OPINION - West End Final: Keir Starmer sets out his stall for 2023

 (Evening Standard)
(Evening Standard)

Poor Keir Starmer. He gets ready for his big set-piece speech following Rishi Sunak’s yesterday and then he’s kicked off the top of the bulletins by a huge story out of nowhere. Yes, Taylor Swift’s cat Olivia Benson is the third wealthiest pet in the world at $97 million.

Excuse the cheap gag, it’s been a bit of a news-blizzard day here in the Standard’s newsroom. Of course we’re all thinking of the Harry-William row that has exploded into new life again with the alleged leaks from Harry’s book Spare. Here’s our main story on the matter, a piece about Harry blaming William and Kate for his Nazi costume (yes you read that right), an article on the mad dash to Spain, where the book was accidentally put on sale early, a report of King Charles asking his sons not to “make my final years a misery” and our leaders, which touch on the row.

But perhaps it wasn’t such a disadvantage for Starmer after all. I suspect some (especially West End Final readers) will welcome a chance to focus on substantial policy.

Do read our deputy political editor David Bond’s run through of the five challenges Starmer faces this year.

As for the Labour leader’s speech today, his bad luck continued – a microphone malfunction made him sound extra tinny on television.

His focus, too, I felt was a touch misplaced. He declared that amidst all the chaos “is a growing impatience for change”. I’m not so sure. I think people value stability and survival more than change right now. Sometimes Starmer can look leaden footed.

Some of his lines were relatively eye-catching (the “take back control” bill, the focus on devolution) and he is reassuring in a way very few recent Labour leaders have been. His speech, though, lacked the clarity of Sunak’s five pledges. But it was still impressive and the polls continue to be strongly in his favour.

On that – as I said (perhaps a little unhelpfully) of Rishi Sunak’s ambitions yesterday – we shall see. I still think a hung Parliament after the next election is more possible than current polls would have us believe. Starmer’s solid performance today didn’t do a great deal to convince me otherwise.

Then again, Starmer is not the man to land knock-out blows. He works steadily, perhaps sometimes slowly, but surely. Seen that way, this was another step towards Downing Street that he did not misplace.

In the comment pages today, if you would like an explanation of why 2022 was just as bad for Xi Jinping as Vladimir Putin, Ben Judah’s is the piece to read. He also warns 2023 could be worse for the Chinese President.

Meanwhile, Sarfraz Manzoor is on amusing and reflective form thinking about New Year Resolutions – and what we’d look like if we actually stuck to them.

Lastly, our arts editor Nancy Durrant has written a smart, funny piece on what Rishi Sunak missed about education with his maths pledge yesterday.

You can reach me at robbie.smith@standard.co.uk and follow me on Twitter @robbiemclsmith

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