For much of the past three years since Keir Starmer took over as Labor leader, the party’s approach has been one of caution that, when they finally took the lead in the polls, morphed into warnings of complacency.
After suffering their worst election defeat in more than 80 years in 2019, some MPs were so demoralized they doubted they would ever return to office in their working lives.
As recently as the autumn of 2021, Boris Johnson looked set for a decade in power as, in the memorable words of one commentator, he squatted across British politics like a giant toad.
Starmer’s first response was to hone in on why voters had lost faith in Labor – Jeremy Corbyn, Brexit, national security, public finances among the issues – and focus on neutralizing each in turn.
His next step was to give the game to the Conservatives, ably assisted by numerous own goals from Boris Johnson and Liz Truss. But sitting back and trying to win outright by not being the Tories was never going to be enough.
From the outset, Starmer faced an eager party, media and public, eager to know his grand vision for a future Labor government. He kept them waiting. “He knew he had to do the other pieces first,” says a close associate.
His speech to present his five missions for government marked a turning point. We may not have learned much more about the details of his plans than we did before, but it gave us a first real look at what a future Labor government might do.
Manchester was the first in a series of events – the second of which is next week on the economy – over the coming months to detail its plans for health, education, crime and climate. However, they are not expected to include thorny issues such as immigration.
Starmer, as he took to the podium with his shirtsleeves rolled up, cracking jokes about nights on the town with Angela Rayner and his beloved Arsenal’s performance, appeared more confident than he has to date.
He accused the Tories of being “beaten” and “lacking ideas”, but most of his talk was about what Labor could offer as an alternative to give the UK the “confidence to move forward” after being stuck in ” crouched position”. for too long.
After the speech, he dismissed questions from some in the media about confidence – could the public believe he would actually carry out his “missions” if he made it to No 10, given he had abandoned his own leadership promises, he was asked.
“These are our missions, this is our way of working,” he said. “I’m so glad I tried it. If one wants to know if the public trusts and wants something from them, then there is a great way to find out. Let’s hold general elections.”
Senior Labor figures remain tight-lipped about the robustness of their 20-point lead over the Conservatives – they still believe it is soft as a result of the government’s own woes – and the assumption by some Tory MPs that it is their turn for an election routing.
They also cite voters telling them on the doorstep they still don’t know what Starmer stands for and asking what he would do if he got into No 10. But for the first time since he took over as Labor leader, they will know how to respond.