Starmer’s gear change shows inevitability of Labour election victory

starmer’s gear change shows inevitability of labour election victory

Keir Starmer’s speech was a reassertion of his promises and rhetoric around core issues, rather than fringe obsessions. Photograph: Leon Neal/Getty Images

From corporations to counter-terrorism officers to coffee shop owners, Keir Starmer’s launch event on Thursday was a stark display of how inevitable a Labour victory now seems.

It had the feeling of an election launch – a party leader in shirt sleeves, tightly choreographed pitches from the most senior shadow cabinet ministers, candidates from target seats, and voters ready to explain why they were switching their vote.

This was a gear change for Starmer, with a parade of endorsements which put him comfortably at the heart of the British establishment and the centre of British politics. What Labour wants, Starmer said, is what most reasonable people want: a contrast here with a Conservative party whose prime minister’s speech on Monday was immediately overshadowed by a row about rainbow lanyards.

Just two years ago, those situations could have been imagined in reverse for the two parties. And it is hard to imagine how Rishi Sunak’s party could now engineer their own version of the event Labour held in Thurrock on Thursday.

As Rachel Reeves laid out her plans for the economy, it was the Boots chief executive, Sebastian James, who stood alongside her. David Cameron is – or at least, was – a frequent visitor to James’s Tuscan villa; and the the pair are pictured alongside their fellow Old Etonian Boris Johnson in that famous photo of the Bullingdon Club. But now, he said, he was backing Labour as the best chance to revive the high street.

Next in the endorsement parade came Neil Basu, the former assistant Metropolitan police commissioner and lead on counter-terrorism. Then Cathy Haenlein, the director of organised crime and policing studies at the grand Westminster defence thinktank Rusi, speaking about how more could be done to tackle people smuggling.

All three endorsed Labour’s plans on three traditionally tricky areas for the party: the economy, crime and migration. If anything, it was the Labour leader’s speech itself that was the least groundbreaking, a reassertion of his promises and rhetoric on how Labour was now the party of core issues, not fringe obsessions.

It was tightly on-message, in a further contrast to Sunak’s speech on Monday, which took place at a friendly thinktank metres from Downing Street and veered wildly from the threats of China and Iran, to trans rights activists, to maths A-levels and back to curing cancer. His own minister Esther McVey was giving a speech at the same time about political correctness in the civil service, which ended up dominating the news agenda.

Starmer could barely have dreamed of a situation like this when he first became Labour leader, though there will be many critics who will compare the stilted ambitions in these “first steps” to his radical 10 pledges as a Labour leadership candidate. Some party members will balk at the embrace of business leaders such as James while trade union meetings take place away from the main stage.

As an exercise in speaking to the nation, today demonstrated the Labour party has all the momentum in British politics squarely behind it. The question is whether that can be sustained for the next six months or more – there is still no actual date for a poll. Strategists are worrying about how to avoid complacency among candidates, activists and MPs. But as problems go, it is not a bad one to have.

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