Keir Starmer reacts to Wakefield by-election result
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Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer will be heading into the new week with a renewed mandate for his party after recapturing the so-called Red Wall seat of Wakefield from the Conservative Party. Simon Lightwood overcame the Tories’, who had taken the seat in the 2019 General Election, snatching away their candidate Nadeem Ahmed’s chances of making his mark in the north. Mr Lightwood defeated Mr Ahmed by 4,925 votes in the poll to overturn a majority of 3,358.
Sir Keir visited the town to celebrate the victory but had clearly not won the hearts of everyone after one greengrocer handed him a lemon as he walked past his shop, because “he’s a bit of a joke”.
But the Labour man was in high spirits on Friday morning, having secured a 12.7 percent swing — something he said was a great result and that proved voters saw in Labour a party that was “absolutely focused on the issues affecting working people”.
While a positive victory, concern remains about the strength of the opposition, with one political veteran discussing the state of the Labour Party with Express.co.uk.
Sir Vince Cable, former leader of the Liberal Democrats, said the result was not as “spectacular” as Labour would have wanted given the various scandals that Prime Minister Boris Johnson has found himself the centre of in recent months.
Sir Vince said: “For Labour, the result in Wakefield wasn’t quite as spectacular as they would’ve hoped.
“They got a 12 percent swing which isn’t brilliant for the main opposition party in this kind of situation.
“There is a real problem with a lack of enthusiasm.
“We know Keir Starmer is competent but there isn’t a Blair phenomenon and this will worry them.”
Sir Vince said he believed that the public are “looking for something a bit more”.
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He continued: “[I think they want] a bit of inspiration, and that’s missing at the moment.
“I don’t underestimate him. He’s sound and intelligent, and given all the mad behaviour of Boris Johnson, just being sensible and a bit boring may be what’s required.
“But I think the Labour people will be worried that they’re not getting a bit more traction than they actually are.”
Others have voiced similar early warning signs that Labour may not be up to the task of toppling a Mr Johnson Government despite the Prime Minister scoring some of his lowest-ever public opinion ratings.
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Sir John Curtice, the polling guru and Professor of Politics at Strathclyde University, noted that the two by-election defeats for the Tories — the other in Tiverton and Haniton — spelled “trouble” for the party.
However, he added that Sir Keir lacked the “crucial ingredient” of enthusiasm which led to Sir Tony Blair’s 1997 election victory and Labour’s subsequent dominance of the political landscape for more than 10 years.
He told the Evening Standard: “There still isn’t that much enthusiasm for Labour.
“The Labour vote in Wakefield is still not as high as what Jeremy Corbyn achieved in 2017 in the constituency.
“The eight-point increase is less than half of the fall in the Conservative vote.
“It seems pretty clear that quite a lot of disaffected Tories voted for an independent candidate who was a recently resigned Tory councillor who partly resigned over partygate.”
Sir John said that while the public was clearly disaffected with the Tories and would vote for the candidate closest to toppling them, “it’s not clear that this yet converts into enthusiasm for Labour”.
Sir Keir adopted a Labour Party in relative disarray after five years of Jeremy Corbyn rule.
Many at the time said the party’s electoral crushing meant that Sir Keir would never garner enough support and votes to walk into No 10.
Rather, he would be tasked with the job of laying the groundwork for his successor to come in and take the party into the driving seat once again.
On this, a Labour source told the BBC’s Chris Mason: “The mantra in the office is we have to be Kinnock and Blair”, a reference to Lord Niel Kinnock’s rebuilding of the party and Sir Tony’s victory thereafter.
Mr Mason himself noted: “They believe such a victory is now seen as doable.”
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