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Is Keir Starmer’s political project working?

The Labour leader has done a better job of transforming opinions of himself than of his party. 

By Stephen Bush

Keir Starmer survived his debut on his monthly LBC phone-in programme Call Keir. He condemned Labour MP Barry Gardiner for breaking social distancing at a Black Lives Matter protest, and talked about the need to forge a cross-party consensus on criminal justice reform.  

On the talking point of the day – the pulling down of the statue of a slave trader, Edward Colston, by protestors in Bristol – Starmer went for a line not a thousand miles away from that favoured by the policing minister, Kit Malthouse: the statue should have been taken down and put in a museum long ago, and police made the right decision on not intervening as that could have caused harm to both protestors and the police, but pulling the statue down was not the right way to achieve its dismantlement – which should have been done democratically. 

A good day in the office in relation to Starmer’s big political project: to introduce himself to as many voters as possible as a constructive, experienced guy who just wants to make Labour good again, and is terribly, terribly pained at having to point out whenever the government is doing things badly.

The biggest example of that today was the Labour leader saying he would vote to support the government’s quarantine proposals, because while they weren’t tough or effective enough, the only way to get anything done with these jokers was to vote for their half-measures. He didn’t quite put it that way, but that was the message he was sending. 

Is it working? Well, if the polls are right, Starmer is drawing level or exceeding Boris Johnson as far as leadership approval is concerned – albeit with far higher levels of don’t knows than the Prime Minister. There are two big known unknowns. The first is whether or not the big group of voters who have not heard of Starmer take to him at the same rate as those who have. The second is that, thus far, Starmer has done a much better job of transforming opinions of himself than of the party he leads – and his ability to repair Labour’s image and standing may ultimately be as important, if not more important, than perceptions of its new leader.

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