It is hard to imagine a more friendly wicket for Keir Starmer to have turned up to at Labour conference. A party broadly united behind him, and a government that (fairly or unfairly) is being blamed left, right and centre for precipitating a currency crisis and a drastic increase in the value of borrowing. We are now less than two years out until the next election – truly, we’re spoilt – and the Labour leader is now speaking not to his party but the nation at large.
Was his speech to that Labour conference yesterday a pitch to the centre ground? Yes.
Was it a damning indictment of the state of the financial markets over 12 years of Conservative rule? Yes.
Was there red meat for the Labourites who would nationalise anything not nailed down? Yes, that too.
But was there a coherent picture of what Labour’s Britain might look like? Well, not quite.
For all the pro-business rhetoric of recent years, when it came down to it, Keir fluffed his lines. He split the City of London up from the rest of the country, as if success in the Square Mile is somehow antithetical to growth elsewhere. He played the old notes of state-owned companies, promising to build an energy giant the size of EDF from scratch, presumably run by Ed Miliband.
He couldn’t even bring himself to make a full-throated argument for immigration, making the Tory party conceivably the more liberal of the two main parties on letting people into the country who want to work and get on.
Let’s be clear: Keir Starmer is a vast improvement on the previous leader of the Labour party. Should he enter Number 10, he would not – like his predecessor Jeremy Corbyn – bring with him a phalanx of anti-semitic, anti-western cranks.
He’s a grown-up, with grown-up ideas. But is he pro-business? Does he really get how all his public service improvements might be funded? On that we await a little more detail. Not long to go, Keir.