Starmer now desperately needs people to sit up and take notice of him - Ayesha Hazarika
When I used to help prepare Labour leaders for Prime Minister’s Questions, it was never easy for them or anyone in the room. Every Wednesday morning brought fresh terror. To the outside world, it seems easy being leader of the Opposition. Just rock up and lay into the Prime Minister.
But the reality is more difficult and tortured. Especially when there’s a wide open goal. You and your team start getting confused by all the different strategies and lines of questioning coming in from what can feel like hundreds of well-meaning colleagues, friends and supporters.Suddenly what seems blindingly obvious can get lost in a fog of 4D chess, which ultimately boils down to what various newspapers, prominent commentators and various members of the lobby think.
That’s basically what happened with Keir Starmer at PMQs this week. With the seismic events on Monday – when 41 per cent of Conservative MPs voted to remove Boris Johnson – from the outside, it seemed deeply weird and frustrating that Starmer decided not to hammer Johnson.
With the Prime Minister on the ropes, this should have been a chance for Starmer to be centre stage, landing blows and showing that he was ready and up for the fight.
You can argue that PMQs is a load of rubbish, but a good one can make people notice the leader of the Opposition and a bad one can too – but for all the wrong reasons.
Starmer now desperately needs people to sit up and take notice of him. I was on a panel show this week and my fellow panellists were slating Starmer for not being 20 points ahead.
I was the only one sticking up for him, making the point that he had taken the party from being in the absolute gutter after the devastating 2019 defeat and, according to recent polls, was now on course to be the largest party, with him as Prime Minister in a hung Parliament.
Despite my best efforts, I didn’t convince them and, after this week’s rather dismal PMQs, their views will only harden. Starmer and his team do need to do better. He needs fresh content, which the public actually care about – not more about internal party politics and factional rows with the hard left.
We are all tearing our hair out at the state of decline in this country, from cost of living, infrastructure, housing and the NHS. We need to know what Starmer would do to fix and heal Britain – communicated in a way that cuts through to busy, stressed people.
He should be in every TV and radio studio at every opportunity possible explaining it to us. And he needs to be braver about leaning into the political fight. He must have big ideas, but he needs to be able to get into the often unseemly guts of the raw politics of the day – especially against Boris Johnson. If you want truffles, you have to get down with the pigs.
So many people from different parties – including Tories – are desperate for Starmer to succeed. There is huge goodwill out there for him, but that could sour into disappointment. And if uninspired voters stay at home, that could be an absolute gift to the Tories. Whoever is leading them.