“I know that the right kind of leader for the Labour Party is a desiccated calculating machine who must not in any way permit himself to be swayed by indignation. If he sees suffering, privation or injustice he must not allow it to move him, for that would be evidence of the lack of proper education or of absence of self-control. He must speak in calm and objective accents and talk about a dying child in the same way as he would about the pieces inside an internal combustion engine.”
Aneurin Bevan in an interview with Robin Day on 28th April 1959.
This assertion by Bevan is believed to be an allusion to Hugh Gaitskell. If so, it seems a little unfair as the precursor of the British anti-apartheid movement was set up in 1960 by a number of luminaries, one of which was the then Labour Party leader, Hugh Gaitskell.
The appellation of “desiccated calculating machine” might, perhaps, be better applied to Gaitskell’s lineal successor, Sir Keir Starmer QC?
Starmer is a graduate of Oxford University in Law, but has he got a heart and a fund of courage?
Is he well endowed with emotional intelligence?
Sir Keir Starmer QC, and I do think his title and legal status are electoral assets, is not a liar nor a leader, but a lawyer, albeit a good one, and I believe a command and control manager.
Starmer is in his element, never happier than when prosecuting something or someone.
The Labour Party needs more than a chief prosecutor at its head and so does the country.
The Labour Party is a voluntary organisation and Starmer is used to working in organisations where his word was law.
A Non Departmental Public Body, like the Crown Prosecution Service is staffed by suited and booted, salaried public servants.
The Labour Party is many things, but it is not and may not be shaped into an NDPB.
Starmer has made it clear he does not trust the local and regional officers of the Labour Party to organise the selections of Parliamentary candidates. In future, constituencies will only get to pick the candidates for their seats from shortlists drawn up by Labour Party headquarters in London.
The leader of the Labour Party and, I would contend, a prospective future Prime Minister needs to be adept at knitting fog and herding cats.
He or she needs, amongst other things, to be a diplomat.
And a good diplomat needs empathy.
And, if you are not born with empathy then you needs must fake it with real sincerity and to a purpose.
I know from personal experience that you may improve your Emotional Intelligence Quotient significantly, but first, you have to recognise you have an empathy shortfall, accept it is a weakness and commit to do something serious about it.
I confess that sometimes I do lapse and not always unintentionally.
If I ever need a motto for a coat of arms, it would have to be, “Arrogant in the Presence of Arrogance” and naturally it would have to be in Latin.
Starmer seems rather lacking in empathy with folk whose livelihoods are made in the private sector (and the voluntary and community sector), but then so does Labour more generally.
Labour is mostly a party of middle class professionals, many of whom work or have worked in the public sector, some in that grey area composed of the SpAdocracy, think tanks and political consultancy.
I would observe that one senior ex Labour SpAd tried to persuade me that his filing his own tax returns gave him an insight into business.
He also Tweets another mantra of Starmer’s that Labour is now the party of business.
I suspect Team Starmer feel their boy does come across as dull and a bit of a cold fish so they have reached into his back story to draw up pen pictures of his parents to liberally sprinkle amongst his speeches and interviews to provide some much needed colour.
Pen pictures with which we are clearly expected to empathise.
Of course, Starmer picked his advisers.
Crudely speaking the difference between empathy and sympathy may be described so …
You have recently broken your leg and we meet for the first time after you have done so.
I say poor you, how awful, and soon work the conversation around to legs I have broken and tales of the broken legs of others.
I sympathise with you whilst you try not to say something we will both regret.
Were I would empathise by simply asking how I may help you.
I am not sure Team Starmer get the difference and how much sympathy is unappealing. Will they get the message before Starmer’s tales of his parents become boring and possibly even background noise?
On current form, I rather doubt it.
Empathy may also be defined as the capacity to see the world through the eyes of others and develop an understanding of their needs, motivations and so on. That does not mean that you should adopt or agree with some or all of their opinions, Team Starmer.
There is a strange nostalgia for meaningful manual labour amongst a Labour leadership, many of whom have no family tradition of working in manufacturing, farming or most of the service sector.
Lisa Nandy is a case in point, although her Dad, Dipak K Nandy, an Indian academic and administrator, who arrived in Britain in March 1956 with the aim of getting a university degree, did work for a time on the night shift at Cadbury Schweppes.
If mekkin’ things all it is cracked up to be by the likes of Boris Johnson, Reeves and Starmer, how come they went into journalism, the law and the Government Economic Service, respectively, on graduation from that well known Further Education College, Oxford University?
Perhaps they thought they just would not make it on the shop floor of a manufacturing company?
From what I may see, Starmer only really comes alive in court, sorry, at Prime Minister’s Question time or when his professional competence is questioned.
Johnson’s linking Starmer with the decision not to prosecute Jimmy Savile was reprehensible and untrue, but it got under Starmer’s skin and he understandably reacted strongly to the serious slight to his professional reputation.
However, as anyone will tell you who has worked with the public, face to face, in a challenging environment, he or she who rises to the bait is lost.
And Starmer with the aid of well wishers doubled and tripled down on the matter, prolonging the life of the gibe and making it all about Starmer and not Johnson.
Had Starmer picked better advisers then surely they would have sat him down, told him to take a deep breath and formulated a rebuttal along these lines?
Far from being supportive of prosecutions of folk like Jimmy Savile, Boris Johnson has publicly, on the record, described money spent on historical child sex abuse investigations as “spaffed (wanked) up a wall”.
I noticed that doughty street fighter and fellow Brummie with a direct line to the man and woman on the Number 11 omnibus, Jess Phillips essayed a few Tweets on those lines.
Where do I send my cv to become a spin doctor for Sir Keir Starmer QC?
The mobbing incident and death threats have quite naturally upset Starmer. The threats have now become another story for Starmer and his supporters to double down upon, much to the benefit of Johnson.
One hopes Team Starmer have now undertaken opposition prep on Starmer, especially on his time as Head of the Crown Prosecution Service and Director of Public Prosecutions, in order to prepare for further ambushes.
There clearly are other controversial cases during Starmer’s tenure in those posts that the Tories will throw at him. One Tory MP went off half cocked, Tweeting about the mobbing incident with a reference to something that was chanted at Starmer.
A Savile during the short campaign of any set of elections will derail Labour’s campaign for days.
Whose idea was it to not set Corbyn a deadline for which to make a formal apology so he is now still hanging around the Labour Party in the House of Commons like a persistent bad smell, a member of the Labour Party, but not a member of the Parliamentary Labour Party, a permanent to do item on the agenda of the Labour leader?
However much Starmer wants to avoid being seen as New Labour, he needs to bring our level of professionalism to his office and campaigns.