Is Starmer suffering a late-season wobble or worse?

Sir Keir Starmer Credit: PA

Since becoming Labour’s leader in the spring of 2020, Sir Keir Starmer has been focused, ruthless and lucky.

He purged antisemitism, shifted Labour to a more electorally credible centrist position by marginalising the left of the party - which included the symbolic expulsion of his predecessor Jeremy Corbyn - and revelled in the Tory government’s splits, incompetence and ethical failures.

His reward has been a massive lead in the polls and a stream of by-election victories.But all runs of success come to an end.

Every leader makes mistakes and endures setbacks.

The question is whether, with a general election a few months away, Starmer - like his cherished Arsenal a few weeks ago - is suffering from a wobble or whether more serious flaws are being exposed.

There have been two significantly mishandled challenges.

First, he allowed himself to appear unsure whether his priority was combating climate change and stimulating growth, or whether it was more important to reassure markets and so-called mainstream media that he would be a safe steward of the public finances.

So he dithered and delayed in making up his mind whether to ditch the £28 billion green-investment commitment, till he finally disowned it like a prodigal child.

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In the process, he has seemingly undermined confidence fairly widely in what he would represent and actually do in government.

Latterly his team did not vet the candidates for the Rochdale by-election adequately and then when Azhar Ali was revealed to have made hateful antisemitic remarks about Israel, he dithered again before latterly disowning Ali - thus depriving Rochdale citizens of an official Labour candidate.

At best this is serious incompetence. At worst, it is ethics undermined by a hunger for power. Neither is a good look.

None of this is devastating for Starmer and Labour. Most of it resonates with political obsessives rather than the wider electorate. And as yet there is no sign of Labour’s margin of advantage over the Tories narrowing.

But from what I know of Starmer, he’ll be furious with himself for needless and avoidable errors.

What is unclear from the outside is whether the lessons to be learned are about how the party is managed - whether resources are allocated rationally, whether his colleagues are united enough - or are about political purpose and ideas.

What is clear is that Starmer is facing the kind of leadership test he hasn’t ever faced, because rebuilding an utterly broken party - which is what he inherited - is totally different from how he responds to setbacks now that Labour is (metaphorically) top of the league with the season drawing to a close.

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