Transcending social class ?

Published by William Collins

Sally Tomlinson on a more normal politician

Keir Starmer: The Biography by Tom Baldwin published by William Collins

Tom Baldwin, Times journalist and one time Labour Director of Communications knows something about politics. Deep in the mire of lies, scandals, corruptions and political incompetence that has characterised much of the recent Tory time in office the opposition has been desperate to find anything in the life of Starmer that could do him harm as a potential Prime Minister. Although Baldwin found him “difficult to define”- it seems he actually does transcend our tired social class labels. Who is working class, who is lower middle, middle, what is a petit bourgeoisie? Does it matter?

Starmer is a man who worked with his hands after school for a year with his Labour supporting father making precision tools used in manufacturing products, and also gained a knighthood as the country‘s chief prosecutor before accepting leadership of the Labour Party.  His upbringing, education, family, and career thankfully define him as a normal person. The UK, especially England, desperately needs normal. Starmer never wanted to be “King of the World”, the ambition of a young Boris Johnson, or developed the affable aristocratic aura of David Cameron, or the level of absurdity of Liz Truss and her PopCon (popular conservatives) group.

He is probably the nearest the country will ever get to another Clement Attlee, a leader sneered at by both right and left for his middle-class tastes (golf!) and lack of passionate ideology, who quietly ushered in the social security state that put the country on the road to democracy and social justice, even if it has not yet arrived there. Under a Keir leadership we might stop sneering at pebble-dash semis, parents who did useful jobs for no great rewards, and admire people who look after their mothers and disabled brothers. All of which characterized the Starmer family.

Entering the world of actual legal work in Middle Temple chambers he joined the Society of Socialist Lawyers, contributing to its journal, and worried about whether the law should protect liberal human rights of freedom of expression, speech and protest and protect the social and economic rights of those “burdened with poverty, oppression and exploitation”. He visited Northern Ireland to investigate human rights abuses there, defended controversial cases, and wrote books on human rights, which earned him the name of “the Encyclopaedist”. In 2008, aged 46 and married for a year, Starmer was appointed as the Director of Public Prosecutions with responsibility for eight thousand officials around the country and all criminal cases.

Baldwin documents the opposition he had from Tory politicians and the right-wing media over his views on the Human Rights Act and Tory plans to replace the Act, and equally the criticisms from left-wing groups who accused him of supporting an authoritarian state. All this will stand him in good stead if   he does take on the job of healing a divided nation. Knighted in 2014 for steering Public Prosecutions fairly and married with two small children, he was selected as the next Labour MP for Holborn and St Pancras. Elected in 2015 and facing a Tory government led by Cameron and with a leader, Jeremy Corbyn, whom he was never enthusiastic about, he took on the jobs of Shadow Minister for Immigration and Shadow Secretary for exiting the EU. His sensible report on immigration never saw publication but his grasp of the detail of Brexit negotiations had Michael Barnier, the EU chief negotiator, opining that “Keir Starmer will be Prime Minister one day”.

Baldwin documents the view of Theresa May that Starmer’s early embrace of a second referendum was due to his eye on the leadership of Labour, and he describes in some detail the vitriolic debates on antisemitism within the Labour party. The campaign to become leader, especially over the winter of 2019 was over-shadowed by the antics of new Tory leader Boris Johnson and his “get Brexit done”, but on 20th April 2020 Starmer became the 19th leader of the Labour Party.

The final chapters of this perceptive book cover the difficult years of the Covid pandemic, with his wife working in occupational health at the local hospital, his support for government policy on lockdowns, taking a decision to withdraw the Party whip from Jeremy Corbyn and facing the ire of Corbyn supporters and disorganisation and doubters within his own ranks. Like the glitter a fan sprinkled over Starmer at the 2023 Labour Party conference much of his intended policy direction both at home and abroad, his ability to deal with the myriad problems and issues both the Tories and world conflicts have generated, mean there will be no easy future for Starmer and a Labour government. Baldwin is hopeful that he is planning “a decade of national renewal” so that people can really believe in “a shared purpose for a better future”.


  1. the main problem with Starmer (who I voted for to be leader) is that he is a bureaucrat who has no political attenae and has no idea when he has made a mistake – much like his predecessors. Only Wilson in my time in politics has understood the working class, which is how he won the 1964 elecction.

    I always wince when I hear politicians claim to support a football club as the men nearly always do. Blair claimed to have seen Jackie Milburn play for NEwcastle, till it was pointed out he retired when Blair was 4 years old. Cameron claimed to support Aston VIlla, which I am well aware he did not, (I have written a book on Villa, my family’s team since the 1890s) but his uncle was chair of the villa board so it was a flag of convenience.

    For Starmer,I really don’t know or care whether he supports Arsenal. But I went to his meeting in Stoke, which was held in the Port Vale social club. This is in Burslem, the most parochical of the six pottery towns (known as Bursley in the novels of Arnold Bennett). The two northern towns support Vale, the other four Stoke CIty. I don’t expect Starmer to know anything about Port Vale, but he made a joke about Arsenal playing there in a cup match.

    The shock that he had mentioned Arsenal in Port Vale’s ground went round the room. Alas he showed no sign he understood it was a gaffe. Made it clear he may win one election, by playing the populist. It won’t win him two.

    trevor fisher

  2. Clement Attlee was, of course, an enthusiast for imperial war and happily sacrificed free dental care to pay for the war against Korea.

  3. That’s Leninist-speak for Attlee not wanting to see the murderous Soviet regime colonise any more countries?

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