widen the gap. However, the contest will soon be back to policy and leadership.

It’s a no-brainer. Win another landslide. Will this happen? NO CHANCE!

So, it’s obvious. Put a centrist Labour leader in charge and you’re more likely to win. It’s a no-brainer. Win another landslide. Will this happen? NO CHANCE!


Firstly, the large majority under Blair led to a very strong cabinet which was immune to backbencher rebellions, since they had enough backbench supporters to pass most centrist bills through. It may be currently considered by some members that the party is better off having a more left-leaning leader in exchange for a smaller parliamentary majority in order to achieve more socialist outcomes when elected. Of course, this is a fine balance. Too far left and you either get a very small majority where centrist backbenchers can scupper government plans, or no majority at all, left to wallow in the pure socialist but categorically powerless minority in Parliament.

The fact that there is not a centrist in the running represents how there just isn’t sufficient taste for centrism in the party

Secondly, the trade unions and Momentum have strong influences, with socialist membership at record high. Since they are sacrosanct to Labour’s identity they add pressure to elect a leftist candidate. The fact that there is not a centrist in the running represents how there just isn’t sufficient taste for centrism in the party.

Lastly, some members still see the resounding defeat of Labour in 2019 as totally unrelated to having overambitious policies for the British public’s palate and was instead solely Brexit-based.

Labour is on the left and the membership will choose Starmer because he is the most ‘broad church’, bringing rapprochement after the last few years of internal conflict. But, the deciding centrist portion of the British public, who are the seat-givers in a general election, are in the centre. They will have to see who is closest – Labour or Conservative.

So, in the hypothetical event that Long-Bailey wins the leadership contest, Labour are destined for another General Election loss, unless Boris Johnson has a diabolical time in government. Nandy probably won’t win the contest because she doesn’t appeal to the hard left part of the membership quite enough, but if she did win she would probably gain many seats back in an election (especially from her northern neighbours), though she may struggle to keep her party united.

Sir Keir Starmer, generally lacking in anything greatly exciting, will be an acceptable trade-off between socialist and social democrat

Thus, Sir Keir Starmer, generally lacking in anything greatly exciting, will be an acceptable trade-off between socialist and social democrat for the membership. He appeals enough to both sides of the party and will likely gain some seats at the next election because he is unifying and only moderately left wing. Indeed, a stable party is more likely to win support from the public. An appealing choice for the average middle-income, middle-aged, middle of the road voter, though not quite appealing enough to the centre ground to win a parliamentary majority … without a Conservative calamity, that is.

Thomas Gregory 

Featured image courtesy of Chatham House via Flickr. No changes made to this image. Image license found here

In article image 1 courtesy of @Keir_Starmer via Twitter. No changes were made to this image. 

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One Comment
  • Felix Hawes
    8 March 2020 at 13:48
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    This is a wonderful analysis of the situation of the Labour Party. The party has been shattered to almost its core and requires unification if it ever hopes to govern again.

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