Two townhouses in Bloomsbury “explain everything” about politics today, says Patrick Maguire in The Times. In 1990, a young Keir Starmer worked late into weeknights at his 54 Doughty Street chambers, on a mission to “defend the defenceless” and to “change the law and the state” for the better. Nine years later, Boris Johnson arrived at number 56 to edit The Spectator. Did the thirtysomething Starmer hear the sound of smashing glasses from two gardens down? Did he pass Boris shambling down the street? “Johnson and I really loathed each other,” he has said. And perhaps it all started there, in those two houses on Doughty Street, each with its own vision of what Britain “ought to be”. The irony now is that Starmer may be the only person who can save Johnson’s legacy.
What you need to know about the Labour leader, says a friend, is that he’s “working class, from an unfashionable town”. He got to where he is through “talent, chippiness and sheer, bloody hard work”. People like Boris, whose privilege means they can afford to be “lazy, arrogant, entitled, wasteful”, are an affront to him. But for all the “righteous indignation”, Starmer is doing an awful lot to mimic Johnson’s most popular policies. The 2019 promise to “borrow to invest in infrastructure, to reindustrialise and reform the planning system” is all back in vogue, but this time for Labour. As one of Starmer’s closest aides put it to me last week: “which party’s manifesto will look most like the… 2019 Tory offer? It’s ours.”
📚🤥 Johnson has always been a “skilled deceiver”, says Matthew Syed in The Sunday Times. In his book Chums, Simon Kuper tells of a formative moment at Balliol College, Oxford, when “good old Boris” was caught copying a translation straight out of a textbook. “I’ve been so busy,” he told his tutor apologetically, “I just didn’t have time to put in the mistakes.” One is reminded of Evelyn Waugh’s observation in Brideshead Revisited: “Those that have charm don’t really need brains.”