Wednesday briefing: Did Keir Starmer’s speech take advantage of perpetual Tory crisis?

<span>Photograph: James McCauley/REX/Shutterstock</span>
Photograph: James McCauley/REX/Shutterstock

Good morning. Southampton are 14th in the league! Look, if totally irrelevant references to your football team’s place in the table are good enough for the opening of Keir Starmer’s big conference speech, they’ll do the job for the top of First Edition.

Everyman sporting banalities aside, the Labour leader’s appearance yesterday could hardly have come at a more opportune moment: a sterling crisis, the cost of borrowing soaring, rate rises all but inevitable, 300 mortgage deals pulled in a single day, and Liz Truss and Kwasi Kwarteng already reportedly at loggerheads. You might say Starmer had an … open goal. Could he finish?

In today’s newsletter, Nimo Omer and I bring you all the post-match analysis. That’s right after the headlines. And no more football, sorry.

Five big stories

  1. Economy | The International Monetary Fund has launched a stinging attack on the UK’s tax-cutting plans and called on Liz Truss’s government to reconsider them to prevent stoking inequality. The IMF’s rare public criticism came as US treasury secretaryJanet Yellen said the US was “monitoring developments very closely” in the UK.

  2. Energy | Sabotage is the most likely cause of leaks in two Baltic Sea gas pipelines between Russia and Europe, European leaders have said. Seismologists recorded spikes which appeared to indicate explosions near the Nord Stream 1 and 2 gas pipelines on Monday.

  3. Hurricane Ian | Cuba’s electricity grid has collapsed, leaving the entire country without power in the wake of Hurricane Ian, as 2.5m people were evacuated in Florida as the US braced for the arrival of what is expected to be a catastrophic Category 4 storm.

  4. Police | Metropolitan police head Mark Rowley has denied claims that firearms officers threatened to walk out in objection to the suspension of a colleague who fired the shot that killed Chris Kaba, an unarmed black man.

  5. Politics | The Labour MP Rupa Huq has offered Kwasi Kwarteng “sincere and heartfelt apologies” after being suspended from the party for describing him as “superficially” black during a fringe meeting at conference.

In depth: ‘A standard conference speech rather than a belter’

Keir Starmer takes the applause after his speech yesterday.
Keir Starmer takes the applause after his speech yesterday. Photograph: Christopher Furlong/Getty Images


What he said

The biggest policy announcement of Starmer’s speech was the creation of a publicly owned energy generation company, called Great British Energy, to “take advantage of the opportunities in clean British power”. The idea is a company that will make riskier investments than the market typically does in clean energy sources, boosting renewables and ultimately harvesting the profits for the taxpayer. Jessica Elgot and Alex Lawson have a useful explainer on how it would work.

Starmer sought to portray a sense of disgust when he talked about Liz Truss and Kwasi Kwarteng’s handling of the economy. He linked Truss’s premiership to a vandalistic vision of “how the Tories have governed our country for 12 long years … They haven’t just failed to fix the roof. They’ve ripped out the foundations, smashed through the windows and now they’ve blown the doors off for good measure.”

Labour, he said, would first stabilise then grow the economy and end the cost-of-living crisis. He promised an “office of value for money” to demonstrate Labour’s credentials as responsible stewards of the economy – and framed all of this as a riposte to ideological Conservative rule: “Britain never won its battles with wishful thinking,” he said. For more of the detail of Starmer’s speech, see this breakdown of the key takeaways.


How he said it

If Starmer’s introductory joke about Arsenal being top of the league put you in mind of someone you don’t know that well at work but have somehow got stuck in the lift with, you shouldn’t put it down to incompetence: forgettable middle manager is sort of the point here. Put it alongside praise for the Queen and the Queue, and you had the performatively patriotic template for a speech engineered to dominate the “Boring But Decent” lane of British politics, which has been left vacant by the Tories for quite a while now.

This was “a standard conference speech, rather than a belter,” Andrew Sparrow wrote in his snap verdict. “It was calm, rather than excitable; sensible, rather than audacious; realistic more than inspirational. But after three years of Boris Johnson, and with Liz Truss as PM, there is a lot to be said for calm, sensible and realistic.”

“All Starmer really needed to do in his speech was to turn up, not fall over and not sound like a complete halfwit,” said John Crace, noting that he was aided in his task by “the Tories falling over themselves to look like death cult muppets.”


The party reaction

There were 13 standing ovations during the speech, by Guardian political correspondent Peter Walker’s count – but that may be more a marker of the audience’s desire to project their enthusiasm than any irresistible rhetorical flourishes on Starmer’s part.

“Just to the left of the media section, there was a group who seemed to be on their feet the second he said something half-decent,” Peter said. “That is genuine excitement, but it’s also about this impetus to show that this is a party which is ready for government.”

The Great British Energy plan was a particular favourite – “which is partly because it was just about the only new policy,” Peter said. Also striking was the fact that some of the most thunderous applause was for lines intended to recall, and rebuke, the Jeremy Corbyn era – like a declaration of success in rooting out antisemitism – that would have been far more controversial last year.

“Momentum aren’t in the room any more – it does feel as if he’s crushed the left,” Peter said. Over the course of conference, “there really has been a sense among members that they think they can win, and a sense that they can’t believe their luck over what the Tories are doing.” Starmer mentioned 1945, 1964, and 1997: totemic Labour victories. “But a lot of people in the room remember leading in the polls before 2015, or think back to 1992. So there’s a strong anxiety about complacency, too.”


