The former Lib Dem leader shows what happens when seemingly safe bets go wrong. Starmer can avoid this fate—if he’s carefulby Peter Chappell / February 14, 2020 / Leave a comment
Constituency Labour parties around the country are returning Keir Starmer as their nomination to be the next Labour leader. Starmer’s heady rise is partly down to members projecting onto him what they want the party to be: to the left he is the person who stayed loyal to Jeremy Corbyn and will continue his legacy, to others he’s a firm centrist whose style owes more to Tony Blair than to his former boss. He has sold himself as a unifier: “It’s up to us. If we pull together we can be part of history,” he said in Newsnight’s Labour hustings on Wednesday night.
Is he up to the challenge? He might aim to be a new Neil Kinnock but for a more useful comparison we have to look outside the party altogether, to another leader who started with hopes of high office. Starmer could end up being Labour’s Jo Swinson.
Swinson was a seemingly sensible choice for the Lib Dems, competent, well qualified and good with detail. She could draw support from around the party, and speak to the base. She had experience, having served as a minister in the coalition. But the more the public saw of her, the less they wanted to. Starmer’s similarly stiff style could torpedo his popularity with a public hungry for a political entertainer.
On paper Starmer has a great pitch. He has his own impressive CV, having served as Director of Public Prosecutions for five years, work which earned him a knighthood. His track record of defending human rights indicates a powerful sense of justice, and he’s gifted with a sharp intellect (and haircut). Starmer is presentable in a way Corbyn could never be. Many members are excited to vote for someone who promises to end the torturous divisions of recent years.
But is this the election-winning formula for Labour? What of his capacity as a salesman, as someone who can reach back into areas Labour has lost and revive the emotions that the party once inspired? Similar questions weren’t asked enough by Lib Dem members during Swinson’s campaign. Is this person relatable? How do they cope when the intense glare of a TV studio light is on them? Starmer may be able to work the Commons chamber, but the jury is still out…