Keir Starmer: During these crazy times, a boring guy might be precisely what people want - Euan McColm
A few years ago, I saw the stand-up comedian Matt Forde do a brilliant routine about arriving in American before the 2016 presidential election and being horrified to see the momentum behind Republican candidate Donald Trump.
On his first night in the States, Forde found himself in a New York taxi being driven by an enthusiastic backer of the deranged reality TV star.
“But why?” asked the comedian. “After everything he's said and done.”
“These are crazy times,” replied the driver, “and crazy times need a crazy guy.”
Forde - who spent some years as an advisor in the Labour Party before launching his comedy career - shuddered at the lack of logic on display. The last thing required during crazy times is a crazy guy. Crazy times demand a boring guy. There are, in fact, no times when a crazy guy is what’s required.
But being a boring guy has its obvious drawbacks when it comes to elections when voters might be looking for a spark of personality.
Since being elected leader of the Labour Party a couple of years ago, Sir Keir Starmer has struggled with a reputation for being rather dull. Compared to Prime Minister Boris Johnson, with his tiggerish boosterism and (carefully studied) quirks, Starmer seemed drab and uninspiring and even his supporters could see how voters might prefer the Tories.
But things change, don’t they?
Johnson now clings to office, against the wishes of a majority of voters who believe he should resign over a series of Downing Street parties that broke the lockdown rules imposed by the Prime Minister, himself. He and his acolytes continue to hide behind an ongoing investigation into matters by senior civil servant Sue Gray, whose findings are expected to be published on Wednesday.
It is vanishingly unlikely that Gray’s report will fully damn the Prime Minister. Her remit is to establish what events happened and to examine whether they conflicted with the rules. She has no authority to judge whether the Prime Minister has lied.
But a report that leaves Johnson room for manoeuvre won’t do him any good. Public opinion has turned so hard and fast against the Prime Minister that there’s no way back. If Gray’s report doesn’t bluntly assert what we all know to be true - that the Prime Minister broke the rules he had established - then it will be considered worthless, nothing more than a whitewash.
Polls suggest that voters in so-called Red Wall seats - constituencies across the Midlands and the North of England that switched their allegiances from Labour to the Tories - have fallen out of love with Johnson. They may, in 2019, have reckoned that crazy times need a crazy guy but now they view him with contempt.
The 2019 general election was not only emphatically won by Boris Johnson, it was also emphatically lost by Jeremy Corbyn. Of course, Johnson’s unique character assisted the Tory victory but focus group after focus group has shown that many who voted Tory in traditionally Labour areas did so because they could not countenance the prospect of a Corbyn premiership.
The cranks and monomaniacs who continue to follow the path of Corbyn erupted in self-indulgent fury last week when Bury South MP Christian Wakeford defected to Labour from the Tories. Many were furious that the party had accepted as a member someone who had previously identified as a Tory. The Labour MSP Mercedes Villalba tweeted that Wakeford’s voting record did not belong to “someone fit to be a Labour representative”.
When these people find out they’re going to need the support of people who’ve previously voted Tory if they’re ever going to win a General Election, their heads will explode. It says something about the mentality of the crank Labour left that on the day one of Boris Johnson’s MPs abandoned him, they turned their fire on Keir Starmer. It’s incredible to think that just a couple of years ago, Labour was in the hands of these idiots.
If Corbyn were still leader of the opposition, Tory MPs would be more relaxed about the crisis in which their party finds itself.
But instead of toxic Jeremy Corbyn, Labour is now led by boring Keir Starmer. And, during these crazy times, a boring guy might be precisely what people want.
At the heart of the “partygate" scandal is the issue of integrity in public life. Do we care about morality in politics or is our debate now so fiercely tribal that any breach may be excused?
It would appear that significant numbers of Tory MPs believe that, yes, things like honesty and accountability still have a place in politics. When Sue Gray’s report fails to save the Prime Minister’s skin, the rebels who feel this way will grow in number.
Starmer is, I think, having a good Tory crisis. His performances during Prime Minister’s Questions have been sharp, his lines dripping with contempt and derision - “look on the bright side, Prime Minister, at least the staff at number 10 know how to pack a suitcase” - and he continues to read the public mood correctly.
If Sue Gray’s report leaves Johnson any wriggle-room, Starmer’s job on Wednesday will be to trash it. I believe he will find an electorate willing to listen to the ways in which Gray’s findings fall short.
Keir Starmer’s Labour Party currently enjoys a significant poll lead over the Conservatives. Were there to be an election tomorrow, Johnson’s government would fall.
What a remarkable turn of events. After years of political chaos, the boring guy looks the most appealing option.
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