Source: The Independent
The prime minister’s attack on the Labour leader felt tired, writes John Rentoul
Conservatives and the more sectarian Blairites might regard Starmer’s time in Corbyn’s shadow cabinet as a compromise too far but most voters have moved on.
When Rishi Sunak asked Keir Starmer in the Commons on Wednesday to “explain to us why it was that, a few years ago, he was supporting the right honourable member for Islington North”, it felt as if the Labour leader had been savaged by a dead sheep.
That attack has lost its bite. Which is surprising, because even for many Labour supporters, Starmer’s attempt to get Jeremy Corbyn elected prime minister, twice, was a serious error.
Looking back, Starmer has performed a remarkable magic trick, serving loyally in Corbyn’s cabinet, running on a Corbynism-without-Corbyn ticket for the leadership, and then going full “I know thee not, old man” and 80 proof Blairite – with barely a jolt in the smooth running of the Labour Party charabanc.
He has been greatly assisted in this illusion by the Wonderful Self-Purging Corbynites, from Corbyn himself down, who have one by one excluded themselves from the Labour front bench, the parliamentary party, or the party altogether. Unlike Starmer, who put up with an affront to his principles for the sake of his ambition – and for the greater good of the party and the country, of course – they refused to bend.
This was a tactical error that some of their opponents in the party avoided. Some non-Corbynite MPs couldn’t stand it, and left the front bench. But many did not; instead they kept their heads down and waited for the moment to pass. Many party staff, members and supporters did the same. Thus, as soon as Corbyn stood down, the internal resistance was still there, ready to take over.
Thus Starmer was vindicated. He just kept going, quietly shifting his ground. The Corbyn economic programme was junked under the convention that the opposition rewrites its policy to face new circumstances; and the page was turned on antisemitism.
In the early days of Starmer’s leadership, Corbyn’s supporters would throw at him the Blairite claim that, under any leader other than Corbyn, Labour would be 20 points ahead in the opinion polls. (I don’t know who first made that claim; I don’t think it was me.) Then, as the Liz Truss government collapsed and Labour soared to an average of a 34-point lead, it was the Blairites’ turn to claim sarcastically that this wasn’t enough.
Conservatives and the more sectarian Blairites might regard Starmer’s time in Corbyn’s shadow cabinet as a compromise too far but most voters have moved on. Sunak will no doubt go on accusing Starmer of having tried to elect an anti-Nato spendthrift as prime minister, but the voters simply don’t care.
Chief political commentator