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Toby Neal: Keir Starmer's forensic craft may still lead to nothing

By Toby Neal | Politics | Published:

He's the man.

Labour Party leader Keir Starmer

Serious, responsible, and smart in all senses, he is more prime ministerial than the Prime Minister.

In the House of Commons Keir Starmer has declared emphatically: Labour is under new management.

During Prime Minister's Questions, everybody is saying, or at least a lot of people are saying, that he has been wiping the floor with Boris Johnson, making him look like a bumbling buffoon.

But look into Keir Starmer's eyes and you can see that he is haunted by a terrible doubt. It is a nagging question which he is continually asking himself. And it is this.

Am I a political Jonathan Davies?

Now if I have lost you, let me get you back onto my wavelength, by mentioning Barry John, Phil, and if you really want to go back, Cliff.

Then there was Gareth, but that was a different position, unless you're talking about Gareth Davies.

And please don't confuse my Jonathan Davies with the more recent Jonathan Davies.

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Now you are following me, the point is this. Barry John and Phil are mentioned in the same breath as legends, brilliant players venerated to this day, but you don't so often hear Jonathan included in this pantheon of greats even though, in my humble opinion, which is worth no more than your opinion – but if you want to be wrong that's up to you – he was as great or greater.

He had wonderful skills and invention, and supreme self-confidence on the pitch.

There was that break from near his own try line when, with only the fullback to beat, he delivered a pass to set up the try of the century. Except his colleague dropped it. Jonathan apologised afterwards for throwing his pass behind him, but I think he was just being kind.

The point is this. And yes, I know I've said that already. But when Barry John and Phil were playing, it was a golden age of Welsh rugby, with a team of wonderful talents. When Jonathan Davies was playing the Welsh team was in a trough, relatively speaking.

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No matter how good Jonathan was, it couldn't make an overall difference. Wales didn't win much during his career. After a while he went "north" but was forgiven.

So the point is this. Whatever wonderful skills Keir Starmer brings to his political craft – "forensic" seems to be the cliche to describe his questioning in the Commons – and whatever he has done for the morale of the Parliamentary Labour party, which demonstrably had no confidence in Jeremy Corbyn, will it matter if the rest of his team is rubbish?

Believing they are showing up Boris Johnson as a buffoon may lift the spirits and hopes on the Labour benches, but before getting carried away they need to remember that if he is a buffoon he has proven a buffoon with the magic touch at the ballot box.

Exhibit A is the 2016 EU referendum, Exhibit B the Tory leadership election, and Exhibit C the general election in December in which he won by a much bigger margin than anybody expected.

In other words, buffonery is electorally fashionable.

Under Jeremy Corbyn grassroots membership of Labour soared, and it is reasonable to assume that the reason was that the new members felt enthused and energised by Corbyn's vision of a socialist society.

Labour's humiliation at the general election has left the party with lessons to learn. If only they could be sure what those lessons are.

Corbyn was clearly personally unpopular with many voters. But a big unknown is how the radical programme would have fared electorally under a different leader, like Keir Starmer.

Another thing that did for Labour was its very clever Brexit policy masterminded by Keir Starmer, so clever that when Labour politicians were enticed to say what it actually was, people literally laughed out loud.

Starmer is a wind of change for Labour but is sitting on the top of a mountain of Corbyn supporters.

Everybody knew what Corbyn stood for as he made no bones about it. Keir Starmer has laid down some markers, such as the sacking of Rebecca Long-Bailey to show he is determined to break from the past and the stain of anti-Semitism.

But the all-consuming coronavirus crisis has meant that we have yet to see what he stands for.

For now, he can bathe in the glow of the cheers of the crowd as he scores points in the Commons. But if he wants the results to come his way, he needs to get his team sorted.

Toby Neal

By Toby Neal
Feature Writer

A journalist in Shropshire for 40 years, mainly writes features and columns, especially about aspects of Shropshire history. Lives in Telford and is based at the Ketley headquarters.

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