UK mainstream media heaped praise on the new Labour leader Keir Starmer after his first appearance at PMQs, claiming that the country finally had an official opposition – and incurring the wrath of Jeremy Corbyn supporters.
Social media was awash with supportive tweets from high-profile British media figures on Wednesday, after Starmer and Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab – deputizing for PM Boris Johnson – traded blows during the first session of Prime Minister’s Questions in the UK’s ‘hybrid’ parliament. The House of Commons has been modified to allow the majority of MPs to participate via video link.
London Evening Standard editor and former Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne – the architect of the damaging austerity program implemented by David Cameron’s Tory government between 2010 and 2016 – took to Twitter to claim that “after a 5 year absence, Britain has an opposition again.”
The BBC’s political presenter Andrew Neil, who was previously appointed editor of The Sunday Times by Rupert Murdoch, insisted that, in Starmer, it was “clear that the United Kingdom” now had a “functioning … official opposition.”
The dismissal of Corbyn’s achievements in opposition over the last five years, during which he saw off two Conservative prime ministers in Cameron and Theresa May, riled many of his supporters.
They argued that Corbyn had forced countless government u-turns on policies over the years, and most notably forced a hung parliament at the 2017 general election, when Labour were less than 2,500 votes away from winning an outright majority.
Some highlighted the occasion when Corbyn’s Labour helped inflict the largest defeat of a British PM in the democratic era, when May suffered a humiliating Brexit-related vote in January 2019. Others suggested that “The establishment is happy again” now that they have an opposition leader in Starmer, who acts more like their kind of politician and who shares their world views.
The “professional integrity” of the high-profile media figures was also called into question.
Gifs were also posted, accompanied with a warning on what it ‘really’ signifies when prominent Conservatives like Osborne bring out the red carpet treatment for a Labour leader. One person also claimed Corbyn had changed the narrative on austerity, but his detractors cannot bring themselves to acknowledge it.
Starmer won the Labour leadership election on April 4, with more than 56 percent of the vote, after Corbyn stood down from the role.
The new leader’s subsequent shadow cabinet appointments have seen a number of socialist Labour MPs turfed out in favour of a number of Corbyn-skeptics. It has raised concerns amongst the further-to-left members of the party, that Starmer could summon a return to the “centrist” policies implemented during the Blair years.