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Things can only get better?

By Charlie Rattigan
30 September 2021

By Charlie Rattigan

As the dust settles from this year’s Labour Party Conference, the question remains whether Keir Starmer has a real vision to defeat Boris Johnson at the next election. In the build up to Starmer’s first in-person speech as leader, the message from his team was that this was a “big moment for Britain”. In truth, this was a huge moment for his political career to convince both the public, and internal sceptics that he is the right man to take the party forward.

Despite building tensions in the run up to the speech, including the sudden resignation of Andy McDonald, the last remaining Corbynite on Labour’s frontbench, on Monday, there is a consensus that the conference week ran relatively smoothly with no real major hiccups.  

However, the main analysis from today’s newspapers is that while Starmer handled himself well in the face of adversity from the left of the party, he is still in search of a clear vision and as The Times put it  “has a long way to go to demonstrate that Labour can provide an alternative government.”

One of the key talking points during the speech was the consistent heckling by left-wingers who believe Mr Starmer has destroyed the radical legacy set by Jeremy Corbyn. Sounding like football fans who wanted their old manager back, there were predictable cries of “Oh Jeremy Corbyn” throughout the duration of the speech. Whilst this highlights there is still clear factionalism, it could prove that the party is moving on from its troubled past. Shadow Foreign Secretary, Lisa Nandy stated “Everything this week has been about Labour in power, returning to government, and those who were heckling looked isolated”.

Starmer promised “Work. Care. Equality. Security” when setting out his plans despite his previous determination not to reveal policies until the next election. Some notable announcements included the commitment to insulate all homes within the next decade to cut carbon emissions and save families up to £400 a year and a pledge to spend £28 billion a year on greening the economy. Mental health funding remained a key priority with a commitment to provide support within a month and an additional 8,500 new mental health staff. These pledges were largely welcomed, though it did leave commentators and his colleagues in the Labour Party wanting more in terms of substance.

In a homage to Tony Blair, Starmer said “Education is so important I am tempted to say it three times”. He then promised a renewed focus on practical skills in school, the reinstatement of compulsory work experience and a “curriculum for tomorrow” that would put digital skills at the forefront.

Ultimately, the jury is still out on whether Keir Starmer presented a convincing enough plan to win the hearts and minds of the public. This year’s conference speech has demonstrated he has the potential to be an effective and pragmatic leader. However, the feeling is that to avoid becoming another opposition leader who vanishes into the backbenches, he must establish a clearer vision for his new Labour in order to achieve electoral success.