When the tide finally turns, those who are there to catch the changing current are the ones who gain from seizing the moment. Today, as clueless Tories continue to take time out from kicking lumps out of one another to snipe across the political divide, the Labour Party Conference saw the tide turn on Brexit, as it was always going to do when people realised the leave campaigns had not just cheated, but lied as well.
And the one to bring that message to Conference was Keir Starmer, who told the assembled delegates “We must have other options, and Conference, that must include campaigning for a public vote”. There was perhaps unexpected, long and loud applause. But not as long and loud as the applause for what he said next.
“Conference, it’s right that Parliament has the first say … but if we need to break the impasse, our options must include campaigning for a public vote, and nobody is ruling out Remain as an option” [my emphasis]. Dennis Skinner, unimpressed, remained silent and seated. He was in a very small minority. Delegates, visibly moved, got to their feet, applauded, cheered, whistled. Starmer was unable to continue.
He had cur through the misinformed commentary, the spin of the Press and Pundit Establishment. Keir Starmer had addressed ordinary people, and as Galbraith’s definition of leadership dictates, confronted the major anxiety of his people in their time. He had also, whisper it quietly, propelled Jeremy Corbyn rather closer to Downing Street.
Yet, within minutes, there was our media class getting it totally wrong once again. While Starmer’s riposte to the Tories - “If your party wants to tear itself apart, that's fine. But you're not taking our country with you” - was also doing the rounds, too many talking heads were finding ways to carp “yeah, but it was rubbish”.
Typical of these was Rafael Behr of the Guardian, bleating “Revealing things here: (a) that line wasn't in the text sent out by Lab Press Office and (b) Starmer himself visibly surprised by strength of positive reaction in the hall”. Michael Crick, who had also managed to discover that speech drafts get rewritten on occasion, sniffed “Paul Emburey of Trade Unionists Against the EU tells me Keir Starmer’s comment in his speech that ‘nobody is ruling out Remain as an option’ could be ‘electoral suicide’ for Labour”.
Then Laura Kuenssberg, who’s not distinguishing herself on this one, also paid attention not to the overwhelming majority in the hall, but, yes, the tiny minority of naysayers. “This could all get v nasty v fast - Labour leave accusing Keir Starmer of making a leadership pitch - 'Many people will wonder whether Sir Keir is trying to line himself up as the Remain replacement for Jeremy.’”. Labour leave? There was only one problem with that.
As John Band put it, “Great example of false balance - Labour Leave is six arseholes including Kate Hoey”. And Ian Dunt, who has actually done his background reading, concluded “Keir Starmer is a good egg. He's fought a valiant rearguard defence at this conference. Where he moves - on transition, customs union, the 6-tests etc - Labour tends to follow. He's one of the few frontbench politicians who'll emerge from this period with any credit”. We had seen a transformative moment. And our media class failed us again.
On such a full sea is Labour now afloat. The media is bound in shallows and in miseries.
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