Starmer loathes voters – and the feeling is mutual

Sir Keir Starmer
Sir Keir Starmer

It would take a catastrophe of Devon Loch proportions for Keir Starmer, the toolmaker’s son, to blow an opinion poll lead of more than 20 points against a seemingly broken Tory opponent.

Which, for Labour supporters, is just as well. Because Starmer’s performances in this election campaign to date serve as a reminder of all the things he can’t do: can’t be eloquent, can’t think on his feet, can’t see himself as others see him, can’t inspire, can’t even come across as likeable.

Last night’s audience in the Sky News leaders’ interviews burst into derisive laughter when Starmer said he was the son of a toolmaker – did I already mention that detail, by the way? And they very much enjoyed seeing him squirm when pressed by Beth Rigby to say whether he had really believed Jeremy Corbyn would be a “great prime minister” when he made such claims during the 2019 election campaign. Starmer’s explanation – that he was certain Labour would lose and just wanted to do his bit to help “good” Labour MPs get re-elected – merely emphasised his slipperiness. Because it amounted to an admission that no, he hadn’t thought that about Corbyn, but without saying so in straightforward terms. So he indulged in a great pretence five years ago, from which he now resiles.

He fared even worse when challenged by Rigby about why he had ditched most of the pledges he made in his successful Labour leadership campaign. Here, Starmer’s vanity came to the fore. He said that his subsequent duty had been to judge each pledge on whether it was the right thing for the country and this was what had led him to dropping some. And he appeared to expect positive praise for doing this. It did not seem to have occurred to him that a statesman with integrity would never make non-deliverable pledges in the first place. The suspicion hung heavy in the air that he had cynically made a load of left-wing promises to get chosen by the Labour Party membership without bothering even to think about whether those undertakings would be credible in the eyes of the wider public.

Overall, one was put in mind of a number one ranked British tennis player from an era when we didn’t have any particularly good tennis players – a Buster Mottram perhaps, or a Jeremy Bates: carrying the faint hopes of a non-expectant nation and destined never to go beyond the fourth round of a grand slam tournament.

Not being the Tory candidate for PM will probably be enough to get him across the line in this particular contest. There was, for instance, a clumsy semi-gaffe last night when he said that his wife had not wanted him to become an MP but had instead wanted him to carry on earning a “reasonable” salary as a lawyer. The implication was that he thinks what MPs earn does not amount to a decent salary. In fact, they are paid more than £91,000 a year. That’s about three times average full-time earnings before we even consider their extremely generous pension scheme. And as Leader of the Opposition, Starmer is paid another £49,000 on top of his salary, too.

But when it comes to being out of touch with the common people, the current rules say only Rishi Sunak can be flayed. It is as if most of the nation has decided to pretend that Starmer’s manifold faults and limitations do not exist just because it cannot bear the idea of another term of the Tories. So he has a free pass for now. It will not always be so.