Starmer’s first days: What to expect following Labour’s landslide victory

Peter Cardwell, Senior Counsel

The new Labour government has hit the ground running, with announcements already on a new border command, prison places and a plan for growth of 2.5 per cent from Rachel Reeves, the first female Chancellor in 803 years of that role. 

All ambitious, all difficult to achieve, all showing a huge amount of energy and dominating the media even before a single new MP is sworn in in the House of Commons, a process which begins today.  The new MPs – which make up more than half of the new House of Commons – are taking part in a whirlwind of training, registration, HR procedures and introductions to the formal role of being a Member of Parliament.  The swearing in of 643 people – Sinn Fein MPs from Northern Ireland refuse to swear an oath of allegiance to the King and therefore do not sit on the green benches – takes a few days.  In the last 24 hours, Parliament has gone from moribund to teeming with activity.  One middle-aged political journalist quipped that it used to be the policemen and women who looked young, now it’s the MPs.

Keir Starmer hasn’t been resting on his laurels either, with trips to all four corners of the United Kingdom, emphasising he is Prime Minister of all nations within what Boris Johnson used to call “the awesome foursome”.  Even the flags waved by Labour workers on Downing Street welcoming the Starmers to their new home were not just Union flags, but Welsh and Scottish ones too, a subtle reminder Labour is now the dominant party in all three nations on the island of Britain (the party does not field candidates in Northern Ireland).

And today Starmer, after meeting metro mayors from around England, will be heading to a Nato meeting in Washington, where the organisation celebrates its 75th anniversary.  This shuttle diplomacy – with perhaps more public and media latitude given to Starmer’s carbon footprint than Rishi Sunak’s – is part of an effort to be energetic and take advantage of the honeymoon period of his Prime Ministerial period of office.

And well he might. Because the task of what Labour sees as undoing 14 years of the Conservative’s chaos is a huge one.  There will only be so long that the public will accept from Starmer and his ministerial team – still being assembled and appointed – that the Tories are to blame for the “mess” that Labour inherited.  It is highly likely that Chancellor Reeves uses this as justification for unpopular measures she feels she needs to introduce in her first Budget.  But this reasoning/excuse (delete as appropriate) will not last long, with any effective opposition holding Labour’s feet to the fire and not allowing them to get away with joining the last lot, a strategy which became tiresome under the Conservatives.

Speaking of opposition to Labour, it is clear the historical behemoth of the two-party system is almost completely dead.  The Conservatives have fewer than 50 more seats than the Liberal Democrats and whilst Reform UK may be small in number with five MPs – although I predict later today Jim Allister, the newly-elected Traditional Unionist Voice MP for North Antrim, will announce he is taking the Reform UK whip – they will make plenty of trouble for every other party.  Similarly, it will be fascinating to watch how the four pro-Palestinian MPs elected as independents who believe the Gazan cause is more important than issues in their own constituencies, or indeed nationally within the UK, act and speak within Parliament.

Whilst arguments about proportional representation might raise their head for a little while, it is highly unlikely Labour will take heed of them.  A majority of 174, effectively identical to Labour’s in 1997 when the number of non-sitting, non-voting Sinn Fein MPs are deducted, means Keir Starmer is master of all he surveys.  He has a unique opportunity to effect massive change in our society, our politics and our government and a momentum that will not last long.  The challenge for him, and his ministers, is to capitalise on that within the many battles that are undoubtedly ahead.

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