Keir Starmer: a time to be solid, not spectacular

Keir Starmer had no grand stage from which to make his acceptance speech after becoming British Labour party leader at the weekend. The speech itself was visually and rhetorically unspectacular and while Starmer’s delivery was not one to stir a nation, the solidity and lack of fuss struck the right note. And it contained some subtleties worth noting.

First – dismiss unimportant speaking conventions. To get to the most important issues, Starmer saved the regular notes of thanks conventionally made at the start for the end. He also saved the internal messages aimed at the party faithful until later in the speech. 

Instead he addressed national matters first. He also prioritised issuing a direct apology to the Jewish community for the antisemitism that has haunted the party in recent years.

Second – use of empathy. It was hard to discern a core message in the opening minutes but his core purpose seems to have been to connect with people across the nation on a human level.

Third – positive language. He made criticisms but they were coded and converted into positive language. By stating “we now know who the key workers really are,” and adding “they were last and now they should be first” he implicitly referenced common criticism that the NHS has long been underfunded (and that his party would change that). This was also a rare rhetorical flourish.

Finally the backdrop was distinctly unceremonial with no symbols of office or music, filmed in front of what appears to be a cupboard unit at home. But the shot angle was well-judged as was his vocal energy.

There are times when leaders have to deliver with more panache. But this moment demanded reliable rather than spectacular.