Presenting... Judge Dreads Upsetting The Right-Wing Press: On Keir Starmer sucking up to The Daily Telegraph

Go on, Keir, get a Union Flag tattooed on your face.

Since he became leader of the Labour Party (and Britain’s premier awkward mannequin impersonator) Keir Starmer has written for The Daily Telegraph five times. He’s also contributed op-eds to The Mail on Sunday three times. And he’s written for The Guardian… twice.

Yesterday, he gave the Telegraph yet another exclusive as he undertakes his third or possibly fourth soft relaunch since succeeding Jeremy Corbyn as the right’s favourite punchbag.

Under the headline Exclusive: Covid vaccine passports would be un-British, says Sir Keir Starmer, the Labour leader offers a sickly cocktail of cop-boasting, flag-waving, and his trademark aggressive fence-sitting.

Supporters of Starmer argue that he has to talk to The Telegraph because he cannot ‘ignore’ their readers. But the chance of a significant number of those who consume Britain’s top Tory fanzine voting for the Labour Party is less than zero. After all, Boris Johnson is a former Telegraph columnist and will return to it once he’s done with the much less profitable post of being Prime Minister.

If the Starmer strategy is not to lure Telegraph readers into his tarpit of tedious technocratic solutions, it’s to signal to ‘floating’ voters that he’s not some wild commie infiltrator. Look! There he is looking ‘competent’ in pictures taken by The Telegraph to emphasise his abject inability to stand in a room without looking like a sculpture made of out-of-date ham and ripped up legal textbooks.

The Telegraph interview opens with a focus on ‘vaccine passports’ and Starmer uses his now-familiar tactic of attempting to appear more ‘patriotic’ than Boris Johnson. Presumably in full Union Flag face paint and showing the interviewer his box-fresh British Bulldog y-fronts, Starmer is quoted as saying vaccine passports would be against “the British instinct” (also the name of his favoured deodorant) and continues:

My instinct is that, as the vaccine is rolled out, as the number of hospital admissions and deaths go down, there will be a British sense that we don't actually want to go down this road.

But later in the interview, he adds:

I think this is really difficult and I'm not going to pretend there's a clear black and white, yes-no easy answer on this. It is extremely difficult

So far, so equivocating — leaving every possibility that when the government proposes vaccine passports, Labour will still get in line and mutter their usual canards about “the national interest”.

With the ‘vaccine passport’ question out of the way, Starmer gets onto the topic he’s really aching to talk about: Crime. And being tough on the causes of said crime. ‘You know, like that Tony guy you all used to like during Britpop.’

Ben Riley-Smith, The Daily Telegraph’s Political Editor, writes:

During his interview, Sir Keir also attempted to reposition Labour on crime and policing, stressing that it has not been "strong" enough on the issue in recent years. He called for tougher sentences for people who assault key pandemic workers such as shop staff and a lower bar for when police officers should investigate persistent antisocial behaviour.

As with the decision to put himself forward for interrogation by The Telegraph, Starmer’s policy proposals in the interview are all about symbolism rather than reality. He’ll be ‘tough’ on crime, he says, because the previous leadership were not, ignoring entirely that Corbyn’s Labour called for 10,000 additional police officers and consistently attacked the Conservatives for attempting to “keep the public safe on the cheap.”

But any good tribute act knows you’ve got to play the hits, so Starmer’s shaky take on Tony Blair has to include an obsession with ‘antisocial behaviour’ and promises to be strong and tough. He’s hoping that 90s kids will get a lovely nostalgic kick from remembering ASBOs, just like children of the 70s can’t stop going on about Spangles.

The interview was conducted in a room at Leeds United’s Elland Road ground, because Starmer is a bloody bloke, yeah? It’s the same instinct that led Labour’s social media elves to tweet pictures of him playing five-a-side earlier this week. Yeah, you might think he’s a la-di-da lawyer, but there’s nothing he loves more than running around and giving some bloke a clump. Tough on tackles, tough on the cause of tackling.

What Starmer thinks is his ‘killer’ line came when he turned to attack Johnson directly. He believes pointing to his record as Director of Public Prosecutions will make the public trust him:

Whilst Boris Johnson was writing columns for newspapers, I was actually prosecuting terrorists, sex offenders, and serious criminals, and therefore dealing with these issues is in my DNA.

