Keir Starmer on thin ice as voters sick of Partygate rants and insiders turn on Labour

Keir Starmer is 'pretty left wing' claims Tom Newton Dunn

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In England alone, more than 4,350 seats are being contested in more than 140 councils. The public will have their say on issues like rubbish collection and housing in their local authority. However, the elections will also take the national mood on issues like the cost-of-living crisis and the ‘Partygate’ scandal over social gatherings held in Downing Street that broke COVID-19 rules.

Amid the issues, polls have predicted that Labour will gain more than 800 seats and the Conservatives will lose nearly 550.

But despite Labour’s apparently healthy lead, Keir Starmer was warned by Shadow cabinet ministers last week that the party was effectively on “thin ice”.

With just days before the elections, the Labour leader was accused of focusing on the wrong issues, rather than issues that affect people’s lives such as the cost of living.

Party insiders claimed Sir Keir was wasting his opportunity to hit the Tories hard by directing most of his anger towards Partygate, which has embroiled Prime Minister Boris Johnson.

The Labour leader told reporters in Stevenage last week: “When we started the campaign, we had a laser-like focus on the cost of living, and we’ve maintained that throughout.”

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However, within Labour, there are fears that the local election results could echo those of the 2019 General Election.

That year saw Mr Johnson secure a huge victory with a landslide Conservative majority of 80 seats as Labour lost out in its traditional heartlands of the North and the Midlands, known as the Red Wall.

A Labour source told The Guardian: “This is going to be a very random set of elections where the story of the night is not immediately clear.

“There will be some areas, including in seats we lost in 2019, where it will be clear we have far more work to do.”

The warning from insiders came after Lisa Nandy, the shadow levelling up secretary, was said to have challenged Sir Keir over Labour’s local elections strategy.

Last week she reportedly told her boss that the party risked the public thinking “we’re all as bad as each other” if it continued to focus on Mr Johnson and Partygate.

Following her intervention at a shadow cabinet meeting, a Labour source told The Telegraph that this was the “overwhelming view” of the shadow cabinet.

They added: “It feels particularly acute with the [local] elections coming up.

“She was saying that as we go forward, the cost of living is the biggest thing for people and let’s make sure we don’t get dragged away from it.

“It was more a warning about not getting waylaid in the future.”

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The cost-of-living crisis began to hit many UK families in the early part of last year.

However, the pressure ramped up in March 2022 when inflation reached its highest point since 1992.

This affected the affordability of everyday goods and services for households, as food, energy and other costs skyrocketed.

In recent weeks, Sir Keir has focused on the cost of living, and last week called on the Government to come up with an emergency budget to help those affected by the crisis.

However, the Labour leader has also frequently clashed with Mr Johnson in the House of Commons over Partygate recently, sparking concerns that he is preoccupied with the scandal.

The Prime Minister, his wife Carrie Symonds and Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak were all fined by the police over a party that was held in Downing Street.

The trio attended Mr Johnson’s birthday in June 2020, when up to 30 people gathered in the Cabinet Room.

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