Sir Keir Starmer took over the leadership of the Labour Party in April 2020 – weeks after the Covid pandemic had taken hold in the UK.
Most of his appearances since then have been limited to Zoom or the dispatch box in the House of Commons, with the odd campaigning visit. On ITV’s Piers Morgan’s Life Stories on Tuesday 1st of June, he made one of his first appearances in front of a live studio audience.
The latest YouGov polling has shown a bounce for the Labour Party. However, analysts disagree on just how persuasive the Labour leader was
It is hard to understand how Kier Starmer, as a public figure, justifies his appearance on such a programme. Previous guests include Trisha Goddard, Harry Redknapp, Lionel Richie and Sir Alan Sugar, to name but a few.
The difference between Kier Starmer and the aforementioned public figures are that these figures are actually relevant to the public eye, in the sense that people knew exactly who they were and what they represented.
Trisha was a TV host, Redknapp was a football manager, Lionel was a singer and Sugar was a businessman. To many people, aside from those who are heavily invested in the political world, Starmer was relatively unknown.
He was just one of those familiar faces that you recognised but had no clue who it was; neither did his face compel you to research him.
In fact, many would argue that, prior to becoming leader of the Labour Party (which in itself does elevate you to near-celebrity status), Starmer was irrelevant. The average person would not know who Kier was, prior to his appointment as Labour leader.
It’s also fair to assume that there is a heirachy of public figures, and politicians don’t seem to be as relevant or appealing compared to those in the entertainment sector, particularly actors, singers/musicians and sports figures.
Therefore, it is difficult to not speculate as to why Starmer was invited to be on Life Stories, as his life was relatively normal or uninteresting prior to Labour. He practised law at university, and worked behind the scenes as a barrister and other roles within the Labour Party.
Consequently, one would be forgiven for concluding that Starmer’s appearance on the programme was less to do with his unremarkable life being a subject of genuine interest from the public, and more to do with gaining public approval.
Make no mistake about it; this was a publicity stunt. By his own admission, Starmer agreed that the Labour Party ‘has lost trust of working people’, and that he would do ‘whatever is necessary’ to rebuild that trust.
A vital element of a party’s rebuild is public perception. The perception of a leader can have an impact on whether or not a person votes for a party. Therefore, it was necessary for Starmer to present himself in a humble manner, and to humanise himself as much as possible.
Testament to this is that a majority of the programme was spent on the subject of his family. He was quizzed about the relationship with his father, the death of his mother and how he met his wife.
Of course, the programme does delve deep into the subject’s personal lives, but due to the fact that Starmer’s life wasn’t that exciting, it felt more of an obligation and something to pass the time, and less of a genuine interest.
Many people have mothers that have passed from illnesses, and don’t have good relationships with their fathers. So what? What makes that remarkable and distinct?
The format of Life Stories thrives by highlighting a distinct mixture of public visibility and unique experiences. Kier Starmer has had little of the former and, prior to being Labour leader, even less so of the latter.
Therefore, it’s hard to assume this was anything but an attempt to improve public perception of him and by extension, the Labour Party.
Some are reporting a bounce in Sir Kier Starmer’s polling following this interview. It may not have been the silver bullet his team was hoping for, but this interview was seen by many as a step in the right direction. A chance for us to get to know the man behind the zoom calls.
Unfortunately, this one interview, despite the highly emotional content, is not enough to solve Starmer’s deep popularity issues. In fact, just 3 days ago, Sir Keir Starmer’s ratings plunged to the same low level as Jeremy Corbyn’s at the same stage of his leadership
The Ipsos MORI research also revealed that Manchester mayor Andy Burnham is seen by the public and by Labour’s own supporters as a better potential Prime Minister than Sir Keir. London mayor Sadiq Khan also trails behind Burnham as a would-be PM.
The findings, which will set alarm bells ringing in Labour circles, show Sir Keir’s ratings have fallen sharply, including scores for being “a capable leader” and for “having sound judgment”.He must ensure this interview is not the only one. He must be seen in public, beyond zoom calls. People need to see a Prime Minister in waiting, interacting with people and winning support.