He’s so proud of the quote that Labour has also tweeted it. But there’s a problem with this strategy too. While Boris Johnson’s terrible Telegraph columns are either priced in or prized by voters depending on their level of dickheadedness, Starmer’s five years as DPP provides a deep back catalogue of controversial decisions that the Tories can thrust back into the spotlight.

Starmer likes to point to Operation Overt, which saw him prosecuting the terrorists who tried to blow up planes over the Atlantic, as he does in The Telegraph interview.

But other issues including Starmer’s complicity in attempts to extradite Gary McKinnon to the US (which was stopped by Theresa May of all people), his alleged central role in pushing the ludicrous ‘Twitter Joke Trial’, his decision not to prosecute the police officer linked to the death of Ian Tomlinson or the officers who shot Jean-Charles de Menezes, and his handling of the Jimmy Saville sexual abuse scandal, are more likely to re-examined at the next election.

Starmer fails to support his own Shadow Chancellor convincingly (“Look, Annelise is doing a really good job. And she, like the rest of the shadow team, are out there and we all want to make the argument on behalf of the Labour Party…”) and falls into The Telegraph’s trap of discussing former leader Jeremy Corbyn.

The piece ends not on a discussion of Starmer’s view on ‘vaccine passports’ or his ‘tough on crime, like really, really tough’ rhetoric, but on when he last spoke to Jeremy Corbyn:

What is clearer is who will not be on the Starmer bandwagon. Asked when was the last time he talked to Mr Corbyn, Sir Keir said it was the night before the report on anti-Semitism in Labour came out. That report, which led to Mr Corbyn's suspension from the Labour Party, was published last October. Put another way, the pair have not talked for five months.

And did chucking some red meat into the piranha pit win Starmer even one day of good press from The Telegraph? Nope. In the hours after it published the interview, the paper pushed out a video lambasting the Labour leader’s first year in the job and a critical comment piece by Spectator editor and Britain’s top racist excuser Fraser Nelson under the headline Keir Starmer is acting like a Tory superfan, robbing Britain of a real Opposition. Oh no, Keir, it turns out all that tough on crime talk just didn’t ‘cut through’ to people who will always vote Conservative anyway.

Nelson writes:

Rather than expose flaws in Government thinking, Starmer has behaved like a Tory superfan – trying to work out where Boris Johnson will go next, then rushing to get there before anyone else. On the big issues, he has been more factotum than foe. Does the Prime Minister want to extend his emergency powers for another six months? Even when there is no longer an emergency? Very good, sir. Count on my vote. Problems with rebellious Tory backbenchers? Don’t worry, Labour MPs are right behind you.

If Starmer really were opposed to vaccine identity cards – or “passports”, to adopt the official euphemism – he could vote them down. There are enough Tory rebels to defeat the Government on this. But after telling this newspaper yesterday that vaccine passports were against “the British instinct”, his aides then rushed to explain that this didn’t mean he actually opposes them. His official position is that at some point, months down the road, when all adults have been vaccinated, health identity cards might seem like overkill.

Once again, Starmer’s strategy is shown for the pointless pandering that it is. He tries time and time again to squeakily assert that he’s tougher and more patriotic than the Tories, poorly parking his Toyota outside their houses rather than rolling his tanks onto their lawns. He makes it ludicrously easily for commentators like Nelson to present his tactics as tedious, transparent, and totally desperate.

Grab your copy of the ‘Worst Person You Know Just Made A Good Point’ meme, because Nelson to go there. He ends his column by saying:

It’s all quite depressing. Starmer might think he’s rising above party political games but he does no one a service by refusing to scrutinise Government ideas or look at the bigger picture… Tony Blair spoke of “triangulation” between Left and Right. Starmer’s triangulation seems to be between what the Tories are doing now and what he thinks they’ll do next. This doesn’t position him as having good judgment or a clear set of principles. Judging by the opinion polls, voters are beginning to notice.

I wonder if Starmer still thinks striding around a conference room at Leeds, trying to look like the big man for a Telegraph hack was worth it. I expect he’ll be back in its pages next week with an exciting new policy to turn things around. The return of patriotic British flogging maybe? Or hanging for people who don’t behave properly in Waitrose?