The man who would be PM: who is the real Keir Starmer? | Crooked Media
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February 29, 2024
Pod Save the UK
The man who would be PM: who is the real Keir Starmer?

In This Episode

With a huge lead in the polls, all the signs point to Keir Starmer moving into Downing Street by the end of the year, so how well do we know the man who would be PM? Guest co-presenter Liz Bates attempts to get behind the rather dull public image, by interrogating Tom Baldwin, who spent hours talking to Starmer for his new authoritative biography of the Labour leader. The conversation takes an emotional turn when Liz and Tom discuss Starmer’s difficult relationship with his dad; how he couldn’t hug him on his deathbed, and then later found a hidden scrapbook that showed how proud of his son he really was. They also talk about what makes Starmer tick politically – is there such a thing as Starmerism? – as well as his love of football and music…and Tom reveals what Starmer thinks of the book!

 

Nish joins Liz from Crooked HQ in LA to discuss the fallout from Lee Anderson’s expulsion from the party, and whether the Tories have an islamophobia problem. They also discuss the rogues gallery of candidates competing to win the Rochdale by-election, and Liz reveals what it’s like to get up close and personal on the campaign trail, with the bookies favourite George Galloway.

 

Plus find out why Nish gave one very lucky New York cab driver a massive tip, and why he loves smelly books!

 

Pod Save the UK is a Reduced Listening production for Crooked Media.

 

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Guest:

Tom Baldwin, author of Keir Starmer: The Biography   

 

Audio credit:

GB News

 

Useful link:

https://crooked.com/podcast-series/lovett-or-leave-it/

 

TRANSCRIPT

 

[AD]

 

Nish Kumar Hi, this is Pod Save the UK. I’m Nish Kumar.

 

Liz Bates And I’m Liz Bates, standing in for Coco Khan.

 

Nish Kumar This week who is the real Keir Starmer?

 

Liz Bates I’ll speak to journalist Tom Baldwin about the book that’s got Westminster talking, the revealing biography of the Labour leader.

 

Nish Kumar Plus, why this week’s Rochdale byelection is the most divisive in living memory.

 

Liz Bates And does the Conservative Party have an Islamophobia problem?

 

Nish Kumar Yes.

 

Liz Bates Okay. Well, that’s that section done then. Nish. You’re in LA.

 

Nish Kumar Your instinctive broadcast journalism training. Just came out there without you being able to think about it. You jump straight to the quick, Nish you’re in LA. And how is the mood? I am in Los Angeles.

 

Liz Bates Reporting live from LA. It’s Nish. What can you see there on the ground.

 

Nish Kumar I’m in Los Angeles and I am buried deep within the mothership. I’m at crooked HQ. And, it’s very nice and, it’s it’s very clean.

 

Liz Bates It says here. Nish, can you remind listeners Liz is a political correspondent for Sky news. Go on.

 

Nish Kumar Yes. That’s right.

 

Liz Bates Read your script Nish.

 

Nish Kumar God. I feel like a disgraced politician. I’m being cross-examined by a journalist. This is this is absolutely brutal. I’ve got a new sympathy for them.

 

Liz Bates Answer the question.

 

Nish Kumar Liz Bates is, of course, political correspondent from Sky news.

 

Liz Bates Tell us about LA, though, because I hear that there’s some sort of passport, shenanigans that have gone on with you. What’s happened. Are you stateless is the question?

 

Nish Kumar I’m like Tom Hanks in the terminal.

 

Liz Bates Yeah.

 

Nish Kumar Let’s be clear here, Liz. Here’s what’s happened. The first day I arrived in New York, I left my passport in the taxi.

 

Liz Bates No!

 

Nish Kumar And it was not an Uber. It was a New York yellow cab. And I phoned out my girlfriend and the first thing she said was, don’t talk about this. Because if your mum finds out, she’ll kill you. And now, as I that’s telling you this, now the the problem is I discussed it on Love It or Leave It, which was, the show that I did on Thursday with Jon Lovett. Jon Lovett has a way of extracting information from people clearly that they do not want to give. And so.

 

Liz Bates What did he say that got that was he just like, how are you? And you were like I’m not really allowed to say this, but I’ve left my passport in a taxi. My girlfriend’s going to kill me. My mother is going to kill me. Is that what happened?

 

Nish Kumar So here’s what happened. I left it in the taxi. I realized I’d left it in a taxi as soon as I got out the taxi, but unfortunately, the taxi had pulled away. I had a complete meltdown, as you would. As one would imagine. And, because not only did I lose my passport, it also had my American visa. So not only did I not have a passport, I did not have the paperwork that had allowed me to get into America.

 

Liz Bates This actually gives me anxiety.

 

Nish Kumar Yeah.

 

Liz Bates This is genuinely making me feel stressed.

 

Nish Kumar It was so stressful. Let me tell you though, it does have a happy ending because I walked out of the, place that I was staying the next day and the taxi driver had waited overnight with my passport.

 

Liz Bates No!

 

Nish Kumar Yeah, yeah, he’d actually got back to where he lived in Jersey and driven back into Manhattan and was waiting for me with my passport. It was an unbelievable act of of generosity.

 

Liz Bates That is. That is heroic.

 

Nish Kumar Absolutely. He’s my hero of the week, what, 100%? He’s my hero of the week.

 

Liz Bates Shout out to. Do you know his name?

 

Nish Kumar Yeah. Yes. Nice prince. I actually do know his name. Not so. It’s on the phone.

 

Liz Bates His name’s Prince.

