Keir Starmer Keir Starmer. Photo: UK Parliament / Jessica Taylor / CC BY-NC 2.0, licence linked at bottom of article

Starmer’s policy-stricken, Corbyn-bashing conference speech confirms that opposition to the Tories is only going to come from outside parliament, argues Terina Hine

Sir Keir’s first conference speech as Labour leader was stuffed with generalities but devoid of policy.

In an empty speech to an empty hall Starmer’s only real aim was to distance himself from Corbyn as much as possible, with thinly veiled barbs directed at his predecessor throughout.

He pointed the finger of blame for the 2019 election defeat squarely at Corbyn’s feet and attempted to portray himself as the only competent leader in town. With no policies for opposition, and no hint at how Labour would handle the Covid crisis, this felt like leadership in name only.

Speaking from the “Red Wall” seat of Doncaster, Starmer was introduced by Ruth Smeeth, former Stoke North MP and one of Corbyn’s most outspoken critics in the Parliamentary party. The new, less than inspirational slogan, “Under New Leadership” was branded by the union flag.

The message was clear: Labour lost the Red Wall because of Corbyn, because of antisemitism, and because of the unpatriotic foreign policy positions Corbyn’s Labour adopted. Ramming the point home Starmer made clear “Never again will Labour go into an election not being trusted on national security.”

Starmer gave Nato equal billing to the NHS as Labour’s greatest achievements: “This is the party that created the National Health Service and founded Nato,” he said.

Looking forward Starmer suggested Labour would focus on traditional values emphasising national security, family, patriotism and his own knighthood. His lines could have been written by Conservative Central Office.

The only other message was on electability. Now that Starmer is in charge “It’s time to get serious about winning”.

Was this an admission he wasn’t serious before?

After all it was Starmer’s anti-Brexit policy that helped demolish the “Red Wall” and undermined the chances of a Labour government in 2019.

But it’s alright now:

“to those people in Doncaster and Deeside, in Glasgow and Grimsby, in Stoke and in Stevenage, to those who have turned away from Labour, I say this: we hear you. Never again will Labour take you or the things you care about for granted.”

The sheer gall was breathtaking.

In an unexpectedly personal attack on the Prime Minister, Starmer ironically showed how much the two leaders have in common: the lack of integrity that gives so many politicians a bad name; the relentless pursuit of power and the willingness to change policy positions, on Brexit for example, for personal gain.

It will have raised more than a few eyebrows when Starmer said, “The debate between leave and remain is over. Were not going to be a party that keeps banging on about Europe.”

Like Johnson, Starmer is lacking in substance. Like Johnson he only has one interest – to win power. And like Johnson he cares little for policies or people who get in his way.

Starmer may be stoney faced and serious but like Johnson he takes us for fools who can’t remember where he stood just a few short months ago.

If it wasn’t clear before it surely is now: any fight for change, for a fairer society, must look beyond Labour and beyond Westminster.

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