Cynical Sir Keir is convincing nobody

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“Forensic!” trilled Beff Rigby, after PMQs on Wednesday. Of course, Labour’s cheerleaders loved it. Following a colourless exchange, in which the grey, brilliantined new Leader of the Opposition nitpicked with the Prime Minister using selective quotes from Public Health England, Twitter gushed, the media cooed, and Robert Peston had to change his underpants. But, according to the latest polling, the public remained distinctly unmoved.

It’s a pity, during a period of unprecedented national emergency, that Starmer has picked the low road of party political skulduggery over the noble cause of national solidarity. Perhaps his choice is unsurprising. Starmer’s lawyerly coldness and ethical vacuity were amongst the central attractions of his pitch. This is, after all, the man who stood by whilst his party became mired in anti-Semitism; who fashioned a Brexit policy explicitly designed to abrogate the votes of millions; and who campaigned, quite sincerely, to put Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell into Downing Street. Cheap partisanship, masquerading as scrutiny, was almost inevitably the route he’d go down.

His strategy is clear; so clear, in fact, that no amount of lawyerly dust can obscure it. Use the fast-moving nature of the pandemic to generate tests which no government can meet, then castigate it for failing to meet them. Demand concrete plans and concrete time frames, then complain when they have to change. Berate for the mishandling of micro-issues, or issues outside the government’s remit. “Will the Prime Minister apologise for the shortage of face-masks at the Shady Pines Retirement Home in Whitstable?” These are exactly the same tactics Starmer, in cahoots with fellow obstructionists Dominic Grieve and John Bercow, used to try and torpedo Brexit. It’s naked politicking – though conducted, happily, fully clothed.

The contrast between the Prime Minister and Starmer couldn’t be starker. Boris, the classical scholar, the vibrant intellect, the effortless showman. Sir Keir, the plodding second division lawyer, obsessed with minutiae, discombobulated by the post-Brexit world and unable to engage with the bigger picture. Of course, he is a huge improvement on Corbyn, but then he has the advantage of being able to string a sentence together. That he represents the zenith of Labour’s talent right now should give anyone on the centre-left pause for reflection. And the task he faces, simply to make Labour credible again, is Herculean.  

The media can barely contain themselves. Unable to forgive Boris Johnson for delivering the United Kingdom’s exit from European Union and an 80 seat Conservative majority, they have been desperately seeking a new figurehead for the Establishment counter-offensive. Sir Keir is their white knight – quite literally. Yes, the government needs scrutiny; yes, questions need to be asked. But deliberately misunderstanding and misrepresenting the government at such a crucial time helps nobody. Nor does rewriting history. No government, in the midst of a crisis, can be blamed for not manufacturing more hindsight.

Many of us hoped that the post-Corbyn Labour Party would take its responsibilities more seriously. Their activity this week suggests that’s unlikely. The lawyer has set out his stall and laid his traps. The metropolitan media have rallied to his flag (you’ll probably recognise it – blue with gold stars). But will the voters take the bait? There, m’lud, the jury is still very much out.

Tim Dawson is a writer and journalist and the Editor of Free Market Conservatives. Follow him on twitter: @tim_r_dawson

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