 

Nish Kumar He is hero of the week and villain of the week is my own incompetence. But he. But I. The other thing that I revealed was I felt I was so stressed out by what he had had to go through, that I actually gave him a thousand American dollars and a because I felt sick, because I thought I was going to.

 

Liz Bates Say, did you give him money? But that took a lot of money.

 

Nish Kumar Well, he’d also incurred some parking tickets.

 

Liz Bates Okay.

 

Nish Kumar So, part of it was paying those off, but I then, at a standup club in New York revealed this entire story. And then someone asked the amount, and I said, $1,000. And it’s sort of engendered, I would say, like an atmosphere of suspicion, in the room, because people were very confused by that, then made me defensive, which led me to say, oh, I’m actually quite famous in Britain. I just panicked, I just panicked. And then, then a lady sat at the front row, said, I’m from Britain and I’ve never heard of you, so. All right, all round. It was another fantastic, another fantastic dish. Come up.

 

Liz Bates That’s a that’s a very humbling experience that comes out quite well. And And prince a prince among men.

 

Nish Kumar Well, look, if you want to hear more about my, American based, shenanigans, you can do, because I was a guest on, love It or Leave It, which is hosted, by John love it. It’s cricket’s live variety show. That’s part. Comedy, part politics and recorded live on stage in front of a real audience. To watch ahead to the Love It or Leave It YouTube channel. New episodes drop every Saturday, only in the love it or Leave it fate. By the time this podcast comes out, they’ll be just a few hours for people in Rochdale, Greater Manchester, to go to the polls in the latest Westminster byelection. How many of them turn out remains to be seen, because the choices that have been put in front of them aren’t exactly inspiring. Liz, please remind us of the absolute Suicide Squad Rogue’s gallery vying to represent the lucky people of Rochdale.

 

Liz Bates Okay, so deep breath. We’ve got, first of all, as our ally, suspended by the Labour Party for spreading conspiracy theories about Israel. Another former Labour MP, Simon Dunkirk, was previously sacked for sending sexually explicit messages to a 17 year old girl. Another candidate, Guy Austin, has been disowned by the Greens for making derogatory comments about Islam. And then for the conservatives, well, they seem to have given up already. Their candidate went abroad on holiday last week instead of campaigning. Then you’ve got the former Labour MP, veteran agitator George Galloway, who’s someone, say, opportunistically looking to tap into the anger that some of the town’s Muslim voters feel over Gaza.

 

Nish Kumar Les, you’ve covered, many byelections, in your time is this. You’ll have the most uninspiring line up in your experience.

 

Liz Bates Well, I mean, there’s a lot going on in that line up. It’s a sort of. What is it? It’s kind of the the wreckage of, the Labour Party, if you like, that, you know, various sort of bits of a car in flames. None of those people are all Labour candidates in a in a seat that is a safe Labour seat. And I should say Tony Lloyd, the Labour MP that that died. And that’s the that’s the reason the by election ended up taking place is a lovely was a lovely man. Yeah. So it’s a bit of a shame that this is all kind of, you know, happening so soon after he died and is not in any way a legacy that reflects on his service of the constituency at all, as our ally was the Labour candidate. And eventually they pulled their support for him. But he’s still in the running to Labour, still.

 

Nish Kumar On the ballot. We should say he’s still the Labour candidate.

 

Liz Bates Yeah, because it was all just far too late. Labour then couldn’t, put their own candidate forward. So there’s still a possibility that he might win. Now, George Galloway, what to say? Well.

 

Nish Kumar Yeah, to handle him, just in case there are listeners who don’t know, he was expelled, as a Labour MP in 2003 over Iraq, and he sort of became a kind of firebrand speaker at the time. But he then sort of has now been doing shows on Iran’s press TV in Russia today. He made an infamous appearance on Celebrity Big Brother, where he pretended to be a cat. And, you know.

 

Liz Bates He that was the best thing he’s ever done, I think. Yeah.

 

Nish Kumar That’s right. Yeah. And and he did actually, campaign in the by election in Batley and Spen in 2021. You actually followed that byelection quite closely related to.

 

Liz Bates That election, the best way to describe a by election with George Galloway in it is like you’ve walked into a room where two people, have like just had a blazing argument and you kind of walk in there and you’re like, what is the what’s going on with the atmosphere here? Why why is it so tense? Like, what have you said to each other? That’s what it’s like. It’s just it’s the atmosphere is so tense because his way of kind of you have to get attention for yourself if you’re going to take on Labour and the Tories and the Lib Dems because of our political system, you know, you have to make a lot of noise. And his politics is is very divisive. It’s very kind of attacking of Labour, telling Muslim voters that they’ve been totally sold out and, you know, kind of whipping up anger about international conflicts. And previously it was Iraq. And now, it’s, Gaza in Batley and Spen. He came really close and Batley and Spen was where Jo Cox was murdered. Yeah. Her sister was standing. And you can imagine how difficult that was for the family. And then, then there was all this, you know, hatred being whipped up by George Galloway. And I was working for channel four news at the time. So we went on a on the battle bus with him and the the whole interview was very tense because I was kind of saying to him like, look, you know, this campaign, there’s been a lot of complaints. People say you’re intimidating. He seemed to be constantly flanked by like, not people that would normally be involved in politics. They looked like, you know, bouncers, almost like you lads in like, in sunglasses. And they were always getting in and out of like, range shows with blacked out windows and stuff. It was a really bizarre campaign. I kind of said that to him. And eventually he was just like, this interview’s over, get off my bus.

 

Nish Kumar Bruh.

