A protester attempted to scatter some stardust over Sir Keir Starmer, but might as well not have bothered. The Labour leader took the opportunity to demonstrate unexcitability, and was also careful not to let the 17 or so standing ovations conferred on him by his party go to his head.
With doughty professionalism, Starmer stuck to his brief, which is to demonstrate that he is unglamorous, reliable, on the side of the British people (in about every third sentence he used the word “British”), also on the side of working people (about every sixth sentence), well able to sound duller than that other worthy knight Sir Ed Davey, and therefore safe enough to be left in charge of the nation’s destinies for the next five years.
It has been said (by Frank Johnson or Alan Watkins) that nothing beats the experience of seeing a speech like this on television, from the comfort of one’s hotel room, or even from one’s own home.
For then one is able to study in close-up not only the speaker, but selected figures in the hall. Here was the self-possessed Rachel Reeves, daring for a moment not to clap. And here was the tortured face of Ed Miliband, clapping slowly, and wondering how much more of this he could take.
Wes Streeting applauded with manic enthusiasm whenever the camera was on him, and probably, for safety’s sake, whenever the camera was not on him too.
“Thank you, conference,” Starmer said about 17 times at the start and finish of his speech, and often in the middle too, in order to signal to Streeting that the latest Streeting ovation might, if indefinitely prolonged, start to sound a bit too much of a good thing.
When Starmer said “we” have “ripped anti-semitism out by the roots”, he got big applause, and also a moment later when he declared that Israel has the right to defend itself.
But after that he drifted off into the higher platitudes, “where there is change there is also possibility”, declaimed in the plonking tone prescribed in One-Upmanship by Stephen Potter.
By the time Starmer told his followers “there’s no magic wand here”, spoke of “the hope of the hard road”, and assured us that “working people never let each other down”, Miliband looked appalled, and Hilary Benn looked grim.
But there came a more exciting passage. Home ownership is being impeded by the planning system, so “conference we must bulldoze through it”.
We shall see whether the Labour Manifesto includes a commitment to bulldoze the Town and Country Planning Act 1947.
Starmer was already greeting “the next generation of Labour new towns”. Docile, unexcited faces gazed out at him. He accused Rishi Sunak of “the levelling-down of working-class aspiration to go to university”, and confided: “I grew up working-class. I’ve been fighting all my life and I won’t stop now.”
Applause. On feet. Thangam Debbonaire in seventh heaven. Sentence on sentence without verbs, in classic Blairite style. A masterclass in higher priggery. Thank you conference. Wife on stage.
We’ll get five more years of this if we don’t look out. But let us not be curmudgeonly, for this, one should note, was a magnificently Unionist speech.
Or as Starmer, and Gordon Brown, would say, a British speech for British workers.