Sir Keir Starmer is getting an awful lot of favourable press at the moment, often in places where one might least expect praise for a soft-left Labour leader.
The commentariat is delighted with him on a number of counts.
First, that he is not Jeremy Corbyn. Second that he purged most (although by no means all) of the lunatics from the opposition front bench. Third, that he is polite and forensic at PMQs. The commentariat rather likes polite and forensic. And fourth, he does not quite seem to actually hate Tories and consider them subhuman. All well and good, then.
But none of this is translating into a visible rise in the opinion polls for his party. Indeed, Labour has been polling slightly below the level at which it rested at the end of the 2019 general election campaign, which was not a notable success for the party. In recent polls Labour has been 16-20 percent behind the Tories with some outliers putting the gap at 26 per cent. Much though the commentariat might like him, then, Starmer has not yet revived his party, even slightly, in the mind of the electorate.
There are plenty of caveats. These are very strange times and the daily cut and thrust of politics is both absent and an irrelevance to most people. He has not been in the job very long and for obvious reasons not been afforded much of a platform to lay out his vision, if he has one. A recent YouGov poll asked how he was performing as leader and the biggest tranche by a mile was those who answered “don’t know” – 44 per cent. “Don’t know – would you run that name by me again please?” That is only partly down to Starmer.
But be all that as it may, is it possible that our elite is once again wrong about the qualities which appeal to ordinary voters? There was a certain populist edge to the Corbyn-McDonnell Party, much of which – on the economic side – was rather attractive to working class voters.
Starmer is incapable of populism. He’s a conventional, establishment, liberal, centrist. And capable as he may be, I’m not convinced that it is a position from which to win votes.
A long way to go before the next election, I grant you. But I suspect the commentariat is overstating Starmer’s appeal.