P.T. Starnum,“ Publicity? Bad! There’s no such thing.”

Keir Starmer’s Goldilocks approach to dealing with the mainstream media is lukewarm porridge, and which maniac likes lukewarm porridge?

Starmer, seen here holding an invisible microphone.

Writing about Keir Starmer has become like the qualities we’d hoped he’d embody when he became Leader of the Labour party; reliable but politically benign to the point of dullness while, for a multitude of reasons, necessary. Though I’d really like to get back to making fun of Tories, right now they’re rolling out the vaccine like a weekend dad dishing out Happy Meals to prove just how good a parent he is two days a week.

Some polls show Starmer’s approval rating is plummeting while Johnson’s increases. This could just be normal and nothing to really worry about, like balding. New leaders are like toastie makers. Very exciting to begin with, but ultimately you go back to the traditional 2-slice toaster, because who can be arsed with the effort of getting the most out of a cumbersome pile of plastic taking up too much counter space?

For the non-nerds, here Htrae, where everything is backwards and the Tories are on a path of Socialist economic reform…. hey, wait a minute!

And the Tories could always fuck it up, especially on Wednesday when the Polly Pocket Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak announces his budget which will save the UK from the Tory governance of a pandemic. One such measure is a proposed increase to corporation tax, a tax on profits companies make after expense such as wages. Just to be clear, the Tories want to increase tax on businesses. Starmer has opposed this. No one really knows when we teleported to Htrae, the Bizarro Dimension planet where everything is opposite, but here we are, deal with it.

To find an explanation we might have to revisit Jeremy Corbyn. I know, I know, but bear with me. This isn’t the “he’s just doing this because he hates our Jezza” routine that comes from so many of us on the left. Some of us are as bored with that as we are with Bake Off’s endless parade of middle-class characters rejected from the Richard Curtis extended universe.

No, Starmer’s ejection of Corbyn from the Labour party after the European Commission of Human Right investigation into antisemitism is what’s important. Putting the moral arguments aside, we can focus on the political ones. Could Starmer be viewed as a factionalist within the party? Yes, but one of the factions was making the others look like massive racists by failing to adequately apologise for racism. So long as Corbyn stayed, the antisemitism scandal was staying too. Corbyn out; problem solved. Well, not really. It’s not the same as actually dealing with the issue but as I say, we’re talking politics here, not morality.

Tactically it was a pretty smart move from Starmer; if the right-wing press (which is essentially most of the major press minus the Guardian and the BBC under certain phases of the moon) can attack Labour for a policy, a problem or a shite haircut, avoid those particular barbers.

P.T. Barnum once said, “There’s no such thing as bad publicity”. Now, Barnum actually faced his own antisemitism scandal so maybe he wasn’t entirely correct, but Starmer’s apparent tactic of wanting to avoid bad headlines at all costs, at least in the media with a real platform, not left-wing websites run by dank middle-class hipsters trying to win over their mates, means that he is becoming a political salad cream; a bizarre and less dynamic substitute that only oddballs seem to like and that others will accept but not enjoy.

Labour abstained from a few votes early in the pandemic, he said nothing substantive about Matt Hancocks breaking the law and now, although it’s disagreeing with most of the Government, he is opposing a corporate tax increase.

All of which makes some sense if you imagine all he is trying to do is avoid negative headlines. It’s the Goldilocks approach of not too much of anything and being just right. But that’s not winning the centre-ground. He’s neither too Tory to win the Tory voters, nor is he too oppositional to keep left-wing progressive voters. He’s neither love him nor hate him. He’s a three-star Just Eat review simply reading “this is food”.

To some extent you want journalists to challenge you on policy. It allows you to create a conversation and it allows the electorate to be persuaded to vote for you. There is a subtle difference between negative and bad headlines. Setting an agenda means you can’t and probably shouldn’t try to avoid them as much as Starmer does. It’s possible to have the right people hate you. I’m not an expert on Churchill but I don’t recall him being quoted as saying, “Oh, I do hope Mr Hitler isn’t too upset with our opposition to the annexing of Poland.”

Perhaps Starmer thought he could have the best of both worlds. Adopting positions on the right that no mainstream outlet would criticise him for while imagining the only thing the left wants is to hate the Tories. So that any opposition, when he momentarily remembers there should be one, would be seen as a reason to vote for him. Maybe that’s guesswork, but who knows with Starmer?

The criticism aimed at Labour used to be that people knew what they were against but not what they’re for. Starmer has doubled down, in not allowing us to know what he is against or for, Starmer is becoming a political Rorschach test. You can see what you want, only no one is seeing anything worth electing.

Perhaps Starmer will have a spine surgically grafted onto him once the lockdown is over. Y’know at a time when the Tories will be able to say they saved the nation and everyone will be too knacked from catching up from a year of not going down the pub while suffering from crowd induced anxiety to argue with them.

Come the election, when Starmer is facing Johnson or possibly the diminutive dosh dealer Sunak or, worst-case scenario, Priti Patel aka the earthly representative Kali, She Who Is Death, Queen of Sex and Violence, and the right-wing media lurches into propaganda mode, what will he do then?

Does he hope they’ll look back at this time fondly and say, “well, he didn’t rock the boat so let’s go easy on him, eh lads?”. Or will they much more likely assume that because he doesn’t stand for anything now, he’ll be unworthy to stand for anything then, especially the job of Prime Minister?

Journalist, author, comics writer and rambler. I like odd things. Comic found here www.hocuspocuscomic.com/ — Support my writing here https://ko-fi.com/rikworth

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store