Keir Starmer has been urged to get Labour on a general election footing with a “laser-sharp” focus on wooing voters with a small number of key pledges that demonstrate the party’s priorities rather than a sprawling plethora of policies.

With activists gearing up to take on Rishi Sunak’s Conservatives in 2024, a new head of Labour Together – a network of MPs, staffers, members and thinktanks – has been appointed, who believes the party should build a more “coherent narrative”.

Josh Simons, who worked with the former Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn but became a prominent whistleblower about antisemitism within the party, has taken the helm at Labour Together.

He told the Guardian Labour could not be “passive” and warned there was “so much work to do” to ensure the party’s sizeable poll lead translated to election victory.

“The phrase that I often come back to is that ‘it might be true that governments lose elections, but oppositions determine how much they lose by,’” Simons said.

Forged after the election defeat of 2015 and led previously led by Starmer’s elections chief, Morgan McSweeney, Labour Together believes the aim of uniting the party around its leader has been achieved and is shifting focus to taking on the Tories.

“We’ve won a couple of big and notable policy victories over the Conservative party over the last few years and that’s really helped situate Labour in voters’ minds as a serious potential party of government,” Simons said.

“But what we now need to do is turn that into a coherent narrative about the moment that we live in, the challenges that the country face, and how Labour would address those.”

Simons said the group would be working with Starmer’s team, the shadow cabinet and Labour MPs to take on “big fundamental challenges facing the UK and starting to advance ambitious and forward-looking ideas about how to really meet those challenges in a coherent way”.

He said Labour had in the past lost its “laser-sharp focus on the voter that it needs to win”.

Simons added: “What matters isn’t that Labour has a huge long list of policies that covers every area. It’s that people understand what Labour’s priorities are. That’s the most important thing. And what it needs to communicate that effectively is a few very focused policies, and a story about the moment the country is in and the challenge we face.”

Given Starmer’s attempt to root out antisemitism within the party, Simons said it meant “a huge amount” to be taking the helm at Labour Together, and that he believed it was “a safe space for Jewish people to not only vote for and to be members of, but to actually work with again”.

Based in Bury but completing a Harvard fellowship remotely, Simons said he hoped to bring a background in academia and the technology sector to the role.

“Labour has to look outwards, understand those trends and those shifts that are happening out there in the world and have an answer to how to harness them to win elections,” Simons said. “That’s its job. It’s doing that but it’s got to keep doing it. It’s got to do it fast, because the general election will come on us sooner than we think.”

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