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Inside politics

Keir Starmer has me “hugging my inner Tory”

Leon Neal/Getty

Last Saturday, says Matthew Parris in The Spectator, I wrote in The Times that Keir Starmer lacked the “voice or personal command” of a prime minister who will need to “knock warring heads together” in his party. Some 900 online readers commented, the overwhelming majority of whom simply “raged against the present government”, arguing “anything would be better than this”. But another observation many made was that I was “reverting to type”. That after years of fun bashing the “frozen Theresa May, the unspeakable Boris Johnson and the grotesque Liz Truss”, I had taken fright at the advancing prospect of a Labour government and was “scuttling back beneath the Tory skirts”.

Having thought a lot about that accusation, I’ve realised: “basically it’s true”. And if it’s true of me, might it not also be true of millions of other former Conservative voters who “spit blood about the mess the Tories have made”, but remain subliminally fearful of a Labour government? It’s not like 1997, when a Tony Blair premiership felt like “something you could look forward to”. With Starmer, however moderate his words, what people hear is “statist, controlling, collectivist, finger-wagging and interfering”. Both Blair and Starmer positioned themselves as centrists. The difference is that “the inner Tony” palpably liked being there – “his heart was in it”. The inner Keir “itches to throw taxpayers’ money at things” but complains it’s unaffordable. So yes, as the general election grows closer, I am reverting to type. When it comes to choosing our next government, “I shall be hugging my inner Tory close”.