Patrick O’Flynn Patrick O’Flynn

Keir Starmer says it best when he says nothing at all

Credit: Getty images

There is a modern country music standard called ‘When You Say Nothing At All’. The song, taken to the top of the UK pop charts by the Irish singer Ronan Keating a quarter of a century ago, is a treatise on the power of non-verbal communication. The central ‘hook’ line involves someone telling their lover: ‘You say it best when you say nothing at all.’ That sentiment came to mind in an altogether less romantic context on Thursday, as I was listening to radio news reports of Keir Starmer’s opening salvos in this crucial year in politics while on a long drive. After a couple of weeks of blessed Christmas relief, there was that strangulated, robotic voice once again uttering the most plodding, boilerplate political prose: ‘Bringing people together…the common good…meet fire with fire’ etc.

Starmer has profited from the Tories devising innovative new ways of seeming ever more repellent to the electorate

When asked to think on his feet by responding to Rishi Sunak’s heavy hint that there would be no election before the autumn, the best Starmer could come up with was an accusation that the Prime Minister was ‘squatting in Downing Street’. Given that the Tories won a full five-year term in December 2019 this was obviously nonsense. A more fluent performer would have reached for the ‘running scared’ soundbite and added a topical garnish – even Lib Dem leader Ed Davey managed that.

Labour members might have hoped when electing a former high-powered barrister for party leader that one thing they could at least be sure of would be a powerful and persuasive orator front of house. But the contrast with, for example, the booming baritone and lyrical imaginative lilt of Geoffrey Cox KC MP in full flow could hardly be more marked.

So, might having a leader of the opposition with a severely off-putting voice, no gift for a phrase and no antennae for the public mood yet prove a crucial factor in the outcome of the next general election? The fact that Labour high-ups are reportedly preparing to keep Starmer out of TV debates against Sunak – who himself often comes across as more akin to the sensible sixth-former in The Inbetweeners than a great statesman – suggests that this is a live concern for them.

It is often said that governments lose elections rather than oppositions winning them and Starmer has certainly profited from standing back while the Tories devise innovative new ways of seeming ever more repellent to the electorate.

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