2023 could be Keir Starmer's last year before No10 - 10 hurdles he has to vault

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2023 could be Keir Starmer
2023 could be Keir Starmer's last year before No10 - 10 hurdles he has to vault

In his Labour leadership victory speech Keir Starmer told party members they had a "mountain to climb" to win the next general election after the 2019 disaster.

With the third anniversary of his election approaching, the party seems to have turned around its fortunes and many now believe the next election is Labour's to lose after the turmoil of the last 12 months.

In 2022 Mr Starmer faced three Prime Ministers at the despatch box after an extraordinary year of open warfare in the Conservative Party.

Boris Johnson, who was at the centre of multiple scandals including Partygate, and Liz Truss, whose disastrous mini-Budget caused financial turmoil and the Tories' poll rating to plummet, were both removed from No10.

Far from enjoying a so-called 'honeymoon period' after entering Downing Street just two months ago, Rishi Sunak now faces an economy in recession, strikes across the public sector, and a cost-of-living crisis.

Teachers, civil servants and train drivers walk out in biggest strike in decade eidehiqdqikinvTeachers, civil servants and train drivers walk out in biggest strike in decade
2023 could be Keir Starmer's last year before No10 - 10 hurdles he has to vaultLabour leader Keir Starmer will face an electoral test at the local elections in May 2023 (PA)

Labour aides now believe the public are now looking for an alternative. "People are recognising this is a party that has now changed," one senior source said.

Mr Starmer is expected to begin setting out the granular detail of Labour's blueprint for Government, visiting target seats, but has repeatedly urged his Shadow Cabinet not to show complacency as the election grows closer.

With many expecting not expecting an election until 2024, the coming year could be Mr Starmer's last as leader of the opposition he faces a battle to maintain Labour's recent momentum.

Here The Mirror looks at the key hurdles and moments facing the party in 2023.

Economy and strikes

With a recession expected to bite, the Chancellor Jeremy Hunt will present his Spring Budget in March with forecasts from the Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR) on the state of the economy.

Mr Starmer and Shadow Chancellor Rachel Reeves have already claimed the current situation would mean an incoming Labour Government would not be able to implement "everything that we want as quickly as possible".

Both will face pressure to spell out exactly what this means over the coming year and what it means for public spending and taxes.

2023 could be Keir Starmer's last year before No10 - 10 hurdles he has to vaultMany believe that the next election is Labour's to lose after an unprecedented year of Tory chaos (PA)
2023 could be Keir Starmer's last year before No10 - 10 hurdles he has to vaultThe Labour leader and his Shadow Chancellor Rachel Reeves (PA)

Unless Rishi Sunak backs down and negotiates on pay with the unions, the wave of strikes that have hit the country in recent weeks are also likely to intensify and dominate the first few months of 2023.

Labour has called for talks, but resisted putting any figure on what pay rise it could offer desperate NHS workers if the party was in power. Whether this position holds in the New Year remains to be seen.

General election

Unless the Prime Minister decides to head to the ballot box early it is unlikely - as things stand - that there will be a general election before 2024.

Greggs, Costa & Pret coffees have 'huge differences in caffeine', says reportGreggs, Costa & Pret coffees have 'huge differences in caffeine', says report

But in the coming year both Labour and the Tories will begin their long campaigns, testing messages, selecting candidates, raising donations, fine-tuning policies, and targeting marginal constituencies.

The Labour leader recently told the New Statesman he carries with him a list of the marginal seats the party needs to turn red to secure victory.

The constituencies are listed in winnable order and Mr Starmer is expected to spend more time visiting these areas in the New Year.

According to the latest tranche of information from the Electoral Commission, Labour also massively increased its donations - boosting the party's war chest. Insiders are expecting another big increase when results of the final quarter of 2022 are published.

The party will also have to continue selecting its parliamentary candidates after a number of high-profile rows over the process and claims of a purge of left-leaning hopefuls in 2022.

Manifesto

One of the crucial elements of election planning will be the work on Labour's blueprint for government in the form of a manifesto.

During the chaos in the Tory party over the summer months the Labour Party created an emergency manifesto in the event of a snap general election.

It was written by Mr Starmer's policy chief Claire Ainsley as the Conservatives toppled two Prime Ministers - Boris Johnson and Liz Truss - in a little over three months and wreaked havoc in the financial markets.

But the party will now have to begin work on the document that will eventually be presented to the country at the next general election.

Labour will have to grapple with all sorts of issues, including tax and spending, education and tuition fees, defence spending, the climate crisis, public sector reform, and ultimately a vision for the country.

Mr Starmer has previously described his predecessor Jeremy Corbyn's manifesto in 2019 as "history". He said the new document would be a "slim" and "focused" programme for the Government.

Jeremy Corbyn

It is likely the fate of the ex-Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn ’s role in the party will be decided in 2023.

While still a party member, he has had the whip suspended since 2020 following his response to a major report into antisemitism in the party's ranks by the Equality and Human rights Commission.

He has insisted the whip was "wrongly removed" and should be reinstated immediately, saying: "I was elected as a Labour MP and proud to be so".

