Has Keir Starmer found his sparkle?

If the protester who covered Sir Keir Starmer in glitter at the start of his conference speech intended to throw the UK Labour leader off his stride, he failed. This was Starmer’s most assured and ambitious speech since he became party leader in 2019, with one party veteran telling me it was the best speech they had heard from a Labour leader since Tony Blair left office in 2007.


It was, perhaps surprisingly a year from a General Election, a speech light on policy. Keen not to be outflanked by the Conservatives on the economy – and in keeping with his cautious approach more generally – Starmer avoided any significant spending commitments or grandiose policy pledges.


The only new number of note was a warmly-welcomed commitment to build 1.5million homes, which Labour hopes to deliver by freeing up disused land for development and curtailing the power of nimbies to block construction. Starmer also highlighted Labour’s plan to headquarter its publicly-owned energy company, which he said would “harness clean British power” and help deliver half a million green jobs, in Scotland.

But if the speech was light on policy, it was heavy on rhetoric and vision, with Starmer arguing he had changed the party from one of protest under predecessor Jeremy Corbyn to one of service, which would deliver “a decade of renewal”. His persistent theme was “a Britain built to last”, and he played on this metaphorically as well as literally. In particular, he struck a notably Blairite tone when discussing public services, suggesting reform – rather than more money – was the most important factor in making institutions such as the NHS fit for the future. In a sign of how much the Labour Party has changed since he took over in 2019, such sentiments were warmly welcomed on the conference floor.


Special praise was reserved for Scottish Labour leader, Anas Sarwar – the only senior figure to receive a namecheck – and the victorious Labour candidate in Rutherglen and Hamilton West, Michael Shanks, who also received an extended standing ovation. This capped an unprecedented conference for Scottish Labour delegates who – until recently written off by their UK comrades as a lost cause – are now feted as the guarantors of a Labour majority at the General Election.


Such complacency – as Starmer himself warned – is misplaced. Labour will need to add serious detail to what is, at present, a scant prospectus. With little financial headroom, that will be a tricky task and one that is bound to leave some voters disappointed. Meanwhile, there is still an extended period until the General Election, and both the Conservatives and the SNP – who hold their annual conference this coming weekend – could well regroup and recover.  For now, however, Starmer succeeded in delivering his best speech to date – and, more importantly, seems increasingly to believe he is a Prime Minister in waiting.


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Andrew Liddle

Andrew Liddle

Senior Advisor

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