HENRY DEEDES watches the Labour leader as he faces his first audition with the electorate

His jaw was clamped shut, his shoulders forced back and his legs were wrapped together tighter than two pythons strangling a gazelle.

Along his upper lip, a thin film of sweat glistened under the piercing hot studio lights. I’m no body language expert but when Sir Keir Starmer popped up on the BBC Breakfast sofa yesterday morning my first thought was… tense!

Stiffer than whipped meringue peaks. A man on the defensive. But then could you blame him?

The Breakfast Show format is not Sir Keir’s domain. It requires a relaxed, showbizzy touch a la Blair or Cameron, which he hasn’t mastered.

When Sir Keir Starmer popped up on the BBC Breakfast sofa yesterday morning my first thought was… tense

Worse than that, though, he’d just woken up to a poll claiming the Conservatives held a 17-point lead in tomorrow’s Hartlepool by-election.

In his first audition with the electorate, it seems increasingly likely that humiliation looms.

One minute 12 seconds. That was how long it took for Labour’s leader to trot out his first excuse. Interviewer Louise Minchin, she of the wan smile and occasional matronly glare, had barely dispensed with the pre-match pleasantries and already Starmer was dampening his party’s expectations.

He’s been handed a ‘huge mountain to climb’ he said after voters rejected Jeremy Corbyn’s crackpot manifesto in 2019. A manifesto, of course, that Sir Keir had been only too happy to campaign on. Travel restrictions also meant he hadn’t been able to get out and about. ‘Forget about kissing babies, I haven’t shaken the hand of a single voter,’ Sir Keir complained.

Considering that disastrous pub trip not long ago when he was ambushed by the owner and forced off the premises, this has been no bad thing.

A harder-nosed interviewer might have scoffed at all this. Instead, Minchin treated Sir Keir’s responses with respectful nods in the manner of a kindly GP listening to a patient reel off his ailments.

She asked Starmer if he would resign should Hartlepool turn blue on Friday.

An immediate ‘no’ might have been sensible. Instead, he blathered on about how he’d always taken responsibility when he was Director of Public Prosecutions, presumably to remind viewers of his big-shot legal career.

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