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I listened to Keir Starmer’s speech as I travelled from the south to the midlands in my car. I spent some time in a queue to buy fuel around Oxfordshire and, as I ran in to the petrol station to pay, there was Keir Starmer being pumped out on the TV while people waited with overpriced weak coffee in hand. The government forcing everyone to stand around petrol stations looking bereft meant Keir Starmer had a captive audience.
First of all let me cover off the hecklers. To those outside of the conference hall listening on the radio or the television, the people shouting were in no way clear, their message not being heard at all. They just seemed intolerable. I am all for a bit of healthy dissent but I think it is important when dissenting to have a positive outcome in mind, usually one that extends your cause, not one that hands a victory to your opponent.
Keir Starmer remained cool and calm throughout and in the face of what the public could only hear as indiscriminate noise, which was at one point hard to differentiate from what sounded like an actual baby crying, it handed him the ability to look like a leader rather than a rabble. It was a gift in making the Labour leader and therefore the party look confident and professional.
For me there was lots in the speech (it was pretty long) that I was pleased to her. It will be of no surprise to anyone that I was pleased to hear him talking about tackling rape and domestic abuse and putting murdered women at the heart of his section on security against crime. I can’t think of many leaders’ speeches where domestic abuse has featured so heavily, if at all. Bravo.
However, for me the element of the speech that I liked most was the geeky stuff about tech. Not, you understand, because I am in any way versed in the language of scientific advancement, albeit I am married to a man who works with virtual reality and immersive cave systems, whatever they are. I liked it because I am a fan of the future. I am very much still awaiting my Judy Jetson-style closet.
I don’t want to sound too much like Andrea Leadsom but, as a mother, I am consumed near-daily with thoughts about the kind of jobs and lives my sons will have in the future. My sons who are growing up in the one-time workshop of the world come from a long line of workers who have worked on the development and building of new technology in both heavy and the creative industries. We are a family obsessed with and reliant for our security on the white heat of technology. The same could be said for most families where I live. It was music to my ears to hear about it in such Technicolor. A plan for tomorrow rather than an obsession with yesterday is pretty much all I want to hear.
The speech was trailed as if it were make-or-break for Keir Starmer, largely by a fractious element within the Labour Party. I never thought it was this, but if that is the test people wanted to paste onto it, then he made it. The conference week has been more fraught than I am sure Keir would have liked. There are things that could have been better managed without question, but I think his speech put a lid on a lot of that.
People will no doubt critique that it wasn’t just a list of new policies, something Keir left for his Shadow teams to do throughout the week. I suspect the very same people who will be out on the airwaves saying this are the very people who said Keir Starmer needs to tell us who he is and what he stands for. That is exactly what he did in this speech, leading me to think that some people are never happy.
I was recently at an awards dinner having a chat with a Tory voter from Surrey, not my usual dinner date. He was a really nice and fascinating bloke; he told me that he felt politically homeless because he abhorred the lack of decency in the government. He didn’t like the lies and bluster of the prime minister; he felt as if the Conservatives were inept and showy. Keir Starmer without question spoke to people like this man in his performance at conference. He is a decent, principled, honest and hard-working man. That said, it is without doubt that the Labour Party needs a team effort of different styles to reach everyone we need to reach if we are going to win. There is a way to go, but post-conference, I feel more positive than I have about that for a very long time.
I wanted Keir to speak to the country in his speech. I hadn’t expected that to be quite as literal as how I experienced it stood in a crowd of wrung-out citizens forced to stand around a telly on the motorway in Oxfordshire because of a government obsessed with slogans rather than detail and planning. Out there today, it has never been truer that things can only get better.
Jess Phillips is the shadow minister for domestic violence and safeguarding and Labour MP for Birmingham Yardley