British people weren’t done with queuing today. They politely stood in line to enter the main hall at the Labour Party Conference in Liverpool to hear Keir Starmer’s speech. There was, in fact, a queue for the queue to see Starmer, a feat the opposition party might’ve only dreamed of this time last year.
The expectations placed on the Labour leader were big. With the pound in freefall and a government gripped by a massive economic gamble, Starmer’s speech, the main event, had to win back old voters and find new friends in the business community. Many in the room were also hoping his speech would be a little shorter than last years, or at least grip the audience a bit more.
The reception, when Starmer got on stage, was cheerful, hopeful even. As was the audience response during most of the speech. There was a smattering of standing ovations and a roar of applause when the Labour leader reiterated the support for the people of Ukraine. The woman next to me showed her enthusiasm for Starmer’s promises for a healthier, stronger NHS by letting out a consistent series of high pitch screams.
For an hour-long speech, it’s hard to keep an audience engaged. But Starmer did well, even if there were a handful of the usual cliches – the classic “fixing the roof while the sun is shining” and another reference to the tool-making dad who made us all think of last year’s speech. Thankfully the family stories stayed short this time, and actually worked in conveying the “one of us” effect that Starmer was clearly going for.
But this was also a speech of announcements. He pledged to create “Great British Energy”, a state-owned power company, under a Labour government. “British power to the British people”, Starmer shouted in the mic in one of the most successful parts of the speech, appealing to a base hankering for nationalisation. If the culture wars are red meat to the Tories, state control is to Labour. He also promised never, “under any circumstances” to work with the SNP. The whole row behind me got up cheering enthusiastically. Though, a quiet thought might’ve scurred through a few minds, mine included: we’ll have to wait and see, as the reality of politics sometimes brings to life even unlikely coalitions.
The Labour leader sounded more victorious than ever, taking direct attack at the new Tory Cabinet and promising a future of hope for the working class. “It’s time for Britain to stand tall again. To believe in ourselves again. And to get our future back”, he proclaimed. It seemed like the audience left with, perhaps, a little bit of that hope.