It’s hard to get excited either way about Keir Starmer. He’s just not someone you can get worked up about. One can admire his approach to Prime Minister’s Questions: thorough, careful, meticulously researched. After the generalised statements we had from Jeremy Corbyn this is progress.
No doubt Starmer would have been a marvellous Home Secretary in a reforming Labour government, cleansing the Augean stables of the Home Office. But leaders, specifically prime ministers, are made of different mettle. They need fire, audacity, colour, glamour even. The odious Johnson has all these in spades. Labour could have fielded such a leader; it funked it.
Now worrying signs are accumulating. At the last PMQs before Summer’s ridiculously long recess, Starmer expostulated: ‘…the Labour Party is under different management’, a phrase widely celebrated in the Conservative press. This revealing phrase suggests he sees his job as a managerial position. No doubt it also expresses frustration at being unable to force an acknowledgement from Johnson of the different direction towards which he is leading Labour.
At some point in the coming years, the Tories will tire of Johnson. They will pick a new leader and invite us to believe they are a new government. This chameleon tendency has been rewarded with long periods in office: 1951-64; 1979-97; 2010-20. British voters are disposed to be complicit in their own deception.
What is Starmer’s strategy? It does not appear to lie in the field of economics and finance. Anneliese Dodds is certainly capable, but picks bizarre issues to major on. At Home Affairs Nick Thomas-Symonds communicates a sense of injustice. As a result he has made the most headway. At foreign affairs Lisa Nandy mouths vague orthodoxies, gets upset about very little (Lebanon?, Belarus?), asks no questions about the Atlantic alliance. ‘Vote Labour to be confident most things will stay the same’ seems to be the message. Party leaders simply do not convey that Labour can be the change growing numbers yearn for after months of Boris’s bungling.
And there is another danger. The membership, apart from a few loud Corbynophobes, is sullen and resentful. Next year come London mayoral and Scottish elections where it needs to be roused; soon, by-elections will crop up. 2019 might have shown that enthusiasm without strategy is not enough. I dread the electoral prospects if Labour has neither.