ALASDAIR CLARK: Margaret Thatcher remarks narrow Labour path to victory – Sir Keir Starmer needs to learn from Napoleon

Sir Keir Starmer ends the year on an undoubted high after a string of polls predicting a Labour victory, but some of the party faithful in Scotland are concerned.

Activists tell me they are buoyant, much more so than they had been in 2017 or 2019, but in Scotland some are sounding a note of caution.

Sir Keir’s path to Downing Street is a narrow one, but concern is being shared that in wooing voters who distrusted the party under Jeremy Corbyn, the Labour leader is handing too much ammunition to the SNP.

UK-wide the Conservative vote has collapsed, with some polls suggesting even high-profile government ministers could find themselves looking for work.

The Labour strategy is clear and, if the pollsters are correct, it is working. They want to reach out to disaffected Tory voters who mistrusted the party under Jeremy Corbyn and show how they have changed.

Margaret Thatcher. Image: PA

In Scotland though, a much more nuanced picture continues even amid these confident predictions.

Recent polling suggests the SNP will see their vote fall to between 30% and 40% – down from a 45% share in the 2019 election.

It means that while weakened, any victory won by Sir Keir relies on him bringing together a coalition of very different voters.

Unforced comments praising the entrepreneurial gusto ushered in by former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher in particular prompted some concern.

In public, Anas Sarwar attempted to explain that Sir Keir’s praise has been qualified, but privately Labour insiders admitted the message had been damaging.

‘If we have to explain, we’re losing’

As one said: “If we have to explain it we’re losing. It’s frustrating because Keir didn’t have to say it.”

Similar concerns were raised about handing the SNP attack lines when a senior member of Sir Keir’s team appeared to dismiss the views of Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar on the Israel-Gaza conflict because they weren’t in the shadow cabinet.

The same insider said this had provided the SNP with the “perfect opportunity to trot out tested attacks about us being little more than a branch office”.

“Anas and Keir have a good relationship, all it did was undermine us,” they added.

These unforced comments allow an SNP riven with internal division and concerned about a party fraud investigation with ammunition as they fight to maintain their electoral dominance.

SNP MP Stephen Flynn. Image: Darrell Benns/DC Thomson.

After Sir Keir’s praise of Thatcher, they quickly got to work ensuring it was heard in former mining communities such as those in Fife, still reeling from the former PM’s social and economic policies.

“Is Rishi Sunak concerned he will lose the election to a fellow Thatcherite,” the party’s Westminster leader Stephen Flynn quipped in the House of Commons.

This nimble SNP machine were similarly effective after Labour indicated a u-turn on the controversial two-child benefit cap which they had once railed against.

Voters, tens of thousands of whom are impacted by the cap, were told that a Labour government would have little to offer them.

Sir Keir can’t afford to narrow patch to Number 10

Sir Keir Starmer has undoubtedly found a way to take advantage of a collapsing Conservative vote in England.

But as he enters 2024, he must quickly find a way to ensure this does not topple the fragile coalition of support he has to build ahead of a general election.

Failing to do so will narrow his path to Downing Street even further, potentially allowing Rishi Sunak to take advantage and gain a slim victory and remain in office.

Napoleon Bonaparte cautioned against interrupting your enemies as they made a mistake.

If Sir Keir continues to tread from that narrow path and distract from the troubles of the SNP, he may come to regret not heeding that maxim.

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