Keir Starmer promised to answer the question ‘why Labour?’ Instead we just got more reasons not to vote Tory
and live on Freeview channel 276
After coolly dealing with a glittery intruder, Sir Keir Starmer was very clear about the point of his conference speech. “Today we turn the page. Answer the question ‘Why Labour?’ with a plan for a Britain built to last,” he told a rapt audience.
And after an hour-long speech, full of slightly hackneyed metaphors, a promise to “bulldoze” the planning system and vague rhetoric, I still felt none the wiser. Party insiders had told me this conference was going to be used to tell the country why they should vote for Labour, as opposed to just because they dislike the government.
However, just like the Conservative Party Conference in Manchester, the week has been noticeable for the Shadow Cabinet making very few big announcements. Ahead of Starmer’s speech today, Labour sources told me that it had been deliberately kept policy light, as the war in Israel is rightfully dominating the news agenda.
In fact, despite promising to “answer the question ‘why Labour?’” - Starmer spent an awful lot of time talking about why people shouldn’t vote for the Conservatives.
He started off by criticising Rishi Sunak over HS2, which is completely fair enough, but then skirted over what Labour would do with the high-speed rail project if it got into power.
Starmer then said: “This is what we have to fight: the Tory project to kick the hope out of this country. Drain the reservoirs of our belief.”
He told the audience: “A Westminster of chaos and crisis. Five Prime Ministers in seven years.” He said the Tories “undermine our foundations with the gnawing rot of despair”.
Even at the end of the speech, Starmer couldn’t resist saying: “The never-ending cycle of Tory Britain. Party first, country second. Drift. Stagnate. Decline.”
The problem is when it comes to the country, with this message Starmer is largely preaching to the choir. Just 13% of the UK approve of the government, according to YouGov polling, while 69% disprove. However, only 34% of people think Labour are ready to be the next government. And just slamming the Tories probably won’t change that.
To be fair to the Labour leader, he did tackle the housing crisis - one of the biggest issues affecting our country, which was completely ignored by the Conservatives in Manchester last week.
However his main announcement - of building 1.5million homes in five years - was slightly ruined, as Starmer appears to have accidentally revealed this in an interview with the BBC on Sunday. This was despite Labour’s social media team proclaiming “JUST ANNOUNCED” on X, formerly Twitter.
The Labour leader also promised to tackle the planning system, which is in dire need of reform to get the number of homes this country needs built. And, unlike Sunak, Starmer broadly announced how he would attempt to reduce NHS waiting lists by improving capacity.
For a speech focused on vibes as opposed to policy, you could feel Starmer’s confidence in the room. The way he calmly dealt with the protester at the start by saying “protest or power, that is why we changed our party conference”, showed how comfortable he was in the spotlight.
His clear and decisive comments on Israel and Hamas appeared statesmanlike. However, despite looking and sounding Prime Ministerial, the question of ‘why Labour?’ is still up in the air.