This article first appeared in the London Playbook newsletter.
LONDON — U.K. opposition leader Keir Starmer has not just survived three years at the helm of the Labour Party, he hits the milestone as a serious contender to be next prime minister.
Three years after taking over from Jeremy Corbyn at the height of the U.K.’s first coronavirus lockdown on April 4, 2020, Labour boasts a commanding poll lead over the ruling Conservatives.
Starmer, who inherited a party riven with division and still smarting from its worst election defeat since 1935, has held the top opposition job through a period of huge political turmoil and change. He is on his third Conservative prime minister since taking up the post.
But questions still remain over whether he can turn a significant poll lead into actual power at the next election, which is expected next year. A YouGov poll for the Times newspaper on Tuesday suggested people still don’t really know what the opposition leader stands for.
In an interview with the paper to mark his three-year anniversary, Starmer vowed to be “completely ruthless” in his pursuit of the top job and a win for his party in the next election, which is expected next year.
POLITICO takes you through the key landmarks of Starmer’s eventful three years leading the U.K. opposition, including the global COVID pandemic, the collapse of the Boris Johnson administration, and the lightning 44-day premiership of Liz Truss.
April 4, 2020: Starmer is elected by party members in the first round of voting, with 56 percent of the vote. During the contest, he portrayed himself as a close ally and “friend” of former leader Corbyn and made 10 pledges to his party based on the “moral case for socialism.” Not many of those pledges would survive his three years in the job.
May 4, 2020: Jennie Formby, a close ally of Corbyn, steps down as general secretary, allowing Starmer to install one of his own people in the top job.
June 25, 2020: Starmer sensationally sacks his former leadership opponent and Corbyn-ally Rebecca Long-Bailey from the shadow cabinet, after she shared an article that he said contained an antisemitic conspiracy theory.
October 29, 2020: The Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) concludes that the Labour Party discriminated against its Jewish members during Corbyn’s leadership. Corbyn is stripped of the Labour whip and suspended from the party for arguing the extent of antisemitism was “dramatically overstated for political reasons.” Corbyn’s party membership is reinstated weeks later (but he never regains the whip).
January 14, 2021: Richard Leonard, another left-wing ally of Corbyn, quits as Scottish Labour leader (under pressure from Starmer, apparently).
May 6, 2021: Labour loses the Hartlepool by-election with a 16 percent swing to the Tories, putting pressure on Starmer over his political future.
UK NATIONAL PARLIAMENT ELECTION POLL OF POLLS
For more polling data from across Europe visit POLITICO Poll of Polls.
May 9, 2021: Starmer carries out a botched shadow Cabinet reshuffle, sacking Angela Rayner as party chair (tacitly blaming her for the Hartlepool defeat). He hands her an array of other job titles to pacify her after she resists the demotion.
July 1, 2021: Labour narrowly holds Batley and Spen in a fractious by-election, helping Starmer see off the threat of a leadership challenge.
September 27, 2021: Last Corbynite standing Andy McDonald quits the shadow Cabinet, blaming policy disagreements. Starmer faces down hecklers during his conference speech.
November 29, 2021: Starmer carries out a more successful reshuffle, in which he appoints Yvette Cooper as shadow home secretary and David Lammy as shadow foreign secretary.
January 12, 2022: Starmer calls on then-Prime Minister Boris Johnson to resign over Partygate.
July 7, 2022: Johnson quits as prime minister.
July 8, 2022: Starmer and Rayner are cleared of breaking lockdown rules by Durham Police in its Beergate investigation into whether Starmer broke coronavirus rules.
July 19, 2022: Martin Forde publishes long-delayed report — commissioned by Starmer — on allegations of racism, sexism and factional warfare within the Labour Party under Corbyn. The report painted a picture of rival pro- and anti-Corbyn camps in a bitter struggle for power.
September 27, 2022: Starmer closes an upbeat party conference, while the value of the pound plunges following Liz Truss’ catastrophic “mini-budget.”
October 20, 2022: Truss quits as prime minister.
February 15, 2023: Nicola Sturgeon quits as first minister of Scotland and SNP leader. Starmer rules out Corbyn standing as a Labour candidate in the next election.
March 28, 2023: Corbyn is formally blocked from running as a Labour candidate at an NEC meeting.
April 4, 2023: Starmer celebrates his third anniversary as Labour leader.
Scores on the doors: According to POLITICO’s Poll of Polls tracker, when Starmer took office on April 4, 2020, Labour was 22 points behind the Tories … six months later on October 4, 2020, Labour was just 1 point behind … on April 4, 2021, Labour had fallen to 8 points behind … by October 4, 2021, that had narrowed to 5 points … by April 4, 2022, Labour was 5 points ahead … on October 4, 2022, Labour had a whopping 25-point lead … and in the most recent data from March 31, Labour is 18 points ahead with 46 percent support to the Tories’ 28 percent.
3 years of Starmer slogans: “Another future is possible” (January 2020) … “Under new management” (July 2020) … “A new leadership” (September 2020) … “Secure, protect, rebuild” (January 2021) … “A new chapter for Britain” (February 2021) … “Labour’s coming home” (July 2021) … “Work, care, equality, security” (September 2021) … “Security, prosperity, respect” (January 2022) … “On your side” (March 2022) … “A fairer, greener future” (September 2022) … “Take back control” (January 2023) … “Build a better Britain” (March 2023). H/t the Times’ Patrick Maguire.