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5 July 2024updated 07 Jul 2024 10:26pm

Starmer’s victory speech was a display of humble realism

He wanted to show he understands the scale of the challenge ahead.

By Freddie Hayward

The crowds erupted with joy when Keir Starmer and his wife Victoria got out of their car on Downing Street. Onlookers waved small Union Jacks, as Labour supporters did for Tony Blair in 1997. The rain had stopped and the sun shone. Starmer slowly progressed down the line of supporters, thanking them for their hard work before he approached the lectern in front of the shining black door to deliver his first speech as Prime Minister.

He was not triumphant. He thanked his successor, Rishi Sunak, for his service. His aim was to recognise the deep disaffection across the country which had been exposed by Reform’s surge and the large number of people who chose not to vote. “This wound, this lack of trust,” Starmer said, can only be remedied through national renewal, through rebuilding the link between elections and politicians’ actions. He promised a “return to a politics of public service”, to respect everyone in the country whether they voted Labour or not. The Prime Minister lowered expectations but said “brick by brick” Labour would rebuild the country.

“If I asked you now whether you believe Britain would be better for your children, I know too many of you would say no. My government will fight every day until you believe again.” His answer is a practical government, “unburdened by doctrine”, that would build the incremental change that would win back trust. That Starmer said mere words could not restore trust in politics shows that he understands how serious the problem is. His speech sought to expunge the entitlement, hubris and game-playing that in his view has for so long defined British politics.

His conference speech last year promised to make politics tread lightly on people’s lives, and today he vowed to “defy, quietly, those who have written our country off”. Quietly, without the brash colour of the past five years, he said he would turn politics down in order to make it more practical and less theatrical. He wanted to convey a sense of resilience, a calm realism, in the face of the challenges his government now confronts. This was a unifying, humble speech that sought to close the door on the past 14 years, to recognise people’s plight and the divisions the election revealed. “Our work is urgent,” he said, “and we begin it today.”

[See also: The highs and lows of election night coverage]

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