‘WHEN I was a child I didn’t dream of being Prime Minister,” a drained-looking Keir Starmer declared at the weekend, following a round of probing questions from the BBC’s Laura Kuenssberg.

He had the air of a teacher of unruly pupils, pointing out to them in a moment of exasperation that he would happily be anywhere else in the world, and that by not listening to him they are only harming themselves.

Starmer had big dreams, once. Now he’s running on the fumes of duty and obligation, hoping the UK electorate can at least scrape a half-decent grade but realistic about the chance they’ll ever amount to anything. When he was running for Labour leader, he made pledges that reflected his values, he says. But “since then, three years on, a lot has changed.”

Of course, it’s undeniably true that the past three years have been very eventful, but it feels like Starmer’s been leader of the opposition for twice as long and it’s striking to hear a politician all but admit that his values have had to go out the window.

He’s now left spinning like a weather vane, trying to “earn every vote” while having to caution voters that his big dreams may no longer be affordable, thanks in part to a disastrous Brexit that he must now pretend is only a minor inconvenience, like an F in a prelim that won’t matter if a C can be achieved in the final exam. It’s painfully clear that he doesn’t believe it. He is not daft.

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He wants to reform the NHS while ensuring healthcare remains free at the point of use. His party have some sensible proposals about self-referral options and more radical ones about making GPs NHS employees, but he stated last year that there were too many foreigners working in the NHS. Did he even believe that, or was he just “earning every vote” by pandering to the racist and xenophobic elements of the electorate?

Who does he imagine will fill these new NHS GP roles, and what their motivation will be? Duty and obligation, perhaps. Good luck with that UK-only recruitment campaign.

When grilled about a possible U-turn on scrapping tuition fees once he and his shadow chancellor have crunched the numbers and costed all of their policies, he defended his change of stance. He suggests the media is wrong to assume that the public will want a new prime minister who “dogmatically insists that whatever was the position before can never change, even when the circumstances have changed.”

This also underpins his stance on Brexit and in fairness, it does not necessarily follow that a Remainer must become a rejoiner. It’s true that while the media loves a U-turn headline, sometimes switching position is the right move.

But how does the Labour leader explain his apparent change in stance on gender recognition reform, given the only change in circumstances of the past few weeks is the actions of his opponents in the Conservative Party?

It’s now official that the UK Government will use Section 35 of the Scotland Act to block the Gender Recognition Reform (Scotland) Bill, and now Starmer has “concerns” about it too. Simply stating that his own desire is to “modernise” the Gender Recognition Act 2004 “to take out the indignities” will not cut it.

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He can’t keep dodging the subject by claiming others are using it as a political football, or simply parroting phrases like “trans women are women” as if that even begins to answer the complex and technical questions about how pieces of UK and Scottish legislation interact.

He might want to start by reminding himself that there is no such thing as the UK “Equalities Act”, and following that he could have a read of Lady Haldane’s judgment from the Court of Session last year about the meaning of the word “sex” within the Equality Act.

You would be forgiven for thinking that a lawyer with Starmer’s experience would have at least an intellectual interest in the questions raised by this debate, but the truth is that it’s not in his political interests to fully engage with it, especially not while the ding-dong between the SNP and Tories plays out.

No doubt his strategists have assured him that the public will support his position that 16 is too young to change legal gender, but also that it would be unwise to get into detail about exactly why. When it comes to interactions between the Gender Recognition Act and the Equality Act, don’t expect him to elaborate.

He may feel he has a duty to save the UK, but stepping onto that minefield is an obligation too far.

Asked why Scottish Labour MSPs voted through legislation that he now says he doesn’t agree with, he pointed out that they tried tabling amendments to no avail.

He does not address the obvious follow-up question of why they were then whipped to vote through the unamended bill.

Starmer absolutely does not want the role of teaching the UK public about gender recognition reform or campaigning for some kind of qualified form of self-declaration.

At this point, he is teaching to the test, with one eye on opinion polling and the other on a calculator. Forget values, focus on votes.