Isabel Hardman Isabel Hardman

Starmer’s safety-first campaign is backfiring

Keir Starmer (Getty Images)

The problem with spending an election campaign saying as little new as possible is that it does leave a big gap that can easily be filled with rows over process and mistakes. Labour has a safety-first approach to its campaign, wanting to reassure voters that it has changed rather than being too exciting, but this makes the row over Diane Abbott all the more pronounced because there is little else to talk about. Yesterday, the party wanted to talk about its pledges on the NHS, but none of them were particularly new or striking. Instead, its frontbenchers were all asked repeatedly about the way the party has handled Abbott’s case. It was very clear few of them were happy about it.

Keir Starmer has to wait until Labour’s ruling National Executive Committee meets next week for the formal decision on whether Abbott can stand as a Labour candidate in her Hackney North and Stoke Newington constituency. He has been insistent that he cannot interfere in the disciplinary process, pointing to the way Jeremy Corbyn’s office frequently meddled in complaints to benefit the leader. But the Labour leader will have to accept that his party’s complaints process is still not fully working, or that there is a problem with the comms operation. Or both. It is clear that the Abbott case has not been handled at all well, and given the disciplinary process concluded in December and Abbott took the required antisemitism training in February, an earlier election is no excuse.

Starmer wants to be as careful as possible with his campaign, but this care seems to extend only as far as talking about policy. Rows about people can be just as potent.