Not much classical in Keir Starmer’s life

Not much classical in Keir Starmer’s life


norman lebrecht

November 15, 2020

The Labour Party leader was on the BBC’s Desert Island Discs this morning.

His passions are football and politics. There is not much music in his life. Of his eight selections, two were by Beethoven – the Pastoral Symphony and the Emperor Concerto. ‘These are entirely my own choices,’ he says.

Full list here.


  • Luca says:

    He did better than Cameron, who chose stuff like “Ernie, the fastest milkman in the West”.

  • Simon Dearsley says:

    My Dad loved Jim Reeves, but he was born in 1927. What is Mr Starmer on! I had hoped for a higher level of insight.

  • Anthony Sayer says:

    No surprise, there. The Pastoral and the Emperor are the most neutral choices by a composer who everyone admires. Unlikely to offend the football fans he courts nor the politicos whose air he shares. The Spectator’s caricature of him is spot-on.

    • Liz Budd says:

      Keir Starmer played piano, violin and flute at school and had classes at Guildhall School of Music. He’s a friend of Daniel Barenboim.

  • Dragonetti says:

    Well, each to his own. As long as he’s sympathetic to the arts, especially in his sphere of political influence, then that’s fine.
    I don’t much like football or most sport come to that but I’m not going to use that as an excuse to judge someone else’s choices even if the poor chap does like Jim Reeves!

  • Jason Lewis says:

    His choices seemed to be based on associations and events rather than personal favourites.
    In his early years he played the flute, piano, recorder and violin, and was a junior at the Guildhall School of Music.
    Beethoven piano sonatas are a favourite, evidently.

    • Liz Budd says:

      Glad somebody else knows about his musical prowess and taste. Also a friend of Daniel Barenboim. Liz Budd

    • Liz Budd says:

      Private Passions would no doubt reveal his classical side – specially Beethoven sonatas.

      Ps. Boris Johnson earned a tick with Here Comes the Sun

  • Mark Esbury says:

    A deeply boring man, as bland and insipid in his music choices as he is in his politics. Not long for the post!

    • Hornbill says:

      Deeply boring sounds pretty good to me given the alternative.
      Think Biden / Trump

      • Hilary says:

        Yes, spot -on.
        How I miss the thumbs up/down feature. I have to concede that I’ve become a victim of some of the stuff described in the celebrated documentary “the social dilemma”

      • Sue Sonata Form says:

        The people largely get the leaders they deserve in democracies. I have a theory that better people get better leaders. What’s wrong with them is what’s wrong with us.

    • Terence says:

      Political choices, PC choices, whatever. Each disc targets a particular group.

      Don’t imagine they represent his true tastes. He needs to appeal to a wide range of people while offending as few as possible.

    • Angus Macmillan says:

      A deeply humane man, thoughtful and competent, who will be a great Prime Minister.

      • Gregor Tassie says:

        He isnt going to be prime minister because he’s hopeless and Labour wont get elected because Scotland wont vote for this Blairite copist. last time Labour were in office they had 41 MPs now only 1.

      • christopher breunig says:

        Hope so. His emergence from a tragic background made this an informative programme (and I don’t think he’d specified performers for either of those two Beethoven tracks!).

    • Steve bunyan says:

      What’s boring about Dobie Gray and Orange Juice ?

  • Frontdesk says:

    God help the Arts in the UK with such a demoralizing choice on Desert Island Discs. They don’t get “it”, do they? But football….

  • Tribonian says:

    We’re not in Germany where a head of government can be seen to enjoy serious music!

    Even if Keir Starmer liked music, he wouldn’t admit it publicly. His list will have been put together by whoever the successor to Alistair Campbell is these days to send out the right message to his target voters and to keep the party faithful happy.

    For all we know, he might have a secret stash of Harrison Birtwistle recordings at home that he listens to at night when nobody is likely to catch him at it.

    From memory, and I haven’t checked this, there was a Yes Minister episode where Sir Humphrey explained that a ministerial broadcast should begin with music by Stravinsky if the minister is saying nothing new, but with Elgar if there is something new which needs to be sneaked through. Sir Humphrey had a strong preference for Stravinsky.

  • Firing Back says:

    Newly a politician (ambitious, much?), he doesn’t ring true to me.
    He could just as easily be running some other toxic, virtue-signalling organisation (ACE, anyone?), that’s how dull, uninspiring and phoney the man is.

    Therefore, his choices were aptly dull and unimaginative.


  • Doc Martin says:

    What do you expect folks? In UK only 35% of the population listen to classical.

    I noticed he had no Thomas Tallis or William Byrd or Henry Purcell or GF Handel!

    As an Irishman, I find UK politicians at the best of times, not only very dull and boring but very ignorant especially when it comes to their own culture, especially when it comes from their own country. I am appalled he chose Carry on’s Pastoral, instead of say Bohm’s or Kleiber’s or the recent Wiener Akademie one. They observe repeats, which takes 45 mins instead of just over 30mins.
    Starmer is a wee bit of an improvement on Corbyn, however he has no charm or Charisma, like a piece of wet haddock from Billingsgate.

  • Dander says:

    UK career politicians are unelectable and very dull.

    Labour cannot even win a UK election if they do not get their northern voters back as well as those in Scotland. Post Brexit, they can only reduce Bojo’s majority, they could never form a Labour government. Scotland wants independence and NI will disappear due to demographics and a Border Poll.

  • Arthur Bliss says:

    Since only 35% of UK population listen to any classical this is not surprising. What is surprising is he did not include Tubular Bells a real classic in his list.

  • Marg O says:

    I’ve never commented anywhere before. How sad some people always have to criticize others to make themselves feel good.

  • Shane Barnes says:

    No mention of his Northern Soul choice then. And what’s wrong with Jim Reeves the man is one the best country singers from that time you don’t have to be octengarian to enjoy soothing relaxing from the heart song talk about stereotyping. Some of his choices were related to life events personal and public boring? I rather have him than Sponge Bob Squarepants and his
    covid travelling circus.

  • Luca says:

    There’s a fair amount of snobbery here. I don’t agree with anyone who says the Beatles are as good as Beethoven but another man’s likes, opinions or religious beliefs are his affair, not mine.

  • Nik says:

    Is there any high-profile politician in recent memory who held his or her own on Private Passions?
    I don’t bother with DID – it’s dull and middlebrow and there is little discernment as to who gets to be on it. PP is the real deal, and every guest has genuinely interesting things to say about music and life.

  • Marfisa says:

    I see frequent references to the statistic that “only 35% of the population listens to classical music”. Please could somebody tell me where this figure comes from, how it was arrived at, and how ‘listening to classical music’ was defined? If it is true, it is a lot of people: 35% of 63 million is just over 22 million.

    If, then, as some commenters seem to suggest, Keith Starmer was cynically concealing his own high-brow musical tastes for political reasons, this might have been a foolish decision (especially given the demographics of the Radio 4 audience).

  • Gerald Martin says:

    Hmmm… “Pastoral” and “Emperor.” Country and King?