Don't be fooled by 'call me Keir' - this prime minister means business

So it's "Call me Keir", is it? Sounds very informal. But we shouldn't be fooled.

"I'm very happy to be called Keir or prime minister," he said at his first Downing Street news conference. "Perfectly happy to be called Keir."

How very Sir Tony Blair. At his first cabinet meeting in 1997, Sir Tony famously began by telling his ministers: "Just call me Tony."

Sir Tony also was known for "sofa government", relaxed informal meetings with aides like Jonathan Powell and Alastair Campbell, but no civil servants or official minutes.

It was a style which appalled Whitehall mandarins and traditionalists, who claimed it led to indiscipline and poor decision-making. They would say that, wouldn't they?

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Lord Cameron was famously lampooned as "Call me Dave", criticised for his "chillaxing" on the job and accused of being an "essay crisis prime minister".

So what did we learn of the Keir Starmer style at his first Downing Street news conference?

On the evidence of his first few days in Number 10 - despite his "Call me Keir" bonhomie - his style looks formal and business-like rather than informal and laid back.

When he was director of Public Prosecutions, he wasn't called "Keir" by colleagues. It was "the director", according to those who worked with him back then.

And on his first day in his new job, it was perhaps significant that his one-to-one meetings with his new cabinet members were held in the cabinet room and looked very formal and business-like.

In the past, the prime minister's meetings with ministers on reshuffle days - especially sackings - have taken place in the more discreet and intimate surroundings of their study.

And all the photos of the new prime minister working in Number 10 so far - like his phone call with President Biden, for instance - have seen him in his suit with his tie on, looking very formal.

Sir Tony would often be photographed in Number 10 in his shirtsleeves with his jacket off, often tieless. And as for Rishi Sunak, we grew used to him working in Number 10 in a hoodie with designer trainers or slip-on sandals.

We learned more about the Starmer style and what we can expect in the months ahead at his news conference. He began, for instance, by signalling he'll crack down on sleaze from day one.

"I met Laurie Magnus, the independent adviser on standards, to discuss how we deliver in government," he said, in what sounded like a warning to his ministers to behave - or else.

There was no bombshell announcement like Gordon Brown's independence for the Bank of England after Mr Blair's 1997 landslide. But that was on the Tuesday after the election, so there's still time for a bombshell!

His four-nation tour over the next few days, followed by talks with metro-mayors, Conservative as well as Labour, was also revealing about the Starmer style.

"I'm not a tribal politician," he claimed.

Well, it is early days. But to be fair, it's a welcome departure from the approach of his Tory predecessors, who froze out the first ministers and mayors because most of them were political opponents.

He also likes experts. That's a change too. Remember Michael Gove's disdain for them during the 2016 EU referendum campaign? "I think the people of this country have had enough of experts," he sneered.

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Well, Sir Keir, it seems, can't get enough of them.

On day one he appointed James Timpson, whose shoe repair business employs large numbers of ex-prisoners, as prisons minister and Sir Patrick Vallance, former chief scientific adviser, as a science minister.

And he revealed: "We've been talking to them for some time about the need for the change that we will put in place." We? He surely meant Sue Gray, his chief of staff and Whitehall veteran, had done the talking.

Asked about more peerages for experts, he said there would be further appointments imminently. And an hour or so later the Lords leader Baroness Smith arrived in Number 10, no doubt to talk peerages and Lords ministers.

Are we going to see a repeat of Gordon Brown's "GOATs" - a government of all the talents" - when he succeeded Sir Tony as prime minister in 2007, when he brought in ex-CBI boss Digby Jones and former First Sea Lord West?

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Sir Keir also disclosed that despite all his talk before the election about his family not wanting to move into Number 10, they will be, after all. That was always going to happen, of course.

"We're not unpacked, quite yet," he said. "But we will be soon and will be moving in soon." That will be after next week's NATO summit in Washington, he signalled.

What we also learned at the news conference, from his body language and demeanour, was how relaxed and at ease in the job Sir Keir looks already. It's early days, obviously. Wait until the going gets tough!

And as he begins to impose his authority on ministerial colleagues, Number 10 staffers and the Whitehall machine, let's see how long "Call me Keir" lasts.