Keir Starmer: The Biography by Tom Baldwin - review by Tim Bale

Tim Bale

Who Says Things Can Only Get Duller?

Keir Starmer: The Biography


William Collins 448pp £25

When it comes to Labour leaders of the opposition, Tom Baldwin knows what he’s talking about. For five gruelling and ultimately fruitless years between 2010 and 2015, he was head of communications for the Labour Party and a senior adviser to its leader, Ed Miliband. As a veteran journalist – he has been deputy political editor, Washington bureau chief, chief reporter and assistant editor at The Times – he is also an experienced interviewer and effective writer. It’s no surprise, then, that this biography of Keir Starmer, the current leader of the Labour Party, is a well-sourced and well-crafted book. It also manages – just – to stay on the right side of the line that separates sympathetic biography from hagiography.

Starmer’s political trajectory is unusual: he wasn’t elected to Parliament until the age of fifty-two, following a legal career in which he rose to the post of Director of Public Prosecutions. Accordingly, a good half of the book focuses on his life before he was selected (with a little help from the Labour Party hierarchy) to fight the safe north London seat of Holborn and St Pancras in 2015. Anyone who pays attention to British politics will be familiar with the facts that Starmer’s father, Rod, was a toolmaker and his mother, Jo, was a nurse – possibly to the point of rolling their eyes as he mentions it yet again (apparently, we learn, on the advice of Barack Obama). But Baldwin does a very good job of giving a detailed picture of his upbringing in the Surrey village of Hurst Green. Indeed, the book’s treatment of his relationship with his buttoned-up, slightly controlling (some might say chippy) father and his more emollient mother, who had to cope with a serious chronic illness while bringing up four children in sometimes tight financial circumstances, is genuinely touching.

All this has had a lasting effect on Starmer. He is fiercely protective of the privacy of his family and is acutely aware of how much of a struggle life can be for ordinary people, even in ostensibly well-off parts of the country. It has also given him a ferocious

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