Lloyd Evans

Labour’s bid to lose the next election has begun

Labour’s bid to lose the next election has begun
A delegate holds up a placard while Labour leader Keir Starmer gives his keynote speech (Getty images)
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Sir Keir stamped the Labour conference with his personality today. And the mark he left was very bland, vague and colourless – but hard to dislike.

Mum and Dad featured prominently. Sir Keir treats his parents like a couple of pet hedgehogs whose habits still amuse him as he looks back on his childhood. His father, a busy tool-maker, liked to toil over his instruments and to dispense wisdom at the kitchen table. 

His mother was a hard-working nurse whose career was curtailed by a debilitating illness. He described her sprawling helplessly in intensive care – ‘Mum’s bed a riot of tubes’ – while four nurses strove to keep her alive. All very touching. 

More Kleenex was required as he moved to the failings of the police. While he was head of the CPS he befriended the parents of two separate murder victims. They were present in the crowd and he asked them to acknowledge the general applause. All slightly tasteless. Sir Keir appeared to be politicising their grief. Then he added a note of Prince Harry condescension:

‘They taught me how to keep your dignity under severe pressure’

For the first 42 minutes he repeated the same grisly message. Hell-hole Britain is a crime-torn cesspit where the schools are collapsing, the hospitals are overrun and the victims of stabbings bleed to death in the gutters. The fault lies with Tory cuts to police numbers, he suggested. And he relayed the fears of ‘young women in Stoke who don’t dare to walk down the High Street alone.’

At last, he dropped the relentless miserabilism and turned to Britain’s proud heritage. But he didn’t like to mention empire, royalty, naval expansion or any of that. Instead he spoke of the industrial revolution and the ‘wool towns, coal towns and steel towns’ that had sprung up in the 18th century. And he itemised various crucial inventions, like a museum curator.

‘The flying shuttle, the spinning jenny, the power of the loom,’ he said.

All rather nerdy. But he had a tactical purpose. The tool-maker’s son will support commerce and innovation. How different from Jeremy Corbyn.

He even evoked New Labour, but he lacked the guts to mention it by name. He alluded to ‘the last time we were in power,’ and he reeled off a list of magical figures which suggested that the Blair/Brown regime had lifted millions out of poverty and reduced vagrancy ‘by 75 per cent’.

He offered some large financial pledges and added that nobody need worry about over-spending. Why? Because thrift and prudence are part of the package:

‘All spending will be scrutinised by an Office of Value For Money'

So that’s OK, then. He announced new commitments on psychiatric provision as well.

‘Spending on mental health will never be allowed to fall,’ he said, which sounds like a promise to give every citizen an incurable disorder of some kind. His next words reinforced that strange ambition:

‘We will see that every school has a specialist support unit and every community has an open access mental health hub’

Clearly he wants Britain fully dependent on shrinks. As he finished, he was barracked by a Corbynite in the crowd.

‘Where’s Peter Mandelson?’

That was the key heckle of the day. Labour’s bid to defeat itself at the next election has started.