Isabel Hardman

Starmer wants to change Labour, but are voters even listening?

Starmer wants to change Labour, but are voters even listening?
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Inevitably, Keir Starmer’s main intervention today has been on Covid, with the Labour leader calling for more restrictions within the next 24 hours. But he made this demand as part of his first major policy speech as leader – and there was more in it than just Covid curbs.

Starmer has decided he wants to spend the next few months talking about several topics the Labour party has veered away from over the past decade or so. Chief among them is the economy, with the leader and shadow chancellor keen to use the time they have now before the next election to start making it normal for Labour to bring up the economy rather than wait for the party’s opponents to do so instead. To that end, his speech today included a complaint that Boris Johnson’s indecision in tackling the pandemic has damaged Britain’s economy unnecessarily. He said that the ‘indecision and delays of the Prime Minister cost lives and they cost people’s jobs’, and urged ministers to ‘protect family incomes and support businesses’.

That last demand is also a key part of the vision the Labour leader wants to set out in the coming months. He has decided he wants Labour to be the ‘party of the family’, though his aides insist that this is an inclusive vision of a family focused on household budgets rather than on the sort of family issues social conservatives and Blue Labour types are traditionally interested in. And he wants his party to emphasise the importance business in a way that it hasn’t managed to for a very long time.

This is not a radical reshaping of the party by any means. It does, though, take Labour onto territory it has preferred to avoid in the past. And there are still questions about whether it is ready. Isn’t it a bit difficult to signal a shift in the way you talk about business when Ed Miliband, he of the ‘predators and producers’ speech, is your shadow business secretary? And still more problematic: are any of the voters Labour needs to win back even listening?

Written byIsabel Hardman

Isabel Hardman is assistant editor of The Spectator and author of Why We Get the Wrong Politicians. She also presents Radio 4’s Week in Westminster.

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