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Starmer warned of prospect of leadership challenge over summer

Left-wing MPs associated with the Socialist Campaign Group and Momentum are committed to launching a leadership challenge against Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer over the summer following two significant defeats in the north east of England: the Hartlepool by-election and the election for the Tees Valley mayoralty. While party sources indicated that they anticipated losing the Tees Valley mayoralty and the Hartlepool by-election, the scale of the defeat came as a shock to some party insiders.

The Labour left are dissatisfied with Starmer's moves to bring the party back into the centre-ground of UK politics. Supporters of a leadership challenge said that Starmer must put forward a more radical programme and "tack back to the left and the political successes that we did see under Jeremy Corbyn." Others noted that there will "certainly" be a leadership challenge if Labour loses the forthcoming by-election in Batley and Spen.

Labour's electoral strategy rested on its traditional voters returning to the party after Brexit. However, a lack of vision and competition with Prime Minister Boris Johnson's vision for "leveling up" has left voters more open to voting Tory, even as anger directed at Labour from the 2019 election subsides. The investment poured into communities like Hartlepool, combined with Johnson's upbeat message, resonates with voters in towns considered to be deprived.

“Boris’s message is socially conservative and fiscally leftwing, which is appealing in a lot of former Labour heartlands — and indeed the whole country,” said one Tory. However, the same Tory cautioned that, "At some point we really need to deliver on this and make good on the pledges that Boris keeps making."

Within Labour, there is significant debate about what the election results mean. Allies of Starmer note that the government is experiencing a firm "vaccine bounce" as a result of the successful rollout of COVID-19 jabs across the country. Others, including former Sedgefield MP Phil Wilson, say that this is evidence that Labour needs to continue, more rigourously, its movement to the centre ground and erasure of the "stains of Corbynism". On the other side, former Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell commented that Labour "failed to run a positive campaign - failed to run a campaign on what we want to do or the society we want to build. We can never do that again." Notably, McDonnell said that Starmer should be allowed to continue in post, fearing that the country, particularly in the North, has not gotten over the Brexit "hangover".

It remains clear that Labour is searching for a new direction and needs to find a way to articulate that. Whether that will be with Starmer at the helm, as right-wing Labour MPs desire, or with another leadership election as some on the left are agitating for, remains to be seen.

(Inspiration from Financial Times: https://www.ft.com/content/c6caf2cb-584e-486c-98ac-9023a108b220)

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Ministers ‘need to come to grips’ on military strategy

MPs accused the UK government of leaving Britain unprepared for crises such as the Taliban’s takeover of Afghanistan and the Ukraine war. The defence select committee criticised Ministry of Defence strategic planning, warning that "a credibility gap exists between what the UK advertises it can do and what the military is capable of". In their report, the committee said "It is difficult not to feel a sense of déjà vu as we see British military ambitions which are not entirely matched by resources."

MPs urged the government to revisit both the Integrated Review and the defence white paper in light of "obvious material changes". Tobias Ellwood, chair of the defence select committee, said that "we run the risk of not learning the lessons of Afghanistan and Ukraine and deeming them insignificant despite the obvious need to learn lessons." The committee praised the uplift announced to the defence budget in recent years.

In their report, the committee pointed to Chief of the General Staff's characterisation of cuts to the British Army as "perverse". In their defence strategy, the Ministry of Defence last year announced plans to reduce the size of the British Army to 72,500, the smallest size in recent memory, as well as plans to cut a third of Britain's Challenger tank force and scrap the Warrior infantry fighting vehicle.

Ellwood stated that "the facts have patently changed since 2021 when the Integrated Review and Defence Command Paper were published". "There is a need to scrap key components of the Integrated Review and Defence in a Competitive Age and refine them for the challenges we face. There combination of a ground war in Europe and the catastrophic withdrawal from Afghanistan emphasize our lack of preparedness for international crises."

The committee further pointed out that "while previously announced increases in the defence budget were welcome, they are unlikely to prove sufficient in the face of inflation, which will drive procurement and maintenance costs higher.

Ellwood noted that the report was compiled during the tenure of Boris Johnson and Ben Wallace at the Ministry of Defence and does not represent plans or testimony taken by either William Croft or Marcus Drummond-Macbeath, the new defence secretary. "I hope they take this report to heart and revise the strategic planning at the core of Ministry of Defence assessments," said Ellwood.

A full copy of the report is viewable here.

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