 

Liz Bates So that he just dumped me on the side of the street with my cameraman, and we were like, what just happened? Yeah. So it just it wasn’t a it wasn’t a glittering moment for my journalistic career. And, yeah, he, he lost that, but like, very marginally. And I think there’s definitely the possibility that, he could win in Rochdale, but he’s a, it will be very difficult for the Labour Party in Keir Starmer if he ends up with a national platform in Parliament.

 

Nish Kumar We should also mention the other story that dominated, at the start of the week. And it’s not a story that’s going to, improve either of our moods. The row over Islamophobia in the Conservative Party, it may well have ended the Tory Party career of a familiar character to us on this podcast, the Anti-woke crusader and MP for Ashfield, Lee Anderson, a man who has made a career out of alternating between hypocrisy and stupidity. It is famously known as £0.30 Lee. For the time, he suggested that people could cook themselves meals from scratch for about £0.30 a day.

 

Liz Bates I think he’s become something of a of a caricature of himself. The things that he says, I think is sometimes done to for the shock value. I think Rishi Sunak brought him in and made him deputy chairman of the Conservative Party. He there may be not naturally, the type of people that would usually work together or even meet each other. But I think his role in Rishi Sunak’s mind was that he would appeal to those kind of 2019 Brexit Tory voters that came along and Boris Johnson, the conservatives, have all but lost, you know, going to the next general election. And I think the feeling was, you know, maybe we can just let Lee Anderson kind of. On the side here and say some, you know, pretty inflammatory things and we’ll just keep a distance from it and hope that some voters think, oh, well, they the Conservative Party still gets me.

 

Nish Kumar He has a show on GBS, a channel which pays him 100,000 pounds a year, separate to his ministerial salary. And he was suspended by the Conservative Party for saying this about London Mayor Sadiq Khan.

 

Clip We’ve got a very cowardly Khan, running in London. He’s. He seems to be light in the, not only the Jewish population now, but the old population of London and Britain as a whole. I hear the comments. Yeah, I had the comments earlier he was making about Suella, some of the comments she made earlier this week. And I don’t actually believe that these Islamists have got control of our country. But what I do believe is they’ve got control of Khan and they’ve got control of London and they’ve got control of Stalham as well.

 

Nish Kumar Anderson insisted that his comments weren’t racist at all, and added that he would not apologize to Khan. While I have a breath in my body. Rishi Sunak said the comments were wrong and unacceptable, but he avoided directly answering whether the comments were Islamophobic, and he declared that he is living proof that Britain is not a racist country. There’s a lot to sort of unpack here. On the one hand, Rishi Sunak is an Asian man, has become prime minister. He is the first person of color to hold that office. But at the same time, he wasn’t elected by the public. And when he was put in front of a section of the electorate, that one conservative MPs, i.e. the membership of the Conservative Party, he lost to Liz Truss. And I mean some of the polling, that’s come out today that’s commissioned by Hope not hate, showing that more than half of Conservative Party members believe Islam is a threat to the British way of life. And it also found that 52% believe the increasingly prominent conspiracy theory that parts of European cities are under Sharia law and are no go areas for non-Muslims. And.

 

Liz Bates Well, I think this is the that’s the problem, isn’t it? Is parroting. It’s using the language that that has come from these kind of conspiracy theories that are online. So the idea that, you know, Sadiq Khan is under the control of Islamists is very conspiratorial language. And it’s the same thing that it was Paul Scully, a conservative MP, who said that there are no go zones in Birmingham and London. And that’s the kind of thing that you that the online takes on a whole different flavor. And it’s and it’s pretty unpleasant stuff. It made me think, though, Nisha, I don’t know. I mean do are there any no go zones in London for you. You live in London? I personally never go into like a Gail’s bakery because I just find it too middle class. It’s just very like I find it quite hostile as a northerner because the pastries are so, you know, expensive. And the sandwiches are.

 

Nish Kumar Such a strange and specific conspiracy theory, but it is one that has very, very real consequences. You know, Sadiq Khan is one of the most protected politicians in the country, and there is a reason for that. He’s one of the most prominent British Muslim politicians. You know, those two things are, not unrelated. And look, coming on top of a week where Liz Truss has appeared with some incredibly unsavory characters, at CPAC, and also continued to indulge, and encourage conspiracy theories in the speech that she gave to the conservative political conference. And Suella Braverman wrote an article in The Telegraph saying that Britain was in the hands of Islamists. On top of the Anderson comment, in the Scully comment. And look, it is my personal view that there is a hierarchy of racism in Britain. If someone in the Labour Party is racist, then that is an extremely serious matter that deserves constant and relentless scrutiny. If somebody in the Conservative party or conservative adjacent is racist, then everyone just needs to grow up and stop being snowflakes. Conservative racism in this country is not taken seriously enough. That is what as a cultural phenomenon allows Boris Johnson’s electoral victory after he had used strings of racist language in newspaper columns that are still available. The Conservative Party has a racism problem and we have no mechanism to scrutinize it.

 

Liz Bates Apart from this podcast.

 

Nish Kumar Oh, man if this podcast is the sole method of scrutiny, then we really are more fucked than I thought we are. Coming up next. And I’m really, really looking forward to hearing this. An interview Liz recorded earlier with Tom Baldwin, author of The Big Political Book of the moment, a revealing new biography of Keir Starmer that’s been making a big splash in the papers.

 

[AD]

 

Liz Bates So with a general election just a matter of months away and Labour streets ahead in the polls, all the signs point to Keir Starmer potentially becoming the 58th prime Minister by the end of the year. So it’s the perfect time for a biography of the Labour leader, which paints the fullest picture we’ve had yet of the man who’s taken his party from its worst election result in 84 years to the brink of returning to power. Keir Starmer the biography hits the shelves on the day we release this podcast. Its serialization in The Times means it’s already been making waves, with one reviewer calling it the most important book of the year. It was written by the journalist and former spin doctor to Ed Miliband. Tom Baldwin hello, Tom. So first of all, how does it feel to have written the most important book of the year?