The columnists’ reaction

There was a pretty broad consensus that Starmer had succeeded in his goal of presenting Labour as a trustworthy party of government, and most of the contributors to the Guardian’s panel of responses agreed that he had struck a plausible note; they differed on how far they trust him to execute what he has promised.

Polly Toynbee argues that “the party of the centre ground always wins” and views Starmer’s policies are “well left of [Blair’s] timid 1997 pledge card.” Novara Media’s Moya Lothian-McLean said that it was his best speech yet – but “that bar is not especially high” and warned that Starmer has a “history of rescinding pledges”.

The view in Conservative outlets isn’t all that different. On ConservativeHome, William Atkinson writes that even if Tories disagree with Starmer’s basic analysis, his speech showed “that “fourth time lucky” isn’t the strong message for Tory activists on the doorstep”. The Spectator’s Isabel Hardman (£) said Starmer “wasn’t crowd-pleasing” but that “his supporters will be pleased with how the speech came out and the message it conveyed”.

Those on the left of the Labour party found places for cautious agreement. Starmer offered “some progressive stuff that’s inadequate to the needs of the hour but doesn’t entirely suck,” Jeremy Corbyn’s former spokesperson James Schneider wrote on Twitter. The Guardian’s Owen Jones said the speech was “fine, if I’m honest” and at least had “basic class politics in it” - even if a good week for Labour “doesn’t mean I trust Starmer” given his “deceitful record”.


Where it leaves Labour

If the overwhelming sense you have from the above is one of a basic consensus about a 7/10 job, that suggests both Starmer’s advantage – and his problem. You can see something similar in the wider coverage of the speech this morning: it doesn’t make the front pages of the Daily Mail or the Sun, but criticism on inside pages is far more muted than it might have been in previous years. Starmer may be avoiding the traditional shoeing handed out to Labour leaders by parts of the media – but in the middle of an economic crisis, he has not yet forced himself on to their agendas.

One neat summary of this problem came in Monday’s remarkable YouGov poll for the Times – which put Labour 17 points ahead, a margin that would translate to a majority of more than 100 seats.

The problem, identified by Opinium’s Chris Cook, is this: hardly any of that lead is caused by Conservative voters switching to Labour. Instead, it relies on 2019 Tory voters switching to ‘don’t know’. Many voters are pretty alarmed by Liz Truss, in other words. But they still haven’t made their minds up about Labour.

We want to hear from you

Are you a teacher? We’d like to know how rising costs are affecting your pupils

You can get in touch securely by filling out this form or contacting us via WhatsApp by clicking here or adding +44(0)7766780300.

What else we’ve been reading


Cricket | The England and Wales Cricket Board is developing a proposal to host a Test cricket between Pakistan and India on a neutral ground in England. It has been 15 years since the two countries last played a Test match against each other, and 10 since their last white-ball series.

Chess | Magnus Carlsen has broken his silence on the scandal that has rocked chess by accusing Hans Niemann of “cheating more – and more recently – than he has publicly admitted.” The world champion said that he viewed Niemann’s stellar rise over the past year as “unusual”.

Football | Scotland held out for a 0-0 draw against Ukraine to secure promotion to the top flight of the Nations League. Meanwhile, after England’s 3-3 draw with Germany in their last match before the World Cup, Jacob Steinberg examines the likely composition of Gareth Southgate’s squad.

The front pages

The Guardian leads with “‘A Labour moment’: Starmer sets out his plan for a return to power”. The Mirror runs the subheading “Starmer’s message of hope” above its splash “Britain will get its future back.” The Metro goes with “Keir: Don’t forgive,” and says Starmer has urged voters not to forget the government’s “mishandling of the economy” at the next election.

The Times leads with “House price warning as loan rates rise sharply” and the Telegraph has “Reverse tax cuts, IMF tells Truss”. The i newspaper says “PM and Kwarteng ignored officials who warned of markets turmoil” while the FT goes with “Market turmoil requires tough action from BoE, its chief economist warns”. The Mail fills its front page with a “damning picture exclusive” and the story: “Lawrence killer’s sickening selfies from his jail cell.”

Today in Focus

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer in Liverpool.
Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer in Liverpool.

Does Labour have a route out of Britain’s rolling crises?

As a currency crisis joins the cost of living crisis in the UK, Labour has taken a 17-point poll lead. Peter Walker reports from the party’s conference in Liverpool.

Cartoon of the day | Steve Bell

The Upside

A bit of good news to remind you that the world’s not all bad

The Bright Blue boat operated by Seagrown in Scarborough, North Yorkshire.
The Bright Blue boat operated by Seagrown in Scarborough, North Yorkshire. Photograph: Richard Saker/The Guardian

Earlier this year, North Yorkshire announced ambitious plans to become carbon negative by 2040. Two people who have been at the forefront of realising this goal are marine chemist Laura Robinson and trawlerman turned mariner Wave Crookes, a couple who set up the company Seagrown. Over the last four years Seagrown has managed the UK’s largest offshore seaweed farm in the cold waters off the Yorkshire coast. Not only can seaweed be used to make things such as biodegradable alternatives to a plastic bottles and eco-friendly fertiliser, it’s also carbon rich. It’s extremely effective at taking CO2 from the atmosphere and “locking” it up in solid or liquid form, making it one of the best crops to reverse the climate crisis. “We can’t just say it’s the government’s problem,” Crookes says about achieving carbon neutrality. “It’s all of our problem, and anything we have in our gift to do, we should do.”

Sign up here for a weekly roundup of The Upside, sent to you every Sunday

Bored at work?

And finally, the Guardian’s crosswords to keep you entertained throughout the day – with plenty more on the Guardian’s Puzzles app for iOS and Android. Until tomorrow.