I hate harping on the guy, I really do. Unlike when I point out when Jeremy Corbyn has done something daft, I really don’t enjoy it when I have to take the member of parliament for Holborn and St Pancras to task for a silly move. But Starmer leaves me no choice this week.
After Farron managed to get onto the front of the Guardian following Labour’s terrible moves of late on Brexit, Starmer felt he had to take to the offensive against the Lib Dems. I get that – but you have to wonder it he stopped to think for a moment before saying the likes of this:
“I don’t think any party that wants to govern the UK can proceed on the basis that it will only speak to or seek to represent only half of the population.”
Wow, that is a bad quote. I could write 15,000 on why it sucks – I’ll keep it under a couple hundred for brevity’s sake. One: is “a party that wants to govern the UK” really such a great quality for a Labour shadow minister to assign to the Liberal Democrats? Keir, the Libs main line is that they are the true opposition – talking that up from your end isn’t great politics, mate.
But that’s just the start of it. Starmer is saying that a party that seeks to represent “only half the population” cannot “proceed”? Let’s push to one side what “proceed” means in that sentence and assume that what Starmer meant was no party can seriously look to get a majority in the House of Commons on the basis of half the population only. The highest percentage of popular vote ever achieved by a party in Britain, ever, was in Labour in 1951 when they got 48.8% of all available votes. Thus, just to be clear, if you got half the votes in the country you would achieve the highest percentage of the popular vote in British history. Blair only got 43% of the vote in 1997 and was rewarded with a working majority of 176.
Putting aside the psephological problems, the whole idea of politics as it has been structured since at least the middle of the 19th century has been about speaking to one half of the population only. Whether that was the working classes over the middle classes, left v right, liberal v conservative, the essence of politics is to take a position that can get around half of everyone to agree with you very strongly. Trying to make everyone happy in politics never works – you just end up in a “soggy middle” pleasing no one. If Keir Starmer wants a great example of this, he should look no further than his own party’s approach to Brexit at present.
It gets worse as well. Another choice quote from Starmer’s interview with the Guardian:
“We have two-thirds of our MPs in heavily leave areas, and one-third in heavily remain areas, we have a foot in both camps and that is a good thing – it means we can speak to both.”
No, it means you’re screwed, Keir. But that doesn’t mean you have to go down without a fight. As it stands, if someone told me he had made a secret pact to join the Lib Dems in six months but would stick around a while to apply a scorched earth policy, at least that would make sense of Starmer’s behaviour this week.