Has the dullest manifesto on record just sealed the deal for Keir Starmer?

Labour Party leader Sir Keir Starmer speaks during the launch of Labour's general election manifesto on June 13, 2024
Labour Party leader Sir Keir Starmer speaks during the launch of Labour's general election manifesto on June 13, 2024

Since becoming Labour leader, Keir Starmer has sought to attract the support of two key groups of voters: disillusioned Conservatives and former Labour supporters who abandoned the party during the Corbyn era.

At today’s manifesto launch the message could hardly have been more accurately aimed to these two groups. To gauge just how much Labour (or at least its leadership) has changed, try to imagine Jeremy Corbyn saying this: “This changed Labour Party has a plan for growth. We are pro-business and pro-worker, the party of wealth creation.”

To a dyed-in-the-wool Blairite like myself, someone who voted Conservative in 2019 specifically to foil Corbyn’s ambitions of becoming prime minister, this felt like a message aimed at me personally.

Had Starmer been in a weaker polling position, if success was in the balance, if the outcome on July 4 was in any doubt, we might have expected him to pull a few rabbits out of the manifesto hat in order to generate a shift in support towards him..

Instead he could afford to tell sceptical journalists that he makes no apology for revealing no new policies today. He surprised many in his audience only by offering no surprises. He doubled down on his and his party’s dullness and predictability, in the full expectation that he will be carried into Downing Street on the metaphorical shoulders of voters who are doing so because they’ve nothing better to do.

Yet there were glimpses of stirring rhetoric. He dismissed those in his party and on the Left in Britain who believe that “wealth is about how you tax it, how you spend it” and not on how you generate it.

“This manifesto is a total rejection of that argument.”

He’d better be careful: that sort of language could risk waking voters up and becoming engaged in this ever-so-dull campaign.

Still there were hints of the difficulties and contradictions that might lie ahead. He promised a redrawn planning system to allow his government to build enough new homes. But he also – in a rather more vague way – promised local communities more power. Few aspiring prime ministers speak so enthusiastically about a future clash between an irresistible force and an immoveable object.

To say there were no surprises would not be entirely true: Starmer did reveal that his father was a tool-maker and his mother was a nurse. Tomorrow’s front pages write themselves sometimes.