IT’S a perpetual curiosity about Labour politics that people from modest backgrounds who better themselves through talent and hard work are often treated like class traitors. The latest victim of this tendency could be Sir Keir Starmer.

Sir Keir is a successful man. A person of impeccable working-class credentials if you’re keeping score (the son of a factory worker and a nurse) he has devoted his life to public service. He was a human rights lawyer who rose to become Director of Public Prosecutions for England and Wales by 46, and entered parliament at 52. He won a Bar Council award in 2005 for his unpaid work in challenging the death penalty throughout the Caribbean and in Uganda, Kenya and Malawi.

Impressive credentials for a future Labour leader, you might think. But no, not according to the right wing press or the left wing ultras who are piling in behind it. They cannot forgive Sir Keir for having the temerity to earn more than the national living wage; selflessly saving people in far-off places from being executed on the basis of shaky evidence seems to be beside the point as far as they are concerned. Using his prodigious talents, not to make squillions in the City as so many Tory MPs routinely do, but to try and make the justice system fairer – that counts for little. The man’s a millionaire, according to the value of his Camden home, which he bought some time ago. How very dare he.

He is now front-runner to win the Labour leadership election according to a poll this week, but the savage campaign to discredit him has begun even before he’s formally declared as a candidate: expect to hear a whole lot more about the “millionaire metropolitan lawyer”, as his detractors have branded him. Even his pro-Remain stance seems to offend his opponents less than this.

The danger now is that this plays into a Stalinist tendency on the Labour left to demonise anyone who isn’t deemed working class enough.

It’s absurd to campaign for better opportunities for working-class people only to shoot down anyone who makes the best of those opportunities, including public servants. It’s also an odd form of logic to argue that former Labour voters who merrily backed the millionaire journalist Boris Johnson might be put off by the less well-off human rights lawyer Sir Keir Starmer.

But there is also huge electoral danger in seeking narrowly to represent one narrowly defined social class, when the importance of class identity has been diminishing.

Scottish Labour leader Richard Leonard is one Corbyn acolyte who likes to throw the “c” word about. Here he is in June 2018: “We need to stop dividing people on the basis of nationality and start uniting people on the basis of class to bring about real change.” Really? Both are divisive, making people who don’t subscribe to those forms of identity feel unwanted. But that’s not the only problem: it’s also patronising to tell people which party they should vote for on the basis of their perceived class.

In Scotland, Labour’s historic decline in the early 21st century can partly be blamed on taking working class voters for granted and treating them as if they had a tribal duty to vote Labour. Those voters disagreed and the SNP benefited from their disaffection.

Britain’s class system is sadly alive and kicking, but it is in flux, and not just because the mines are deserted and the factories have fallen silent. It’s because demographics have changed due to a diversifying economy and progressive educational policies. People whose parents fitted the traditional definition of working class are now more likely to see themselves as being middle class.

Being “working class” is also harder to define than it once was. The ABC1 (middle class) versus the C2DE (working class) classification system is decades old and based on rigid definitions of occupation. It takes little account of the gig economy, in-work poverty and graduate debt, things that unite the interests of individuals across old traditional class lines.

But perhaps, above all, things have changed because there are many other forms of identity that are even more important to people than their class background. Identity is now much more likely to be values-based.

National identity matters, but social media has created new groups of like-minded people on everything from climate campaigning to sexual identity which have little to do with their geographical community or social class. Age is now more of a predictor of voting intention than occupation or income; so is the yawning liberal/conservative divide.

Britain is a heinously unequal society and desperately needs a party that represents the interests of the have-nots over the elite, but the answer is not a Corbynite Labour Party that thinks nothing has changed in 40 years. Surely Labour’s crushing election defeat proves that.

After Tony Blair’s landslide in 1997, the Conservatives went through three leaders in quick succession – William Hague, Iain Duncan Smith and Michael Howard – each moving the party further to the right. It took eight years for the penny to drop that the party must try and appeal to middle-ground voters if it was to regain power.

There is a clear and present danger of Labour making the same mistake, by tacking left and adopting a new leader in the image of the old one and consigning the party to years in opposition.

Sir Keir is not the messiah but characterising him as if he were a virtue-signalling champagne socialist, is a gross injustice. A man of substance and conviction with real-world achievements to prove it, he would certainly be a heavyweight opponent to our flighty self-serving Prime Minister.

His 31 per cent showing in the poll of Labour members, compared to 20 for Mr Corbyn’s anointed favourite Rebecca Long-Bailey, speaks volumes about the frustration of Labour members with the leadership’s failed form of class politics.

There is a long way to go with this contest and it is taking place before the causes of Labour’s failure on December 12 have been fully understood. Sir Keir may not be the answer to all that ails Labour, but if he can’t even get a fair hearing because he owns a family home in London, then the party is doomed

Read more: Starmer favourite to succeed Jeremy Corbyn – poll