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Alastair Campbell’s Diary: Keir Starmer’s Brexit strategy is baffling

Labour has put economic growth at the heart of their electoral campaign, but they will not succeed until they resolve the damage Brexit continues to inflict

Image: The New European

To an event in Ely, Cambridgeshire, where normal Brexit service was resumed… not one single arm raised for “well” when I asked for a show of hands among several hundred people on whether Brexit was going “well” or “badly”. This followed the shock of that single hand being raised among a similar-sized crowd at Hay-on-Wye, as recorded here last week, after a long run of “nul points” in different parts of the country.

Of course, I freely accept that people who pay to hear me talk about a book that most of them bought are more likely to be the sort who share my general outlook, and who would probably know that I have never wavered in my view of Brexit as the worst act of self-harm imaginable at this stage of the UK’s and the world’s development.

So I am not pretending these crowds reflect the whole country. However, I have been getting much the same reaction from what might be termed “neutral” audiences – business conferences, colleges, charities, international gatherings. Likewise, the direction signalled by opinion polls is all one way right now.

It makes the timing of Keir Starmer’s article in the Daily Express adamantly sticking to his “make Brexit work” approach all the more baffling. “Fix Brexit”, “Sort Brexit”, “Clear up the Tories’ Brexit mess” would make me more confident that he understands why I keep banging on about something said by the Canadian ice-hockey legend Wayne Gretzky: “I skate to where the puck is going, not where it has been.”

The puck has moved a long way from all that “will of the people, Brexit means Brexit, have cake and eat it, all upside no downside, sunlit uplands” sloganising before reality caught up with the Johnson lies and Farage fantasies. The puck is currently heading fast towards “Christ, this is worse than any of us expected.” That goes for red walls, blue walls, and walls of any colour you care to paint.

Now I understand that if you’re writing in the Daily Express, you are likely to be addressing majority Leave voters, who continue to read the paper despite it having told them many thousands of times that Brexit was going to be brilliant and, even as it turns out to be anything but, that it is still brilliant. I also understand that, as the paper is regularly telling readers that Labour is essentially a Marxist plot against pensioners, and Keir Starmer a woke warrior who wants to empty prisons and put trans activists in charge of all quangos, it is not a bad idea to get the occasional article in there. In it, he did land a few blows on the Tories and their woeful record. He did set out areas where Brexit was damaging the country and where the practical arrangements with the EU would have to change.

But the overall impression an Express reader would have been left with was not that far removed from the “we just have to believe in it more” protestations of the true Brextremist denialists.

Labour has put five “missions” at the heart of its strategy for the election campaign to come, and the first term in power that hopefully follows. Mission One: “Secure the highest sustained growth in the G7, with good jobs and productivity growth in every part of the country, making everyone, not just a few, better off.”

Amen to that. But it is simply not going to happen until we fix the damage that Brexit has done, is doing and will continue to do, unless we start being honest about the scale of that damage in the first place, and the scale of change needed to sort it.

“Who do you think would make a better prime minister,” asked one of the Ely questioners, “Rishi Sunak or Vincent Kompany?” It raised a good laugh among some, but I sensed from puzzled looks that though all knew who Sunak was, a fair few people didn’t recognise the second name. So, interactive as ever, I asked for all those who didn’t know who Vincent Kompany was to raise their hands.

About four in 10 did so. I was stunned. It’s not just that he is manager of Burnley, the greatest club in the world, and has taken us straight back to the Premier League in his first season with us. It’s also that he is one of the most successful and decorated players of recent times, both as captain of Manchester City, and of Belgium.

We football fans sometimes forget that there are a lot of people out there who literally have no interest in football, and quite a lot who actively dislike it. As to the answer to the question… to those who do know Kompany, it’s pretty obvious!

Talking of not knowing who people are, I was interviewed for a podcast about celebrity by two journalists in their early 30s. Among the names I mentioned who were total strangers to my interlocutors: Koo Stark, Menzies Campbell, and Roger Bannister. Am I getting old, or are journalists just less well-informed than they used to be?

To save you looking them up: Prince Andrew’s one-time girlfriend; ex Lib Dem leader; first man to break the four-minute mile barrier. But you knew that anyway… didn’t you?

Phillip Schofield had an affair, and lied about it. Boris Johnson has had lots of affairs, and lied about them. But Boris Johnson has also lied about far more consequential things, many times, and yet from the vast bulk of the media has had to endure neither the opprobrium nor the scrutiny that the daytime TV presenter has endured in recent days.

Oh sorry, I forgot … “the disgraced former daytime TV presenter”. Why is Johnson never “the disgraced former prime minister”, given he had to resign in disgrace? Answer: because the same people losing their sense of perspective about Schofield also lost it about Johnson, but in a totally different direction.

They built him up despite knowing his failings; they ventilated rather than challenged his political lies; they helped cover up rather than expose the lies about his personal life. If our media had ever given the Schofield treatment to just one of Johnson’s many big lies, he would never have got within 1,000 miles of the most important job in the country.

Schofield is ruined, a broken man. Johnson broke a country, yet continues to play the media like a fiddle, gets the taxpayer to pay huge legal bills needed to defend his Covid lies, buys a house for £4m cash and fights to put his donors in the Lords.

When it comes to damage done and crimes committed, Johnson is in a different league to Schofield. His political and media enablers are in some ways as bad as he is.

And because they backed him, they can’t bring themselves to tell the truth about him even now.

My favourite text of the week came from the former Welsh education minister Leighton Andrews: “Listening to your podcast in France. The ads are from the French government, telling us that if our pee is too dark in the morning, we should drink lots of water.”

Now that’s what I call a proper preventive healthcare system! And could it be that the algorithm had digested my book, in particular rule 1 of my campaign guide: “If you see water, drink it (yellow piss is loser’s piss)”?
Or am I letting this Artificial Intelligence thing get to me?

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