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Why senior Labour figures think their party needs to start upping its game

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Whenever Labour gets excited about the failings of the Tories, the party should remember a vital statistic. In the past 75 years, only three Labour leaders have ever won parliamentary majorities. This dismal history is constantly in the thoughts of Keir Starmer, as is the desire to make himself the fourth name on the brief list composed of Clement Attlee, Harold Wilson and Tony Blair. Though very different personalities operating in very different contexts, Labour’s victorious trio had key things in common. Each came to power after a long span of Conservative rule had stretched the elastic of the public’s tolerance of the Tories. Each of those successful leaders persuaded the country that they and their teams were sufficiently competent to govern. And each of Labour’s rare winners galvanised support by offering Britain a compelling story of national renewal.

How is Mr Starmer doing on that checklist for success? We can place a tentative tick on the first item. By the time of the next election, the Conservatives will have been in power for more than a decade. Without knowing what else might happen between now and then, we can already say that the Tories will have gone through three leaders and possibly more during that time, while imposing an austerity that even they now acknowledge was overdone, presiding over a chaotic exit from the EU with enduring economic consequences and being responsible for the serial bungling of the coronavirus crisis. None of that is a guarantee of Labour victory, but it should be some encouragement. A professionally led party ought to be able to get a hearing for the “time for a change” argument at the next election.

It is with the second requirement on the checklist for success – a reputation for competence – that Labour has often faced a steep challenge. This is not entirely the party’s fault. A significant chunk of the electorate tend to work on the assumption that the Tories are more to be trusted with running things, despite the copious contemporary and historical evidence to the contrary.

Mr Starmer has thus far done very well in persuading voters that he has what it takes to be the country’s leader. He is looked on as a potential prime minister in a way Ed Miliband wasn’t and Jeremy Corbyn could never hope to be. He passes the “shut your eyes test”. People can........

© The Guardian

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