Sir Keir Starmer has been on a journey since becoming Labour leader in April 2020.
In the race to succeed Jeremy Corbyn, Sir Keir promised to maintain Labour’s “radical values” and committed to many Corbyn-era policies.
Fast forward three years, and in tone and content, the offer is markedly different.
Take this from Sir Keir in his London speech on Saturday: “Our message at the next election must be we are different to the party Britain rejected in 2019.”
It’s probably worth remembering that in 2019 Sir Keir Starmer wasn’t some lowly backbencher agitating against Jeremy Corbyn’s agenda, he was sat around his shadow cabinet table as Brexit secretary.
Nevertheless, Labour officials are equally punchy, saying the speech represents a “clear repudiation of the previous leadership and everything that came with that”.
I’m also told, in this context, Jeremy Corbyn is unlikely to be readmitted to Labour ahead of the next election.
All this enrages those on the left of the party who claim Sir Keir won the leadership on false pretences by promising a Corbyn-lite agenda to the more radical membership, before junking that and morphing into something closer to Tony Blair in a bid to woo more moderate voters.
And you know what, they may just have a point.
Image: The Labour leader speaking at the party’s London conference In the leadership race, he made a series of pledges including scrapping Universal Credit, abolishing tuition fees and nationalising key industries.
All of those now look to be either ditched completely or severely watered down.
But does it matter?
The calculation in the leader’s office will be that annoying Corbyn loyalists is a price worth paying for winning more widespread support in the swing constituencies that need to be taken to form a government.
Ruthless and hungry
When getting into power becomes a primary purpose, lots of other things can be dismissed more easily as talking shops.
In fact, you sense that Sir Keir and those around him are relishing picking this fight as it gives them a chance to define him against his predecessor.
This also suggests a ruthless streak and hunger for power (essential qualities for a prime minister) that are underappreciated in the Labour leader.
The risk is that voters may look back to what Sir Keir was saying in 2020 and what he’s saying now and wonder if his promises for government are equally changeable.
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‘I’ll go along for a sing-along with Rod Stewart’ And this speaks to another hole Labour still hasn’t quite plugged: finding a stirring an exciting answer to the question of who Sir Keir Starmer is and what drives him forward.
It’s an issue not lost on some in the party, who worry that answering it could be proving difficult because the core political ideology that shapes a leader’s thoughts and guides their actions is not as potent in Sir Keir as it was in some of his predecessors.
This needn’t be an issue if Labour can start to tell a more convincing story in either personal or policy terms about what their leader is all about, beyond being a good and competent man.
Sir Keir Starmer has told us who he isn’t, now’s the time to explain who he is.