Keir Starmer: the quiet man who might just transform British politics

Keir Starmer. Photo: Stefan Rousseau/PA via The Guardian

Suddenly, Keir Starmer has become Britain’s prime minister in waiting. The catastrophic opening weeks of Liz Truss’s premiership has utterly transformed the political weather. Labour’s slow recovery after the disastrous Corbyn years has been turbocharged by the new Tory leader and her chancellor, Kwasi Kwarteng. Labour now enjoys a poll lead of up to 33 percent, and is seen by many as the inevitable victor in the next general election, which must be held by January 2025.

Truss and Kwarteng destroyed the Conservatives’ reputation as careful custodians of the British economy with their budget on 23 September. The markets hated the way the former party of sound money planned to borrow billions to fund tax cuts, on top of existing promises to reduce the increase in energy bills and the debt built up during the pandemic. The pound approached parity with the US dollar, and pension funds faced insolvency. Mortgage lenders withdrew home loans from the market as interest rates looked set to soar to protect the value of the pound. Millions of people are worried about the consequences, and blame the already unpopular Tories.

Starmer’s opportunity

Labour has often been portrayed as the party that presides over financial crises when in government. The party devalued the pound in 1949 and 1967, and famously had to ask the International Monetary Fund for an emergency loan in 1976. (Ironically, it turned out that Britain’s finances weren’t as bad as the Treasury warned, and the loan wasn’t needed after all.) Now, it’s a Tory government that is damned by association with the IMF, as the international lender of last resort condemned the party’s budget.

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Mick Lynch: a text book lesson in winning the argument

Mick Lynch, the leader of the union that represents Britain’s railway workers, has become the media star of the past week. His calm, clever responses to hostile questions about the rail strikes have shown that disrupting people’s travel plans to fight for better pay needn’t be unpopular.

He brilliantly defused Sky News’ Kay Burley’s crazily over the top attempt to raise the spectre of a return to the violent picketing scenes of the 1970s and 1980s. Mick calmly turned to the tiny group of peaceful pickets behind him. ”That’s what a picket line looks like. We’ll try to persuade people not to go to work.” Outrageously Burley tweeted that Lynch was flustered – yet he was as cool as the cliched cucumber. The Sky presenter was the one losing her cool as her interview went nowhere. Lynch had the facts and the humour to defuse what could have been a tough interview.

The unions have a very good argument. So many people have had their real incomes slashed by 12 years of Tory austerity at a time when industry bosses have shown no restraint. The government may think that a summer of discontent will help it win back support. It didn’t work for Ted Heath in 1974 or Jim Callaghan in 1979. The cost of living crisis is going to get worse in the next year and Boris Johnson and his cronies have no answers. (Especially when Johnson tried to get one of those cronies to pay for a £150,000 summer house for his son in the grounds of Chequers.)

Keir Starmer should take lessons from Mick Lynch about how to win an argument. Right now, Labour’s leader is like a football manager winning 1-0 and determined to play safe and close down play at the risk of conceding a goal or two. He should be going for a convincing win.