Keir Starmer’s gamble appears to be working


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Good morning. Could Keir Starmer’s leadership really come undone over the Israel-Hamas war? The Labour leader clearly thinks so, and is cutting his cloth accordingly. His big speech on the conflict yesterday tried — and thus far appears to have succeeded — to send two very different messages to two different audiences. How long can he keep it going? Some thoughts on all that below.

Inside Politics is edited by Georgina Quach. Follow Stephen on X @stephenkb and please send gossip, thoughts and feedback to

Biden his time

Keir Starmer said two things about the Israel-Hamas war yesterday. The first was that calling for a ceasefire is a mis-step, that he is not going to do it, and that he is very clear on why that would be a mistake. That was the substance of his big speech. The second is that you can disagree on these things, do it publicly, and remain on the Labour front bench. That was what he said in response to press questions afterwards.

Because opposition to Labour’s “official” policy on a ceasefire is so widespread across the Parliamentary Labour party and on the front bench, there isn’t really a way to form a front bench without including at least some politicians who are calling for a ceasefire. (Remember, too, that there aren’t actually a whole lot of Labour MPs at the moment: the opposition front bench still includes MPs who are standing down at the next election. There are not many spare frontbenchers floating around currently.)

Starmer’s gamble yesterday was that his speech would be written up outside the Labour party as a brave display of political leadership and heard within the Labour party as a “don’t worry, you can still oppose this policy and remain in the tent”. At the time of writing, that gamble appears to be paying off.

The risk of course is that Starmer can’t control how the Israel-Hamas war plays out. An event which puts further fuel into demands for a ceasefire could force him into a painful climbdown, or plunge his leadership into crisis. Now, one advantage he has at the moment is that as painful as this situation is for him, it is much more painful for Joe Biden. Unlike Starmer, Biden’s re-election hopes look to be in serious doubt at the moment. Unlike Starmer, reputable polls are showing a real decline in voter support for the US president.

Those pressures are part of why Biden called for a “humanitarian pause”, that form of words that helped to ease the pressure on Starmer at the start of the week. Starmer, whether he knows it or not, has bet heavily that Biden’s electoral discomfort is more acute than his, and that he will be able to move towards the Labour party on the ceasefire issue at a slower pace than Biden moves towards the Democratic party. If he’s right, he may end up with the best of both worlds. If he’s not, then he may be in serious trouble sooner rather than later.

Now try this

I saw Killers of the Flower Moon last night. I did not like it at all: it felt like watching a taut thriller in which someone has accidentally shown the flashback scenes first.

A three-and-a-half-hour film in which we in the audience are always one step ahead of the characters is not a good way to spend your time. But I suppose if I had watched it at home, the fact I could have very easily followed it while working, cooking or playing video games on my laptop without losing the thread might at least have made it feel less of a chore. For a more positive review, here’s Raphael Abraham, but my advice is: go see Past Lives instead.

(Given what a taut and well-made movie Past Lives is, you can go see it, and get a nice meal in to talk it over afterwards and still get home sooner than if had you watched Killers of the Flower Moon.)

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