Starmer's conversion is about trying to win an election - but will it lose him trust?

Sir Keir Starmer and Labour supporters.
Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer. Credit: PA

With Keir Starmer - it is quite a conversion.

From a committed socialist loyal to Jeremy Corbyn to the Labour leader who welcomed one of the most right-wing Tories (Natalie Elphicke) into his party and is now running on a promise of wealth creation.

Earlier this week, Starmer did not reach for former Conservative leader, Liz Truss, when criticising Rishi Sunak's manifesto, but Corbyn himself, suggesting Labour's previous manifestoes were simply a list of uncosted policies.

The hope is to put some distance between him and the former Labour leader, but the risk is that it serves as a reminder of the shift.

During his leadership campaign, Starmer argued that the 2017 Corbyn manifesto should be seen as a "foundational document" for Labour, claiming no one could ignore the hope it inspired.

He first claimed to me that he only served Corbyn believing he could never win in a documentary for ITV's Tonight programme earlier this year, strengthening that position last night to Sky News' Beth Rigby.

But why the shift - and could it be damaging with voters?

After all, public trust in government and politics is at rock bottom. On ITV's Peston we've tracked it slumping, down to just 9% of people who believe that politicians will tell the truth.

That distrust has fuelled a situation for MPs that is becoming intolerable, with levels of abuse online, but also in person, now at shocking levels.

So, why did Starmer change his mind, and can we trust him not to do so again?

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In truth, Starmer had his eyes on the prize of Labour leader for a number of years before he actually ran, and his team knew that for any chance to win two things needed to happen.

First, he had to be loyal to Corbyn, because Labour's membership demanded it. And second, he had to (ultimately to be fair) take a pro-remain position on Brexit.

Starmer - but also Morgan McSweeney who ran his leadership campaign, and advisers like Chris Ward - knew that they had to position their man in a place that could win over members.

Some think they went too far with the 10 pretty left-wing pledges, many of which have been dropped.

Starmer argued last night that he believed in those pledges, but the economic reality had changed, and clearly they have.

But he also made a deliberate decision after winning over his party, to turn Labour to the country.

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And switching the membership 'selectorate' for the wider 'electorate' has clearly resulted in quite different decisions.

Take Brexit, for example. Starmer and McSweeney knew that to win over British voters Labour needed a more 'efficient' vote, building up support in marginal red wall seats, even if it meant losing some support in Uber-safe urban constituencies.

That is why - despite previous Labour leaders advising against it - they quickly persuaded the party (actually through the hard work of Rachel Reeves, who was then shadow Brexit secretary) to back the Conservatives' Brexit deal.

Their journey to reach out to Tory voters has continued - and to some of the left - it feels too much. Tens of thousands of Labour members who backed Corbyn have left the party.

But Starmer's calculation is that many who stayed support Corbyn, but want Labour to win more than that.

That is his argument for such a shift in position.

Credit: PA

But it does play into one critique that he faces. What does he, himself, stand for?

Those close to him insist that Starmer's politics is to the left of some of those around him, and perhaps not so far removed from those 10 pledges he stood on.

They also argue that he initially, genuinely wanted to try to be the unity leader within Labour, with a wide shadow cabinet. And they say he never expected to be throwing Corbyn out of the party.

But they now see that shift to the right, distancing himself from the former leader, as strategically powerful. And they clearly believe it is the platform he should stand on today.

But there is no question that it carries a risk of raising questions around trust and integrity.

Starmer's next chance to answer that question, maybe as prime minister, when it should become clear whether he really is still the 'socialist' he claims to be.

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