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British politics

Starmer’s success is down to luck, not skill

Christopher Furlong/Getty

The journalist Helen Lewis has been gushing about Keir Starmer’s “quiet, winning ruthlessness”, says Harry Lambert in The New Statesman. She seems to think his “pivots, lever-pulling and intentional vagueness” make him some sort of political mastermind. It’s an attractive argument – but it’s wrong. Only 18 months ago, Tony Blair was disparaging Starmer for lacking a “compelling economic message” and being walked over by the “woke left”, arguing the party needed “total deconstruction and reconstruction”. Back then, of course, Labour trailed the Tories by 10 points in the polls; now it leads by more than 20. But that’s no thanks to Starmer, who is yet to address any of the problems Blair outlined.

The Labour leader’s success owes more to “Tory self-immolation” – three PMs and four chancellors in a year – than skill on his part. If it weren’t for this, the narrative would be totally different: Starmer’s obsession with weeding out Labour’s internal foes would be considered “myopic”; his lack of any totemic policies “would not be praised as discipline but derided as hesitancy”; his awkwardness on camera would be portrayed as a “perhaps insurmountable” problem. Sure, he has succeeded in “not failing in the face of victory”. But Rishi Sunak need not call an election for two years – plenty of time for another shift in fortunes. Starmer has been lucky, “and his luck could yet change”.