NEVER underestimate the British public's love for animals.

If you're going to try to smear the leader of the opposition, surely there's nothing less likely to achieve your aim than highlighting the fact he set up a donkey sanctuary on behalf of his disabled mother?

"Man of the people?" queried a Sunday paper. Keir Starmer has made much of his working class roots. The son of a nurse and a toolmaker, he rose through the grammar school system to take a first at Leeds University then become a human rights lawyer before being appointed director of public prosecutions in England.

The Sunday paper in question slipped in that Sir Keir was making £400 an hour in his lawyering days, which seems somewhat a bargain for a Doughty Street silk.

His mother, we learn, was no longer able to go outside to care for the donkeys towards the end of her life but enjoyed watching them from the window of her home, which overlooked the field.

The story also says that Sir Keir has a "half share" in his late parents' semi-detached house, which is on the market for £480,000. Presumably this means that he's inherited the property from his parents, making another unusual step for a right wing paper to be critical of inheritance.

Unless he was throwing bunga bunga parties with the donkeys, this isn't much of a scoop. It's surely preferable that he filled a field with donkeys than a cabinet with asses.

The land, we're told, would be worth £10 million, were it not green belt land, which can't currently be redeveloped, and were Sir Keir looking to sell, which he says he is not.

I suppose the idea is that the Labour leader is a hypocrite for calling himself a socialist while owning assets worth several million. And yes, there are plenty who would say that it matters not a jot that the land is used as a donkey sanctuary.

You are, of course, in an elite if you have the spare cash to buy a large plot of land to satisfy the whimsy of an ailing parent. But it matters more, I think, to voters what the elite choose to do with their money than the fact that have it.

If we look at Sir Keir's opposite number, we have Boris Johnson referring to his second income of £250,000 as a newspaper columnist as "chickenfeed". Jeremy Hunt bought seven properties and entirely forgot about them.

This attempt to discredit Sir Keir by suggesting he's too rich to be trusted comes as his approval ratings rise above those of Mr Johnson's for the first time.

As the pandemic wrought its awful effects on the UK, there was a general sense that politics as usual should be set aside and a sense of unity displayed as the government set out how it would deal with the health and economic effects of Covid-19.

At the beginning of the pandemic there wasn't an awful lot for the opposition to do as the measures being suggested were largely of the left anyway.

Mr Johnson's approval ratings were highest when he was away from role and there was a general consensus that it would be inappropriate to criticise the Prime Minister in his sick bed. Now he's returned to the day job and seems wholly unprepared for Sir Keir's forensic questioning at PMQs, perhaps having grown used to far less pointed interrogation from the Labour leader's predecessor.

As furious concerns are being raised about the governments handling of the pandemic, of deaths in care homes, lack of adequate PPE for front line staff, and the effects of systemic inequality, as a small example, all eyes now turn to the opposition.

Keir Starmer is currently giving the impression of a sensible man with a robust grasp of what his role is and certainly the reports of his performance so far are positive.

At the same time, the measures put in place to deal with the social effects of the pandemic are being rolled back. The Mayor of Manchester has raised concerns the provisions for housing rough sleepers are to be ended. There is a war being raged against teachers.

As I wrote several weeks ago in this column, there had been a pledge by Priti Patel to end the surcharge paid by overseas doctors - that has been dropped.

There are suggestions that we might, as a society, emerge from this crisis with a positive shake up of the old ways and a greener, fairer, more equal new order put in its place. To achieve this will take radical thinking and hard pressure from the left.

The political ceasefire is ending and this brief smear attempt on Sir Keir is a sign of politics returning to business as usual. Business as usual is one thing, but the Labour leader must force policy away from the usual and towards something more progressive. We can't just move on, we must move upwards.