Keir Starmer makes a surprise appearance with Alastair Campbell at cosy panel event

Keir Starmer and Alastair Campbell at Union Chapel, Islington (Intelligence Squared and Leon Foggitt)
Keir Starmer and Alastair Campbell at Union Chapel, Islington (Intelligence Squared and Leon Foggitt)

Londoner’s Diary

Keir Starmer, rock star? It seemed so at the Union Chapel in Islington last night where the Labour leader turned up as the surprise guest at a panel discussion about the future of Britain.

The event — with Tony Blair’s former spin doctor Alastair Campbell and the economist Will Hutton — was interrupted by the arrival of Starmer who was greeted with applause, whoops and cheers.

“Can I just say thank you for that welcome, it’s really fantastic to be here,” said Starmer.

A lifelong Gooner, he started with a football analogy after his beloved Arsenal were beaten at home by Aston Villa on Sunday. “I’ll be straight on this at the shadow cabinet tomorrow to remind them that however far you think you are ahead, you’ve got to keep fighting like you’re five points behind — all of the time.”

The event promoted Hutton’s new book, This Time No Mistakes, about what Labour should do if it gets into government.

“When Will told me what the title was,” Starmer said, “I could feel the weight of Will coming down on me.” Hutton previously wrote The State We’re In in 1996, shortly before Blair became prime minister, and the book was something of an economic bible during the early years of the New Labour government.

Pondering a big win at the election, Starmer reflected on previous Labour landslides like 1997: “What binds those three governments together, each time – '45, '64, '97 – the Labour Party glimpsed the future and took people to a better place. And there’s a real lesson in that, particularly at the moment because I think the mood is pretty, pretty grim.” He repeatedly claimed the current government had “beaten the hope out of people”.

The event was comfortable home turf for Starmer, who lives a short distance away, and the audience was adoring. Both Hutton and Campbell are old friends of his. They were both vocal Remainers and campaigned for a second referendum to reverse Brexit while Starmer was Labour’s shadow Brexit secretary under Jeremy Corbyn.

The only real hint of disagreement last night came over the question of wealth redistribution, which Hutton advocates in his book. “Will, we’ve also got to create wealth in the first place,” said Starmer, “and that we are not doing as a nation. So yes, redistribution is very important. Always is to any Labour government. But there’s a bigger problem at the moment and that is we are not growing our economy.”

Starmer was not able to stay for the whole evening because he was drawn away to parliament to vote on the Rwanda Bill.

Liz Truss, philosopher

Plato and his distant successor
Plato and his distant successor

Happy publication day to Liz Truss, who says she was so nervous about the release of her new book Ten Years to Save the West over the weekend that she cried. There was nothing to fear, it turns out: the former prime minister has secured a spread of across-the-board publicity for the book, the like of which money can’t buy. Why? Largely thanks to her increasingly blasé interview answers about everything from the Supreme Court (abolish it) to Donald Trump (get him back in the White House), to her own handling of the economy (“nobody’s perfect”). And there was more good news this morning. The world’s biggest bookseller Amazon, where you can pick up TYTSTW for £16.99, has categorised it as a “Philosopher’s Biography”. Amazon’s algorithm also suggests readers pair Truss’s book with Nadine Dorries’s The Plot, her tale of a nefarious conspiracy against Boris Johnson. Dorries walked so Truss could run, the Socrates to her Plato!

Beware of dog

It’s getting dangerous on the doorstep for London’s politicians. With Assembly elections on May 2, Lib-Dem candidate Gareth Roberts got in touch with a harrowing campaign tale — he has been bitten on the bum by a pet whippet. “The dog initially seemed friendly enough, but as I was leaving the property, it nipped me quite hard on my backside,” Roberts told the Londoner, “and I’ve now got quite impressive bruising but am thankfully otherwise none the worse for wear.” Has the intrepid politician got any tips for other candidates? “Yes, if you spot a ‘Beware of the Dog’ sign in a window, beware! I thought being bitten on the bum by a dog was the sort of thing that only happened in cartoons.”