Most politicians are said to face the speech of their life multiple times in their careers. But for Sir Keir Starmer, who will take to the stage to deliver his first in-person leader’s speech next week, the maxim may well hold true.
Leader of the Opposition is the hardest job in British politics and the present occupier has not had it easy. He took over a shattered party, driven to the brink by Jeremy Corbyn, who led Labour to its worst defeat since 1935 and allowed the stain of antisemitism to fester.
But after spending much of his time as leader in lockdown, Starmer now has the opportunity to introduce himself to a British public that for 18 months has been more focused on what the Government is doing to keep them alive and in a job.
For the number of challenges facing the Government — some of its own making — have left the door ajar. Gas prices, CO2 and HGV driver shortages, cuts to Universal Credit, tax rises, inflation and of course the impact of Brexit, which has exacerbated staff shortages and global supply chain problems.
The Government may take comfort in the fact that, even with supply chain issues over everything from fuel to turkeys, this Christmas is set to be better than the last. Yet in December 2020 we were in lockdown and the vast majority of people had not had a vaccine dose. That is not exactly a high bar for success.
Today, Starmer tells this newspaper that Labour needs to “show the country that we are a government in waiting with the hunger to win.” And while that won’t be easy, the next election is winnable. But he will have to convince his own party that winning is the ultimate aim.
In the coming days, as the spotlight falls on Brighton, Starmer has the opportunity to convince the naysayers in his party and then turn outwards to the country, setting out a compelling vision for what a Labour Britain would mean for us all.