KEIR Starmer is “trying to appease the billionaire press” by praising Margaret Thatcher, according to a leading political commentator.

The Labour leader is facing criticism for his comments about the divisive former prime minister.

In a comment piece for the Sunday Telegraph, Starmer said the Tory titan had sought to “drag Britain out of its stupor by setting loose our natural entrepreneurialism”.

His comments sparked criticism from both the left and right of the Labour Party as well as his opponents in the SNP.

They were widely interpreted as praising Thatcher (below) – reviled on the left – in a bid to court Tory voters.

The National: Margaret Thatcher with Geoffrey Howe

But pundit and academic George Monbiot, who writes for The Guardian, said Starmer made the comments in a bid to win the favour of the right-wing billionaire press.

Speaking on the BBC’s Politics Live, Monbiot said: “He’s not trying to woo Conservative voters, he’s trying to appease the billionaire press.

“That is the permission slip which any Labour leader needs, is to make sure that [Sun and Times owner] Rupert Murdoch and [Daily Mail owner] Lord Rothermere and [Telegraph owner] Barclay or whoever… In order to win.

READ MORE: Labour insist Keir Starmer is a 'conviction politician' like Margaret Thatcher

“And it’s a profoundly undemocratic situation that this handful of billionaires have got their fingers around the throat of politics in this country.”

Starmer was criticised by former Tony Blair aide John McTernan who in an op-ed for The Guardian warned the party leader’s “relentless” pursuit of courting Tory voters was “in danger of backfiring badly”.

McTernan wrote: "[Starmer's praise for Thatcher] happened because Starmer is listening to focus groups of swing voters. But the brutal truth is that there are no swing voters left – when support for the Tory party has fallen to 25%, there is no longer a pond to fish in.

"You’re convening groups of voters who are undecided whether to vote Tory, stay at home or opt for Nigel Farage and the Reform party. Sure they have views on what would make them listen to Labour – but they will never switch."

The National: Pat McFadden

Pat McFadden (above), Labour's national campaign co-ordinator has defended Starmer, telling LBC the Labour leader had not meant his comments as an “endorsement” of Thatcher’s record.

Thatcher is a totemic figure of the Tory right for dismantling Britain’s old industries and embracing free market capitalism while crushing powerful trade unions.

Her critics say her programme of deregulation and rapid deindustrialisation is still responsible for many of the social problems facing Britain more than 30 years after she left office.

Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar has so far remained silent on the comments – but has been asked for his views by SNP Westminster leader Stephen Flynn.