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STEPHEN GLOVER: Keir Starmer is desperate to cosy up to Tory-inclined voters. That’s why his clumsy embrace of Margaret Thatcher this week is just cynical nonsense


Sometimes I ask myself whether I’m entirely fair in my own mind about Sir Keir Starmer.

Admittedly, until a few years ago he was standing arm in arm with the man he described as his ‘friend’, the hard-Left Jeremy Corbyn.

But isn’t there —- to borrow from the King James Bible – more ‘joy in heaven over one sinner that repenteth, than over ninety and nine just persons, which need no repentance’?

Sir Keir may have tried to undo Brexit. He also failed to make a stand against the anti-Semitism that polluted Corbyn’s Labour Party. And, until recently, he was eager to nationalise public services and to scrap university tuition fees.

But can’t all of us honestly change? The economist John Maynard Keynes famously said: ‘When the facts change, I change my mind – what do you do, sir?’ Maybe the Labour leader has seen the error of his former ways.

At all events, when I heard two days ago that Sir Keir had written a piece for the Sunday Telegraph in which he praised Margaret Thatcher, I momentarily rallied to his side.

Sometimes I ask myself whether I'm entirely fair in my own mind about Sir Keir Starmer

Sometimes I ask myself whether I’m entirely fair in my own mind about Sir Keir Starmer 

Good on you, Keir, more or less summarised my thoughts. Some of your more Left-wing Labour MPs won’t be pleased. Well done for taking them on, and speaking the truth.

I must confess that even as these thoughts raced through my mind, they were quickly followed by more sceptical ones. Was his praise of the Iron Lady genuine? Or was he trying to cosy up to the Tory-inclined readers of the Sunday Telegraph?

He didn’t say much about her, but what he did say was unequivocal. Margaret Thatcher had ‘sought to drag Britain out of its stupor by setting loose our natural entrepreneurialism’. Strong stuff. He concluded by ‘extending the hand of friendship’ to Tories everywhere.

There are two ways to test whether Sir Keir Starmer was being sincere – or calculatingly cynical. The first is to examine whether he has ever shown any fondness for the late Lady Thatcher. The second is to ask whether any of his current policies are remotely Thatcherite.

The answer to the first question is that, until this moment, there have been no recorded instances of Sir Keir ever saying anything nice about Margaret Thatcher. On the contrary, he has been extremely critical of her. For once in his life he has shown consistency – until two days ago.

Sir Keir wrote a piece for the Sunday Telegraph in which he praised Margaret Thatcher

Sir Keir wrote a piece for the Sunday Telegraph in which he praised Margaret Thatcher

In the mid-1980s, the young Keir Starmer was a member of the ‘editorial collective’ of a short-lived hard-Left magazine called Socialist Alternatives, which existed to lock horns with Thatcherism. In five issues (there were, perhaps happily, no more) his name appears under eight articles. None was friendly to the then Conservative government.

In one article, the youthful Keir refers to the ‘authoritarian onslaught of Thatcherism’. Another piece by him takes a swipe against Britain’s first woman Prime Minister for ‘undermining the very basis of [the trade unions’] existence’.

Incidentally, it can’t be said that Sir Keir’s prose style has lightened between those early days writing for Socialist Alternatives and his offering for the Sunday Telegraph. Turgid then and turgid now.

We must, however, be fair. If we were all to be judged by what we did or wrote in our mid-20s, some of us might find ourselves in a pickle. In a spirit of even-handedness we should look at the grown-up Sir Keir Starmer.

Here we don’t find any traces whatsoever of admiration for Lady Thatcher. In a 2018 BBC interview, he spoke of his father: ‘My dad was a toolmaker, he was a very good toolmaker, but he had to live through the policies of Margaret Thatcher, and that decimated manufacturing.’

In the mid-1980s, the young Keir Starmer was a member of the 'editorial collective' of a short-lived hard-Left magazine called Socialist Alternatives, which existed to lock horns with Thatcherism

In the mid-1980s, the young Keir Starmer was a member of the ‘editorial collective’ of a short-lived hard-Left magazine called Socialist Alternatives, which existed to lock horns with Thatcherism

As the years crept by, he hasn’t softened his views. In 2021, he asserted that the Tories during the 1980s had ‘abandoned’ communities, while as recently as October he declared that ‘back in the 1980s’ the Tories had begun to concentrate ‘wealth and opportunity’ in the hands of the few.

Nor has the Labour leader ever shown a sliver of gratitude towards Margaret Thatcher. As a result of changes she made as Education Secretary, Reigate Grammar School went private while the young Starmer was there, and his fees were paid by the State in what may have been an improved school.

I am afraid to say – afraid, because I’m trying to be nice about the Labour leader – that his clumsy embrace on Sunday of the Iron Lady doesn’t carry the slightest conviction. It was a piece of cynical nonsense. A few Left-wing Labour MPs have, as Sir Keir will have foreseen, risen from their lairs to complain about his remarks, but they must know that in his heart he didn’t mean them.

After all (and this is the second test I mentioned) there is nowhere in any of Labour’s policies the merest hint of Thatcherism. If Sir Keir really believes that ‘she sought to drag Britain out of its stupor by setting loose our natural entrepreneurialism’, he would surely try to emulate her.

Granted, he is playing his cards close to his chest as to what he will do if he becomes Prime Minister, but he has never come near to suggesting that, in common with his adopted heroine, he believes lower taxes are liable to boost economic growth.

On the contrary, Labour intends to abolish the ‘non-dom’ tax status enjoyed by some 26,000 rich foreigners living in Britain. It reckons that this would bring in some £3.2 billion, though some tax experts think the figure would be less.

At the same time, Labour plans to abolish the VAT exemption enjoyed by private schools so parents will be forced to pay more. It amounts to a new tax on them. Labour thinks that this will raise an extra £1.7 billion, though this figure is also disputed.

The point is that both changes would have been ardently opposed by Margaret Thatcher. The tax on non-doms is likely to drive away some wealthy foreign entrepreneurs, while the VAT change will be a burden for many hard-pressed parents who are, by no stretch of the imagination, rich.

As I say, what Sir Keir intends to do he is mostly keeping to himself this side of the Election. I’ll be astonished if he doesn’t raise tax for the better-off, and surprised if the less well-off escape his depredations. It won’t worry him that increasing taxation isn’t an obviously Thatcherite thing to do.

Of course, in pointing out that the Labour leader doesn’t mean what he says, I don’t exonerate this Government for its many mistakes, particularly over high tax and uncontrolled migration. Its new measures to control the latter, though welcome, are very late in the day.

That said, when I read in Sir Keir’s Sunday Telegraph article that Labour will make a better job of reducing mass immigration than the Tories have, I really did start counting the spoons.

The Tories may have been bad at running the country, but Labour would be worse. That is the mantra I have started to repeat to myself.

Maybe, just maybe, a future Conservative government will display some Thatcherite traits. But Tory-inclined voters should be warned that there’s absolutely no prospect of the opportunistic Sir Keir Starmer ever doing so.



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