THE good news for Sir Keir Starmer is that Labour has leapt into a lead over the Tories in the latest YouGov poll; the bad news is that no one, even in the Labour Party, seems to believe it.

The first Labour opinion poll lead in two years should have been a pretext for a bit of Starmer boosterism, especially since it followed Boris Johnson's much-criticised Health and Social Care Levy. But there was very little sign of rejoicing in the Labour firmament as Sir Keir gave his first fight-back speech yesterday to the TUC. It fell almost as flat as his response to the Boris Levy.

It's not as if the Prime Minister is a difficult target. Hiking taxes on working people in order to protect the property values of wealthy home owners is not exactly levelling up, and economists of right and left have been falling over themselves to criticise the logic of taxing jobs during the Covid recovery. The media are eager to find a credible alternative to the tousled one, who is now reportedly planning to be in Number 10 for longer than Margaret Thatcher. If ever there was a barn door this was it, but his confused and evasive responses when asked about his alternative tax plans ensured that Sir Keir missed it.

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He tried to recover ground yesterday by hinting at a reform of capital gains tax as a fairer alternative to raising National Insurance, but he was too late. That boat has sailed. It just brought to mind Mr Johnson's “Captain Hindsight” barb deployed so effectively during Covid. Sir Keir also re-announced Labour's commitment to a £10 minimum wage, which also looks like too little too late. The Tory Government has already announced a legally-binding National Living Wage of £10.50 an hour from 2024.

The former Shadow Chancellor, John McDonnell, called yesterday for a £15 an hour, which is more like it. Pay is rising at its fastest rate in 24 years. Following the departure of cheap labour from Eastern Europe, companies are already having to offer up to £15 an hour to attract workers in laundries and in fruit picking as the BBC reported yesterday. Once again, Sir Keir was sounding out of touch. Though at least he didn't tear up this time when he talked about his father, as he did on Piers Morgan's Life Stories.

His TUC speech was anyway overshadowed by claims from the former leader of Britain's biggest union, Len McCluskey of Unite, effectively claiming that the Labour leader had lied to him about reinstating Jeremy Corbyn. The former leader's suspension has led to a grumbling civil war in the party which has never entirely ignited into flames – at least not yet. Even many on the left realise it will not help the party's electoral prospects to remind people about Mr Corbyn.

On paper, Sir Keir should be the ideal leader for a party reeling from the divisions over the Corbyn era. He is a personable human rights lawyer who took over a party mortified by the biggest election defeat since 1935. The rows about anti-Semitism, Palestine, hard left infiltration and race have been largely left behind – give or take his taking the knee during Black Lives Matter. Sir Keir exudes responsibility, honesty, moderation, competence – he's a former Director of Public Prosecutions – all the things that Mr Johnson lacks. No one could call Sir Keir a chancer. He even combs his hair.

Sir Keir stands for not being Jeremy Corbyn

Sir Keir stands for not being Jeremy Corbyn


Perhaps he is too much of a perfect fit – the kind put together by a focus group. An identikit political leader who may look the part but hasn't been tested to destruction in the real world of politics. It has become commonplace to say that no one knows what Sir Keir stands for – that's not true. He stands for a return to the centrist politics that were so successful under Tony Blair (well, bar the Iraq war). He stands for not being Jeremy Corbyn. Above all, Sir Keir Starmer stands for Remain – and here, perhaps, lies the root of the problem.

YouGov reported that his support among working class voters is minus 27. His opposition to Brexit has not been forgotten or forgiven. The Labour leader's attempt to avoid the issue by not talking about it, isn't working either, especially when most of his party seem to be determined to talk about little else. Even the victory of Emma Raducanu in the US Open led to an outpouring of anti-Brexit sentiment among Labour supporters. The truth is that Labour is not just the party of Remain, but the party of Rejoin. YouGov found that 60% of Labour members think that Sir Keir should campaign right now to rejoin the European Union.

Yet many working class Labour supporters who voted for Brexit feel vindicated. They see wages rising at their fastest rate this century and believe that the restrictions placed on free movement is at least part of the cause. Economists debate whether there is any real connection between migration and earnings. But many working class voters are seeing the result in their pay packets and they wonder why it was that Labour left them so exposed for so long to cheap labour imported from abroad.

Read more: The Boris Levy be bonkers but there's method to Johnson's madness

A lengthy article in the Labour-supporting New Statesman, “Labour's Lost Future”, suggested that Labour's problems over Brexit date from EU enlargement in 2004. Back then, the Labour Government forecast an increase in immigration of no more than 13,000 a year; in the event the numbers arriving were 12 times that, every year. Unlike other countries Labour did not impose the seven-year transitional delay on mass migration that was allowed under the EU free movement rules.

Many Labour voters simply turned away from the party, and then voted Leave in 2016. Many are now voting Tory in seats like Hartlepool. This is why Sir Keir is in trouble. He can't please his party without alienating Brexit voters. At the Labour conference later this month he will for the first time come face to face with a party, too many of whom either loathe their leader or are coolly indifferent.

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