Sir Keir Starmer cuts a different figure as he faces a genuine opportunity to reach No.10 | Politics news

Written by

Outside the Labor conference hall in Liverpool, the wind was up and the rain was pouring down.

Back in the City of London, markets were still in turmoil as tensions flared between the Prime Minister and the Chancellor over how to deal with the fallout from their (non)budget.

But if it’s turbulent times, inside the conference room Labour’s Sir Keir Starmer was a man with a calm sense of self-confidence. This was a leader who believes his moment has come.

‘This is a Labor moment’, Starmer declares – latest updates

It was so different to a year ago when Sir Keir was heckled in the chamber by the Labor left when he gave his leader’s speech and his supporters were called in to try and drown out the criticism with cheers.

The battles over, the earth won. This was a leader who put Labor at the center and took aim at Tory territory, settling to be the party of economic competence, business and aspiration.

And Sir Keir was so different too: I remember back in May 2021 when Labor not only suffered a humiliating by-election defeat in Hartlepool – the former heartland town that elected the first Tory MP for the first time in 62 years – but a host of losses in the local elections over the red wall.

As Boris Johnson embarked on a tour of his new territory in the West Midlands and Hartlepool, Sir Keir remained in London. There was no victory lap to be had anywhere in the country. It was a real low point, a raw moment for the Labor leader. And it took time to rebuild.

But on Tuesday the Labor leader cut a different figure. He was serious, confident and definitely not thinking about himself. He became increasingly confident over the summer when his nemesis, Mr Johnson, was ousted and the new Conservative administration’s problems appear to have shifted into next gear.

Hope has given way to faith. If you take one thing away from this conference, it is that it is now a party that believes – from top to bottom – it can win the next general election.

This is what Angela Rayner, the deputy leader, told me when I asked if she had a message for Liz Truss: “Don’t trash the country completely until we take over and do better.”

Jonathan Reynolds, the shadow business secretary, told me this was the best party conference he had ever been to, and he has been coming since 1999.

This was for him the best since the days of Tony Blair, because of “what it means for the country to have a party that can replace the Conservatives”.

Please use the Chrome browser for a more accessible video player

Starmer has his eye on Tory territory

Sir Keir has always refused to be cast in the shoes of any former Labor leader, but in this speech on Tuesday he positioned himself as Blair’s heir, even quoting the former prime minister’s own words when he described Labor as the “political wing of the British people”.

Labor was a party of aspiration, of economic responsibility, of the centre. All this Sir Keir would have struggled to say a year ago – now he is being cheered.

“The party is united,” said a senior figure from the left wing of the party. “We have been out of power for 12 years, we cannot do more time in opposition. You can still be the center and be radical.”

Read more:
Labor surges to its biggest lead in the polls over the Tories since 2001
‘The cavalry are coming’: Shadow minister says Labor ‘ready to govern’

And there were radical ideas in this speech, the most striking being the plan for a Labor government to set up a publicly owned energy group – Great British Energy – with the ability to invest directly in renewable energy and nuclear projects within the first year of being in power.

That confidence is also driven by opinion polls, with a YouGov poll on Monday that put Labor 17 points ahead of the Tories – its biggest poll lead in two decades – prompting cheers in Liverpool.

But there is also unease that Sir Keir’s success is due to Tory failure rather than a change in fortunes between the party and the electorate, and a fear that the gains made could be undone if the Conservative government starts to please the electorate again. A quiet acknowledgment, if you will, that Sir Keir still hasn’t sealed the deal with the electorate.

Please use the Chrome browser for a more accessible video player

Labor promises the British energy company

When I asked Ms Rayner if the public were looking at Labor again but still don’t love Labour, she was – typically – quite blunt. “Yes, and you know nobody’s complacent. And we all know that in 2019 we’ve had a real kick. The public didn’t see us as the future, but now they see what the Conservatives have done.”

The sinking sense of defeat that has plagued Labor since 2010 is now taking hold of the Conservative Party – a spectacle that was unthinkable back in 2019, when Mr Johnson romped home with an 80-seat majority and the chance to govern the country for two more terms.

Now Labor has a chance to win back those voters with Sir Keir’s brand of patriotism, integrity and seriousness. As the Labor leader himself put it on Tuesday night, speaking to reporters and party members at the annual Mirror party: “You can get a sense of the political weather, the temperature, what I think about this conference is that it has a different sense of that, the Labor Party is convinced’.

There are still two years until an election, but Labor now has a real chance of coming into government. After 12 years without power, is the tide finally turning?

About the author

Leave a Comment