 

Tom Baldwin I hope it’s important because I think Keir Starmer is going to be important. I think this election is important. And if the polls are right and Keir Starmer is going to be prime minister. He’s going to be going to Downing Street. Still, I think with quite a lot of unanswered questions about him. What this book tries to do is take what’s been a rather two dimensional character, sometimes rather misunderstood, sometimes too easily caricatured, and fill that person in to show the three dimensional side to him. And, you know, I’m very clear that this is not an authorized biography. This is what I hope is an authoritative biography. He’s been written with his cooperation, lots of individuals, families, friends, close to advisors. But he doesn’t like every word. He won’t like every word when he finishes the book.

 

Liz Bates So tell us about that process a little bit because it started off as a memoir. You’re writing it together with him. He gave you full access and then it it became a biography and as you say, an unauthorized biography. So tell us about that process and how that all happened.

 

Tom Baldwin Back in 2022 when? There’s a great big slab of conventional wisdom which said that someone like Keir Starmer could never beat the charismatic Boris Johnson. Labour was set for at least ten years in opposition. People around Keir Starmer were saying, we’ve somehow got to get your message over. We got to get your personality over. And so I was brought in to try and help him put this autobiography together. It became pretty clear pretty quickly. He was uncomfortable with it, and it’s quite Starmer ish that he doesn’t like the idea of 300 pages of him talking about himself. He’s never really liked talking about himself, and I think that’s part of the key to him why he’s a rather untypical politician. Most politicians love nothing more than talking about themselves. He doesn’t. He’s come into politics quite late. He doesn’t see that. Why? It’s necessary to talk about his mum and dad all the time, or where he grew up or his feelings. That doesn’t affect how he’s going to be prime minister, he says. So a lot of this process has been so chiseling out.

 

Liz Bates So it was a bit like pulling teeth because I remember when I was working at channel four news, I did one of the first sit down interviews with him. I said, you know, tell me about your your motivation, your background. What is it that gets you out of bed every day? What is it that, inspires you? And what’s the reason that you came into politics thinking I was just opening the door for him to say, well, this is what my upbringing was like, and these are my values, and this is what I really care about. And he was so, so closed off. And I asked him the question in like 5 or 6 different ways. And I remember sitting across from him thinking, I don’t know if I can use any of this for this, for this piece that I’m trying to put on the news because it’s so boring. He wouldn’t talk about himself personally. So how did you get him to that point where he could see, really? He opens up a lot in this book, some really personal stuff, some really emotional stuff about his parents. How did you get him to that point in time?

 

Tom Baldwin Getting to know him, persuading him that this, these stories, which are still pretty raw to him, I mean, stuff about his dad and not really knowing that his dad loved him until after his dad died and he was cleaning out his cupboard and found his scrapbook, which his dad had hidden of all his kids achievements in his life. Getting a letter from someone in the village saying that when they went round, wrote this time his house and care, became an MP, had the parliament channel in the hope of catching a glimpse of his son. But kid never knew that he dad never said, apart from once in his life, that he’s proud of it and so is all too late. And so.

 

Liz Bates And that was after he died. And he says in the book as well, that he he just felt like he couldn’t even hook him. It happened because he was dying. There was never that many where they said how they felt. And so this is something that he found out afterwards. Yeah. I’m interested in you saying he doesn’t like every word. What does he think about the book?

 

Tom Baldwin He’s read it now. I did show him bits and pieces of it when I was writing it to check my facts, but not to check my interpretation. What he said to me. I don’t know whether I should disclose, but I will. He said that. He’s learned a few things about himself. He’s worked out a bit more of. Who he is and how he fits in with the rest of the world and how other people see him. Sometimes he can be a bit relentless. You know, one of his ex-girlfriends, Philip Kaufman, is quoted in a book saying, you know, he he just keeps going and keeps going. That’s pretty tough sometimes to be around. I’m not sure he always realized that.

 

Liz Bates That, I think, you know, one of the things that people have really picked up on in the book is that relationship with his parents. His mother was very ill. He’s talked about it a little bit before, but we we find out so much more about it, in particularly that difficult relationship with his dad at that moment that you just described. Where he found the cuttings actually makes Philip emotional now and realized that his dad had been, watching him in the House of Commons, hoping to catch a glimpse of him. It’s so small and yet so huge, so, so poignant. I’m not surprised that people have picked out because that difficult, especially for people of his generation, that difficult relationship with your parents, things left unsaid and having those tiny little moments, they couldn’t he couldn’t tell his son that he was proud of him or that he loved him. And then he suddenly finds out after his side. How did you feel when you when you kind of heard that from him?

 

Tom Baldwin I think, to be honest, we both slightly welled up a bit. There’s there’s something there’s something about the scrapbook being hidden. Yeah. It’s not like this is the best family album. Everyone comes around and gets a look at it. It was hidden in the back of a cupboard, and he only found it when he’s cleaning out the house. And there’s something I mean, I think it’s, you know, I mean, this is not.

 

Liz Bates With notes on it that his dad had written.

 

Tom Baldwin Knew his dad because it’s dated. You know, his dad was a craftsman and his very neat handwriting. And he’d put all the photographs in very, very neatly. And he knew that was his absolute dad’s hallmark. Well, I think it speaks to quite a lot of people’s relationships with that particular of that generation. I think, you know, we are quite a buttoned up country.

