Why Keir Starmer is repeating history as Labour’s version of Iain Duncan Smith: Tom Richmond

EVEN though Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer and Iain Duncan Smith, a former Tory leader, come from opposite ends of the political spectrum, they have far more in common than they think.
How long can Sir Keir Starmer survive as Labour leader?How long can Sir Keir Starmer survive as Labour leader?
How long can Sir Keir Starmer survive as Labour leader?

Both became Leader of the Opposition in the wake of catastrophic election defeats – Duncan Smith in 2001 and Starmer in the wake of Labour’s humiliation in December 2019. Each also found themselves up against a populist, centrist and not always truthful premier – Tony Blair then and Boris Johnson now.

Both were preceded by more gifted speakers – William Hague in Duncan Smith’s case, while Jeremy Corbyn, the former Labour leader, has always been steeped in the protest movement.

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Both found themselves bereft of big-hitters and loyalists capable of holding Ministers to account; too many of their colleagues were or, now in Starmer’s case are, busy plotting future leadership contests.

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer (centre) remains in Boris Johnson's shadow.Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer (centre) remains in Boris Johnson's shadow.
Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer (centre) remains in Boris Johnson's shadow.

Both have a moral compass that requires nuance to articulate in the age of the soundbite – Duncan Smith later set up the Centre for Social Justice while Starmer was a renowned Director of Public Prosecutions.

And both were also elected at times of global crisis – Duncan Smith’s confirmation as Tory leader was delayed by 24 hours owing to the 9/11 terror attacks while Starmer’s unveiling had to be scaled back because of the Covid pandemic.

Both felt that they had to be loyal to the Government – notably Duncan Smith over the build-up to the Iraq war – and circumstances compromised their leadership.

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There are, of course, stark differences on public policy, taxation and Brexit – Duncan Smith has always been an arch Eurosceptic while Starmer opposed Britain’s exit from the EU.

This was iain Duncan Smith addressing the Tory conference in 2003. Within weeks, he had been ousted as leader.This was iain Duncan Smith addressing the Tory conference in 2003. Within weeks, he had been ousted as leader.
This was iain Duncan Smith addressing the Tory conference in 2003. Within weeks, he had been ousted as leader.

Yet it is this last point that is so troubling for the current Opposition leader. Duncan Smith was never able to bridge Tory divides over Europe while Starmer’s party finds itself trying to straddle the pro-Brexit views of working class voters with the pro-EU instincts of its North London literati.

As Duncan Smith learned, the fissures can be concealed for only so long – two years, and two months, in his case before he was unceremoniously dumped in November 2003 and Starmer will now do well to survive that long after the Hartlepool by-election defeat.

And there’s one final point of similarity. Duncan Smith told his party conference in 2002: “Do not underestimate the determination of a quiet man.” However neither his members, or country, liked what they heard when he turned up the volume the following year and said there was “no third way”. Within weeks, he was gone. Starmer says his frustration has been his inability to meet the people – but what if they don’t like what they see, and hear?

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That’s why a failure to use his first year to review and refine policy – another Duncan Smith failing – could be Sir Keir Starmer’s biggest mistake simply because voters will already have made their minds up when he finally has something tangible to say, offer and do.

He can still save his leadership – but time and history are now against him. Just ask Iain Duncan Smith.

IF it wasn’t so serious, I’d say it is pleasurable watching Ministers become tongue-tied in the wake of Boris Johnson’s social care duplicity.

Last week’s column made reference to the “clear plan” that Johnson pledged to deliver on the day that he became PM. Now there’s just a brief and vague nine-word “promise” in the Queen’s Speech to bring forward proposals.

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Even the Cabinet can’t agree on whether the PM lied to the country. Cabinet Office Minister Michael Gove told Sky News: “We will be saying more about social care in the weeks and months to come.”

In other words, there’s no plan. Yet Health and Social Care Secretary Matt Hancock hinted to Channel Four News that the PM did have a ready-made blueprint before Covid intervened. “We would have put out the plan last year,” he claimed ingratiatingly.

Just who do you believe? What we do know is the status quo is a false economy and reform of the NHS will be counter-productive unless care provision, and funding, is reconciled.

After all, it is three times more expensive to look after a vulnerable resident in hospital than a care home.

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ANOTHER follow-up from last week’s column. Lib Dem leader Sir Ed Davey wasted no time in the Queen’s Speech debate to demand a public inquiry into the handling of a Covid pandemic.

Please note he made no mention in this intervention, or his subsequent speech, about calls for a judge-led public inquiry into the scandalous miscarriage of justice suffered by subpostmasters.

I hope this first class hypocrisy has nothing to do with the fact that Davey was one of the Lib Dems ministers in charge of the Post Office from 2010-15 and ignored warnings about flaws in the IT accounting system in question.

Like you, I await his response and hope it doesn’t go missing in the post.

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FINALLY, good luck to Tracy Brabin as West Yorkshire’s first metro mayor – a successful mayoralty can only benefit the whole region.

However, can I respectfully suggest that she focuses on the day job until she’s found her feet rather than providing national broadcasters with a running commentary on Labour’s turmoil and the Batley & Spen by-election that will now take place five years after she succeeded the late Jo Cox as the area’s MP.

After all, she’s now expected to represent the people of West Yorkshire in their entirety – and not just the Labour party. There’s a difference.

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