HENDRY DEEDES says Keir Starmer is struggling to shed his image as the Tim Henman of politics 

‘I’ve seen grittier performances in lost episodes of Crossroads’: HENDRY DEEDES says Keir Starmer is struggling to shed his image as the Tim Henman of politics

Back in the days when Tim Henman was the lonely standard-bearer for British tennis, his sponsors struck upon a scheme to toughen up his image.

The softly spoken, public school-educated darling of the home counties lacked the necessary steel for an international sports star. Too prim, too proper, they thought.

The poor marketing men at Adidas tried just about everything: new clothes, new haircut. They even suggested old Henners stop shaving for a few days to appear more rugged.

Even then, he appeared about as menacing as a Hare Krishna monk.

A similarly doomed project seems to be under way among Labour’s image-makers to give Sir Keir Starmer a flintier makeover.

Keir Starmer: A doomed project seems to be under way among Labour¿s image-makers to give the Labour leader a flintier makeover

Tim Henman: The softly spoken, public school-educated darling of the home counties lacked the necessary steel for an international sports star

 The poor marketing men at Adidas even suggested old Henners stop shaving for a few days to appear more rugged, and a similarly doomed project seems to be under way to give Sir Keir Starmer a flintier makeover

At PMQs, the opposition leader has begun to adopt a more snarling, aggressive tone — all ‘come on ‘ave a go’ and ‘in-yer-face’ attitude.

Should he arrive in the Commons over the coming weeks sporting a Hells Angels jacket and a pair of bovver boots (vegan-friendly), we should not be too surprised.

The problem is he remains so woefully wooden. I’ve seen grittier performances in lost episodes of Crossroads.

You can just see the voice coach over at Labour HQ having kittens: ‘Keir darling, let’s try it one more — but this time do you think we might inject a bit of oomph into it? You’re auditioning to be Prime Minister, not the voice of the talking clock.’

Yesterday, Sir Keir chose to zero in on ambulance waiting times. He asked the House to imagine that someone, somewhere in the country at that moment was experiencing chest pains and required urgent medical attention. (For some reason I was reminded of that tale about U2 singer Bono informing an audience that every time he clapped his hands a child in Africa died. To which someone replied: ‘Well, stop doing it then!’)

Considering the pummelling the PM gave him the week before, Rishi would probably have been happy to follow Sir Keir down a dark alley with a blindfold on

Considering the pummelling the PM gave him the week before, Rishi would probably have been happy to follow Sir Keir down a dark alley with a blindfold on

Starmer asked the Prime Minister how long he reckoned the ambulance would take to reach them. Rishi smiled as though content to follow his opponent down this avenue.

Mind you, considering the pummelling the PM gave him the week before, Rishi would probably have been happy to follow Sir Keir down a dark alley with a blindfold on.

He pointed out that Starmer had opposed the Government’s anti-strike Bill — if Labour were in charge, some days the ambulance wouldn’t even leave the hospital car park.

Sir Keir leapt to his feet as though having a Eureka moment. Classic Sunak — ‘Deflect, blame others, never take responsibility!’ Starmer declared.

Bravely, he chose to continue with his imaginary tale of coronary distress, though it was clear his dramatic story was failing to grip the chamber in the manner he had envisaged.

Just as the pub bore drones on undeterred long after last orders, so Starmer pressed ahead

Just as the pub bore drones on undeterred long after last orders, so Starmer pressed ahead

Conservative MPs folded their arms and impatiently checked their watches. Even Labour’s Home Affairs spokesman Yvette Cooper began to steal sly peeks at her phone.

Yet, just as the pub bore drones on undeterred long after last orders, so Starmer pressed ahead.

He relayed to the House the news that our patient was now ‘in a bad way — sweating, dizzy’. So were most of us in the press gallery over the length of time this story was going on for.

Still Rishi refused to be drawn into the guessing game.

Eventually, Sir Keir put us out of our misery by announcing an ambulance could take as long as an hour and forty minutes to arrive. In comparison with Sir Keir’s endless yarn, that now seemed decidedly speedy.

The rest of their exchanges? Oh, just the usual back and forth of familiar insults. Starmer accused Rishi of ‘playing politics’. Rishi replied that the Labour leader was the ‘living example of political games’ and ‘in the pocket of his union paymasters’. Tepid, knockabout stuff in other words. Neither of our combatants quite live up to their ‘hard man’ billing, however much their spin doctors might try and convince us otherwise.

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