He might not say it publicly, but Starmer thinks power is coming his way | Beth Rigby

By John Mercury October 12, 2023

It was a speech Sir Keir Starmer said he’d waited four years to give. And after the glitter was dusted off, there is no doubt the Labour leader was still basking in the afterglow the morning after what one colleague described as the “speech of his life”.

I’ve interviewed the Labour leader a number of times, at low and high points of his leadership, and the Keir Starmer on show this week was more assured and confident than I had seen before.

He might not say it publicly, but this is a man who thinks power is coming his way. And that’s because, coming out of this conference, Sir Keir believes Labour has “earned the right to” a hearing from the country.

“I knew what I needed to do, I’ve been wanting to give this speech for four years… I knew this conference was going to be about national renewal, I knew this years ago, we got the opportunity to do it, and there was a buzz in the room.”

It might seem curious to you that the Labour leader needs to even care that much when his party is 18 points ahead in the polls, according to our Sky News poll tracker. But hoping that the Tories lose the next election because voters are still fed up with them is risky. What if Rishi Sunak gets it together before polling day?

Sir Keir doesn’t just want the Tories to lose, he wants Labour to win.

PM won’t call election ‘because he thinks he’ll lose’, says Starmer

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‘PM thinks he’ll lose election’

Yes, his speech was light on policy, although in our interview on Wednesday, he did go further on NHS waiting lists than before as he committed to whittling them back by five million by the end of his first term should Labour win a general election (Gordon Brown got waiting lists to 2.3 million in the last year of the last Labour government and Sir Keir vowed to do the same should he take the keys to Number 10).

More pledges and policies will be rolled out in the coming months. For Sir Keir the prize here in Liverpool for Labour was to start a national conversation and be heard – and in that, he and his team believe they have succeeded in that.

And the reason it really matters to Labour is voter volatility. While the vast majority of voters want change, a huge chunk of them are still not convinced the change is Labour.

To even begin to convince them it is, Sir Keir first has to get their attention. And even after that, the challenge remains huge. Sir Keir requires an even bigger swing than the record 10.2 per cent Sir Tony Blair achieved in 1997 to win a majority. He needs to gain over 120 seats to win outright.

A protester throws glitter on Britain's Labour Party Leader Keir Starmer at Britain's Labour Party annual conference in Liverpool, Britain, October 10, 2023. REUTERS/Phil Noble

Ask any shadow cabinet member if Labour is going to win the general election, and they know the drill: we are confident but not complacent, we won’t take the voters for granted.

For it could be a bumpy ride. The Conservative Party will come at Sir Keir on policy issues – be that on his green energy plans and immigration – and his character.

The most tense moments in our interview were undoubtedly when I pressed him on whether he regretted backing Jeremy Corbyn to be prime minister, given the former Labour leader had described Hamas as “friends”.

These will be exactly the questions political opponents will pose running into a general election as they look to put doubts about the Labour leader in voters’ minds.

Labour sources tell me Sir Keir’s speech has had “unusual levels of cut through”, helped by the glitter bombing and his reaction to it – which I’m told focus groups say showed he had “character” and was a leader who was “composed and calm”.

“The backdrop to all of this is a lack of trust in all politicians,” explained one Labour figure. “Delivery is hard in opposition but they are aware of how much Keir has changed the party in a short space of time and that gives an increasingly strong reason to believe.”

Glitter gone, a leader taking nothing for granted. But his response to Rishi Sunak’s assertion to me last week that a general election is “not what the country wants” says it all.

“He’s completely wrong about that,” Sir Keir told me: “What he really meant was he’s not happy to go to the electorate because he thinks he’ll lose.” Which presumably means Sir Keir thinks he’ll win.

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