What can Britain expect from Sir Keir Starmer? Let’s be honest – not much
BY TIM DAWSON
A cheer rippled across South England’s quinoa belt, the moment Sir Keir Rodney Starmer QC was announced as the new Leader of the Labour Party. The beige and Brylcreemed former Director of the Crown Prosecution Service had fought a cunning, lawyerly leadership election, pitching himself as the compromise candidate between firebrand Corbynite Rebecca Long-Bailey and Liz-Kendall-with-a-lisp, Lisa Nandy. He would offer Corbynism, but not too much Corbynism, and also “change”, but not too much “change”. Both served with a glutinous dollop of unrepentant Europhilia.
The subtext was there, for anyone who wished to see it. The old class war, with its red flags and its strikes and its misty-eyed tales of when “me dad were down t’pit”, would be taking a back seat. But the new class war, between well-paid, over-educated metropolitans who have never recovered from the Brexit referendum and Britain’s proletarian masses who impertinently decided they wanted Out, would be very much continuing; and who better to continue it than the architect of Labour’s disastrous yes-but-no-but-leave-but-remain Brexit policy himself?
The public aren’t buying it. Despite (or, perhaps, because of) the Coronacrisis, the Conservatives are recording their highest poll ratings ever. The Prime Minister, discharged from hospital and now recovering at Chequers, is little short of a national hero. Starmer, meanwhile, is trying to piece together a fractured party, with no opinion poll bounce and no honeymoon to help him. On social media, Labour’s bedraggled attack dogs are making their new leader’s job even more difficult with wild conspiracy theories about the veracity of Boris’s illness. Every day, Labour seems less coherent, less electable, more crankish.
Somehow stitching together Labour’s warring factions will be a formidable task. The Corbynites, still represented in the Shadow Cabinet by Rebecca Long-Bailey and Lloyd Russell-Moyle, will not allow their project to be dismantled quietly. Following the Milne-Corbyn purges, Hard Leftism is now better represented in the Parliamentary party than at any other time in history. Jeremy Corbyn, John McDonnell and Big ‘Dickie’ Burgon are all watching from the back benches. Len McCluskey still controls the purse strings. The NEC is still dominated by Corbyncronies. Winkling the extremists out will require determination and cold steel. It cannot be done overnight – if, indeed, it can be done at all.
The party’s – and Starmer’s own – deeply ingrained Europhilia presents another problem. A Remain Leader. A Remain shadow cabinet. A tendency to see everything as “Europe good / UK bad”, and a deeply felt distress at Britain’s departure from the EU. The grief still gnaws at the party, a grief that unites old Blairites with the recent influx of student socialists and middle class Corbyn cultists. The only thing that unites them, actually. Resisting the temptation to try and reverse Brexit is already proving impossible, with newly installed Shadow Chancellor Annelise Dodds instantly using her promotion to call for a delay to the government’s trade negotiations. Nothing conveys more strongly that Starmer’s Labour isn’t ready to listen and learn.
The final issue facing Sir Keir Starmer is Sir Keir Starmer. His period at the CPS revealed a soft-left weakness for empathising with the criminal as much as the victim. Similarly, his views on the Queen seem to be out of step with majority opinion. In a different era, Starmer’s grey and technocratic demeanour may have been an advantage; for now, it seems all too representative of a Europhile caste – the Grieves; the Soubrys; the Guy Verhofstadts – which the country is so keen to move on from. He is, ultimately, a man who is more comfortable in Brussels than Blackpool, who celebrates the continent for its supposed culture and sophistication, and finds the ordinary British person rather antediluvian and parochial. Ex-Labour voters in Torfaen and Bolsover and Bury will have noticed this. They feel no natural connection with him, just as he feels no connection with them.
I am not dismissing Starmer out of hand. He is, for all his many faults, a huge improvement on Corbyn. He is a democrat. He is, I think, serious about dealing with his party’s anti-Semitism problem (though he didn’t do much about it when he sat in Corbyn’s shadow cabinet). But he is unlikely to appeal to the voters the Left needs to win back. The Conservative Party should be quietly confident that it can see him off.
Tim Dawson is a writer and journalist and the Editor of Free Market Conservatives. Follow him on twitter: @tim_r_dawson