Keir Starmer has tightened his grip on the Labour party but some fear he may struggle to make an emotional connection with voters – on Wednesday the former top lawyer faces the jury of public opinion
When Keir Starmer was a top lawyer he specialised in judge-led cases rather than having to persuade a jury.
It required him to use his fierce intellect and formidable grasp of detail.
But it also meant he rarely had to use persuasion or passion to win over a dozen of his peers in court.
One MP told the Mirror: “He was always better at convincing the judge than the jury”.
Some in Labour fear their party leader may struggle to make that same emotional connection with voters.
His reputation as a competent, clever, decent human being is assured.
But they worry that he lacks the political instinct to talk directly to the public in a way that makes them feel he really gets them.
Can Keir connect? Have your say in the comment section
Ian Vogler / Daily Mirror)
So his first conference speech as Labour leader on Wednesday will be the most important of his political career.
After 18 months of being unable to get round the country, he finally has the chance, as one aide puts it, to “hold the mike” and talk directly to voters.
His hour-long speech has been inspired by his summer tour through Blackpool, Swindon and Glasgow talking to people who had turned away from the party.
While they told him they weren’t yet ready to back Labour, they were now at least prepared to give him a hearing.
In part, because the departure of Jeremy Corbyn as leader has helped detoxify the party.
But in Labour’s focus groups since then, some Tory voters from 2019 also admitted they were having “serious doubts” about the Government’s competence.
They felt that “the shine is coming off Boris Johnson “, one of those in the room said.
While they felt sorry for him after his brush with Covid last year they are now unimpressed by his handling of the pandemic.
That dissatisfaction has now bubbled over into anger over the escalating cost of living crisis.
Starmer’s allies say he will be underlining that feeling by claiming the Tories are “strong on slogans, weak on government”.
“These are serious times that require serious leadership,” they say.
Starmer’s five days at the Brighton seaside may have helped the party turn the page on the Corbyn era for good.
His aides say winning the battle over internal party rules and the departure of the last Corbynite standing from his shadow cabinet have tightened his grip.
They revealed that he will not mention his predecessor by name in his speech – and has a quick response ready for any renditions of ‘Oh, Jeremy Corbyn’.
But it will be clear that when he is talking about competence he won’t just be meaning Boris Johnson.
And he will namecheck some of the successes of the previous Labour governments run by Tony Blair and Gordon Brown.
He will announce new policies that will show the direction of travel he intends to take the party in the run-up to the next election.
He has also taken inspiration from the victory of a left-wing party in Germany this weekend – despite all the polls writing them off as outsiders.
Starmer began writing his speech, which will be watched by his wife Vicky on the front row, on his family summer break in Dorset.
Labour insiders say it will be his most personal to date – and will be even more revealing than he was on Piers Morgan’s life stories as he tries to tell the public his story.
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He will walk onto the stage to music but while aides would not reveal which tune they did insist it will not be the New Labour hymn ‘Things Can Only Get Better’.
Instead of reading his speech from notes Gordon Brown-style, or memorising it and pacing around the stage like Ed Miliband, he will stand at a podium and be prompted by an autocue.
On the eve of delivering his speech last night, before making the final tweaks, Starmer told the Mirror that he was not nervous.
But his judge tomorrow will not be those watching him in the room.
It will be the jury of public opinion.