In a speech peppered with personal anecdotes about his upbringing and career, the Labour leader had to pause several times as the party conference audience erupted into noisy applause and standing ovations.
With polling released today showing Labour enjoying its biggest lead over the Conservatives for more than 20 years, Sir Keir Starmer set out his stall ahead of the next general election, positioning Labour as the “party of the centre ground” that is ready to govern, and presenting a vision of a “fairer, greener, more dynamic Labour Britain”.
He announced a series of major policies such as abolishing business rates and creating a publicly funded energy company, attacked the government over its handling of the economy, and ruled out any deals with the Scottish National Party.
Starmer’s performance has won plaudits from senior public affairs figures. Louise Allen, chief executive of GK Strategy, said: “Labour critics (and supporters) have been asking: ‘What would you do?’ Today Keir has sought to answer this with a clear and compelling vision to the country.”
She added: “Confident delivery, coherent policy proposals and a unified conference room – the hard-won fights with the left are now paying off.
“The speech was characterised by the confidence of a man who feels he is ready for government.”
And Stuart Thomson, head of public affairs at BDB Pitmans, said: “The speech had direct echoes of Blair and was delivered with the sort of force he was renowned for. There was the vision, stories and humour but, above all else, passion. This was Starmer’s best speech by miles.”
He added: “Starmer enthused his audience and this was the sort of speech that might just enthuse the electorate enough to put him into No10.”
Marc Woolfson, partner and head of public affairs at WA Communications, told PRWeek: “Keir’s speech did exactly what it needed to do – inspire confidence that Labour are not just a viable government in waiting but that they have the breadth of vision and strong, thought-through policy ideas to address the huge challenges the country faces.”
Moray Macdonald, group head of public policy at Instinctif, said: “Starmer took the opportunity to pre-empt Conservative attack lines before the next election, reinforcing his brand of patriotic socialism with respectful references to the Queen and challenging Labour members to prioritise country first, party second.”
Former Labour MP Andy Sawford, managing partner of the Connect Group, commented: “It was a really well-crafted speech… like nothing I’ve seen since Tony Blair’s heyday.” He added: “Peter Hyman, who was Blair’s early speechwriter, was very involved in writing the speech.”
Starmer’s background and experiences were “woven through the speech” and “I think more people will be beginning to take a look at Labour and at Keir Starmer”, said Sawford.
Making his case
The Labour leader came out fighting today, telling conference delegates “don’t forget, don’t forgive” the damage done by the Conservatives to the economy.
Using the green agenda to fuel growth was a key focus in the speech, with Starmer calling for a “fairer, greener, more dynamic Labour Britain”. The green and growth agendas are “inseparable”, he said.
He launched the party’s Green Prosperity Plan to “turn the UK into a green growth superpower” with 100 per cent clean power by 2030.
And Starmer received a standing ovation when he announced a plan to create Great British Energy, a publicly owned energy firm. “The future wealth of this country is in our air, in our seas, in our skies. Britain should harness that wealth and share it with all,” he said.
Appealing for votes
The Labour leader also made an appeal to business. “I want to be crystal clear about this: I'm not just pro-business, I want to partner with business.
“So, we will scrap business rates, level the playing field for start-ups and the high street, give employers new flexibility to invest in the world-class training they need.”
He went on to state that he wanted to see 70 per cent of households own their own homes and declared Labour to be the “party of home ownership”.
Tackling the issue of Brexit head-on, Starmer pledged to “make Brexit work”. He said: “Whether you voted Leave or Remain, you've been let down.” He added: “If you voted to take control of your life and for the next generation to have control of theirs, then I say to you: that is what I will deliver.”
He also addressed the need to secure support from voters in Scotland and insisted there would be no deals done with the SNP “under any circumstances”.
Labour would take a different approach to public services, with a “shift towards a prevention-first policy”.
“We are the party of the centre ground once again,” Starmer said. He quoted Tony Blair, describing Labour as the “political wing of the British people”.
Referring to historic Labour victories of the past, such as New Labour’s landslide victory in 1997, Starmer said: “This is a Labour moment.”
Instinctif’s Macdonald said: “Speaking with activists in the wake of his conference keynote, they feel buoyed, excited and optimistic for the Party’s future election chances, and hopeful for job creation as part of the ‘greening’ of the country to deliver net zero.”
The Labour leader’s challenge “will be to harness, guide and translate that enthusiasm over the coming months”, Macdonald added.