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Read on to find out why Keir Starmer is not a “Red Tory” but a unifying Labour leader…

Let’s begin with a quick game! Don’t worry, the rules are very simple. I will give you three quotes, and all you have to do is guess whether they were said by Keir Starmer or Jeremy Corbyn. Ready? Let’s go:

“I have always been motivated by a burning desire to tackle inequality and injustice, to stand up for the powerless against the powerful. That’s my socialism.”

“Let us be a force for change in the world, a force for humanity in the world, a force for peace in the world and a force that recognises that we cannot go on like this with grotesque levels of global inequality.”

“Don’t forget it. Labour. The party of the working people… I am not a career politician.”

Even for political nerds and obsessive PMQs watchers, it is a difficult task to separate the two by their words. If you want to mark yourself, then Starmer said 1 and 3, while 2 is a Corbyn quote. But without their voices and faces, the only sure-fire way to tell them apart is to wait for a mention of Palestine or the pandemic.

It is staggering how similar their speeches are: both talk about inequality and make grand quotes about peace and prosperity across the world.

We rely far too much on conventional political wisdom to judge our leaders. We often form opinions based on what we see in the news: the short, 20 second clips of rallies, the infographics on social media, and the mother of all echo chambers that is the disillusioned and depressed British political culture. 

Opinions are quick to form, and hard to change. Just look back at the political leaders of the past twenty years – their reputations were invented and crystallised within a very short time, and have remained largely unchanged since… 

Tony Blair’s reputation for all-style, no-substance was around just as much in 1997 as it is now, and it took him less than a day after joining George Bush’s coalition in the Second Gulf War to be labelled a war criminal – a label that is still in the news, even after he received a knighthood earlier this month. 

The accusation that Gordon Brown ruined the economy, meanwhile, arguably lost him the 2010 election and provided a key defence for austerity. The infamous ‘note in the treasury’, which said that there was no money left, is still quoted by Conservatives in parliament now. 

Just think how quickly Theresa May became a figure of weakness, out-of-touch with the nation, with her most memorable quote being about fields of wheat.

And even Jeremy Corbyn, no matter how much he moderated himself, was portrayed consistently as the half-mad, misty-eyed communist, who couldn’t tie a tie properly.

That’s not to say none of this is true. There’s no smoke without a fire, and reputations are built on solid foundations. But these reputations cannot possibly define a politician’s beliefs and true character. Blair successfully concluded peace in Northern Ireland, introduced a national minimum wage, and made immigration significantly easier . Whether you agree with these measures or not, the point is that his career and policies go beyond the caricature of the media-savvy closet war criminal.

Keir Starmer, too, has a reputation, one that was forged literally within weeks of his election. Keir is the boring, methodical lawyer, not passionate about anything, not willing to stand up for the people, ready to give in to Boris’ demands, a ‘wetwipe’, a ‘Red Tory’. 

And this reputation, too, is based on fact. His PMQs tactic, far from trying to hold a rally within the Commons, as Corbyn preferred, is to act like he’s in court. He investigates and he prosecutes. He does not shout and jeer, and it’s difficult to get the same excitement from a Starmer speech as one of Corbyn’s, but that doesn’t mean he’s weak. 

To me at least, he does PMQs better. Remember the days where it was difficult to tell who was more scripted, as Johnson and Corbyn hurled the same statistics at each other week after week? Their goal was not to ask or answer questions, but to get their base outside Parliament fired up.

In contrast, Starmer sticks to the actual purpose of PMQs. He asks difficult questions, he analyses government statistics, and most recently it does indeed seem like he is cross-examining Boris about the Downing Street parties. His question on 19th January- “At what point did the Prime Minister first become aware that any of his staff had concerns about the 20th May party?”- is straight out of a courtroom. It could only get more legalistic if he started saying “Objection Mr Speaker! He’s clearly perjured himself.” 

Making Parliament ever more like a courtroom doesn’t immediately sound like a good thing, but it undoubtedly is. Apart from creating a clear contrast in moral authority between the two sides of the aisle, it is carefully calculated to be effective. That question mentioned before is very clever for one particular reason: it has no answer which would be beneficial for Johnson – either he lies, obfuscates, or tells the truth.

