Few Labour politicians have anything nice to say about Margaret Thatcher, so when Keir Starmer wrote an op-ed over the weekend praising her for bringing ‘meaningful change’ he was looking for a reaction. The left of the party obliged, calling her legacy destructive and chastising Starmer. Even some former Blairites stepped in to say the Labour leader had gone too far.
His comments were part of his ongoing pitch to win over former Tory voters who feel, as he puts it, ‘disillusioned, frustrated, angry, worried’. But for those who are trying to get a sense of Starmer and his plans for the country, his article is unlikely to have helped. Is the real Keir Starmer the one who praises Thatcher, or the one who described Jeremy Corbyn as a ‘friend’ and worked to put him into Downing Street? Is it the man who three years ago pledged to ‘defend free movement as we leave the EU’ or today’s leader, who described the last net migration figures as ‘shockingly high’? Or is he simply willing to say whatever is advantageous at any point?
The bookmakers say that Starmer has a 90 per cent chance of winning the next election. Everywhere he goes, he is treated as the next prime minister. From his appearance at COP28 in Abu Dhabi to this week’s diplomatic soiree at Buckingham Palace, people of power and influence lined up to greet him, while Tory ministers wandered around the same room unimpeded. Starmer’s succession seems certain. His agenda, less so.
The lack of clarity is creating a headache for No. 10. Its attempts to create dividing lines often end up with Labour giving the government their support or staying neutral. To avoid falling into Conservative traps, Starmer is inclined to hold a lot back until closer to the election.