A former Tory chancellor has said Sir Keir Starmer is more than ready to become prime minister as he issued a stark warning to former colleagues on the threat Labour’s new leader posed.
George Osborne said Boris Johnson and the Tory ministers faced a “plausible opponent” in Sir Keir.
Speaking with Fraser Nelson for piece in the Telegraph, Osborne said the Labour leader was in such good form he could literally walk into No 10 “immediately”.
“Just a few months ago, there seemed to be no risk of Labour coming back to life. Starmer seemed doomed to endless battles with the Corbynites, with no time to focus on the government. He had nothing memorable to say as we went into lockdown, or when we came out,” Nelson wrote.
“But some Tories are now starting to worry that he is cutting a more convincing figure.
“George Osborne recently told me that Starmer looks as though he could walk into No 10 immediately. It has been a very long time, he said, since the Tories have been up against such a plausible opponent.”
Nelson issued his own words of caution to the party, noting that Sir Keir could “make life a lot harder for the Tories if he were to start listing the side-effects of lockdown, and arguing that not enough is being done for the victims”.
In fact, the Spectator editor went as far as to suggest the prime minister had disregarded Sir Keir’s support for the government’s coronavirus measures at his own peril.
Nelson wrote: “Since the start of the pandemic, Boris Johnson has encountered almost no political opposition to his Covid plans.
“He’s had a few angry backbenchers, with some cabinet members moaning about being kept in the dark, but no parliamentary drama.
“The prime minister had been telling friends that he didn’t even have to think about Sir Keir Starmer’s arguments about his handling of the pandemic as they never amount to anything. But now, that’s starting to change.
“Take the recent skirmish over the 10pm curfew. For once, Starmer asked to see the evidence behind the policy he was being asked to vote for. As he knew, there wasn’t any.”
Praising the Labour leader, Nelson continued: “[Sir Keir] will ask questions, ask for a strategy, ask for proof – and if there isn’t any, then he’ll let the world know. On certain smaller issues, he may vote with Tory rebels to defeat the government. Just to show that he can.”
He added: “His strategy – to question, but not oppose – has left him embarrassingly unable to say what he’d do differently. But even posing questions will have force – especially when the leaders of Leeds, Manchester and Newcastle city councils (all Labour-run) are putting up more resistance to the government.
“Tory backbenchers are itching for a rebellion and had hoped Starmer would join them in voting to end the government’s emergency powers last week. The message came back: an interesting idea, but not yet.”