2023 could be Keir Starmer's last year before No10 - 10 hurdles he has to vaultKeir Starmer has previously said Labour's 2019 manifesto is 'history' (AFP via Getty Images)

But speaking in December, Mr Starmer said he did not see the circumstance in which the former leader would have the whip restored.

It means Labour faces a potentially explosive decision in the New Year over whether to begin selecting a candidate in Islington North to represent the party at the next general election.

Mr Corbyn would also have to decide whether to contest against a Labour candidate and stand as an independent.

If the party does go down this route it would inevitably lead to a monumental row with the Labour left.

Momentum

While Mr Starmer's clashes with the left-wing group Momentum are likely to continue into the New Year, his aides are more concerned with keeping up the momentum the party has enjoyed in recent months.

Since Boris Johnson's resignation and the self-implosion of Liz Truss's Government, Labour has often enjoyed double-digit leads in the polls.

Last month the polling guru Professor Sir John Curtice said the Tories "risk" a 1997-style election wipeout with the "odds against" Rishi Sunak.

2023 could be Keir Starmer's last year before No10 - 10 hurdles he has to vaultMomentum, the grassroots activists network, backed Jeremy Corbyn's leadership (labourfreemovement.org)

And there is now more confidence within the party that they are on course for No10 than at any point since the disastrous 2019 general election.

But with many expecting the next election in 2024 and the possibility of the polls narrowing, strategists will be hoping Labour can sustain momentum.

Local elections

There have only been a handful of by-elections in recent months - typically in Labour seats - but the local elections in May will be a major electoral test for both Mr Starmer and Rishi Sunak.

Many will be expecting Labour to translate the party's polling lead into major gains across council seats.

While not a direct indicator of how Mr Starmer's party will perform at the next general election, the results will be crucial for morale in Labour's ranks.

The elections will also be the first time voters will be forced to show their ID at polling booths under controversial changes passed by the Tory Government.

Labour has previously opposed the plans and will likely face pressure to commit to repealing the law if they win power.

Labour conference

If the election is held in the spring or summer of 2024, the party's annual conference in Liverpool next year will be a major moment for Mr Starmer.

With the media spotlight on the party it will be one of the Labour leader's last moments in the pre-election period to lay out his vision for the country.

Aides in Mr Starmer's top team will be wishing to see a repeat of the relatively united conference of 2022 - in comparison to previous years - and present the Labour frontbench as a Government in waiting.

But it will be a crucial last chance for fee-paying members of the party to have the opportunity to influence policy and vote on motions.

Many will also be expecting a big policy announcement after Mr Starmer this year vowed to create Great British Energy - a publicly owned energy company - at the party's most recent conference.

Reshuffle

Whether the Labour leader decides to go for a pre-election reshuffle remains to be seen - but he has certainly not ruled out one.

In a recent interview he said Labour will "of course put our best team on the pitch" as the election gets closer as he highlighted key players including Rachel Reeves, Lisa Nandy, Angela Rayner, Bridget Phillipson and Yvettee Cooper.

2023 could be Keir Starmer's last year before No10 - 10 hurdles he has to vaultThe Labour leader could decide to reshuffle his top team in 2023 (ANDY BAILEY/ UK PARLIAMENT/UNPIXS)

The last reshuffle he conducted was back in November 2021 and it could be an opportunity for Mr Starmer to bring in more talent from the backbenchers and demote underperforming frontbenchers.

But from previous experience he is also likely to be weary after his botched reshuffle in May 2021 which resulted in a standoff with Ms Rayner, the Deputy Labour leader, who came out of the talks with a major promotion.

Brexit

In a major speech in 2022 Mr Starmer - who pushed for a second referendum before the 2019 election - ruled out rejoining the EU's single market or customs union if the party wins power.

He set out a five-point plan to "make Brexit work" but there is now growing concern from businesses over the implications of the red tape.

With eyes firmly on the next election, there will be no appetite within Labour's ranks to change course but there is evidence that voters would like a closer relationship with the EU than at present, according to elections guru Mr Curtice.

In a blog post earlier this month, he went on: "What can now be said is that that mood is reflected in how people respond to specific proposals for softening the UK's relationship with the EU.

"There might be a better reception among voters for a softer Brexit than perhaps politicians realise".

Scotland

As the election grows closer, the Tories will inevitably attempt to present voting Labour as going hand-in-hand with an SNP coalition - as they did in 2015.

But speaking earlier this month the Labour leader said he would “tattooing on my forehead” the party will not do a deal with the SNP at the next election.

“We are not doing a deal with the SNP. I say that in capitals, I say it in bold, I said it at party conference and many times since”.

2023 could be Keir Starmer's last year before No10 - 10 hurdles he has to vaultFirst Minister Nicola Sturgeon has claimed the next general election will be a 'de facto' independence referendum (PA)

He will also face questions over the issue of Scottish independence after the SNP leader and First Minister Nicola Sturgeon suggested earlier this year after losing a court battle that the next election will be a "de facto" referendum.

The Labour leader has previously rejected this argument but the calls north of the border for a second independence referendum - something repeatedly rejected by the UK Government - are not going to go away.

Ashley Cowburn

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