Do you need to be ruthless or a ‘nutter’ to become British prime minister? No, says Britain’s leader of the Opposition.22 February 2021
Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer has hit back at critics who say he lacks the hard-man qualities needed to become Britain’s prime minister. He also attacked politicians and journalists who he says have already been proved wrong about him.
Speaking by zoom to a group situated inside his parliamentary constituency, Sir Keir said voters don’t want ‘drama and a bit of a nutter in charge ‘. Instead, he drew strength from the examples of his own father and mother.
‘My dad was a toolmaker, worked in a factory all his life, and my mother was a nurse,’ Starmer said. ‘They didn’t want drama and a bit of a nutter in charge.
‘They wanted [as the country’s leader] someone who understood their lives, understood what would improve their lives and the lives of their children and was honest, had integrity and would lead from the front.
‘I don’t subscribe to the theory that if you’re not a bit of a nutter you’re not the right person to lead this country. And if I was to list the values I want to see in a leader, ruthlessness would not be the top value by a long shot.’
He pointed out that had ‘not shirked’ taking some tough decisions in his first year as Labour leader — an apparent reference to suspending his predecessor Jeremy Corbin and the way he dealt with Corbin’s main hard-left supporter, Rebecca Long-Bailey.
In a thinly-veiled attack on his critics, Starmer went on: ‘There are many people in politics and in journalism who absolutely know everything, and there is no question to which they do not know the answer, and have said with great certainty that I wouldn’t be able to win the Labour leadership. They listed the reasons why not.
‘But here we are, with me leader of the Labour party, and I hope you’ll invite me back in 2024 if we’ve won that election so I can fully refute it.’
SUMMARY OF OTHER POINTS:
+ He also explained how, erroneously, many thought the whole Labour Party would collapse altogether after its defeat in last elections
+ He talked about why it’s so difficult to make inroads in voting intentions while the country has a national Covid crisis… and
+ He discussed his party’s tactics in when to go along with government policy and when to attack… and
+ He said Labour will not call for a new EU referendum even when it wins power.
TRANSCRIPT OF A KEY ANSWER:
Q: Are you too nice to win in politics?
I’ve read these things, that: what we need is more drama. A Guardian writer wrote last week that the British public want a bit of a ‘nuttering charge’.
When I hear that I think of my mum and dad. My dad was a toolmaker, worked in a factory all his life, and my mother was a nurse. They didn’t want drama and a bit of a nutter in charge, they wanted someone who understood their lives, understood what would improve their lives and the lives of their children and was honest, had integrity and would lead from the front.
I don’t subscribe to the theory that if you’re not a bit of a nutter you’re not the right person to lead this country. And if I was to list the values I want to see in a leader, ruthlessness would not be the top value by a long, long stretch. That’s not to say that there are not difficult decisions to make, And I’ve had to make difficult decisions to make … and I haven’t shirked those decisions in my first year as Labour leader.
I would look at it differently. I would look at it through the eyes of my mum and dad, cheer myself up by [remembering my mother and father] and reminding myself that just over a year ago in the Labour Party leadership race people were saying very similar things: he’ll never be able to win the leadership because of this, that and the other.
And there are many people in politics and in journalism who absolutely know everything, and there is no question to which they do not know the answer, and have said with great certainty that I wouldn’t be able to win the Labour leadership and they listed the reasons why not. But here we are, with me leader of the Labour party, and I hope you’ll invite me back in 2024 if we’ve won that election so I can fully refute it.
In case you’re confused by what it means politically to be a nutter, here’s what the Guardian article said — to which Sir Keir took great exception…
Britons want a bit of drama from their leaders – and Keir Starmer isn’t serving it
The lawyerly Labour leader may think the public want calm and competence, but has he met them lately?
Fri 5 Feb 2021
Like all desperate thrill-seekers in this interminable lockdown, I was momentarily stirred to hear there were some handbags between Boris Johnson and Keir Starmer in one of parliament’s corridors after prime minister’s questions on Wednesday. Yes! Action! I briefly imagined the lightning exchange of cash bets as watching MPs behaved much like the hyped-up midnight crowd in one of those underground Chinese insect-fighting contests.