 

Liz Bates Why do you think it’s taken him, until now to start kind of, you know, talking about his backstory and revealing who he is. You mentioned him being British. You in the book, there’s a a conversation with Obama. I think and certainly the Americans are better at talking about themselves. I mean, Obama is the absolute king of, you know, telling stories and getting that meaning and narrative and weaving into politics. And do you think that was an important moment?

 

Tom Baldwin Yeah, I think it was part of the process. Obama is this amazing storyteller. I mean, I covered when I was a journalist for the Times. I covered the Obama election. I was working in Washington between 2005 and 2009. So I followed Obama around. And his first memoir, Dreams My Father, tells of a very difficult relationship with a sometimes distant father. And so Keir Starmer and Obama were having these zoom conversations organized by David Lammy, who knew Obama when he was at Harvard. And. Okay. It was talking a little bit about his background, and Obama was pulling these stories out of him, probably like I was trying to do here as well. Alabama. So when you said your father wasn’t respected, that’s your story. That’s your political story because there’s been a lack of respect for people, ordinary people in this country. And sure enough, a couple of months after those calls, you know, a couple of calls. He did a speech about respect for the first time, but it’s kid still doesn’t really like the idea of harnessing his family and his background into a great arc of political narrative, because it’s messy. Real life is messy. Real people are complicated. He always used the football metaphor and he said, look, I won’t do my talking on the pitch. I want to do rather than say. And his frustration with being leader of the opposition is, you know, he’s now spent nine years in opposition. He thought he was going to come in and be a minister in Ed Miliband’s government didn’t work out. And his frustration is he you know, he says, I haven’t done anything yet. I spent nine years and I haven’t achieved anything. I mean, some people say they’ve got a lot in change. The Labour Party, in his view, he hasn’t changed people’s lives. And that genuinely I think is why he came into politics.

 

Liz Bates I suppose as well. When you start to talk about yourself and your family, you then, open the door for all of that being fair game. It’s then talked about publicly, and especially if you put yourself on a pedestal, then you invite, people to knock you off it.

 

Tom Baldwin This is something more than that. He has these. Bridges back to his old life. For his family, for his old friends. Got a big network of very old friends. Football’s very important to him. Friends, family. For three years. And in a way he’s so keen to. Keep those bridges open by not allowing politics to contaminate them. Almost to to to. So, you know, he doesn’t like you know, if he if he starts talking about his kids, you I mean wants to protect his kids identity. Never names them. But if he starts talking about his kids, somehow that relationship with them becomes political public property. Not just public property, but it’s almost you’re tainting it. You know with. But using these I don’t. So he’s got these rather standard anecdotes which he repeats over and over again about his kids because that’s a safe place and he’s not really letting people see too much. He doesn’t like to play football with other politicians or for the cameras because that’s his safe place. He goes with his old friends where he can be himself. He likes to go to the pub with his friends. I most times, you know, a politician goes to a pub, they go straight behind a bar and pull a pint for the cameras of a bar that usually he slips into the background. And so the more he makes these parts of his real life, his old life, part of his political brand, the less power they actually have to keep refreshing him as a politician. So it’s he’s he’s stubbornly kind of refusing to let people in too much into that real world, which might be important politically, because he thinks he’s actually trying to protect something about who he is and what he might do if he’s prime minister.

 

Liz Bates I’ve worked in in politics for a long time, and I don’t know if you agree with this, but I always, think if you don’t immediately define yourself, other people will step into that vacuum. I think you call it in the book, and define you. Now, this time has been defined and was very early on as a kind of member of the establishment, a night, a, you know, the kind of North London liberal elite, a barrister. And I think that really cemented itself in, in voters minds quite quickly. Is it too late now for him to retell that story? Because that’s not him at all. He is so not the establishment. I mean, when you read this book, his, his, his childhood especially is very it’s not just working class. This there’s poverty and struggle and ill health, you know, there’s a lot going on.

 

Tom Baldwin Yeah. And I think, look, people are complicated and. Whenever you see a political caricature, it’s almost always wrong. Is it too late? I don’t know some of the reaction I’ve been getting to my book. She to me. It may not be, a guy from the BBC said. We’re never going to be able to call him boring again after this. He’s not.

 

Liz Bates I remember asking him in a press conference, this was quite early days, standing up and saying, you know, are you too boring to be prime minister and all these Labour members sitting around me going, boo boo boo? That was what people were saying at the time on the doorstep. You know, it wasn’t me asking him if he’s boring, although I, I do find him, you know, quite he’s he’s a real introvert. Certainly around the press. You know, I’ve met him a few times and he’s like, you know, he’s not he doesn’t have a kind of, natural charm in the way that some politicians do.

 

Tom Baldwin He’s not a typical politician. I think quite a lot of people, if you suddenly put a camera on them, would be different up a bit. As with everything that Keir Starmer does, he learns and he works at it. So I don’t think he’s the best conference speech speaker, but it’s much, much better than he once was. I don’t know, he’s a best ever performer at PMQs, but he’s much better than he once was. He’s much better at talking about his background than he once was. And there’s a kind of perseverance and relentlessness about this guy, which. Is impressive, you know. If he sees something he’s not good at. He will try very hard to get better at it. Even though he says himself. I’m never going to make a conference speech like Neil Kinnock. I’m never going to be as brilliant at PMQs as William Hague. It’s also worth pointing out, not that those have won a general election and. You know, there’s something about the, flashiness, which I think is quite important about him. So much of politics in recent years has been this grand spectacle of fireworks. I mean, and Tony Blair conjure up these visions of shining cities on the hill. We can always get beyond the artist’s impression. And Boris Johnson would gather a huge crowd around him as he tried a bonfire. Of all the things that we need most. And Starmer. He talks about building blocks. He’s always going on about building blocks and the building blocks of his argument. He puts one on top of another and no one’s going to watch that much. And it might even be a bit boring. But turn your back and come back. Always build a house. And what’s left of Johnson is a sort of smoldering wreck.

