Keir Starmer locks in Labour’s non-threatening image
Keir Starmer locks in Labour’s non-threatening image

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Good morning from Liverpool. Why has Labor lost so many elections? My first response is “How long do you have?” But one reason is lingering concerns about the Communist Party’s handling of the economy.

Reassuring voters of such concerns is why Keir Starmer appointed Rachel Reeves as shadow chancellor, and why every announcement this conference so far has been about closing loopholes or reallocating cash. There are expenditures to finance it. Reeves continued this theme in his conference speech yesterday, and now Starmer must do the same in his speech today. Some thoughts on all of the following.

Internal Politics is edited by Georgina Quach.Follow Stephen on X @stephankb Please send gossip, thoughts and feedback to insidepolitics@ft.com

Safety first

What do we want? Change without threats! When do we want it? At a pace that wouldn’t scare the middle of England! This has been the theme of everything Keir Starmer has done and said since he became leader, and it was something his shadow chancellor and most important ally Rachel Reeves told yesterday. The tenor of a speech delivered at a party meeting.

This year, the message was given a real dose of stardust by the unexpected emergence of former Bank of England governor Mark Carney, who has largely backed Reeves as the next chancellor. The endorsement was so secretive that even the shadow cabinet was surprised. Only a handful of aides in the shadow Treasury team and the leader’s office knew about it.

Of course, for most people, this isn’t a big deal. But it sends an important signal to the political class: this is a serious Labor Party, with a serious shadow chancellor, and the leadership has passed from the Conservatives to Labour.

There are three audiences at the party meeting. The first audiences are at parties – if you can’t bring that audience with you, you can’t accomplish anything else. The second audience is a wider range of stakeholders – business, civil society, media, etc. The third audience is the public at large: If you’re lucky, you can take charge of the news cycle yourself, so you can convey something about who you are and where your party is going.

The message to the country was “change without threat”, and that was largely irrelevant because events in Israel meant Labor wouldn’t get much traction. The message to the party is “don’t mess up, stay disciplined, we can still fail” – that’s basically what Rachel Reeves’ speech was about. But the message to business, civil society and the media is “we are a serious company and we will win”. That’s why Carney’s endorsement is a huge win for the party.

What does Starmer need to do in his speech today? Well, it depends on when you think the next election is.If you think, like many in the Labor Party, that we will have an election in May, then he needs to make what political strategists like to call a “retail offer”: vote Labor and get X.

But if, like me, you think we’re probably about a year away from the next election, then what Starmer needs to do is provide information on the big picture – which my national task is to address X, y,z. Instead, he should aim to unveil Labour’s platform in the spring.

Starmer himself has said he thinks the next election is likely to be in November: so expect more big-picture, non-threatening changes in today’s speech.

Now try this

This week I’ve been listening mainly to excellent neo-modern classical recordings by Christina Vantzou and John Also Bennett, climate, while writing my column. I’ve added it, plus some other suggestions in this slot that I forgot about, Go to the Inside Politics Spotify playlist.

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