Keir Starmer Version 2.0: Off with the mask please

By Dafydd Rees

On Tuesday night, the Labour Party leader reintroduced himself to the nation on prime-time Television. His interview with Piers Morgan on ITV was designed to reset public perceptions about his personality and his background. To that effect, it achieved its stated purpose.

Critics could well argue its a little late in the day to be making personal introductions. It’s now over a year since Sir Keir succeeded Jeremy Corbyn. But last night he argued, convincingly, that the pandemic and successive lockdowns had limited his ability to reach out and explain who he is and what he stands for to the country at large.  

There is a certain rhythm to these on-screen encounters. Piers Morgan likes to make his interviewees cry. Sir Keir Starmer did so. Twice. But for me Sir Keir’s authenticity and emotion was genuine and heartfelt.

The most moving element of the hour-long interview was the focus on Sir Keir’s mother and father. Sir Keir was frank and open about his mother’s struggles with a terrible illness and his father’s lack of emotional warmth.

His mother Josephine suffered from the debilitating auto-immune condition known as Still’s disease, which robbed her of movement and meant that he was unable to communicate with her during her final days.

Sir Keir freely admitted his father was difficult and distant. Only once in his entire life did he tell his son that he was proud of his achievements.  

Despite the credentials Sir Keir Rodney Starmer KCB QC, it’s hard to think of a mainstream politician since John Major who has such an evident lack of privilege displayed in his upbringing. His father was a toolmaker and his mother a nurse. This was a family who didn’t’ have a television and would only go on holiday to the Lake District.

The media reaction has been fascinating and surprising. The sketch-writers have in the main been kind. Even the Telegraph had nice things to say. How about this from the Daily Mail who dub Sir Keir, Blair Mark 2? The paper goes on to describe Sir Keir as having, “brains, movie star glamour, wry sitcom humour…….everything an ambitious politician requires.” 

The Guardian’s John Crace brings things back to earth with a bump by dissecting the Labour Party’s motives for agreeing to the interview in the first place, and at a time when Westminster has decamped to lie on the beach. Labour is behind in the polls and voters are unclear about what makes the party leader tick.

This carefully cultivated portrait will help in that regard. In the Times even Quentin Letts, who’s rapier-like pen has left indelible scars on many an unsuspecting politician, did not question the honesty and sincerity shown by Sir Keir.

The word the Labour leader repeatedly used which has lodged itself in my subconscious is dignity. I think it is a promising theme which has the potential to resonate with the Labour voters who have turned from the party in droves since 2019.

Interestingly enough, the word that he didn’t use last night which I hope he decides to adopt in the months to come is aspiration. If there is one recurrent theme which emerges time and again from analysing the electoral fortunes of the Labour Party, it is the need for ordinary people to feel the party instinctively understands their need to get on in life.  

In Sir Keir Rodney Starmer KCB QC, the Labour Party has found a human embodiment of those values and aspirations. The question now is can he consistently convey that compelling message to connect with the millions who’ve abandoned his party?