Red wall voters see Keir Starmer as ‘Mr Man-on-the-fence’

Your digest of analysis and commentary from the British and international press

Keir Starmer
(Image credit: Christopher Furlong/Getty Images)

1. Labour isn’t the party it pretends to be

Daniel Finkelstein in The Times

on political authenticity

“No politician can be anything other than themselves for long. They just look phoney, pointless, dull or too obviously calculating,” writes Daniel Finkelstein for The Times. This, he says, is a lesson Keir Starmer “would do well to reflect upon”. Starmer “is a successful liberal lawyer”, “a southerner, a graduate and a London MP who lives in his constituency”, says Finkelstein, and these are “all good qualities”. But he has become “a leader who’s afraid of being himself and wishing to be seen as someone else”, he writes. Starmer “desperately wants to be the voice of the red wall seats for whom he is not the authentic voice”, says Finkelstein. “And voters can see it.” Focus groups “call him ‘Mr Man-on-the-fence’ and say that he only jumps off the fence to climb on to a passing bandwagon”.

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2. Alex Salmond at his boastful worst is a reminder why he lost

Alan Cochrane in The Daily Telegraph

on Scotland’s former first minister

Alex Salmond was “was back to his boastful worst” last Wednesday at the launch of his new pro-Scottish independence party, Alba, “taking upon himself the mantle of Scottish heroes down the ages, especially Robert the Bruce”, writes Alan Cochrane in The Daily Telegraph. “It was easy to understand why the Scottish people rejected him so convincingly when he was in his pomp and why they most certainly should do so again,” Cochrane writes. “His whole opening gambit was like a scene from a B-movie, where the tired old ham attempts to revive his career, with a bucket load of melodramatic tosh.” Despite showing no contrition over his admitted “inappropriate behaviour” towards women, Salmond thinks “bygone should be bygones”, writes Cochrane. “If that really is what he wants I can imagine quite a few people replying: 'Don't include us.’”

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3. Nobody will win the Culture Wars

Tom Chivers on UnHerd

on never-ending arguments

“Is ‘cancel culture’ real? Is Britain ‘institutionally racist’?” asks Tom Chivers on UnHerd. These arguments, and many like them, “never seem to end; they occupy some huge part of our national conversation”. While “it feels like we’re arguing about something real, something that we could eventually resolve”, the reality is that almost all culture war debates are “set up to fail”, he writes. “They turn on taking some phrase that sounds like it means something concrete, then change its definition so that we can never pin down an actual point of disagreement.” “How can we get around this?” asks Chivers. “One way is to talk without using these highly charged, badly defined terms: rather than ask ‘Is Britain a racist country?’, ask ‘Do ethnic minorities have worse outcomes than white people?’ (Yes.) Or ‘Are black people less likely to be hired than equivalently qualified white people?’(Yes.)”. Only then can we “avoid the slippery definitions and vague mood-affiliation and can talk about real things”.

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4. What does ‘returning to normal’ mean with a prime minister like Boris Johnson?

Rafael Behr in The Guardian

on ever-shifting plans

Throughout the pandemic we have learnt that “[Boris] Johnson’s libertarian impulse can be numbed but not removed by the pressures of running a government”, Rafael Behr writes in The Guardian. This week, he could have used a Downing Street press conference to make the case for vaccine certification. “Instead, he stressed that the plan was provisional.” The prime minister’s “eyes flitted to the corners of the room, as they always do when he is mentally scoping emergency exits”, showing us he “doesn’t really have a poker face”. You can tell when the prime minister is “bluffing”, writes Behr, “because his lips are moving”. “On vaccine passports, his shiftiness presaged retreat – implementing a scheme for the sake of government vanity, but diluting it with enough exemptions to make it functionally worthless.”

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5. How mass remote working is setting the UK up for an employment skills crisis

Charlotte Pickles in the New Statesman

on generational differences

“For people mid-way or more through their careers, with a comfortable work from home set-up and long-established networks, life might feel easier out of the office,” writes Charlotte Pickles in the New Statesman. “No more commute, no more having to attend awkward work socials or dull, stuffy conferences; no more interruptions by colleague queries or office banter.” “But for young people, the picture is very different,” writes Pickles, “and not only for the obvious reason that a kitchen table and noise cancelling headphones are no substitute for a decent workspace”. Ultimately, “young people’s very ability to become great employees is at stake.”

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