According to some reports, the Labour leader was “puce” and “rattled” when he confronted Johnson for accusing him of having called for the UK not to leave the European Medicines Agency. Alas, subsequent accounts featured a Labour MP denying he had had to hold Starmer back – and in any case by that stage the Labour leader had formally apologised for wrongly thinking that Johnson had claimed he had wanted to join the EU vaccine programme.
Ah well. I guess it’s fitting that the Labour leader has finally mildly lost his rag in a misunderstanding over the European Medicines Agency and the EU’s vaccine programme. And no doubt he ran the full gamut of emotions from shirty to tetchy. Unfortunately, the fact Starmer had to apologise for having been the one in the muddle guarantees he won’t take such a sensationally daring risk ever again.
All of which brings us to the question: where is the British public at with Keir Starmer? Speaking for myself, I would say that I definitely get he can give sober and detailed university lectures in archaeology. But what most of the movie needs to be, if enough people are going to watch it, is him successfully outrunning a massive boulder hurtling down the tunnel after him. Can he outrun a boulder?
As always in the Labour party, any leading man – it’s always a man – has to deal with a lot of poison darts being blown at them by their own side. Thus this week there has been much ranting that Starmer’s Labour is planning to do one of those many political phrases I never understand, and “wrap itself in the flag”. I’d rather it attached itself to some jump leads, but there you go.
Whether Labour’s so-called flag-and-family strategy will work, or even happen, remains to be seen. Either way, Starmer has a tendency to feel like the embodiment of the famously passionless, lawyerly answer Michael Dukakis gave in a 1988 US presidential debate when asked if he’d support the death penalty if his wife Kitty were raped and murdered. Though everyone knew he was against the death penalty, Dukakis’s response was immediately held to be so emotionless as to have finished his campaign there and then. I keep wondering if Starmer comes across as another version of that answer.
After all, if the past few years have taught us anything … wait, if the past few decades have taught us anything … come to that, if a simple trip on the Friday night bus has taught us anything, it is this: Britain is a majority-nutter nation, and we mostly want to elect politicians with something of the nutter to them. Sorry, but that’s the reality.
As a voting body, our longest electoral affections have been reserved for the very biggest nutters. Thatcher and Blair: obvious nutters. Fast-forward to the present day, and Johnson. Nutter. The message of the 2016 referendum was the euphoric nutting of David Cameron (non-nutter). In fact, let me go out on a limb here and posit that the reason Jeremy Corbyn – full nutter – did better than expected against useless anti-nutter Theresa May in 2017 was simply because he WAS full nutter, and the electorate was at some level strangely drawn to that.
Corbyn was always going to fall short, of course, because he was the wrong kind of nutter. He was not a kindred nutter. As for May, her campaign’s obsession with control, competence and the avoidance of risk was anathema. She parked the bus (sometimes literally, at campaign events held in empty hangars). Nobody wants to watch that. Certainly, not enough did to prevent the result sealing her eventual fate down the line.
The worry for Labour is that, in its own way, watching Starmer is just like watching May, or maybe José Mourinho without the eye-gouging. Labour’s shadow cabinet feels like a back six, or even a back eight. In fact, everyone on the pitch always seems to be tracking back. It’s worth bearing in mind that the default preferred metric by which the England football side will always be judged by the fans is: did they play with enough passion? Did they play on even as their head bandage seeped with blood? Do they understand what it “means” to pull on “the shirt”?
Given all that, it’s hard to surrender fully to Keir Starmer’s apparent conviction that what the Great British PublicTMare crying out for is calmness and competence, even if that’s what we collectively tell the pollsters. I mean, we tell the doctors we drink 14 units a week.
Arguably, then, the riskiest position of all is this conviction that a technocratic dream of adequacy rocks the UK’s electoral boat. It’s certainly pretty to think so. But hand on heart, I suspect that even when the nutter of the day has cocked it up, what the nutter-addicted people are always really crying out for is just another nutter, a different nutter, a new nutter to bathe us in nostalgia for whichever previous nutters we currently yearn for. The dopamine-mainlining era of social media has only turbocharged this. We now demand 20 nutters a news cycle – and get 40.