Forgive the niche football reference here, but at the moment Keir Starmer is essentially the political equivalent of Blackburn Rovers manager Tony Mowbray. Like Mowbray, he’s arrived at a club with a grand history, but one reduced to its lowest ebb. And, like Mowbray, he’s done a great job of steadying the ship, kicking out the troublemakers from the dressing room and making the team competitive again. But for both of them there seems to be this strange psychological barrier that stops them from opening up a clear lead on the opposition and getting their team back to where it should be – be it in government or the Premier League.
So of course the fans are starting to get restless. “Bereft of ideas”, “no vision”, “he’s a nice lad and done all he can but it’s time for him to move on”. These were some of the few expletive free comments left on Blackburn’s Twitter feed Wednesday night after an embarrassing 2-1 defeat to Barnsley, but they could have just as easily been from the comment section of an article on Starmer’s leadership.
There’s a good chance Tony Mowbray will have been sacked by the time you read this and good riddance if you ask me. But fortunately for Keir, political parties aren’t quite as fickle as football clubs. So what does Keir need to do to banish the looming spectre of Tony Pulis waiting to replace him?
“He needs to stand up to the Tories” is a common complaint. It’s a fair point to make, but being blindly critical of the government can cause just as many problems, especially when the government achieves a genuine success such as the vaccine roll-out. If Starmer had been as critical as some of his colleagues were about the government’s decision to stay out of the EU’s vaccine programme, he’d arguably be in a much worse position than he is now.
Starmer’s big problem is that for the majority of the population, we’re still in what’s essentially a wartime situation. Partisan politics as we knew it isn’t coming back until the pandemic is over. So every damning attack line and critique of Tory policy that gets sent to a focus group comes back with the same response – it looks disloyal to the country at a time when we all need to pull together.
Perhaps that explains his rhetoric yesterday when unveiling his very WWII sounding policy of British recovery bonds. It wasn’t the first time Starmer channelled Clement Attlee and he’s certainly not the first Labour Leader to do so. Aiming for a modern version of Attlee’s radical policies and unifying patriotism seems like the perfect strategy to counter a PM who thinks he’s the reincarnation of Winston Churchill. But the strategy just isn’t working yet and if it is to work at all then perhaps Starmer needs to prove he’s capable of genuinely radical polices and genuinely heartfelt patriotism.