It is a music collection that has something for the former heartlands, the masses and the hundreds of thousands of youthful members who joined the party under Jeremy Corbyn – but Sir Keir Starmer has insisted focus groups had no role in a Desert Island Discs selection that appears to reach out to different Labour wings.
The Labour leader speaks of his love of northern soul and his euphoria at singing an England football anthem at Wembley, during his appearance on today’s edition of the BBC Radio 4 programme. He also chooses a song featuring Stormzy, the grime artist who backed Corbyn’s leadership.
Starmer selected northern soul classic Out on the Floor by Dobie Gray as one of his tracks. “I love northern soul,” he says. “And this reminds me … of my early days in London, with a group of friends in a really grotty flat above a sauna or a massage parlour that kept interesting hours.”
He says he would “not be foolish enough now” to try to dance to it. He also selects the football anthem Three Lions by David Baddiel, Frank Skinner and the Lightning Seeds, citing his love of football. “In order to really appreciate this song you had to be in Wembley in the crowd – I was in the upper tier – for the semi-final of Euro 96 when we’re playing Germany and for the whole stadium to be jumping up and down, rocking to this.”
His final selection was a cover of Bridge Over Troubled Water by Artists for Grenfell, featuring Stormzy. He says that despite party politics, it is “a reminder about what politics is really about”. He adds: “I chose Stormzy because my children love Stormzy and so it will remind me of my children.”
Labour is having to fight to win back support in northern seats after the last election and has been accused of becoming too metropolitan and liberal. Meanwhile, Starmer has been warned by the left that he faces losing huge numbers of Labour members attracted by Corbyn’s politics. Asked if advisers had seen his list, he said: “These are entirely my own choices. If you run into anybody I’ve known for a long time, they will tell you this is the genuine Keir Starmer list.”
Starmer, who was central to Labour backing a second referendum at the last election, acknowledged that the Brexit position “came up in a very negative way” in many northern and Midlands seats. “I’ve got to accept that,” he says. “And that’s a fair challenge. Obviously, it was differently received in Scotland – there was never an easy position for our party in that election.”
He admits he said a lot of “daft” things as a young political radical, writing for a socialist magazine and failing to convince voters in east Surrey to back nationalisation. “I started by thinking I had all the answers. And as I’ve grown up, I’ve learned the power of saying, ‘I don’t know, let’s have a look at that’. And that’s been a very important lesson for me.”
He becomes emotional as he recounts his mother’s struggles with severe illness and says he regrets not being close to his father. Starmer says his book choice would be “a detailed atlas, hopefully with shipping lanes in it, so I can get myself off this island” and that he would also take a football, which he still plays each week.
Three Lions by Baddiel, Skinner and the Lightning Seeds
The song composed for England’s doomed attempt to win Euro 96, the country’s last home tournament, was selected by the football-loving Labour leader to remember his time at Wembley watching the semi final defeat to Germany. Like Jeremy Corbyn, Starmer is an Arsenal fan. He says he has played football each week since his youth.
Out on the Floor by Dobie Gray
A classic of northern soul, which Starmer says reminds him of his early days in London, where he built “lifelong friendships”. The song was first released in the UK in 1975, when it reached number 42 in the charts. A second release in 1983 saw it reach number 95.
Bridge Over Troubled Water by Artists for Grenfell
Starmer says the version of the song reminds him that “in the end, politics is about people”. He said that the Grenfell tragedy “brought a shudder to everybody”. He adds that he had chosen a track featuring Stormzy because his children loved his music.
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