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The Independent UK
The Independent UK
Adam Forrest and Eleanor Noyce

Keir Starmer says he was ‘ruthless’ over Corbyn ban amid warning Labour must win over ‘Stevenage woman’

PA Wire

Keir Starmer has said he had been “ruthless” to block former leader Jeremy Corbyn from standing as a Labour candidate at the next general election expected next year.

It comes as the Labour leader was warned that winning over socially conservative suburban voters termed the “Stevenage woman” is vital to a Labour victory in 2024.

Starmer was accused by Momentum’s founder of behaving like a “Putin of the Labour Party” after his motion to block the ex-leader from running was backed by the National Executive Committee (NEC). However, he insisted the move would boost Labour’s chances.

“The only person to blame for Jeremy Corbyn not standing in the next election is Jeremy Corbyn. And if people think that there’s an element of being ruthless in that, yes there is,” he told The Sunday Times.

Sir Keir added: “Because this is about a Labour Party going from one of its worst defeats to a Labour government where we can change the lives of millions of people. If that requires me to be ruthless then I’m very, very prepared to be ruthless.”

Mr Corbyn strongly suggested he would run against Labour as an independent – saying he had “no intention of stopping” representing Islington North, adding: “I will not be intimidated into silence.”

The row comes as Labour Together analysts examined a segment of suburban voters in its Red Shift report – namely full-time employees in their early 40s with children.

They found that socially conservative, predominantly female voters have become increasingly disillusioned with politics. However, they now hold the key to a Labour election win.

Playing a decisive role in Starmer’s 2020 victory in the Labour leadership election, Labour Together has worked closely on shaping party policy. Its new report labels this critical group leans towards social conservatism but “a little to the left” on the economy.

The notion of the “Stevenage woman” doesn’t just apply to these Hertfordshire town voters but includes like-minded women living in “towns and suburbs across the country”.

“She’s not seeking radical or dramatic change, but she is worried about her life today, the state of public services, and life in her town”, the report adds.

Labour Party leader Sir Keir Starmer moved to clarify Labour’s position on trans rights reform (PA)

Josh Simons, co-author of the report and director of Labour Together, urged that the idea of the “Stevenage woman” is intended to “focus political attention on towns like Stevenage, which for too long have not got a proper hearing.”

In 2019, centre-right think tank Onward similarly argued that the “Workington man” would form a critical group in the outcome of that year’s election.

Named after the former industrial town in Cumbria, the research supposed that this voter is a social conservative with left-wing views on the economy. He voted for Brexit, but until 2019, had been a staunch Labour voter.

The 2019 general election results saw Workington return a Conservative MP by a 4,000 vote margin, crumbling the “red wall” as the theory predicted.

Simons said: “Workington man held his nose at the last election and voted Conservative, because, above all else, he hated everything Jeremy Corbyn stood for. Now, he’s been let down by the Tories and he’s deserted them. Support in red wall seats like Workington is flooding back to Labour.”

Labour Party leader Sir Keir Starmer with supporters outside the Gillingham Labour Club during campaigning in Gillingham for the local elections in May (PA)

The former Labour advisor added: “But for Labour to get a strong, working majority, it needs to win another voter too. We call her Stevenage woman. She’s younger, struggling to get by, and wary of the promises that many politicians make. In 2019, the Tories and Labour were neck and neck with her. Now, she’s voting Labour two-to-one.

“If Labour can keep, engage and mobilise her, they’re on track for a large majority. The battle for the next election is the battle for Stevenage woman.”

A constituency in Hertfordshire, Stevenage has been held by Conservative MP Stephen McPartland since May 2010. The new town remained Conservative for 14 years from 1983 until 1997, when the seat turned red in the Tony Blair landslide. It stayed under Labour’s leadership until 2010.

The same report said Reform UK could steal a huge chunk of Tory votes in countryside in a push on the “rural right” ahead of the next election.

Some 85 per cent of this group voted for Boris Johnson’s party in 2019 – but only 55 per cent say they will back the Tories under Rishi Sunak, while support for Reform UK among right-wing rural voters is up to 28 per cent.

The YouGov poll for the Labour Together group founded that Conservatives are holding on to just 58 per cent of their voters overall from the last election, with 14 per cent of their 2019 backers supporters now saying they will vote for Reform.

Meanwhile, Sir Keir moved to clarify Labour’s position on trans rights reform – calling for an end to the “toxic” debate and saying 99.9 per cent of women “of course haven’t got a penis”.

The Labour leader insisted he does not want to roll back women’s rights. “There are many rights and ... frontiers that have been won and broken in the name of equality for women and a good thing too. Nothing we do should roll that back,” he told The Sunday Times.

Referring to the SNP’s blocked legislation aimed at making self-identification easier, he added: “The lesson from Scotland is that if you can’t take the public with you on a journey of reform, then you’re probably not on the right journey.”

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