Sam Leith Sam Leith

Keir Starmer’s essay is a cliché-ridden disaster

(Photo: Getty)

Many years ago, a tabloid newspaper played an unkind prank on the author of a very long and much talked-about literary novel. They sent a reporter to various bookshops to place a slip of paper into copies of the book 50 pages or so from the end. The slip said that if you phoned a particular phone number, the newspaper would pay you a fiver. Gleefully, some weeks later, they reported that nobody had telephoned to collect their prize – from which they deduced that despite its sales figures, practically nobody was actually reading the book to the end.

About halfway through reading Keir Starmer’s new pamphlet for the Fabian Society – The Road Ahead – I wondered idly whether a similar prank had been played. Somewhere in italic type, halfway through a paragraph on the penultimate page, perhaps there was a message: ‘The first person to call 1-800-KEIR gets to be Shadow Home Secretary.’ It’s the only explanation – that the document is a loyalty test aimed at a very small handful of close advisers – that I could see for such a thing to be published.



The essence of political communication is getting your message across to voters. Who on earth does Mr Starmer expect to read 12,000 words on his political vision? We live, as he will recognise, in an attention economy – where the hour or two he asks of his readers is in competition with, among other things, catching up with Vigil on iPlayer, going for a healthful country walk, or watching the old Farrow and Ball mouse-grey mellow in colour as it dries on your living-room wall.



The only people liable to read this pamphlet are people who obsessively love Keir Starmer, who won’t be persuaded by it, or people who obsessively hate Keir Starmer, who also won’t be persuaded by it.

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