Keir Starmer has to be one of the most underrated politicians of his generation, says Janan Ganesh in the FT. The Labour leader is on course to become only the third person in 44 years – after Tony Blair and David Cameron – to take over as prime minister by winning a general election. And even that “understates the achievement”. Blair and Cameron inherited parties that were already in good shape; when Starmer replaced Jeremy Corbyn in 2020, Labour was “on a plausible course to extinction”, 22 points behind the Tories. He remained a “joke figure” well into 2021.
His critics claim he has been lucky. “Come on.” The first 18 months of his leadership were lost to a pandemic that made the opposition party irrelevant. And while he was certainly helped by Liz Truss immolating the Tories’ reputation for economic management, he had already built up a double-digit poll lead by then. The other big criticism is that he lacks a clear vision for Britain. But that’s a charge levelled at all incoming premiers – even Tony Blair back in 1997. (“Come this way for a vague new world,” said one representative headline). Besides, this country’s finances aren’t up to the sort of grand plans people want him to set out. Disappointment in him is “a sublimation of disappointment with Britain”. Whether Starmer should be prime minister is a different question. The fact that he’s in contention at all is “up there with Brexit, Donald Trump and the rise of Emmanuel Macron as the democratic feat of the past decade”.