If you keep track of British politics, you’ll know about the tragedy of Keir Starmer. The devastating loss of Hartlepool and mediocre performance in the local elections came after a year of Tory sleaze, incompetence, and fascistic governance – not to mention 150,000 covid deaths. Starmer could, and should, have done better. Yet whilst there is naturally much more to this story, the general public doesn’t have much of an appetite for nuance nowadays. So, it’s with this unfavourable image behind him that Starmer set foot onto the set of Piers Morgan’s Life Stories to get interviewed by the infamous bull of contemporary outrage culture.
Throughout the programme it’s clear that there are – of course – overtly political aims with Starmer’s appearance, and the show itself is designed to be soft on the interviewee. The show fluctuated between Starmer’s interview and clips of his friends appraising him. Labour wanted to show us that he was a mammal and ITV provided. He came across as genuine, intelligent, and sensitive. He also demonstrated a lot of the much-needed backbone that Labour seems to increasingly be lacking.
It’s clear that Keir Starmer didn’t appear on the programme because he’s a fan of the show. Many decry his lack of personality, his robotic tones, his ‘southern-ness’ or middle class, cosmopolitan London-centrism. It’s hard to work yourself into a fiery activist passion for Starmer the way that thousands did for Corbyn, despite the former’s good looks and suave polish. A big part of Starmer’s tragedy is that he doesn’t inspire hatred (unless you are a rabid Momentum supporter) but he also doesn’t inspire the iconography or adulation that nearly propelled Corbyn to victory in 2017. Starmer’s role in Labour’s 2019 defeat, and now his apparent failure to recover quickly, has caused many to question whether Labour will even have another crack at government. Based on the polls, things won’t change any time soon.
At risk of sounding like a centrist, Labour ultimately has to transcend such binary ideas of the party being divided between left and right.
Whether TV and social media are the right stages upon which Labour should establish the cult of Keir is a complicated question. Certainly, Starmer’s appearance with Piers Morgan might precipitate the historically predictable swing to the right that so many Labour leaders make. Things are already a bit dire on that front, sadly.
But future of Labour aside, the interview did help me see Starmer for the person he really is. I genuinely think he is a decent human, unlike many politicians, both left and right, who grace the stuffy corridors of Parliament. We can critique him, of course, but many do so in such a way that it is not only unconstructive but toxic and divisive. If Labour really is to rebuild, those within it must contemplate the history of bitter division that has characterised the party for so long.
And you know what, the interview was a great, emotional watch.
At risk of sounding like a centrist, Labour ultimately has to transcend such binary ideas of the party being divided between left and right. This is a task that a pandemic-level crisis should certainly inspire, although the interview didn’t reveal that much. Perhaps, though, this interview is the start of something which could, in ten years’ time, be held sacrosanct in Labour history. Starmer’s candour and genuine desire to become PM might be the best direction to begin undertaking the much-needed soul searching that Labour clearly needs to do. Seeing him talk to Piers Morgan revealed a bit about the man who could either save or sink the Labour party in the coming years.
Whether Piers Morgan was the best person for Keir Starmer be getting matey with is questionable. It’s a shame that he must cater to such a man. But outrage must be withheld. Keir Starmer is towing a precarious line: Morgan can summon a lot of weight and influence in the right-wing media, and the tone of the interview was certainly a promising one. Keir maintained a strong resolution throughout, especially during the somewhat iconic moment when Piers tried to make him admit to doing drugs at university.
After this interview it’s clear what sets Keir apart: he’s not superficial.
Starmer’s many political faults were not solved by the interview, but it definitely set a positive tone for a leadership that has many struggles ahead. Labour needs to think big – its life depends on it. The Labour message is one that can apply to many in Morgan’s fanbase, but it has been distorted by a generation of Labour politicians and supporters who are perhaps too distanced from reality and socialist theory to have a definite grasp of things.
You know what, the interview was a great, emotional watch. Few other politicians would have faced such interrogation about their relationship with their parents, but it was deeply endearing to hear Starmer talk about this. He should certainly be vindicated for his supposed middle-class upbringing, but sadly many in Labour also lack a desire for nuance. Given his status now, Keir Starmer might not be suitable to speak for the working class but he can speak with them. His background is certainly a world away from many in the Old Labour hierarchy.
After this interview it’s clear what sets Keir apart: he’s not superficial. In a world of politicians who rely on some form of gimmick, whether that be Twitter, hasty and well-publicised activism, or being completely ignorant, he’s one of few who subtly stand out. Sadly, this has cost him heavily. His suffering in the polls is in part proof of how toxic our heavily commercialised media-political system has become. The interview will pale in comparison to the upheaval the UK and Labour are yet to experience. But at the very least, it has allowed Starmer to talk in tones less immediately mediated by the rigors of Parliament or the media. Maybe I’ll give this show more of a chance in the future.