It’s hard to believe but Wednesday’s debate on Afghanistan was Sir Keir Starmer’s first appearance in front of a full House of Commons since becoming Labour leader. Starmer didn’t do too badly, holding the government’s feet to the fire over the situation unfolding in Afghanistan. 

Yet despite his attacks, Starmer still comes across as stiff, with a voice so monotone that he would make a good stand in for the speaking clock. 

The public think the same too. The latest YouGov poll finds that fewer than a quarter of people think the former Director of Public Prosecutions is doing well as the party’s premier. Moreover, if there were a snap general election, 41 per cent would vote for the Conservatives, compared to 33 per cent voting Labour.

Perhaps Starmer needs to take a lesson from Lady Thatcher who famously took voice lessons to soften her tone. Starmer needs to do the reverse: lift his tone.  Here is some free advice from a couple of voice coaches. 

James Evans, Lead Public Speaking Coach, Vensa Coaching says Starmer came across as measured and on top of his brief. But this careful approach, which is often compared favourably to Johnson’s all over the shop style, is also his undoing. Evans points out that while he talked about “betrayal” and “desperation”,  these words were spoken without any of the corresponding anger or upset one might expect.

He talked about the urgency. But again, there was no recognition of this urgency in his voice. No conscious change in his speed, emphasis or volume. Starmer also needs to stop holding back some of the emotion he feels and show that he is frustrated by the government, angry even – in the same way the public might be.

Lee Jackson, former president of the Professional Speaking Association, says his greatest strength is also his greatest weakness. “Starmer is a detail guy, outstanding at finding the facts and quotes to make Boris Johnson squirm in his seat, but in this time of populist governments and soundbites, he lacks passion when presenting. “

But his biggest problem, says Jackson, is that he is reading what he says, and therefore by default his head is always bowed down most of the time, not giving his audience or the TV audience much eye contact.

He just needs let go a bit more, trust himself more. Look up from his notes. 

It’s a simple piece of advice. It could prove a winning formula.