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Six Labour factions that could make trouble for Starmer

As the new Prime Minister gets down to business on Friday he will do so secure in the knowledge that he has one of the largest majorities every enjoyed by a premier of the United Kingdom.

Sir Keir Starmer has entered Downing Street with a landslide victory – but with just around 34 per cent of the vote and many MPs with slim majorities, it could prove to be a shaky one.

The new Prime Minister will be nevetheless be feeling confident his first term in office at least will avoid the factionalism and challenges to authority that dogged the Conservatives in their final years in power, and helped consign them to a catastrophic defeat and possible generation in opposition.

Labour has ousted the SNP in seats in Scotland while regaining its position as the dominant power in the Red Wall across England and Wales.

And after the honeymoon period is over it is possible that such a large a majority may not be such a blessing.

With hundreds of ambitious MPs keen to make their mark, do their best for their constituencies and compete for a small number of government jobs, Starmer may find keeping them all happy will be a challenge.

Election chiefs Morgan McSweeney and Pat McFadden have enforced strict message discipline during the campaign, with no candidates permitted to freelance about their own views.

Few insiders expect an early outbreak of wild rebellion but new MPs will also be under pressure to advocate for their constituents and pursue issues important to them.

“At the moment they’re robotic-like candidates; everything has to be checked,” said one source earlier this week.

“But then when they’re MPs they have their independence status, they’ve got constituency issues and causes they care about.

“I think they’ll start off with loads of discipline and goodwill. But this is politics and it won’t last forever.”

So, which factions may present Starmer with a challenge?

A huge number of MPs who have been elected will have cut their teeth campaigning for Remain in the 2016 referendum.

Starmer has flatly ruled out rejoining the single market or customs union, and has said there will be no rejoining of the EU in his lifetime, but many of his new MPs will want him to rebuild ties more quickly.

Stella Creasy, chair of Labour’s Movement for Europe, will be among them and the campaign group Best For Britain has said it is built relationships with as many as 70 pro-European MPs.

Couple that with a new contingent of Scottish Labour MPs, representing a nation which voted to stay in the EU and with SNP opponents demanding Brexit be reversed, and Lib Dem opponents urging single market access and Starmer may find his government under pressure when the UK-EU Trade and Co-operation Agreement comes up for review in 2026.

LONDON, ENGLAND - MAY 29: Stella Creasy, Labour candidate for Walthamstow, launches her campaign for the general election in her constituency on May 29, 2024 in London, England. Rishi Sunak announced last week that the UK General Election will be held on July 4th. (Photo by Nicola Tree/Getty Images)
Stella Creasy,Labour’s MP for Walthamstow, may lead pro-EU sentiment (Photo: Nicola Tree/Getty Images)

New prime ministers often use a fresh mandate to grasp the nettle on issues that could prove divisive later in their premiership. It is perhaps telling, therefore, that Starmer plans to push through a housebuilding blitz that allows councils to build on green belt land within weeks.

Andrew Western, MP for Stretford and Urmston, has described himself as one of parliament’s “yimby” (yes in my back yard) MPs, stating that the housing crisis has become intolerable for younger generations.

But scores of new MPs elected in leafy Tory shires or rural constituencies are likely to be lobbied heavily by constituents who oppose development.

The same will be true when it comes to Starmer’s plans to accelerate Britain’s move to green power.

On-shore wind turbines, solar power farms and pylons aimed at strengthening the National Grid to better connect farmers and businesses may boost growth in the long term, but can be deeply unpopular with those living close by.

While many elected in Tory strongholds may not themselves oppose development, they will want to avoid becoming one-term MPs by showing constituents and local businesses they are prepared to fight their corner.

Tensions over public sector pay are likely to rumble on during the early stages of Starmer’s first term. Matt Wrack, the president of the TUC and general secretary of the Fire Brigades Union, has already fired a warning shot, saying a Labour government risked strike action if new chancellor Rachel Reeves refuses to back pay increases.

While most unions are onside with the Starmer project, Unite, a more left-wing union which has links with several new MPs, refused to back the manifesto.

Others chose to keep their powder dry, while the trade union right, which includes MPs close to Usdaw and Community, are prepared to bolster Starmer’s leadership.

Meanwhile, Reeves has inherited an ailing economy, with the level of taxation at a 70-year high, eye-watering levels of UK debt and creaking public services.

She and Starmer have pledged there will be no return to austerity, which will be of some comfort to the many former council leaders whose local authorities have struggled in recent years.

But these groups will want to see some flex when it comes to the purse-strings and may join forces to pick battles at fiscal events.

David Lammy, the Foreign Secretary, has softened the party’s position on the Israel-Gaza conflict significantly since last year. However, several new and re-elected MPs have struggled on the doorstep in Muslim communities.

Senior figures such as Naz Shah and Shabana Mahmood, Justice Secretary, will want to see the party reach out to voters more. Others, such as Zarah Sultana, have repeatedly demanded that the government cease selling arms to Israel.

The conflict shows little sign of abating and the prospect of a Donald Trump presidency could complicate the matter for Starmer. When last in office, Trump moved the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, causing a diplomatic row.

Political leaders often deal with dissent by simply giving people something to do. The number of new and re-elected MPs will far outweigh the government payroll jobs available, however.

Insiders also believe Starmer will also want to promote key allies new to parliament, some of whom have vast experience outside of politics or who have been loyal operatives in his quest to remold Labour, to his front bench, if not immediately then at some stage during the parliament.

Torsten Bell, who was chairman of the Resolution Foundation think-tank, in Swansea West, and Josh Simons, director of the Labour Together think-tank in Makerfield, could be among them.

This could mean demotions for MPs, some of whom have endured miserable years of Tory rule in the hope of salvaging a career.

Many will not be openly hostile or see mileage in making trouble for a new Prime Minister explicitly, but will perhaps feel less afraid of asserting the authority of parliament’s select committees, which often make awkward recommendations for the government and will need bolstering with members and chairs in the new Labour era.

A key plank of Starmer’s transformation of Labour has been to sideline the Corbynite left.

The Socialist Campaign Group, most closely associated with his time in office, is not expected to significantly grow in number, and in proportion to the overall new intake will be smaller and less influential than ever.

But the victory of Jeremy Corbyn in Islington North, the shock defeat of Labour’s Jonathan Ashworth in Leicester South to a pro-Gaza independent candidate and the loss of shadow culture secretary Thangam Debbonaire to the Green’s Carla Denyer in Bristol Central are warnings of long-term threats on the horizon and the appeal of the left.

The row over Diane Abbott’s candidature – she remains as a Labour MP – shows there is still left-wing sentiment.

“They will be numerically insignificant, but could play with the psychologies of Labour MPs,” said one source.

A larger group of soft left MPs, perhaps under the Tribune banner, may become more organised, though it is not clear which issues they would pick.

Old hands will also have nothing to fear from taking a left-wing platform. Liam Byrne, the former Treasury minister who notoriously left the “there’s no money left” note in 2010, for example, has begun campaigning on inequality and wants Labour to introduce a wealth tax and cannot be dismissed as Corbynite.

This could make issues such as the two-child cap on welfare especially tricky.

It is expected that during Starmer’s leadership the Labour right will also form a grouping, most likely under the Labour First banner, perhaps chaired by Gurinder Singh Josan or Luke Akehurst, two figures vital to the party’s post-2019 transformation.

Its aim is more likely to act as the PM’s praetorian guard and to ensure the party stays on point when it comes to defence and spending.

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