Sir Keir Starmer has been on quite a journey in the past 18 months
Elected leader in April 2020 on a message of party unity and continuity, he has travelled a long way from that starting point.
And it was on Wednesday that he finally crystallised what that really means as he faced down the left and positioned himself as the heir of Blair.
It was a speech that did a number of things.
On the personal, it showcased Sir Keir the man as he spoke about the way in which his mother and father – a nurse and a toolmaker – had taught him the “ethic of service” and the “pride that good works bring”.
On the political, he took the fight to Boris Johnson as he sought to put clear blue water between a prime minister who he described as a “trivial man” with “no plan” while he pitched himself as a public servant with a commitment to social justice and serious work.
Steady Starmer versus the Showman.
But the big reveal, pitch-rolled all week in the internal battles over party rules and the resignation of the final shadow cabinet Corbynite Andy McDonald, was unspoken but so plain to see: Sir Keir’s political rejection of Corbynism as he sought to mirror the last man to win an election for Labour – Tony Blair.
Sir Keir didn’t mention either men in his speech, but neither needed a namecheck to loom large.
He clearly disavowed Jeremy Corbyn – facing down the jeers from the hall – as he spoke to “voters who thought we were unpatriotic or irresponsible” and promised “never to go into an election with a manifesto that is not a serious plan for government”.
And he clearly embraced Mr Blair, the last man to win an election for Labour and a leader who also knows how it feels to lead the party on the back of four successive election defeats.
There were undertones of Blair’s ‘tough on crime, tough on the causes of crime’ when it came to law and order: “Under my leadership, the fight against crime will always be a Labour issue.”
And when it came to education a very direct nod: “Education is so important I am tempted to say it three times.”
Backing business, promising to be careful with public finances and “chase down every penny”, Sir Keir placed Labour’s tanks firmly back on centre ground.
Policies and priorities that seem so different from the ones he set out when he campaigned to be party leader, saying he stood by a party manifesto that he is now almost ridiculing.
Cynics might say this was always his intention: keep left to win the leadership and then swerve right; one of his allies this week told me this week, Sir Keir really believed at the beginning he could unify the party in the early days but became as disillusioned with the left as they did with him, the anti-Semitism row that resulted in Mr Corbyn losing the whip being the event that precipitated a change in direction.
At this conference, Sir Keir has finally acknowledged that trying to unify Labour was a thankless – and hopeless – task.
Instead he is looking outwards, to an electorate that he needs to persuade to take another look at Labour.
Leaving Brighton and the left behind, Sir Keir has finally established his version of the Labour Party. His next task is to establish it in the minds of voters – and that is going to be harder still.
Source : skynews