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CHRISTOPHER STEVENS: Keir Starmer’s tears for Piers cried out for sympathy

Piers Morgan‘s Life Stories: Sir Keir Starmer 

Rating:

Come on, guys. Why aren’t we all smitten with Sir Keir Starmer? He’s got brains, movie star glamour, wry sitcom humour… everything an ambitious politician requires.

Except, of course, votes. Labour’s support has floundered since Sir Keir stepped in as leader last year. Could it be that, by assembling a figurehead from numbered components like an Airfix kit, the party apparatchiks have created something plastic and hollow?

His credentials were given a thorough polish by fellow football fan Piers Morgan in a face-to-face interview packed with praise and gentle joshing. But the real purpose of this conversation was to banish the impression that he lacks charisma.

‘Keir Starmer always gives the impression of being quite robotic,’ Piers worried.

By talking openly and frankly about his mother’s lifelong illness and his difficult relationship with his father, the former Director of Public Prosecutions did all he could to dispel that image.

From the opening exchange it was plain that Sir Keir Starmer (left) is a likeable, self-deprecating chap. Pictured: Starmer with Piers Morgan

From the opening exchange it was plain that Sir Keir Starmer (left) is a likeable, self-deprecating chap. Pictured: Starmer with Piers Morgan

He didn’t break down and weep like a reality TV star. But he did choke up several times, and his eyes welled with unfeigned tears.

From the opening exchange it was plain that Sir Keir (‘I’m Keir, I’ve been Keir all my life and it’s worked really, really – I’ve been called a lot worse!’) is a likeable, self-deprecating chap.

He’s the son of working-class parents, who went to a state school. He laughs at himself. He moisturises daily.

But it’s not enough to be pleasant and capable in the social media age. We expect more than that. And Piers did his darndest to supply it. 

During his years on Good Morning Britain he was combative and relentless, arguably the best political interviewer on TV. In his one-to-one encounters on Life Stories (ITV) with the likes of Michael Barrymore and Alan Sugar, he has levelled tough questions, too, at times.

This time, he was playing tippy-tappy, passing the ball with the gentlest of sidefoots. Both men support the same football club: perhaps this was just the camaraderie of the terraces.

It’s amazing what an Arsenal season ticket will get you.

Was it true, Piers wondered, that Keir in his days as a human rights lawyer was the inspiration for Colin Firth’s character in Bridget Jones’s Diary?

‘Are you brimming with manly passion?’ he asked. ‘Always,’ Keir assured him.

Clips from vintage telly comedies compared Keir's youthful idealism to the antics of Citizen Smith and the Tooting Popular Front. Pictured: Starmer in his student days

Clips from vintage telly comedies compared Keir’s youthful idealism to the antics of Citizen Smith and the Tooting Popular Front. Pictured: Starmer in his student days

Clips from vintage telly comedies compared Keir’s youthful idealism to the antics of Citizen Smith and the Tooting Popular Front (‘Power to the people!’ crowed a 1970s Robert Lindsay, as revolutionary Wolfie Smith, on the screen behind Keir and Piers).

Friends remembered his passion for pro bono work, representing causes for free because he believed in them – such as the infamous ‘McLibel duo’, environmental campaigners who were sued for libel by McDonald’s after standing outside fast food outlets distributing leaflets.

He was so skint, he worked from a flat above a massage parlour in grottiest north London: ‘It was pretty busy after hours.’ The scene on screen cut to Rik Mayall haranguing his housemates on The Young Ones.

Keir’s friends were more cultured than punk rocker Vyvyan and Neil the hippy. They included Amal Alamuddin, who went on to marry George Clooney. Keir and his wife Victoria dropped in to see the Clooneys not long ago, for a lunch that turned into an afternoon and evening.

‘You got drunk with George Clooney?’ asked a visibly impressed Piers.

‘We had a lovely afternoon,’ replied the politician. He used a similar formula to avoid persistent teasing about drug use in his student years: ‘We had a good time at university.’

A photo of him in New Romantic clobber, with eyeliner and a human skull, suggests that he actually had a screamingly pretentious time at university. But hey, guys… Duran Duran were in the charts. We were all guilty.

The interview shifted tone and became absorbing when he began to talk about his parents. His father Rodney was a skilled toolmaker and lifelong Labour voter, who was devoted to his mother, Jo.

'We had a good time at university,' Starmer (centre in checked shirt) said. A photo of him in New Romantic clobber, with eyeliner and a human skull, suggests that he actually had a screamingly pretentious time at university. But hey, guys... Duran Duran were in the charts. We were all guilty

‘We had a good time at university,’ Starmer (centre in checked shirt) said. A photo of him in New Romantic clobber, with eyeliner and a human skull, suggests that he actually had a screamingly pretentious time at university. But hey, guys… Duran Duran were in the charts. We were all guilty

She suffered for decades from an auto-immune disorder, Still’s disease, and eventually lost both legs. The rawness of his lingering stress was evident several times as he remembered her.

His father, he admitted, was always difficult, and never a man to show emotion or shower praise. He told Keir he was proud of him just once, when the boy passed his 11-plus exam.

But the last few years of Mr Starmer senior’s life sounded dreadful – wracked with grief, living in an outhouse because he could not cope in his old family home. When he was dying in hospital, the outhouse burned down, destroying all his possessions. It was a bitterly tragic story.

Keir’s unresolved problems with his father were glimpsed in an anecdote about his wedding. His middle name is Rodney, after his dad – but he refused to use it and wouldn’t even have it on his wedding certificate. More trenchant, psychological questioning could have delved into this, but it was passed off as a joke.

We were left with a portrait of a principled family man, an Oxford-educated lawyer, married to another lawyer, with middle-class values and a mildly socialist streak. Remind you of anyone? Keir Starmer is ‘a pretty straight sort of guy’, as Tony Blair liked to describe himself.

With the friendly assistance of Piers, he is revealed as Blair Mark II. The question is, wouldn’t a robot be preferable?


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