You may be surprised to learn that Keir Starmer has much in common with Enda Kenny, Charlie Haughey, John Bruton, Bertie Ahern and many others on this side of the water.
How’s that? We hear you ask with more than a little puzzlement.
Well, all of the above, and quite a few more, have been almost written off as leaders of the Opposition, and deemed not to have the right credentials to successfully do the top job leading government.
Reality is that all the Irish ones cited above did emerge from opposition and deliver a good account of themselves in the Taoiseach’s office, albeit in their own way, and according to the times in which they served.
Mr Starmer, currently the UK Labour and Opposition leader, was equally written off. But he has now got his redemption from the commentariat a little earlier than usual.
This is largely, but not solely, due to the British Conservative Party’s rolling suicide mission which began back in summer of 2010 when they got their current run in government.
In England, and here we mean the larger and most populous element of Britain, there is a growing feeling of inevitability of Keir Starmer will be the next British Prime Minister very soon. He could well be in office after the next election due in January 2025 at the very latest, but more likely to happen in late 2024, if not before that.
The embattled current prime minister, Rishi Sunak, this day last week woke up to his first positive media headlines since he took up the job late last October. He has delivered a decent compromise on Northern Ireland’s special post-Brexit trade status.
Changing mood music is not the same thing as reversing political fortunes when your crowd are being beaten by a tonne. But it is a help and true-blue Tories will hark back to John Major’s rearguard action in winning the 1992 British general election against all the odds.
Something like that happening again for Rishi Sunak is possible but unlikely. Keir Starmer is showing signs of enhancing his many political advantages from this on.
We do not need to waste time reminding ourselves how Boris Johnson knew little about Ireland north and south
The Democratic Unionist Party may deny Mr Sunak’s new deal depriving the North of power-sharing. But life in the greater UK will go on and such an outcome would help Mr Starmer who wants to put Brexit in the back of the cupboard.
Staying with the UK bigger picture, I am obliged to various heavy-hitting journalist colleagues in London for reminding us that back in winter 1993, the determinedly decent John Major helped the North’s peace efforts by his Downing Street Declaration. Mr Major declared that Britain had “no selfish, or strategic, or economic interest in Northern Ireland.”
My real gratitude to London fellow scribblers, is that some of them have said what many of us have long thought. There are too many words in that Major declaration: we could simply say “no interest at all” when it comes to London’s take on matters North of Ireland.
That lack-of-interest maxim could go alongside a whole array of one-liners which offer a thumbnail sketch of Brexit as it hit these islands in June 2016 and persisted to the present day. Another Brexit kicker would be that the EU-UK divorce happened because British Labour failed to get the pro-EU vote out in the midlands and north of England.
But that UK schism from the EU came about in part because British Labour has always been deeply riven over its engagement with Europe. Through my decade spend in Brussels many English friends remembered British Labour as the real adversaries of Brussels.
We do not need to waste time reminding ourselves how Boris Johnson knew little about Ireland north and south before, during, and after Brexit. Neither do we have to dwell upon how he cared even less. Let us just rejoice that Mr Johnson is gone – and not likely to return bar his forays into the showbiz end of politics.
Better look at what is coming down the tracks and ask: What does this Keir Starmer mean for Ireland? This is the fate of small nations close to a larger former exploiter, with which there is post-colonial business.
We know that a previous Labour UK prime minister, Tony Blair, was exceptional when it came to interest in Ireland. We have heard Mr Blair’s representative during the Good Friday Agreement talks and beyond, Johnathan Powell, explain this.
It came from Mr Blair’s religious convictions and his Donegal-based Protestant grandmother.
Mr Starmer, is a former civil rights lawyer who worked for the Northern Ireland policing board and cited this experience as part of his motivation for going into politics. Now he has hired top civil servant Sue Grey, she of Johnson “partygate investigations”, as his chief of staff.
Ms Grey, on a sabbatical, ran a pub in Newry at the height of the Troubles. Not a bad sign at all.
In politics, as elsewhere, you get nothing for nothing. But speaking to those who are interested is a big help.