Sir Keir and the Heart of the Matter

Back in 2008, the as-yet unknighted Keir Starmer was clear about the importance of his new job as the next Director of Public Prosecutions. ‘The CPS is at the heart of the criminal justice system,’ he explained. [i] But then again: ‘Equality before the law lies at the heart of the criminal justice service.’ [ii]

And the tone was set for a man who seems sometimes to have too much heart for his own good.

In 2020 Sir Keir, as we now knew him, stood for the leadership of the Labour Party on a platform of ten pledges, including the promise that under him Labour would ‘Put the Green New Deal at the heart of everything.’ [iii] And nearly a year on, that was still very much his focus: ‘Tackling the climate emergency is the defining challenge of the next decade. It must be at the heart of our rebuild from this pandemic.’ [iv]

We have to understand, though, that the recovery and rebuild is about more than just green policies. ‘Labour wants to see our children’s recovery at the heart of efforts to rebuild our country.’ [v] Or, to put it another way: ‘I want Britain to be the best place to grow up in – and that means putting families at the heart of our recovery.’ [vi]

But how are we going to rebuild? Well, shopping is surely close to everyone’s heart. ‘Britain’s high streets are at the heart of communities,’ tweeted Sir Keir. ‘Labour’s plan would give local communities a proper stake in town centres, support new businesses to open up on our high streets and help rebuild our economy post-pandemic.’ [vii]

This might seem to conflict with his earlier praise for football clubs such as Walsall and Shrewsbury Town – ‘These clubs are at the heart of their communities’ [viii] – but the shadow chancellor, Anneliese Dodds, was happy with the shopping theme. ‘Britain’s high streets are at the heart of local communities,’ she noted. ‘It is not just a string of shops and post offices, it’s a place that people want to have pride in. The high street goes to the heart of Labour’s vision to make Britain the best place to grow up and grow old in.’ [ix]

Not just shops, of course, as Sir Keir elaborated: ‘Small businesses are at the heart of our communities.’ [x] And that’s a message that Ed Miliband, Labour’s business spokesperson, can really get behind: ‘This is a day to celebrate the millions of these small businesses at the heart of our communities and the workers they employ,’ he told the press. ‘They represent the best of our country.’ [xi]

His shadow-cabinet colleague Rachel Reeves takes a slightly less business-friendly view: ‘The beating heart of our country is the key workers who have kept us going through this last year.’ [xii]

Shops, businesses, football clubs, key workers – these may be important things in the rest of the country, but the capital’s mayor Sadiq Khan has a different perception: ‘London is one of the most richly diverse cities in the world, yet our public spaces don’t fully represent who we are and the values of tolerance and inclusion that lie at the heart of our city.’ [xiii] (There’s an implicit rejection here of Nick Lowe’s 1976 observation that the heart of the city is a place ‘where the alligator roams’.)

And outside the towns and cities, there’s also the countryside to consider. ‘Labour to put nature and biodiversity at heart of drive for rural votes,’ announced an Independent headline in December 2020. [xiv] This week, however, with local elections looming, Sir Keir was out campaigning in the South-West, and there was less talk of biodiversity, much more about, er, pay within the NHS: ‘Wherever you are, whichever community you’re in, this pay cut absolutely goes to the heart of your village, your town, your city, your rural community.’ [xv]

This was in line with an earlier account in The Times: ‘Sir Keir Starmer, the Labour leader, yesterday put calls for NHS workers to get a “fair” pay rise at the heart of his campaign for the local elections.’ [xvi]

There are elections in Scotland, as well, but the emphasis there is a little different, according to Anas Sarwar, whose turn it is to be this month’s leader of the Scottish Labour Party: ‘Rebuilding the economy and protecting and creating jobs will be at the heart of our election campaign.’ [xvii]

It’s all too confusing. Perhaps we should leave the last word to Sir Keir: ‘Doncaster is a place close to my heart.’ [xviii]

[i] Daily Telegraph 26 July 2008

[ii] Times 23 July 2009

[iii] Twitter 12 February 2020

[iv] Twitter 12 January 2021

[v] Twitter 9 March 2021

[vi] Twitter 11 January 2021

[vii] Twitter 25 February 2021

[viii] Express & Star 21 September 2020

[ix] Independent 25 February 2021

[x] Twitter 5 December 2020

[xi] Press Association Newswire 5 December 2020

[xii] Evening Standard 7 February 2021

[xiii] Somerset Guardian 18 February 2021

[xiv] Independent 25 December 2020

[xv] Bristol Post 15 March 2021

[xvi] Times 12 March 2021

[xvii] Scotsman 2 March 2021

[xviii] Twitter 30 May 2020

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