Keir Starmer has his eyes on 10 Downing Street
Those around Keir Starmer have recently noticed a change in his demeanour.
With the next election no more than two years away, the Labour leader is finally starting to flesh out what “Starmerism” actually is and what a government he leads will mean for the country.
“Ever since the death days of the Truss government, Keir’s mantra has been ‘no complacency’, says one ally.
“He’s entirely focused on what we need to do - even when it’s things that are difficult for people to hear.”
Starmer courted controversy two weeks ago by saying that the NHS was recruiting too many people from overseas.
The government should, he said, “be training people in this country” to do the jobs currently being carried out by foreigners.
Danny Blanchflower, a former member of the Bank of England’s monetary policy committee, described Starmer’s comments as “pure unadulterated delusional bollocks”.
But senior Labour figures are unperturbed, arguing that challenging the views of the party’s base is necessary to convince Tory voters to switch sides in 2024.
Another example of this new approach came when Starmer hit out at “arrogant” Just Stop Oil protesters.
“I think their action is wrong,” he told LBC. “I particularly think about the images we’ve seen of ambulances coming down the road and not being able to get through because people have glued themselves to the road.
“My mum was very ill all of her life. She was in those ambulances when she was alive, there will be other families listening to this who are in the same situation. It’s arrogant.”
But taking strident positions on divisive issues is just one part of Labour’s strategy to convince undecided voters that it’s time for change.
One Labour insider told HuffPost UK: “You’re starting to see what Starmerism will look like - a big, bold, Biden-style offer on jobs, skills and green growth, combined with public service reform.
“It’s going to be about giving people the assurance that the country has control again: of the borders, of the public finances, of its future.”
Senior Labour figures say the Tory chaos of the last few months has presented the party with a golden opportunity to present itself as a sensible, moderate alternative to the current government.
“It’s about giving the country some bloody hope and stability again,” says one source.
Starmer’s decision to challenge Labour voters stems from his conviction that his internal battle with the left has been won.
Despite promising during the last Labour leadership contest that he would give local constituency parties the power to choose their own election candidates, in reality Starmer’s office has taken an iron grip of the process.
Would-be Labour MPs sympathetic to Jeremy Corbyn have been frozen out, meaning local members are presented with a choice of candidates fully on board with the Starmer project.
Unsurprisingly, this has sparked a backlash from left-wingers, who accuse the leader of waging an unnecessary war on their wing of the party.
This week, former Corbyn spokesman Matt Zarb-Cousin announced that he had joined the Greens, taking a swipe at the Labour leader in the process.
He told HuffPost UK: “There was some consensus around the Corbyn agenda and there was goodwill on the left to work constructively with Starmer.
“But there is now a factional war that has been executed from the top down.”
Those around Starmer see it differently. For them, it is about ensuring that every Labour name on a ballot paper will never embarrass the party in the future.
“The new selections process is going to ensure the squad depth of the parliamentary Labour party is better than it’s ever been,” said one insider.
“It’s never been about fixing it for individual candidates like the old machine did. No more piss poor candidates is the motto.”
Corbyn’s fate in his Islington North seat has become totemic for many of the left and right of the Labour party.
Having lost the whip over his response to the Equality and Human Rights Commission’s report into anti-Semitism in the party, the chances of him being chosen as Labour’s election candidate are essentially zero - a state of affairs which has further infuriated the left.
The idea Corbyn is going to be standing as a Labour MP at the next election is for the birds. The Facebook post that saw the whip taken off him is still up. He’s a complete disgrace
“The idea Corbyn is going to be standing as a Labour MP at the next election is for the birds,” says one senior Labour figure.
“The Facebook post that saw the whip taken off him is still up. He’s a complete disgrace.”
With his his internal critics vanquished, Starmer is now focused on convincing the general public that Labour has changed and that he has what it takes to be prime minister.
The opinion polls - and the overwhelmingly negative reaction to Jeremy Hunt's funereal autumn statement - suggest that the next election is Labour's to lose,
But as one experienced shadow cabinet member pointed out: "Never under-estimate Labour's ability to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory."