Labour leader Keir Starmer has claimed that the main reason the party lost the December general election was because of “the leadership” of his hard-left predecessor Jeremy Corbyn.
In an interview with the Financial Times, Sir Keir said during the election campaign he went to more than 40 constituencies where he knocked on doors and spoke to campaign teams.
“The topic of conversation was always what was coming up . . . anybody who knocks on doors knows a number of things came up,” he said. “The leadership of Labour party was number one, fair or unfair,” Sir Keir told the FT Magazine.
He has previously been careful not to criticise Mr Corbyn, having served in the former Labour leader’s shadow cabinet for more than three years, as Brexit spokesperson.
But Sir Keir’s comments are the latest sign that he is set to take Labour in a different direction to Mr Corbyn after succeeding him as party leader last month.
Sir Keir has sacked about a dozen prominent “Corbynistas” from Labour’s frontbench team as he sought to promote figures from the “soft left” to his shadow cabinet.
Sir Keir said another issue that repeatedly came up on the doorstep in the election campaign was the “overload” of Labour’s manifesto, with its proposals to nationalise several industries, hand £300bn of shares to workers, and plans for an extra £83bn a year of tax and spending.
“People thought there was too much in it and because there was too much in it they didn’t believe any of it,” he added.
Some critics within Labour have suggested that Sir Keir’s backing of a second referendum on UK membership of the EU was instrumental in the party’s biggest election defeat for 80 years, when it lost 59 constituencies, many in Leave supporting areas.
Mr Corbyn, a longstanding Eurosceptic, held out for an ambiguous Labour position on Brexit.
Steve Howell, Labour’s former deputy director of strategy, said Sir Keir sometimes “sidelined” Mr Corbyn’s office in his pursuit of a more pro-EU position.
“It was clever of him to put himself at the helm of the Remainer camp, it was good for his leadership ambitions, but it was disastrous electorally,” he added. “It lost us the 2019 election.”
Sir Keir, a Europhile who campaigned with Mr Corbyn for the UK to stay in the EU in the 2016 referendum, acknowledged Brexit was a major issue during the election campaign but played down its role in Labour’s defeat.
“There’s no pretending that there was an easy position that the Labour party could have adopted [on Brexit] that would have pleased everybody across our party and all of our voters,” he said.
The issue of anti-Semitism within Labour was also raised, he said, but added: “So Brexit was one of the issues for sure, but anybody who thinks that ‘but for the Brexit issue Labour would have won’ I think is probably heading for problems at the next [election].”
Sir Keir said he would pursue a radical agenda offering “transformative change” to narrow high levels of inequality in the UK, as he flagged the key role of health workers in the coronavirus crisis.
“The position of health workers and care workers has been seen by the public in the last few weeks in a way which it just wasn’t probably for decades,” he added.
Get alerts on Labour Party UK when a new story is published