Personal attacks didn’t work before and they won’t now - GulfToday

Personal attacks didn’t work before and they won’t now

Sean O'Grady


Associate Editor of the Independent.

Keir Starmer

Keir Starmer

So desperate is the Conservative high command at the state of their election campaign — actually now demonstrably worse than Theresa May’s fiasco in 2017 — they are now advising the prime minister to “go for the jugular” with Keir Starmer. They tell Rishi Sunak to aim at the leader of the opposition’s throat with some personal attacks — to play the man, not the ball.  Having long given up on their dream of a hung parliament, let alone winning a majority, they think they can limit their losses by forgetting policy and instead focussing on three very personal fronts: Starmer’s pro-EU instincts; his past support for Jeremy Corbyn; and his past as a leading human rights lawyer.

There is only one problem with this approach — it’s been tried before and it won’t work.  On Brexit, for example, the Tories seem to be still living in the warm, comfortable world of the 2019 election, where, even if Brexit was highly divisive, it at least hadn’t become a proven failure and permanent drag on the economy. Then, the electorate simply wanted an end to the traumatic arguments and to “get Brexit done”. Now, if they could, they’d willingly turn the clock back to the day before the 2016 referendum.

Brexit, in order words, is no longer much of an asset for the Conservatives, and reminding them that Starmer thought it was a bad idea probably makes him seem rather wise. That he wants to improve relations with the EU and make trade with our most important markets easier isn’t the toxic revelation many Conservatives seem to think it is.  A few years ago, indeed, it was party policy — and, besides, wasn’t it Margaret Thatcher who invented the single market in the first place? A majority of the electorate would probably now willingly “betray Brexit” if they got the chance — and those who still support it tend to agree with Nigel Farage that it was the Conservatives under Sunak and Boris Johnson who botched the Brexit deal.

As for Starmer’s past support for Corbyn, Beth Rigby, in her Sky News interview, did a good job of skewering him — and it’s true that he’s obviously abandoned many of his old pledges and policies, including the ones he made to win the leadership. The point here, though, is that everything Starmer has done as leader has been to drag the party back to the centre ground, which is, of course, the place where most voters hang out. He does squirm when placed on the spot about his many U-turns and broken promises — but if, after his shifty manoeuvres, he’s heading in the right direction, towards the instincts of the British people, then that’s eminently forgivable. Besides, Corbyn isn’t even a Labour candidate this time around, and there can be no greater evidence of the Starmer revolution than that.

As for his record as a human rights lawyer, and as director of public prosecutions, the smears have been attempted already, and failed. That’s because they just don’t work, quite apart from being based on a deliberate misunderstanding about what lawyers do for a living — defend people they don’t necessarily like much. Starmer is plainly not a terrorist sympathiser or a protector of paedophiles. When Johnson was prime minister and, once again, found himself in a tight corner, he accused Starmer of failing to prosecute Jimmy Savile — about as vile a personal attack as can be imagined. It did Johnson more harm than it did to Stamer, and there’s no reason to believe that it would work any better in this campaign.

Indeed, if personal abuse was the solution to the challenge that Starmer poses to Tory dominance, then Johnson’s rhetoric would have finished the Labour leader off long ago. In its way, Johnson’s ridicule of Starmer was a typical virtuoso performance — entertaining, but ultimately empty and futile. In any case it wouldn’t suit Sunak’s style to try and ape Johnson. Just for old time’s sake, and to make the point, one cannot imagine Sunak delivering this sort of verbal fusillade against Sir Beer Korma, Sir Crasheroonie Snoozefest and Captain Hindsight.

“Did you see them last week? Did you watch them last week in Brighton, hopelessly divided, I thought they looked? Their leader like a seriously rattled bus conductor, pushed this way and that by... not that they have bus conductors anymore, unfortunately. But like a seriously rattled bus conductor pushed this way, this way, and that by a Corbynista mob of Sellotaped-spectacled sans-culottes, or the skipper of a cruise liner that’s been captured by Somali pirates, desperately trying to negotiate a change of course, and then changing his mind.”

That was Johnson’s last speech as leader, at the 2021 Conservative conference, before the man he dismissed as “a human bollard” finished Johnson’s career, and went on to complete the task of changing the Labour Party almost beyond recognition. Besides, to be honest with ourselves, don’t the British people deserve a bit of boringly competent and humane administration of the country as it tries to repair our public services in difficult times?

After Johnson, Liz Truss and Sunak, we could all actually do with a bit of a crasheroonie snoozefest.


Related articles