One common criticism of Keir Starmer is that he lacks ambition, says Rafael Behr in The Guardian. Where are the big ideas? The bold policies needed to restore the country’s fortunes? The usual rejoinder – why drag attention away from the Tories when they’re constantly imploding? – is a good one. But there’s another, more important factor: ordinary voters are tired of grand political promises. After Boris Johnson and Liz Truss, they’re deeply sceptical of “anything that looks like an undeliverable promise and anyone who claims to have quick-fix solutions”. This “monumental disaffection”, seen on the ground by Labour and Tory candidates alike, is resistant to the “visionary stump speeches” Starmer’s critics so desperately want him to make.
The best way to understand the Labour leader is to look at his five years as Director of Public Prosecutions. Given how many “fissile issues” come across a DPP’s desk, what’s noticeable is the absence of scandal. The Tories have desperately tried to conjure one up, involving Jimmy Savile, but to no avail. Starmer “crossed a minefield unscathed”. And the reason he managed that is because, as he explained in 2013, he always prioritised the “evidence test” – what were the chances of securing a conviction? – over public or political pressure to act. In other words, “prosecute when you know you can win and not just because people are demanding that something be done”. Politics is a different beast: leaders rarely get time for “meticulous evaluation of evidence”. But for a country exhausted by political chaos, Starmer’s softly-softly approach “appears to be working”.