John Harris

Journalist & Author

These are big moments in our history. Why is Labour’s response so small? | John Harris

Keir Starmer can skewer Boris Johnson in the Commons, but competence isn’t enough. He has to spell out a vision, and soon

One of the most glaring aspects of the Covid-19 era is yet another Westminster-centred crisis of political leadership, if not politics itself. This may be a polarised age in which the idea of millions being helped through dark times by the people at the top is laughably old-fashioned. Trust in power has hardly been a feature of recent British history. But it has been clear from the start of this crisis that Boris Johnson has neither the gravitas nor the basic administrative talents to offer us any convincing kind of inspiration or comfort, and the surreally poor quality of the cabinet only makes things worse.

And then there is Keir Starmer. In the eyes of most voters, the Labour leader is clearly a vast improvement on Jeremy Corbyn. The skills he developed as a lawyer mean that he does such an enviable job of skewering Johnson and his colleagues’ failures that it has become a cliche to even mention it. The union jacks Starmer habitually appears in front of are clearly intended to tell the people rattled by Corbyn’s time at the top that all is now well again. But for many reasons, the use of such symbols feels awkward and incongruous: here, it seems, is someone who would like to channel the national mood, but cannot yet find a way to do it.

John Harris is a Guardian columnist

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