Photographed wearing a giant poppy (and on a cold weekend in December, long after it is necessary) Sir Keir Starmer writes a piece in a conservative newspaper pitching for Conservative voters and praising Margaret Thatcher. That is the combustible headline elsewhere anyway. The truth — the context — is Thatcher was one example of leadership in the piece, book-ended with Labour leaders Clement Attlee and Tony Blair. “Margaret Thatcher sought to drag Britain out of its stupor by setting loose our natural entrepreneurialism,” he wrote, and that was it. He didn’t even say she was right. Then he asked Conservative voters “to take a look at us again. If you believe that Britain needs stability, order, security then Labour is the party for you”.
I have a lot of time for Starmer — I like how he stabbed Jeremy Corbyn when he was down
I have a lot of time for Starmer. I like how he stabbed Jeremy Corbyn when he was down. In the front. And also in the back. Starmer shouldn’t have served in Corbyn’s shadow cabinet, some Jewish friends say — it was a betrayal. Pah, I say: are you going to gift the Labour Party to Corbyn and his acolytes forever? Someone had to stay to see them off. I suppose it’s hard to mind ruthless politicians if you like their politics. I think Starmer is far to the Left of where the Corbynites place him, but I met one who thinks Starmer is worse than Joseph Stalin. These people are not rational. They think in rainbows.
The drama over the Thatcher quote is not a scandal, or betrayal. It’s a sign that Starmer, unlike his predecessor, has a rudimentary grasp of how a parliamentary democracy works. You persuade people whom you might disagree with to trust you, and you build a coalition, looking for the best in each other. It’s not perfect but it’s all we have. How can Starmer write in Right-wing tabloids, Corbynites fret. Don’t they know that a leader who neglects to speak beyond his base will stay in opposition forever?
I now think that the worst thing about the Corbynites is not the antisemitism or the clothes — it is, rather, that they don’t really believe in parliamentary democracy. If you agree with them, they are the kindest people on earth but if you don’t, they hate you beyond reason. Go vote Tory they said to Labour supporters who thought Corbyn useless, or wrong, and many did. (Not that they noticed, calling the 2017 election, which they lost, a win. They are not serious people). They demonised millions of fellow voters and, if you demonise people, any act against them becomes not only necessary but righteous. I watched pro-Corbynite journalists endorse political violence: who doesn’t want to throw a milkshake at Nigel Farage, they giggled. They never understood that a milkshake one day is a car bomb the next, and they have radicalised their young supporters not to think but to emote. And when they have torn down parliamentary democracy what will come to fill the gap? Something they like? I think not.
So, I congratulate Sir Keir on his writing, and even for invoking Thatcher for those who swear by her ghost. I think I sense a ghost of a smile in the writing, but his enemies are irritating. I’m concerned about his using the phrase “mind-forged manacles”, but that criticism is for another day.
Masterful spy drama
Slow Horses has returned to Apple TV. It’s an adaptation of Mick Herron’s spy novels, starring Gary Oldman as the repulsive spy master Jackson Lamb, who lives on takeaways and stinks of cigarettes. Lamb is always close to dying, but he never does. (Oldman’s casting is witty. He was also George Smiley in Tinker, Sailor, Soldier, Spy: same part, different key). There is something vivid about Herron’s novels, something ominous and terrible. The Slow Horses are failures, exiled from “the Park” (presumably MI5) to Slough House, a dismal building near the Barbican where they do meaningless work designed to destroy their souls. The novels speak to the stasis and rot of the state. (There is even a Boris Johnson figure).They are companions to Ian Fleming’s ludicrous, over-confident James Bond: spies who know that spying is boring and Britain’s time as a great power has gone.
Tanya Gold is a columnist