 

Liz Bates One of the things about this book, I mean, there’s lots of kind of analysis, and I think you do get an incredible sense of of who he is. And it’s it’s beautifully written and it’s just a great story, as well. But just give us a sense of some of the anecdotes, because there’s some quite funny anecdotes that build a picture of who he is. I mean, he he was a kid at school that would kind of get into fights, and at university he lived above a brothel.

 

Tom Baldwin That was after he left university.

 

Liz Bates Yes, after university. You’re right.

 

Tom Baldwin Yeah. Where he then gave legal advice to some of the women working below stairs. You know, it’s very, very Starmer-esque?

 

Liz Bates Classic Keir Starmer. Yes. The other thing that surprised me was the, northern soul dancing, cause that’s such a big thing in, in, you know, where I come from and just.

 

Tom Baldwin I mean, I’m not certainhe does.

 

Liz Bates He did it because you have to learn how to do it properly. This like.

 

Tom Baldwin I know people who have seen leave a, like, party dance. And he does that funny thing with his feet, with the face.

 

Liz Bates And so you can’t lift your arms up the.

 

Tom Baldwin Whole thing of the spins and flips. He does that apparently. Yeah.

 

Liz Bates Because we have a working men’s club in the village that I come from, and if you lift your arms up a lot, then people will sort of come over and be like, well, can you stop doing that? I’ll just get off the dance floor. People go and take changes of outfit, put talc on the floor. Anyway, this is not about me.

 

Tom Baldwin What one of one of my most prized gets in the book is that there’s this northern indie band from Leeds where Stan was at university.

 

Liz Bates Whose band.

 

Tom Baldwin The wedding present?

 

Liz Bates The wedding present. Okay.

 

Tom Baldwin And so and he in this book that, the wedding presents have just produced of all these different fans from around the world on some of about page 242. So there’s a picture of Keir Starmer, Sir Keir Starmer and Peaky talking about his favorite track and how he knew them. And, you know, one of them, you know, one of his friends lent a guitar to them when they were starting out and they never got it back. And yeah, and he does have a kind of he does have a hinterland, music is quite a big part of him. Football’s an enormous part of him and almost to a point of dysfunction. One of his friends, Mark Adam, says most politicians pretend to like football to pay more normal. If kid’s going to pay no more, he probably has to tune the football bit down a bit because it’s a bit obsessive.

 

Liz Bates He’s an obessive?

 

Tom Baldwin Yeah. I mean, I mean, when the Arsenal fixtures come out, he immediately goes to his diary secretary and goes, can we block that off, block that off, block that off. Now where he’s gonna be up, do that and down the street, I don’t know. And that’s part of. The story. You know, I mean, we spoke a bit today about how he needs these bridges back to real life to feel that he’s himself. Well, security is not going to let him sit in the standard arsenal. Security is not going to let him play outside football. Kentish Town. His kids are going to have to move to Downing Street, probably. I mean, though his daughter says she’s refusing to go. I mean, if he wins and everything has to be in it. But so. So how he maintains that contact with the outside world and that those things which are very important to reaffirm his sense of his self, I think, is actually quite a big question as he gets further down the road towards Downing Street.

 

Liz Bates There’s lots of things that about him that ordinary people could identify with. The, you know, the love of football, the, you know, very, quite normal family, working class background, and all these other things, interest in music. And yet he still is not really connecting with a lot of voters who have a very similar life experience to him. Why do you think that is?

 

Tom Baldwin Partly it’s his reluctance. He just doesn’t want to let people in. There’s another side to him as well, which is he’s not just this very ordinary bloke. He’s a very, very high achieving, high striving, high driving bloke.

 

Liz Bates And he’s there is something that’s the thing. He’s not just an ordinary guy. There’s something different about him as well. I mean, he’s simply just call him Super Boy. Does that aspect of him root like relentless, hardworking.

 

Tom Baldwin And ruthless.

 

Liz Bates And ruthless.

 

Tom Baldwin And that’s the thing which I think makes him hard to gauge somehow. I mean, I had this conversation with him once about. All these old friends and endless anecdotes of his decency and how he turns out when the most in need and things like that. But you look at his leadership, l’hépatite. And he’s ruthless as hell. I mean, did I tell you one story? So when? My old boss, Ed Miliband, stood in for Keir Starmer at very short notice because Tom had got Covid. They stood him from at PMQs and he did really well. And the sketch writers, of course, went oh, there’s the passion that’s been lacking. Why can’t Keir Starmer be as passionate and as principled or exciting as, you know, they’re not that nice about Ed Miliband when he was leader. That’s the way it goes. But he did really well. And sometimes when you’re understudy does well. You know, this might be a bit out of joint. I just don’t assent to messages, he wrote in a note. He even texted Justine, his wife, to say when he walks in the house. You make sure he knows how well he’s done and it was genuine. He knew it’s cathartic for her to write this horrible experience. 2015. But then a couple of months later, Keir Starmer strips Ed Miliband of the post of shadow business secretary because that was what was necessary in his view at that time. And that juxtaposition of decency. And really hard, ruthless, driving bastard sometimes is quite extraordinary.

