The Conservative Party has got a fight on its hands. Keir Starmer’s speech on Tuesday was confident, assured and dealt with the vision thing. He told the story of what the country would be like under Labour and didn’t over promise given the scale of the mountain he will have to climb if elected in 2024.
Outside the conference bubble people are genuinely worried about not being able to pay their bills – inflation hitting double figures and 6% interest rates will be alarming homeowners and voters will be looking hard at anyone who can lay claim to be able to put an end to the chaos that has characterised Government over this past year.
Delegates queued round the block to get into the auditorium for the speech and groups clustered round giant over spill screens around the exhibition centre. Starmer placed Labour firmly back on the centre ground claiming the party was “once again the political wing of the British people” pro-business, pro-Nato and “putting country before party”. He promised to make Brexit work and ruled out any deals with the SNP in a bid to head off Tory attack lines, well telegraphed in advance, accusing them of betraying those who voted to take back control during the Brexit referendum, directly addressing Brexit for the first time.
I’ve seen more Labour conference speeches than I care to remember but there was an unfamiliar but welcome feeling to this one that harked back to my days as a young party staffer watching Blair and Brown at conference and being able to feel movement in the air. As soon as Starmer had sat down my phone starting buzzing from politicians and advisors who the previous night, in the conference bars, had been world weary and sceptical. They all made the same point, “he was good, can we dare to hope?”.
The key thing for Starmer will be his success or otherwise framing the Conservative Party conference next week. ‘Don’t forget, don’t forgive’ he intoned warning that the Conservatives had crashed the pound and lost control of the economy. On the final day amidst on-going economic turmoil and following a significant intervention by the Bank of England to purchase gilts to protect pension funds he told reporters that Truss represented a “danger to the economy and has lost control”.
Back in 2009 David Cameron and George Osborne said that Labour had crashed the economy through excessive public spending and shouldn’t be given the keys to the car and Labour never really recovered. Starmer will be hoping that he can pull of the same trick.