My advice to “Labour Kremlinologists” is simple, says Helen Lewis in The Bluestocking: treat Keir Starmer like a stage magician. “Don’t listen to the patter, watch his hands.” Because while everything that comes out of his mouth is “soothing blah about unity and common purpose”, his actions are ruthless and pragmatic. Despite having a Jewish wife and kids, Starmer sat in Jeremy Corbyn’s shadow cabinet through countless anti-semitism scandals – giving him enough of a loyalist sheen to succeed Corbyn as Labour leader. Yet within two months of securing the job, he sacked Corbyn’s favoured successor, Rebecca Long-Bailey. A few months after that, he suspended Corbyn from the Labour Party on a mere “technicality”.
Starmer’s original shadow cabinet had “just enough nods to the left to appease them” – but now he’s promoting junior, “Blairite” officials instead. On Europe, the one-time “champion of Remain” cannily ordered his MPs to vote for Boris Johnson’s hard Brexit deal, so as to not give the Tories any political ammunition over the issue. This stuff “fritzes the brains” of commentators: we prefer figures like Ed Balls or Michael Gove, who do “politics as spectacle” and like spinning grand narratives. Unlike them, Starmer is “not one of those politicians who needs to be the main character”. And judging by the polls, this “silent ruthlessness” is serving him rather well.