Sir Keir Starmer today warned Labour to prepare for an election in as little as two years – as he said he was looking forward to ‘taking the mask off’ after his first year in charge under Covid.
Sir Keir, who marks the first anniversary of his election as party leader today, said the party’s ambition ‘must match the moment’ with a plan to build an ‘economy that works for everyone’.
His rallying call comes against a backdrop of mounting criticism of his leadership as the Conservatives have steadily pulled ahead in the polls since the turn of the year.
He has faced accusations that he has been too cautious and failed to offer a clear direction for the party, while the Tories’ fortunes have benefited from the rapid rollout of the coronavirus vaccine.
But speaking to the Observer, Sir Keir said: ‘I’m now looking forward to taking the mask off and opening the throttle. I’ve instructed the party to be election ready for 2023.
‘The next election, whenever it comes, will be a once in a lifetime chance to get Britain working for everyone.’
Sir Keir believes that Boris Johnson will repeal the Fixed Term Parliament Act, which limits the ability of prime ministers to call elections outside a five-year cycle. Doing so would allow him to go to the country in May 2023, the labour leader said, a year ahead of schedule.
Sir Keir is attempting to modernise his party after its disastrous showing in the 2019 election, which saw it suffer its worst defeat in more than 80 years under Jeremy Corbyn.
The majority of the Labour Party polled believe Sir Keir Starmer should campaign to rejoin the EU
The Labour leader has voiced his desire to move on from Brexit, and evidence of the fierce Remainer sentiment will come as a blow as he marks his first anniversary in charge today.
The YouGov survey found 59 per cent thought they should campaign to rejoin the EU – compared to just 15 per cent who said they should not.
Critics are likely to seize on the results as evidence of a continuing ‘disconnect’ between the pro-EU party membership – based largely in the South East – and traditional Labour voters in key Northern seats.
Once an arch-Remainer, Sir Keir enraged pro-Brexit colleagues by leading calls for a second referendum before the UK formally left the EU last year.
The move was partly blamed for Labour’s catastrophic 2019 Election performance as traditional voters abandoned the party, allowing the Tories to storm to victory by breaching Labour’s so-called Red Wall in the North.
Since becoming leader, the MP for London’s Holborn and St Pancras constituency has sought to neutralise the issue by accepting Britain’s position outside the EU.
But the poll shows his policy switch is at odds with the views of most party members.
Sir Keir’s election one year ago today was greeted with relief by MPs as he vowed to address years of infighting and antisemitism allegations under Jeremy Corbyn.
But sources last night said that former Labour PM Tony Blair is beginning to lose patience as the party slips behind in the polls.
Critics are also scathing of what they say was Sir Keir’s blunder in banking on branding Boris Johnson as a serial incompetent, only for the Covid jab programme’s overwhelming success to trump that.
A Shadow Cabinet source said there was growing unease in Labour, adding: ‘There is a void about what we stand for. You can’t just not be the other guy.’
There are also claims of tensions between Sir Keir and his deputy Angela Rayner and Shadow Foreign Secretary Lisa Nandy.
Reports yesterday said Ms Rayner’s camp felt she was too often ‘blindsided’ by the leader on important decisions.
Allies of Sir Keir were said to blame people close to Ms Nandy for briefings against Shadow Chancellor Anneliese Dodds, who has been tipped for the sack in a Labour reshuffle.
Sources say former Labour PM Tony Blair is beginning to lose patience as the party slips behind in the polls
The Mail on Sunday has been told there are even plans for the party’s Right and Left factions to bury their differences and push to replace Sir Keir if Labour’s decline continues.
One senior MP said an option being discussed was for a ‘compromise candidate’ such as former Minister Yvette Cooper, with Left-winger Richard Burgon as deputy.
But Starmer loyalists dismissed the idea as absurd, while even a critic of the leader said there was simply no alternative to him leading ‘ungovernable’ Labour.
However, a separate YouGov poll last week found that 45 per cent of the public thought Sir Keir was doing badly, compared to 32 per cent who thought he was doing well.