Keir Starmer is warned Labour has lost touch with target voters

Keir Starmer is warned Labour has lost touch with target voters

Keir Starmer is warned Labour has lost touch with target voters: Leader’s new strategy chief says party needs to be clearer about values to win back the millions who deserted in 2019

  • Sir Keir Starmer is urged to lure back millions of voters who defected in 2019
  • Labour leader told election victory in 2024 could otherwise be impossible
  • Insiders think the party is still suffering damage from the era of Jeremy Corbyn

Sir Keir Starmer has been warned that victory at the 2024 General Election will be impossible unless Labour can find a way of luring back millions of voters who defected to Boris Johnson’s Tories in 2019.

The Labour leader was briefed by Deborah Mattinson, his Director of Strategy and a former pollster, on the huge challenge Labour faces if it is to win back trust avoid a fifth consecutive loss to the Conservatives.

Senior party figures told the Observer that Labour must adopt clearer, sharper, more uplifting messaging about the party’s values and Sir Keir’s vision, rather than throwing too many policy commitments at voters.

One insider told the newspaper: ‘The message was that many people do not know what we represent. They think we have given them too much policy rather than telling them in simple terms how we’d improve their lives.’

Some in Sir Keir’s team believe Labour is still suffering damage from the era of Jeremy Corbyn, which was mired in allegations of anti-Semitism, support for Islamist terrorists and which ended in defeat in 2019.

Sir Keir Starmer has been warned that victory at the 2024 General Election will be impossible unless Labour can find a way of luring back millions of voters who defected to Boris Johnson’s Tories in 2019


The Labour leader was briefed by Deborah Mattinson, his Director of Strategy and a former pollster, on the huge challenge Labour faces if it is to win back trust avoid a fifth consecutive loss to the Conservatives. Some in Sir Keir’s team believe Labour is still suffering damage from the era of Jeremy Corbyn, which was mired in allegations of anti-Semitism, support for Islamist terrorists and which ended in defeat in 2019

Outspoken football pundit Gary Neville is being tipped for a political career after holding talks with Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer about ‘shared political interests’.

The former Manchester United and England defender – a supporter of Jeremy Corbyn ‘s soak-the-rich far-Left policies, despite having a £70 million fortune – has held at least two Zoom meetings with Sir Keir in recent months, party sources have said.

One insider predicted that Neville could succeed former Cabinet Minister Andy Burnham as Mayor of Manchester, if Mr Burnham returns to the Commons to pursue his ambition of becoming the next Labour leader.

However, a party spokesman last night stressed this was not addressed during the Zoom meetings.

One frontbencher claimed: ‘The pandemic has not helped Keir. It is has been difficult to get himself known. The party conference gives an opportunity to introduce him to the country. But there is no time to waste.’

Peter Kyle, MP for Hove, said: ‘The truth is we need to speak with singular clarity about our policies and message and do so with colour that lights up the night sky. People will pay attention when we speak their language, not if we just continue to expect them to learn ours.’

Ms Mattinson is thought to have stressed the need to appeal to older, non-university educated people, many of whom voted to leave the European Union during the 2016 referendum on British membership.

She is also thought to have urged Sir Keir about the need to represent people and their communities, which have undergone severe economic hardship during the pandemic and who feel unrepresented by any party. 

MPs speaking to the Observer said her analysis pointed to evidence that many voters were tiring of the Prime Minister and would be prepared to look at alternatives. 

It comes as party membership has fallen to 430,000 from half a million under Mr Corbyn, and ahead of this year’s party conference.

Under current Unite general-secretary Len McCluskey, a key Corbyn ally, the union has cut funding to Labour, though this is not solely approved by the leader. 

Figures on the Left of the party are pushing for conference battles designed to hand grassroots members more power over MPs. 

Motions being circulated also seek to replace council tax with a ‘land value tax’, aimed at the rich. Another motion risks splitting Labour over the Trident nuclear weapons system, by calling on the party to sign up to the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons.

A third calls on the party to adopt a ‘Covid elimination strategy’ designed to force the party to be more aggressive in attacking the Government over its handling of the pandemic.     

It comes amid reports that outspoken football pundit Gary Neville is being tipped for a political career after holding talks with Sir Keir about ‘shared political interests’.

The former Manchester United and England defender has held at least two Zoom meetings with Sir Keir in recent months, party sources have said.

One insider predicted that Neville could succeed former Cabinet Minister Andy Burnham as Mayor of Manchester, if Mr Burnham returns to the Commons to pursue his ambition of becoming the next Labour leader.

However, a party spokesman last night stressed this was not addressed during the Zoom meetings.

Critics also pointed out that putting up Neville as a candidate in Manchester would risk alienating Labour supporters in Leeds and Liverpool, who would never vote for a former Manchester United player.

Among the issues discussed by Sir Keir and Neville was the aborted attempt earlier this year to set up a European Super League, containing six Premier League clubs, to which Neville was passionately opposed.

Senior party figures told the Observer that Labour must adopt clearer, sharper, more uplifting messaging about the party’s values and Sir Keir’s vision, rather than throwing too many policy commitments at voters

During an acclaimed polemic on Sky Sports, he declared himself to be ‘disgusted’ by the plan and ‘ashamed’ of Manchester United. 

In recent months, Neville has also criticised Mr Johnson describing Muslim women as looking like ‘letterboxes’ in a newspaper column before he became Tory leader, accusing the Prime Minister of effectively stoking the racism shown towards England players during the 2020 Euros.

As a member of ITV’s punditry team, Neville also compared Mr Johnson unfavourably with England manager Gareth Southgate, saying: ‘The standards of leaders in this country in the last couple of years has been poor. And looking at [Gareth Southgate] there, that’s everything a leader should be: respectful, humble, telling the truth, genuine. He’s fantastic.’

Neville has also criticised Priti Patel for tweeting her support for the England team, responding to the Home Secretary’s message by saying: ‘The cheek of you!’ – because of her dismissive attitude towards footballers who ‘take the knee’ against racism. 

In December, the 46-year-old ex-footballer accused Sir Keir of ‘sitting in the stands’ by not demanding greater economic support for Britons during lockdowns. He said: ‘The restrictions in place to protect health is fine, but they know that the economic support isn’t in place aligned with those restrictions, which means you’ve got to take a position and be bold and go against it, you cannot abstain.’

A party source said: ‘Gary has such a powerful platform, through TV and his five million Twitter followers that I think Keir has concluded it’s best to have him inside the tent – despite his former support for Corbyn.’

Neville urged his followers to vote for Mr Corbyn before the 2019 General Election, in which Labour recorded its worst performance for nearly a century. Neville, who won eight Premier League titles and two Champions League titles with Manchester United, built his fortune through his football salary, commentary work and shrewd investments.

A spokesman for Neville did not respond to a request for comment.

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