The Speaker
Sunday, 21 July 2024 – 07:48

Labour Party Conference is a pitch for electability

At the first-ever virtual Labour party conference in the United Kingdom, it is clear that there is one message that leader, Sir Keir Starmer, wants you to know. He is not Jeremy Corbyn; you can elect him.

The conference, that was originally meant to be held in Liverpool, was cancelled and moved online in light of the Coronavirus pandemic, but it has not stopped Keir Starmer making a pitch for national leadership, emphasising how the party is “under new management”, no longer held back by the yoke of Jeremy Corbyn.

Starmer’s major conference speech yesterday was heavily criticised by Momentum – the grassroots left-wing organisation that propped up the leadership of Jeremy Corbyn – “slogans and platitudes” were not enough and that it was a “missed opportunity to show substance” (criticism from Momentum is as sure a sign as any that he is making the party electable).

This was a criticism of Keir Starmer’s lack of policies as the Labour leader, which has focused largely on ‘I’m not Jeremy Corbyn (or Boris Johnson)’ as his main pitch for why he should be prime minister. Starmer addressed these concerns on substance during his speech, stating that it is not the time for him to release his platform, still four years out from a general election, but that when he does it will “feel like the future has arrived”.

His speech suggests that the Labour Party will not revert back to the policies of old, but usher in a new policy paradigm, perhaps with a platform containing brand new proposals such as Universal Basic Income that have gained increasing traction in recent years, but are yet to feature in a major party platform.

Sir Keir Starmer was criticised for his attempts to woo working-class voters, with an approach that favoured talking about patriotism and family values, a policy move that was abandoned by Jeremy Corbyn and has been largely blamed for the loss of the ‘red wall’ across the north of England – the fact that he gave his speech from an empty conference hall in Doncaster (part of the red wall) was a thinly veiled pitch to these voters. The Labour Parties Shadow Foreign Secretary, Lisa Nandy, talked of “putting Britain first” in the future, something that was pitched clearly towards those voters who abandoned Labour for the Conservatives in 2019 over Brexit.

Although deemed an effective pitch to win back northern voters by some, it was also heavily criticised for verging into nationalist rhetoric and ‘legitimising the nationalist narrative of the Tories’. Left-wing economist and political commentator, Grace Blakeley, criticised the conference’s emphasis on patriotism, writing on Twitter that “Keir Hardie, a patriot who built the Labour Party, saw that it was his job to shape the national debate, not simply react to it. Which is why, as a socialist and a pacifist, he opposed the UK’s entrance into WWI, argued for Indian self-rule and vocally advocated women’s rights” – clearly suggesting that Starmer was flying too close to Conservative rhetoric.

In another attack on Corbyn – with Starmer being really determined to draw a line in the sand from the past four years – the Labour leader talked about the need to get serious about winning, directly addressing the criticism that Corbyn’s Labour was happier acting as a pressure group from the opposition benches, rather than a government in waiting – this was one of the major reasons for their failure in the 2019 election, according to Ipsos Mori polling data.

“When you lose an election in a democracy you deserve to. You don’t look at the electorate and ask them: ‘what were you thinking?'”

In his speech, Starmer was also brutal in his attacks against the prime minister. He called Boris Johnson out for his “serial incompetence” in leading Britain through the Coronavirus pandemic and repeated the line he has frequently deployed that Boris Johnson is “just not up to the job” of being prime minister. 

This was clearly aimed again at proving to the electorate, and particularly northern Labour voters, that although they lent their vote to the Conservatives in 2019, they are being let down by them; Labour is listening once again and will put you, your job and your family first.

He continually railed against the dangers of the Tories being in power, stating that the Labour Party need to be electable in order to “stop the Nationalists ripping our country apart by design, and to stop the Tories dismantling it by neglect.”

It was also clear that Keir Starmer wanted to allay the fears about Labour being ‘soft’ on issues of national security, with Corbyn frequently being lambasted by the media and the public for his opposition to Britain’s Trident Nuclear Deterrent. 

“Never again will Labour go into an election not being trusted on national security, with your job, with your community and with your money. That’s what being under new leadership means.”

The conference also gave the opportunity to draw a line under Brexit with Starmer stating in his keynote speech that Labour would not be the party that “kept banging on about Europe”, perhaps an attack on the Liberal Democrats, who have only just abandoned their commitment to rejoining the EU in their parties platform.

Although the Labour Party drew criticism throughout the conference (mostly from the left) they made it extremely clear to the electorate that this is no longer the party of Corbyn. The Labour Party is “under new leadership” and they want your vote.


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