James Heale James Heale

Starmer risks a backlash with his Thatcher praise

Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images

Two Telegraph stories in successive days illustrate Labour’s dilemma. Today the paper gives a favourable write-up to the party’s Australian-style scheme for AI to analyse hospital scans. It comes after the Sunday edition yesterday splashed Keir Starmer’s praise for Margaret Thatcher – a tactic they have previously deployed in the same paper to great success. Alongside warm words for Tony Blair and Clement Attlee, Starmer wrote that the Tory premier effected ‘meaningful change’ in the UK as she ‘sought to drag Britain out of its stupor by setting loose our natural entrepreneurialism.’

Both stories are positive for Labour, making use of the opposition’s relatively-few tools to try to dominate the news agenda. The key difference between the two though is the sums involved. Streeting’s vision costs money – £1 billion according to former health minister Neil O’Brien. But Starmer’s praise for Thatcher was a fiscally-free way of appealing for Tory votes, at a time when ‘there is no money left’.

The ‘cost’ of Starmer’s article instead comes in the form of a backlash from parts of the Labour party. A typical reaction was from Liverpool MP Ian Byrne, a member of the Socialist Campaign Group, who posted on Twitter/X: ‘Inequality, hunger, destitution & misery. That’s the real legacy left by Thatcher.’ Kim Johnson, who also sits for a Liverpool seat, added: ‘Margaret Thatcher did nothing for working class communities in Liverpool and across the country: destroyed industries, attacked trade unionists, privatised our core industries.’

The SNP have been quick to try to exploit a division between Labour’s Scottish and Westminster leaders, with Stephen Flynn writing an open letter to Anas Sarwar, urging him to distance himself from Starmer. It’s not just the usual critics too, with John McTernan, the former Blair advisor and vocal supporter of much of Starmer’s agenda, opining in the Guardian that the move ‘wins over no wavering voters but risks losing the goodwill of a wide range of his supporters, old and new.

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