As the Tories implodes, Starmer pitches Labour as the “responsible” choice

Elliot Chappell

The mood in the conference hall this afternoon was markedly different to 2021, when Keir Starmer was heckled throughout his first in-person leader’s speech. There was no heckling this year and the Labour leader received several standing ovations instead. He was greeted with a particularly loud cheer when he made his big policy reveal – that Labour would create a publicly owned energy company in its first year of government, coupled with the sovereign wealth fund. The announcement followed Starmer’s trailing of the ‘green prosperity plan’ earlier this week, with Labour’s commitment to boosting growth by making the UK a “clean energy superpower”, switching to a 100% clean energy power system by 2030.

The reveal worked well and the policy itself is good, attracting some positive media attention. Public ownership (and it can take many forms) is popular. Polls have consistently demonstrated that whichever party people vote for, they are generally in favour of utilities being in public hands. And the policy speaks to the two most pressing issues facing the country – the cost-of-living crisis and the climate emergency – making it not just a good idea but also a salient policy and a good way to make an outward facing appeal to the country.

At times, the speech felt like a bit of a victory lap for Starmer – both in reference to internal battles he has won or the fight against the Conservatives. He was careful to reiterate that he had a job to do when he became leader to “make our Labour Party fit to serve our country” – but the sort of introspection that has at time felt like self-flagellation was absent. And that is not really surprising; Starmer has had a remarkably drama-free conference, he is riding high in the polls and the Conservatives have taken a wrecking ball to the economy and their own record.

Starmer’s conference speech was solid, if not entirely rousing. There were some pithy attacks on the Tories and some catchy lines: “country first, party second” and “British power to the British people”, for example. It was not a mind-blowing piece of oratory craftsmanship – but Starmer gave people a sense of what Labour would do in government, and a taste of the priorities his government would have. He drew clear dividing lines between the Conservatives and Labour, outlining the “political choices” being made – and crucially the different ones he would make – painting a clear picture of the havoc the reckless Conservatives are wreaking and juxtaposed that against his “responsible” Labour Party.

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