I willingly admit that there is no world in which Glastonbury would erupt in a chant of “ohhhh Keeeeiiir Staaaarmeer”. I don’t get excited when a big Starmer speech is coming up, but that in itself is a good thing. Why? Because the only three politicians in the past few years who do make genuinely entertaining speeches are Corbyn, Johnson and Trump. Entertaining doesn’t necessarily mean good. Whatever the cynics say, politics is not a reality TV show, or at least it shouldn’t have to be.

And on this note, Keir Starmer has one crucial quality, especially given the current political climate. He is almost entirely scandal free. When I typed ‘Keir Starmer scandal’ into Google, four of the top five results were about the Downing Street parties, and the sixth was his Wikipedia page. 

The best they can stretch to is that when he was Director of Public Prosecutions the decision was made not to prosecute Jimmy Saville. He did not make the decision, and he was “not the reviewing lawyer”.

Conservative attempts in recent weeks to find pictures of him breaking the rules have been essentially futile. Unlike the Prime Minister, Starmer’s personal life is irreproachable, his financial situation unimpeachable, and his political record impeccable. He has no allegations of corruption, or nepotism. You couldn’t imagine him being one of the MPs taking hard drugs in the Parliament bathrooms.

Does this make him boring? Yes. Does it make him a great leader? Also yes. The main attack line on the government for the past six months or so has been scandal. From Dominic Cummings and Barnard castle, to Matt Hancock, the Downing Street wallpaper, dodgy PPE contracts and Partygate, the government has left itself wide open to criticism and attack.

But they could have easily gotten away with it, if the Labour leader had a scandal of their own. It wouldn’t matter how many times worse the Tories had been, or how minor the Labour troubles: as long as both had a scandal, it would cancel out in the public conscience. The papers would say they’re both as bad as each other. But as it stands, they can’t.

Furthermore, Starmer pulls off the impressive feat of being further left than the Blairites, without being weird about it. I do not doubt that Corbyn was principled, but why on earth did he think it was a good idea to stay silent during the national anthem, on the memorial for the Battle of Britain? There’s a debate to be had about about British nationalism, but that was surely not the time or place. He didn’t even start a public discourse about any of those issues, and instead the focus was, rightly, on the selfishness of using a public war memorial to make a political point.

You might think me awfully cynical, to say that the opposition leader should suppress their principles and only focus on winning votes. That would be going too far – of course the Labour Party has principles that it has to stick to and fight for regardless of the political climate. 

But we do not have to be controversial for its own sake, or take actively unpopular positions, that don’t even help people. No one gets a higher wage or better working conditions from a tweet in support of a left-wing autocrat halfway across the world. But the Tories do get a boost in the polls, and Labour look ever more out-of-touch and unelectable.

The fact is, most people simply do not care about the monarchy, or socialist theory. These are not Labour’s priorities, yet during the Corbyn years it seemed that it was for these issues and that they were most often in the news. I don’t even need to mention the highly-damaging anti-semitism scandal that was almost entirely self inflicted.

Labour will not win a culture war – indeed, it has already lost. So progressive and sensible economic policies are the way forward.

A great deal of the actual political positions of the party remain unchanged since the transition, probably because Starmer was for three years a key member of Corbyn’s shadow cabinet. Labour are still vehemently opposed to austerity, in favour of raising the minimum wage, against NHS privatisation, in favour of tuition fee abolition and supporters of raising tax for the super-wealthy.

Keir’s leadership has watered down very little. Certainly there’s not been a concerted move to the centre. Instead, there has been a consolidation of what works, and a sanitisation of unnecessarily controversial policies which only serve to alienate public opinion.

And a final argument in favour of Starmer – vert simply, he’s doing really, really well in the polls. Now obviously this is partly due to the unpopularity of the Conservatives, but Labour deserves some credit for picking up the gains. This wouldn’t have happen if people didn’t like or trust Keir Starmer.

As of the time of writing, Labour are polling at an average of 41%. This is an increase from their 2021 low of 32%, a remarkable rise.

 So why is Keir Starmer a bad leader? For the Conservatives who see him as inthrall to the left – why did he make the decision to evict Corbyn from the party? And for the left-wingers who see him as too moderate – unless your priority is the abolition of the monarchy or you really hate the national anthem, then he probably isn’t more moderate than the previous leadership. For those who think he’s simply too boring – is that really a bad thing? 

Keir Starmer is the most unifying, most effective, most sensible and most realistically electable Labour leader since they lost power in 2010. He is no centrist, he is no communist, he is no bore, and most of all- he is not a Red Tory.