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Keir Starmer and the new interesting

June 25, 2020

Sir Keir Starmer is an interesting chap. Actually, Labour’s new Leader of the Opposition is interesting because he’s not interesting. Or at least he hasn’t gone out of his way, in the manner of his political rivals, to make himself appear likeable, which, in politics, is often the equivalent of interesting. Politicians of Boris Johnson’s ilk seem to believe that this only achievable if you can make yourself, your private life and your various idiosyncrasies worthy of the public’s interest. Not Keir, apparently.

In self-promotion terms, Boris beats him hands down. True, the floppy one has been promoting himself for decades, whereas Keir has only emerged from the shadows recently.

All we know about Keir, unless we happen to be Labour activists, is that he is a distinguished human rights lawyer with a record of fighting for underdogs. He was made Director of Public Prosecutions under the last Labour Government, became a Labour MP, rose rapidly through the ranks to the Shadow Cabinet. Then, after the demise of Jeremy Corbyn, he became leader of the party.

If you watch him on video clips, or performing in parliament, he comes over as precise and focused as Boris is flatulently omnidirectional. Or, as the media loves to observe, forensic, as befits a leading barrister.

Viewed from afar, his CV is pretty dusty, his character disciplined and buttoned-up. Unlike Boris, he doesn’t slide down zipwires or rugby-tackle spindly adolescents. To put it crudely, where Boris is flatulent, Keir looks like he has a cork up his backside.

Beyond what we can read in Wikipedia, we know little about his private life. In contrast, Boris and his extended family are like characters in a Tom Sharpe novel.

About the only story about Keir that hit the media in recent months was his purchase of a field behind his mother’s house where she could look after rescue donkeys. The Mail on Sunday construed that to mean that he was a property-owning plutocrat, and therefore a hypocrite. The story quickly died when the context emerged. A field full of donkeys, without planning permission for any other purpose, hardly qualifies him as landed gentry or a hard-arsed property speculator.

No doubt, come the election, he will do his share of baby-kissing, assuming such activities are allowed by then. And his party machine will churn out all kinds of humanising stuff, just as the Tories did with the shy and awkward Theresa May. But I doubt if Keir would allow himself to confess that the only naughty thing he ever did was wander through fields of wheat. He’s too smart for that.

So here’s the question. Since the British electorate seems to elect governments on the basis of whether the leader would be a good chap to have a drink with in the pub, when it comes to crunch time – the next general election – will Keir be dead in the water when judged beside Boris or whatever gruesome character the Tories will find to replace him?

I’m not sure. But I think there’s a distinct possibility that after all the flamboyant nonsense of the Boris circus, the electorate might tire of the personality cult and start asking themselves different questions. Not who is the most likeable character, but who can drag us out of the mess we may well find ourselves in by 2024. And in particular, they might just go for someone who keeps his shirt buttoned and his fly zipped. If Keir can continue to show unspectacular, boring competence, he might well be the man.

To an extent, he’s a bit of throwback. Not to the likes of Tony Blair and Harold Wilson, who played the personality card to great advantage, but to Clement Attlee, unprepossessing, reassuring and the very opposite of flamboyant. Attlee, though, was of a different age, when politicians could maintain an element of personal privacy, and a Prime Minister didn’t have impertinent journalists demanding to know his inside leg measurement.

Comparisons with Labour’s first postwar prime minister would force one to observe that Attlee succeeded Churchill at the end of World War 2, and the last thing I would want to do would be to compare Boris with Winston, and WW2 with Brexit and COVID.

So perhaps it would be more appropriate to think of Keir not as a throwback, but as a throw-sideways. There’s another European leader who is quietly competent, untouched by personal scandal, reserved and, in media terms, rather boring. Angela Merkel has been Chancellor of Germany for fifteen years. The most powerful woman in the world isn’t a bad role model for Labour’s Leader of the Opposition.

Of course, politics is cyclical. Perhaps Germany will select a buffoon as its next leader. Hopefully America will dispose of its sociopathic idiot in November.

One would hope that by 2024 the British public will have tired of the bumbling ministers, the data-driven manipulators, the property speculators, the hedge-fund owners and the faux patriots to whom it has entrusted its future, and look for a viable alternative.

If Keir Starmer can re-fashion his party and come up with policies that will excite the imagination rather than repel an electorate struggling to hold on to the remnants of its wealth, he surely has a fighting chance of taking power.

You will gather from these thoughts that I’m biased. But not against any particular party or ideology, though ideologies have an alarming habit of turning into cults. Rather, in favour of reason, of redefining national interest in terms of global interest, and putting our faith in politicians who prefer not to pander to special interests.

It would be good if in the next four years we came to the startling conclusion that competence is interesting. Values are interesting. And character is interesting.

All other things being equal, I would rather entrust my future to a human rights lawyer than to a disgraced journalist.

From → Media, Politics, UK

6 Comments
  1. I always like what you say, but I have a peeve about Atlee. He was a nerk. He replaced Churchill by saying that Churchill was a warmonger. That he wanted war. If you can’t find the reference, believe me. I heard him saying those things and worse. As you know Boris is a bumbling bigot only interested inpromoting himself and lying through his teeth and his bus to do it.
    I’m no promoter of Boris, May, Rees Mog and their like, and Cameron was no better, fucking it up before it started with his referendum, and then making out it was law.
    I think I hate politicians. They love themselves too much.

    • Thanks Rachel. I’m sure you’re right about Atlee. But he was always a stauch member of the coalition during the war. Not a backstabber. Whereas they’re all over the place these days, knives glistening. I don’t hate politicians, but I hate what politics does to many of them.

  2. deborah a moggio permalink

    Did you hear the chortle when I read
    “…flatulently omnidirectional…”?
    translation please of “nerk”?

    Oh my. I do so love learning a new language!

    • Hi Debby. Nerk is not a word I ever use. But I suspect the closest definition is that it’s the result of a jerk and a nerd procreating. Flatulence, when you think about it, is almost always omnidirectional, though perhaps not in a hurricane.

  3. Andrew Robinson permalink

    Hear, hear and there, there. There might only be the English public left to vote left in 2023/4. Starmer’s charisma IS his lack of flamboyance, indeed.

    • Funny really. The day after I posted the Starmer piece, he fired Long Bailey. I guess that makes him more interesting in the conventional sense. Everyone loves long knives!

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