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James Millar: Zoom out to properly appreciate Keir Starmer’s skill

Labour Party leader, Keir Starmer (Photo: Andy Rain/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock)
Labour Party leader, Keir Starmer (Photo: Andy Rain/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock)

Often, it pays to zoom out a bit in politics.

Particularly in this age when every tiny occurrence is shared, analysed and usually ridiculed on social media.

Boris Johnson’s Westminster administration has clearly run out of steam. It has too few interesting or original ideas. Its majority is slowly diminishing via a variety of scandals, all linked by the dread word “sleaze”.

The result of the next election is by no means a foregone conclusion but it’s clear the current regime is unable to pull out of its death spiral and it’ll be booted, if not in two years’ time then, for certain, at the next opportunity after that.

Similarly it’s worth zooming out on “beergate”, the confected hoo-ha about whether Sir Keir Starmer having a drink in Durham constitutes a party. Sir Keir Starmer at a party doesn’t constitute a party. He may be a decent chap and a competent politician, but no one would describe him as the life and soul.

What he undoubtedly is, though, is a brilliant lawyer. He was England’s director of public prosecutions, banging up the very worst sorts of criminals. Given that background, he’s going to be able to make a well informed judgment on whether Durham police are likely to fine him for having a curry and a beer.

It can never be discounted that the Labour Party is led by a barrel of weapons-grade muppets, but it’s more likely, on this occasion, that Starmer said he’ll quit if he’s nicked because he’s sure he’s going to be exonerated.

Putting a lid on beergate

Increasingly, it appears that the Labour leader and his anti-Boris schtick of stolid, bordering on boring, is driving his opponents round the bend. After trying to smear Angela Rayner for having legs a few weeks back, now they are gunning for Starmer for eating and drinking.

First of all came the news that the government intends to sack 91,000 civil servants as a measure to tackle the cost of living crisis

Nothing seems to enrage Boris Johnson’s Tories more than being normal.

By putting a lid on beergate, Starmer sent Downing Street to even more extreme lengths. A flurry of Friday night announcements designed to seize the agenda ranged from the bad to the batty.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson (right) has weathered many public controversies in recent months (Photo: Yui Mok/AP/Shutterstock)

First of all came the news that the government intends to sack 91,000 civil servants as a measure to tackle the cost of living crisis. How this is going to help those 91,000 turfed out of work on the whim of Jacob Rees-Mogg with their own personal cost of living crisis is unclear.

If any other organisation – say ferry firm, P&O? – announced they were axing 91,000 jobs, the government might be expected to respond. But, as so often, the civil service is treated like some faceless political football rather than a collection of humans committed to public service.

Part of the Downing Street defence of the various gatherings that took place during lockdown is that the folk employed there were working particularly hard to get the nation through the pandemic. Is the government now saying those same people will be rewarded for their efforts with a P45 to go with their fixed penalty notice?

Losing track of all the U-turns

The prime minister also took the opportunity over the weekend to bin his much vaunted efforts to tackle obesity. Measures such as banning buy-one-get-one-free offers on unhealthy foods, and stopping in store promotions of sugary or salty snacks were unveiled in 2020, the PM championing the sorts of policies he might previously have derided as too interventionist after linking his own obesity with the severity of the Covid he caught earlier that year.

Recent local election results suggest the Conservative Party has fallen out of favour with some voters (Photo: Dan Kitwood/AP)

In a recent scattergun interview, Johnson also once again talked down the working from home revolution embraced in the aftermath of its emergency introduction in spring 2020. Without any decent evidence, he said folk want to return to the office, and, in the process, it’ll help the city centre sandwich chains.

Conflating both U-turns leads one to the conclusion that Johnson has retrospectively concluded his brush with death was for lack of a takeaway sandwich rather than because he’d been eating too many takeaways.

Keir Starmer is Stefania

How much credit can Keir Starmer take for the governmental mire? Well, no one wins by just standing back and spectating chaos. But, neither does chaos break out and perpetuate on its own.

Eurovision provides a decent pointer to what’s going on and how it will end. Ukraine won. Their song was not the best on offer, but it was good enough, and the particular circumstances are such that they powered to victory on Saturday night.

Keir Starmer is Kalush Orchestra’s song, Stefania. Not outstanding, but good enough in the circumstances.

Zoom in too far, and you may start expecting Starmer to start wearing a pink bucket hat like that made famous by Ukraine’s Eurovision champions. Zoom out, and you have to take your hat off to Starmer’s stance and skill, so far.

James Millar is a political commentator, author and a former Westminster correspondent for The Sunday Post

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