A collection of tools

Keir Starmer has said his dad’s a toolmaker almost 30 times in four years

Keir Starmer has said his dad’s a toolmaker at least 29 times since 2020, with over half of the mentions in the last year alone.  

Starmer, whose father did indeed work in a factory as a tool maker, has repeatedly used the association over the course of his political career since being elected leader of the Labour Party in 2020. 

The Labour leader was recently forced on the defensive after being laughed at by the audience during a Sky News debate when he once again brought up his father’s profession. 

Since 2020, the number of toolmaker mentions has steadily risen, peaking in 2024 at 11, which averages at around one mentions per month.  

Looking over the last year, toolmaker references skyrocketed to five within just the month of June 2024 – the same as 2020 and 2021 combined. 

The numbers came from reddit user ‘ControlAndS’ who collated a list of the 44 times Keir Starmer or someone else mentioned the Labour leader’s tool-maker father, noting that the list was not exhaustive and there may be more. 

It does, however, beg the question: for how long have politicians been name dropping mum and dad’s job titles?

And, more importantly, why?  

Dr Simon Griffiths, who teaches and specialises in British politics at Goldsmiths University of London, said: “We’ve moved increasingly towards an era of 24/7 media coverage, with more focus on party leaders than was previously the case.

“Going back over the decades, politicians have often cared about the slightly problematic beer test – who would you prefer to go for a drink with?” 

Dr Griffiths explained that politicians talking about their parent’s job may be an extension of this, and a way to ‘get down with the people’: “They want to establish, particularly at election time, that they are normal people who have the same backgrounds and upbringings as many of us. 

“I think Keir Starmer’s particularly interesting because he was elected during the pandemic and not many people knew much about him and, to them, he’s Sir Keir Starmer – he’s trying to undo some of the assumptions people might make about him being a north London, Oxbridge educated barrister. 

“He talks about his background to get across the fact that he actually does come from a relative working-class background, certainly the most working-class Labour leader since Jim Callahan in the 1970s.” 

For Dr Peter Kerr, associate professor in politics at the University of Birmingham, politicians mentioning their parents’ jobs is not a new phenomenon, but they all have their own distinct flavour. 

He said: “Rishi Sunak can’t do the same as Keir Starmer, he’s nowhere near working class, but what he does say is that his dad is a GP.  

“He keeps saying that in relation to questions about the health service, so I think his motivation is slightly different – the NHS is one of the biggest concerns out there for voters right now, and he’s trying to assure them that the NHS can be trusted in his hands.” 

Dr Kerr theorised that Margaret Thatcher, the daughter of a greengrocer, was one of the first to use the tactic.

He said: “[Thatcher] had a different ideological message she was trying to convey compared to Starmer. 

“She would say ‘my parents were green grocers’ because she was trying to show that her parents worked very hard, and it’s hard work that gets you places.” 

According to Dr Kerr, there are other ways politicians have alluded to their background to aid their political pursuits besides bringing up their parents’ work.  

He said: “What Tony Blair famously used to do every now and again is slip into a so called ‘working class’ accent; he would drop some of his t’s for example.  

“So, there were times when Tony Blair wanted to be statesman-like and he’d speak in one way, but when he wanted to look more down to earth, if he was maybe talking about football, he starts slightly adjusting his accent.  

“This was widely picked up on and was his method of doing what Keir Starmer is doing.” 

A similar thing can be found in this cringe-worthy 2013 speech from George Osbourne on the benefits system, where he claimed that the “Briddish people badly wannit fixed”. 

So, will being the son of a toolmaker help Keir on the 4th of July? 

Dr Kerr said “I don’t think anybody’s buying the ‘Keir Starmer is one of us’ and a guy we’d like to have a pint with. I don’t think he’s winning that battle. 

“I would say that Keir Starmer is probably doing the right strategy in the sense that he just needs to keep his head above water during this campaign. 

“To succeed, he just needs to get through the rest of the campaign in one piece without any major things going wrong for him.” 

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