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27 July 2023

How should Labour deal with Nigel Farage?

Rachel Reeves and Keir Starmer have been heading in different directions.

By Freddie Hayward

How does Labour handle someone like Nigel Farage? There are two key strands of thought.

The first is championed by the shadow chancellor, Rachel Reeves. In an interview with Channel 4, the former Bank of England economist defended Alison Rose, NatWest’s chief executive, against Farage’s campaign by saying that Rose was being bullied because she is a rare female leader of a large bank. Banker to banker, Reeves said: “I don’t like some of the, frankly, what I see as bullying attitudes towards her. She’s the first female chief executive of NatWest. She took over at a time when that bank had real big problems. It seems to me that Alison Rose has done a good job turning that bank around.”

The implication here is that Rose should not be held to a certain standard because she is a woman and because she’s been bullied. Labour sources argue the comments were made before Rose admitted she was the source of the BBC story that claimed Coutts had decided to close Farage’s bank account for purely commercial reasons. But why would that change whether Reeves thought Rose was being bullied? In any case, Reeves has missed Labour’s unwritten house memo to avoid identity politics.

Keir Starmer, however, is in Nigel Farage’s camp. The second-referendum supporter and campaigner for Brexit, respectively, must have let bygones be bygones. With his attuned sense of public opinion and political scandal, Starmer has now said he feels sorry for Farage, adding: “I certainly don’t think anybody should be refused banking services because of their political views, whoever they are.”

This is quite the contrast between Labour’s two leading figures. It’s not all that surprising they should have different opinions. In many ways, it should be welcomed. That, at least, is how party insiders want to frame it. As one Labour source said: “Rachel doesn’t need Keir’s permission to express her view.” (Let me know whether you think that applies to other shadow cabinet members.)

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But how would Reeves have responded had Rose not been a woman and had it not been Nigel Farage? Principles should not change when applied to someone distasteful.

This piece first appeared in the Morning Call newsletter; subscribe to it on Substack here.

[See also: Nigel Farage inadvertently makes the case for GDPR]

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