Published:

46 comments

It’s not been the best of times for Keir Starmer.

First there was the incident at PMQs. Boris Johnson accused him of backing the European Medicines Agency (which he did in 2017), only for the Labour leader to call this “absolute nonsense”.

Later it transpired Starmer had thought Johnson suggested he wanted to join the EU’s vaccine scheme and was forced to say he’d been “wrong” and “misheard” the PM.

Then there were the polls. They showed that Labour’s support has stalled in recent weeks, with the party attracting just four per cent of people who voted Conservative in 2019’s General Election.

Given the challenges the Tories have faced managing the pandemic, many have wondered why Starmer hasn’t had more of an impact.

These events, paired with others, culminated in a media onslaught, with commentators asking what the point is of the Labour leader.

How the tables have turned… It’s hard to remember now but when Starmer first took over from Jeremy Corbyn many newspapers were dazzled by His Royal Prosecutor, whose legal background they deemed kryptonite to the Conservatives.

As one gushed: “the word [forensic] doesn’t actually begin to capture the quietly terrifying force of a skilled former Chief Prosecutor assembling all the evidence and nailing it piece by damning piece to the accused.”

Strangely enough, it strikes me that some of the issues Starmer is now having are a result of the experience that was once so admired.

For one, it’s not that obvious what he stands for compared to Johnson (albeit, the pandemic is testing his libertarian ideals), as Starmer spends so much time trying to spot flaws in his opponent’s case.

This is partly why he has been deemed “Captain Hindsight” and accused of fence sitting, as Starmer’s is more tactical than ideological, often looking for the next move to outsmart his opponents, and somewhat risk averse about setting out his own agenda.

Sometimes Starmer appears all over the place ideologically. This same week a video came out of him as a young man suggesting the UK should “abolish the monarchy” (and people have not forgotten he was Corbyn’s deputy).

At the same time, a leaked document from Labour showed suggestions to win back the Red Wall, which included making more of the Union Jack and army veterans, to show patriotism.

I suspect what people would like most from Starmer is authenticity, not this “paint-by-numbers” politics of trying to predict what voters might want.

And it’s a sensible strategy – it’s far better to consistent in one’s vision than to wobble about depending on political events and sentiment.

The other issue with Starmer – and this is something of a brief round up – is a lack of imagination as to how to tackle Coronavirus.

Granted, Conservatives have had issues with this too – as we’re fighting a novel virus.

But some of the most memorable moments in this pandemic are when people had ideas. Tony Blair, for example, suggested a new vaccine strategy for the Government, which was listened to much more than any of Labour’s arbitrary criticisms on schools.

The most imaginative Starmer has been was during a podium appearance, in which he demanded a “circuit breaker” lockdown for the country. There was also the idea of moving all teachers up the vaccine queue, which clearly doesn’t make sense, and is arguably dangerous – as I have recently written.

So the party clearly needs some creativity on its front bench to make headway – and it should remember that many of its supporters will want an opposition that pushes for reopenings, as much as lockdown – not least people who need their children back in school to get back to work.

The last huge challenge for Starmer – and, again, this is a speedy roundup – is regaining trust with the electorate, particularly after Brexit.

Perhaps Labour thinks that now the deal is done that people will forget about Starmer’s time with Corbyn and the second referendum, so long as he waves the union flag.

But it seems to me he will be punished at a nationwide level, and it will be interesting to see the result of May’s local elections.

The shame for Labour is that there are lots of easy wins for them to boost their ratings. The most obvious is fighting woke ideology, which the Conservatives (bar a few) seem desperate to avoid. There’s a clear opening for another party to fight back here.

There are also things like solving the housing crisis and promoting the ability to have a family that lots of people would like. It’s not actually that difficult to think of ways to make headway.

Ironically, it’s Starmer’s wish to be Captain Foresight that’s holding him back.