OPINION - The Tories have forgotten how to attack Keir Starmer

 (Ben Turner)
(Ben Turner)

There are two types of leader of the opposition speeches. The first is where the Labour leader (it is usually the Labour leader) sets out their plans for government and no one takes much notice, the second is where they do. The difference isn’t content but context. An opposition leader 20 points behind in the polls is as newsworthy as last week’s racing odds. But 20 points ahead?

Keir Starmer took to the stage in Manchester this morning, removed his jacket and revealed his five missions for government. They were – and for my own reasons listed in reverse order:

5. Break down the barriers to opportunity at every stage

4. Make Britain’s streets safe

3. Build an NHS fit for the future

2. Make Britain a clean energy superpower

1. Secure the highest sustained growth in the G7

That last one stands out, doesn’t it? The first four are fairly broad brush and consumer-friendly. But the growth one is a low-key unfathomable hostage to fortune. Not simply because the UK economy has been operating on fumes for so long, but because even insofar as economic growth is in the power of governments, you still can’t account for the performance of other countries. What is Rachel Reeves supposed to do, take the Eurostar to Paris and hobble the French economy?

Sure, this is technically a ‘mission’, not a promise, but it seems odd that Labour, from a position of political strength, should hand what the party hopes will be a Conservative opposition leader a stick to beat it with throughout the second half of the 2020s.

It also attracts attention for being less obviously voter-friendly than the other four. We all understand safer streets – just look at this video of a bike being stolen in broad daylight in East Dulwich, the thieves knowing full well that the chance of being caught is close to zero. But does the average voter know or care about the G7, a self-selected group of rich countries?

This is perhaps being hypercritical. I think the most revealing development today came not from Labour but the Conservatives, and specifically their confusion about how to counter this confident and popular version of Starmer. Exhibit A is this bizarre and contradictory picture they posted attempting to mock the five missions. Or Penny Mordaunt’s claim that Starmer is indulging in “cosplay conservatism”.

Putting to one side my view that most alliteration should come with a light custodial sentence, is the criticism that Starmer is an opportunist or a secret Corbynite? Please send your answers to Conservative Campaign Headquarters, 4 Matthew Parker Street, London SW1H 9HQ.

As Sam Freedman points out, the Tories encountered the same problem when trying to attack Tony Blair for being both old Labour and for stealing their positions in the run-up to the 1997 general election. Remember that weird ‘New Labour, New Danger’ devil eyes advert? I suppose it serves as a useful reminder that sometimes history doesn’t rhyme, it really does repeat itself.

Elsewhere in the paper, tributes have poured in for John Motson, the legendary football commentator, who has passed away aged 77. Motson covered 10 World Cups, 10 European Championships and a faintly ridiculous 29 FA Cup finals during a distinguished 50-year career with the BBC.

In the comment pages, Vaydm Prystaiko, Ukraine’s ambassador to the UK, says that Britain helped his country when it was needed – and they will never forget that. It’s a poignant piece and would really recommend reading.

Meanwhile, Centre for London chief Nick Bowes warns that reforming the Met cannot become a political football. Homes & Property Editor Prudence Ivey says ‘location, location, location’ might no longer be the house hunter’s maxim. And football correspondent Dan Kilpatrick argues that the introduction of a new regulator is an historic moment for English football... but it doesn’t go far enough.

Finally, an extensive archive of David Bowie’s life and work – including more than 80,000 items spanning six decades – is set to be exhibited by the V&A. Think handwritten lyrics, original costumes and set designs. The pictures here should whet the appetite.

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