Keir Starmer’s finest hour (and a half)

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 (West End Final)
(West End Final)

James Harding tells a great story. When he was editor of The Times, he held a huddle with some of the columnists and leader writers to decide the line for the next day’s paper.

The Prime Minister had just delivered his party conference speech, and Harding asked what everyone thought the speech was really about. “There was an awkward pause, then a colleague turned and said he thought it was about... an hour.”

If only. Keir Starmer spoke for roughly 90 minutes this afternoon, albeit time was added on for copious rounds of applause.

The speech was filled with the usual social democratic fare - investment in research and development, a renewed focus on education and a pledge on mental health.

But fundamentally, his task was to demonstrate to the country that Labour was under new management.

In a thinly-veiled attack on former leader Jeremy Corbyn, Starmer declared that the party would never again go into a general election on a manifesto that is “not a serious plan for government.”

He calmly faced down hecklers, retorting “Slogans? Or changing lives?”

Indeed, the fact that his critics on the left were reduced to shouting from the floor is a pretty good indication of how thoroughly he has outmaneuvered them.

His party rule changes have made it far harder for a candidate of the left to be nominated for leader, heck, Corbyn is no longer even a Labour MP.

He demonstrated an ability to deliver a set-piece address, and the BBC’s coverage immediately after was positive. What comes next is the hard part - transforming that 90-minute speech into a vision for a Starmer Britain. Or even condensing it into a tweet.

Elsewhere in the paper, ahead of the sentencing of Wayne Couzens, we report that the Met PC used Covid laws to stage the bogus arrest of Sarah Everard.

In the comment pages, Tom Newton Dunn writes that Labour still has a shot at power, because the next 18 months will be long ones and voters are volatile.

Ayesha Hazarika scoops up the best of the political gossip from party conference in Brighton. And in a bit of business comment, our City Editor Oscar Williams-Grut writes that the petrol crisis is a headache that Uber doesn’t need.

Finally - and by the way, it’s curious how I never seem to get these gigs - as Paris roars back to life, Melanie McDonagh checks into the faultless Le Meurice for an indulgent weekend.

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