‘Unity isn’t possible anymore’ – Starmer has put winning ahead of healing party rifts


It’s Sir Keir Starmer’s first in-person speech to the Labour party conference, and he’ll promise to get Labour “back in business”.

After becoming leader at the height of the pandemic – forced to give keynote speeches to a camera set up in his living room – this is an important moment.

What’s clear from the past few days is that he is determined to change Labour’s direction – confronting the Left of the party on their calls for nationalisation of energy companies, a £15 minimum wage and the whip hand for party members in leadership elections – even if it means bust-ups.

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Sky’s Political Editor Beth Rigby asks Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer if he’s taking the party towards the centre ground.

While Sir Keir refused several times yesterday – in an interview with Sky News – to say he was moving the party back to the centre, he did agree that winning is more important than unity. Or as one shadow minister put it to me, that “unity isn’t possible anymore”.

I understand the leader has been personally stung by how Jeremy Corbyn- who Sir Keir loyally served as Brexit spokesman, when others refused to – has continually refused to apologise for anti-Semitism since being suspended last October; and how the former leader’s allies have made clear at this conference they feel they owe Sir Keir no loyalty.

Justice spokesman David Lammy told us this morning that Keir Starmer is “recalibrating” the party, and that while identity issues have made headlines at the conference – and he personally believes that comments Boris Johnson has made in the past are “racist” – it is a plan to tackle fuel chaos, rising gas bills and improving education which voters want to hear about.

Labour leader, Sir Keir Starmer prepares his Labour Party conference speech in his hotel room in Brighton before addressing delegates tomorrow for the first time since becoming leader of his party in 2020. Picture date: Tuesday September 28, 2021.
Labour leader, Sir Keir Starmer prepares his Labour Party conference speech in his hotel room in Brighton

There will be new policies in the speech: a £1bn plan for anyone who needs mental health support to get it within a month; and a major recruitment drive for teachers. Both are costed, with taxes earmarked to pay for them.

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Labour says this represents a serious plan which won’t cripple the economy- a credible alternative to Boris Johnson and, aides say, an indication that “Labour will never again go into an election with a manifesto that isn’t a serious plan for government”.

For voters at large, though, talking about winning is one thing. The Labour leader has developed a reputation as cautious, lawyerly and risk-averse; he needs to make people believe power is within his grasp.

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