THE People’s Party has a new leader, Sir Keir Rodney Starmer, Knight Commander of the Order of the Bath. Yes, there originally was a real bath involved, as part of “purification” rights required before knighthood was conferred. These days, you’ll be glad to hear, Labour’s new frontman was only required to kiss hands with the monarch – which, come to think of it, is riskier than it sounds.

The motto of the order is tria juncta in uno, meaning “three joined in one”. This refers to the three kingdoms claimed by the Crown: England, Scotland and (back in the day) France. (Note: Wales and Ireland don’t count as they are only colonies.) I’m not sure if Starmer is required to reconquer Calais for the Crown, but he is certainly obliged to keep Scotland inside the Union or go back to being a commoner.

There is a desperate symbolism in Labour’s new leader flashing his honorific, bathroom title. His party predecessors will be turning in their political graves. Harold Wilson, possibly the most intellectually clever Labour leader (and PM) of the 20th century, deliberately courted a “man of the people” image, complete with trench coat, pipe and holidays in the Scilly Isles.

True, Wilson was given the Order of the Garter, but only after he retired and only after his Alzheimer’s had set in. Besides, it’s normal for outgoing Labour PMs to get a KG, as a reward for betraying their class. But never before they have delivered.

Yet here’s an interesting thing: Starmer is actually from a

working-class background – his dad was a toolmaker. The only other genuine working-class Labour leader was Jim Callaghan. Clement Attlee, Hugh Gaitskell, Harold Wilson and Tony Blair all came from impeccable middle-class professional backgrounds and went to public schools – Wilson being the exception as a grammar school boy. And, of course, Jeremy Corbyn was middle-class born and educated. Starmer is the odd one out.

There is a truth buried here. Starmer is a chameleon – socially and politically. He is a proper working-class lad turned card-carrying member of the English legal elite. He was a serious lawyer (joint head of chambers), leading serious civil liberties cases, unlike the gadfly and intellectually superficial Tony Blair. Starmer’s stellar legal career puts him at the very heart of the British establishment.

That is why his accession to the Labour leadership is so significant. For Labour’s transformation into a mass, anti-austerity movement – the biggest by membership in Europe – still threatens to upend the stability of British capitalism and its financial caste. It is a radical movement that has to be tamed. Starmer has been channelled as the man to do it.

Starmer is an uncanny pseudo-incarnation of the fictional Judge John Deed, played on television by the actor Martin Shaw. Deed is an ultra-liberal English High Court judge who battles the establishment (political and legal) to defend civil liberties and human rights.

Starmer did this in working for trades unions and defending Helen Steel and David Morris in the infamous McLibel case in 1997, when McDonald’s sued the two environmental activists over their factsheet criticising the company.

On the back of this political exposure, Starmer was elected for the safe Labour constituency of Holborn and St Pancras in London at the 2015 General Election, with a majority of 17,048. Five years later he is Labour leader. Judge John Deed takes on the Tories?

Yet amazingly, there is more to Starmer than naked ambition a la Blair – which is why his emergence at this critical juncture is important. Starmer really is named after Keir Hardie. He really was attracted to radical politics in his youth. He was active in Labour in his teens in the turbulent 1970s – the years of mass strikes and Wilson and Callaghan’s attempts to crush the unions.

IN the 1980s, while studying in Oxford, Starmer joined the International Revolutionary Marxist Tendency, a Trotskyist splinter led by Michel Pablo, the colourful Greek political maverick. This outfit was not the usual robotic sect, but promoted worker self-management, ecosocialism and feminism. This shows Starmer has an imaginative hinterland, despite his rather stiff public persona.

Keir Starmer, exotic ex-Trot, might seem an odd replacement for Jeremy Corbyn and his retinue of dull, bureaucratic Stalinists. How does this reposition Labour, the better to restore “normal service” politics in post-Brexit, post-virus Britain? The answer is that precisely because he is a chameleon (and enigmatic to boot) Starmer is well-placed to appeal to a wider constituency than unsubtle, colourless Jeremy Corbyn.

Note how Starmer deftly tacked leftwards during the leadership campaign, sufficient to allay the fears of Labour activists that he was going to trash Corbyn’s legacy. Yet, equally, Starmer was studiously ambivalent about what new policies he was in favour of, the better to entice in new supporters joining (or rejoining) in search of a post-Corbyn centrist future.

And, of course, Starmer’s long history as a trades union lawyer brought in the cash and apparatus of the union bureaucracy to aid his victorious campaign. Starmer may be Judge John Deed on the surface, but he is an opportunistic, hard-nosed barrister in real life, willing to seduce the Labour “jury” for his own political ends.

What are those ends? A swift look at Starmer’s time as Director of Public Prosecutions is very revealing in this respect. Between 2008 and 2013 (when he became a Labour candidate), Starmer was head of the English Crown Prosecution Service, a pivotal establishment post and the job that got him his gong.

In this post, Starmer proved anything but Judge John Deed. In fact, he defended numerous establishment cover-ups of the sort Deed was sworn to unmask. In 2009, Starmer approved a decision not to prosecute any police officers over the controversial shooting of Jean Charles de Menezes. He was the innocent Brazilian student gunned down by Metropolitan Police officers while sitting quietly on a Tube at Stockwell Station, bizarrely mistaken for a terrorist the day after the 2005 London bombings.

Starmer has proven he can deliver for the British Establishment. Yet by securing their man at Labour’s helm, that establishment has taken a gamble. The nature of parliamentary democracy is that you need a Labour Tweedledum party to balance against the Tory Tweedledee lot.

There has to be a “safe” alternative to the Tories, otherwise the Scots

will see sense and bolt for independence, while the English working-class might be tempted to revolt after all. Is Starmer really the man to make Labour electable? Successfully confronting Boris Johnson might have been easier with a woman Labour leader or someone able to match Johnson’s populist appeal.

Alternatively, the crisis created by the coronavirus, or dealing with the economic disaster it has created, might favour someone of Starmer’s more solid qualities. He might yet turn out to be Judge Keir Starmer, seducing us to “pull together” in the new, post-Covid-19 era of austerity, as we “rebuild a better Britain” – complete with tax rises for the poor and tax breaks for business.

But let’s not hang around to find out. Scotland has no need of either the Tory Tweedledee or Starmer’s Tweedledum.

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