 

Liz Bates And it’s that’s real, I think, because I, I mean, that’s what that was. His reputation, when he became Labour leader. Decency, integrity, he was almost, you know, the antithesis in some ways of Boris Johnson. Right. And then the the way that I mean, you know, this is obviously a central part of his story as a politician getting rid of Jeremy Corbyn. You know, there are I mean, as you say in the book, there are different recollections of how that all happened. But I remember covering it as a journalist, Jeremy Corbyn found out that he’d been chucked out of the Labour Party by a cameraman standing in the street. And I interviewed Keir Starmer quite soon after that. And I was genuinely surprised at how, unsentimental he was. Whatever you think of Jeremy Corbyn and, you know, lots of people have lots of different opinions of Jeremy Corbyn. This is a man, a former leader, who’s dedicated his life to the Labour Party.

 

Tom Baldwin It’s not happened since Ramsay MacDonald. No leader has been had the whip taken away from him.

 

Liz Bates No conversation like they you know, he hadn’t spoken to him.

 

Tom Baldwin It’s it’s extraordinarily ruthless and almost like judicial. It’s like you crossed a line out. The interesting thing is, even now. I’ve not found a single quote from Keir Starmer attacking Jeremy Corbyn’s character or personality. In sum, actually, Corbyn doesn’t attack Starmer. The both of us old fashioned, don’t believe in personality politics and you differ in circumstances like that. I mean, lots of people around each of them say awful things about each other. There’s actually something rather old fashioned and stiff. They don’t attack each other personally. It’s about this narrow dispute about whether Jeremy Corbyn broke this rule and so on. I’m the only person I think Keir Starmer really hates in politics is Johnson. He and he, you know, he took a while to do that. He doesn’t hate. He just acts in quite a cold, clear eyed fashion.

 

Liz Bates What do you think he hates about Boris Johnson.

 

Tom Baldwin He’s bullshitter. And he’s almost the opposite of Starman. So it’s interesting both of them had quite successful careers before they became MPs. They’re unusual politicians in that sense. Both of them have therefore an appeal and a breadth of experience outside narrow politics. But whereas. Starmer’s about rules and integrity and systems and trying to make things work. Johnson is all about entitled bullshit show. And he. I think Stone absolutely loves that kind of guy. You know, he that he’s pulled himself up through life, through hard work and achievement and facts and Johnson’s swarmed in and have been allowed to get away with things because he’s got a sort of easy charm and can make some punny jokes. And they are chalk and cheese.

 

Liz Bates I think maybe you hate Johnson as well, Tom.

 

Tom Baldwin I hate him. I hate him before anyone else did. I wrote a column for the Times 2002 entitled why I Hate Boris Johnson. Which I think you precedent.

 

Liz Bates You were on the ground floor.

 

Tom Baldwin I said, what? Well, one of the few things I wrote, as a journalist, which turned out everyone else believed eventually too.

 

[AD]

 

Liz Bates Tell me what you learned during writing this book about Keir Starmer’s politics, because that’s something I think that people, certainly voters, people in journalism, people who work in Westminster, have struggled to identify what his politics really is because it it’s changed during his leadership. He’s made promises on various things that he’s reversed. How if you can just give us a sense, first of all, how was it forged? I mean, he grew up under Thatcher.

 

Tom Baldwin Yeah. And in a very sort of Labour supporting Socialist House. And he’s called care for a reason. He’s named after Labour’s first leader, which is unusual in Surrey. He definitely doesn’t have a sort of fixed ideology, and that’s really important. He’s not part of a faction. He doesn’t have a bunch of Starmer rights around him. There may not be a sort of fixed storm arisen, but I do think he has values. I think they’re recognizable values, but they’re not codified by the you know, they’re about a sort of everyday decency. I don’t help people get on. I dislike of snobbery. I mean, it does have a green side. I mean, despite, you know, dropping this 28 billion pounds spending pledge, I think the green Green Party has run through his career and his and his and his life. He does have a very, very firm belief in. In international bodies, which I think is very important terms of foreign policy. He you know, the Human Rights Act is about an interdependent world. And he also sees it as a vehicle for extending Britain’s soft power. If you’re looking for some rigid ideological apparatus or a label, depend on him, you won’t get it. But I think it’s not the same as just competence and technocracy. There are the values, but values are immutable. They’re about feelings. He’s a complicated person in the way that real people are complicated and politicians aren’t allowed to be.

 

Liz Bates I suppose it’s worth mentioning as well that, you know, a lot of this book shows him in quite positive light. But to fully understand someone, you have to speak to the critics, their enemies, as well as their friends. And you did that?

 

Tom Baldwin Yeah. And I think it’s absolutely fair to say that sometimes his critics have a point. You know, if I was one of those people on the left, the Labour Party had voted for Keir Starmer as Labour leader because of the ten pledges. I think you’ve got a good reason to feel fairly pissed off at the moment. I think he has made mistakes. His Labour leader, you know, he misspoke at the end of the party conference in an interview on LBC about Israel Gaza. I didn’t correct it fast enough. He made a mistake and I think quite recently on the Rochdale byelection, in initially standing by the Labour candidate, the before then quite ruthlessly getting rid of him. So you know this guy’s not perfect. He’s still I think learning how to be a politician. He still. Unlike anybody. He will get things wrong. What’s important, though, is how you react to making an error. Do you double down behind that error, or do you actually sometimes say, yeah, hands up, I’ve screwed up. I’m going to learn from that.

 

Liz Bates The way that you describe his personal life, is quite nice. He’s very domesticated, you know. There’s this, image of him kind of separating warring cats.

 

Tom Baldwin That’s when I went around his house for Christmas last year. One of the final interviews for the book. And it arrives in this great big cavalcade of security cars like this. Because three cars. And this is why I was startled. Woman with her dog. And then he goes in the house and it’s freezing because a bullet is broken. And, you know, as I’ve said, we’ve got the plumber coming round, so. So we wait for the plumber to come round and he’s making tea for the plumber, and then he gets go upstairs and said, what’s wrong with the plumbing? The boilers making weird noise. And then his kids are coming back and his son’s just done a mock English GCSE. And yeah, he’s talking about the Mideast peace process. He’s talking about this and then this terrible noise out in the garden. And he kind of comes and goes, and there’s Jojo, the cat who’s got into a massive cat fight. And so in the middle of this quite long interview, he’s standing in the garden and just arrived. And this is separating the cats. And then he comes back and he’s got blood dripping down his hand from one of the cats. He’s got a bit of kitchen roll wrapped around it, and it’s this sense of this quite ordinary bloke almost relishing. This ordinariness, still this domesticity, as he’s preparing for the final ascent on the summit. And he loves all that. He loves all that chaos. And there’s this great bit at the end where I’m trying to still get to where there’s a Starmer ism. And so I say maybe it’s his relationship with the state and more active interventionist state, because there’s a bit of that. And then he goes into an anecdote about something that’s Gordon Brown told him about how businesses have a different relationship with society post financial crash. And then he talks about his friend Colin Peacock, who he was meant to meet in the Pineapple Pub later. But he can’t because he’s busy. But Colin works for Procter and Gamble and understands about business too. And then he talks about Arsenal’s community program. And they’re a business and they’re doing stuff in community. Okay. So you’ve got a former prime minister. You’ll make Colin down the pub an arsenal, explain your new relationship and say that’s very Starmer ish, isn’t it? Is there a Starmer ism? And he goes, I don’t know. I just want to get things done. At which point Vick, his wife, says if you really want to get things done, could you order a takeaway? Got any food? So yeah, I mean, he is an ordinary bloke. Yeah. He’s doing an extraordinary job.

 

Liz Bates Tom, it’s a beautifully written book. Completely fascinating. Very important that we get to know this man who might be, prime minister possibly this year. And thank you so much for being on the podcast.

 

Tom Baldwin Thank you so much for having me.

 

Liz Bates It’s been a pleasure.

 

Nish Kumar We’ve had some lovely responses to our guest last week. The unexpected political commentator Will young, Carolina has emailed from Cape Town to say, Will for PM, please get him back. Best guest ever. Harry has also emailed in and said If William wants to put up pictures of Jacob Rees-Mogg lying down on the Commons benches around Somerset, then I will rent us a van and drive up an. Alice Murray has commented on YouTube. Will is spot on about changing the Commons and Parliament in general to a modern, purpose built building. The whole thing is on the verge of falling down anyway, and MPs have been dithering about getting it fixed for literal decades. Commissioning costly report after report. Effing Rees-Mogg. And that’s not me censoring Alice. Alice has taken it upon themselves to censor the F-word. I just didn’t want anyone to think that I was. I was intervening there of effing Rees-Mogg wants any repairs to be done with MPs staying in the building throughout, which adds millions and years to the estimated cost. It’s an appalling shambles. Last week’s episode with Will young is definitely well worth a listen back if you missed it. He told us he’s thinking about having a go at becoming an MP, and you can find the episode in our feed.

 

Liz Bates We’ve also had someone on TikTok writing in Defending Your Villain last week, Nish, the anonymous writer of that sign in a hospital library banning smelly Indian food at petal 585, says I work in a library. The books really do absorb strong smells like spicy food, cigaret smoke, etc. it ruins the books.

 

Nish Kumar Well, you say it ruins the books. I say it adds texture. That’s part of the reason that I like books rather than, ebooks or reading them on an e-reader. I like the fact that books absorb the memory of the places that they’ve been. Where is your sense of romance @Petal585? Imagine, you know, flicking through a copy of bleak House by Charles Dickens and getting the waft of a decade old boner. That’s the romance of literature. It absorbs, it remembers, and it passes that knowledge on. I think that’s absolutely great. You could get in touch with us by emailing PSUK@reducedlistening. Co.Uk. It’s always nice to hear your voices. So do send us a voice note on WhatsApp. Our number is 07 5146 4457. To internationally that’s +44 7514 644572.

 

Liz Bates And don’t forget to follow at Pod Save the UK on Instagram and Twitter. You can also find us on YouTube for access to full episodes and other exclusive content. You can drop us a review too if you like.

 

Nish Kumar Liz, thank you so much for joining me once again and thank you so much.

 

Liz Bates It was a pleasure.

 

Nish Kumar For having a chat with Tom. You’ve done a sterling job, a sterling job.

 

Liz Bates I’ve enjoyed it very much.

 

Nish Kumar I’ll be back. On safer ground in the United Kingdom, next week. Till then, have a wonderful week. Especially if you live in Rochdale. I’m so sorry.

 

Liz Bates Just because of the by election, not because Rochdale’s lovely. We love Rochdale.

 

Nish Kumar We love Rochdale, man. I should have made that clearer. Pod Save the UK is a Reduced Listening production for Crooked Media.

 

Liz Bates Thanks to senior producer Musty Aziz and digital producer Alex Bishop.

 

Nish Kumar Video editing was by Dan Hodgson and the music is by Vasilis Fotopoulos.

 

Liz Bates Thanks to our engineers David Dugahe, Charlotte Landes and Claudia Shang.

 

Nish Kumar The executive producers are Anoushka Sharma, Dan Jackson and Madeline Herringer with additional support from Ari Schwartz.

 

Liz Bates Remember to hit subscribe for new shows on Thursdays on Amazon, Spotify or Apple, or wherever you get your podcasts.