Starmer: Reassurance with just a hint of paranoia

Sir Keir StarmerImage source, PA Media

I last stood in the airy atrium of One Angel Square, the headquarters of the Co-operative Group in Manchester, a year last February.

It’s a snazzy modern tower, steeped in the Labour movement’s particular history here in the north west of England.

The Rochdale Pioneers were the first successful co-op, founded in the 1840s to help the poor of that town just up the road from here.

And the Co-operative Party is the political sister of the Labour Party.

Sir Keir Starmer chose this backdrop last year to set out the first building blocks of Labour’s programme for government, what he calls his “missions”.

Now the party has pointedly circled back here to complete, or so they hope, that political construction.

Labour seek to be paragons of predictability: bells, whistles, rabbits and hats are well and truly out of fashion.

When manifestos are published, it is always worth thinking about what the party in question hopes will be the controlling thought of the tome they are handing out.

For the Conservatives at Silverstone in Northamptonshire the other day, the controlling thought was tax cuts.

Here in Manchester with Labour, the controlling thought was reassurance.

So, Labour folk have been going out of their way to make a virtue out of the lack of surprises.

The 133 page, 23,000 word manifesto, external does not contain any policy that had not been announced already.

Solid stability is not necessarily rocket fuel for the soul of those seeking a party to enthuse about, rather than plump for on polling day.

It has led Labour’s critics to say the party is being vague, even boring.

But Sir Keir reckons people are fed up of fireworks and political circus.

He wants to make the boring interesting again, or at least appealing compared to its alternative.

This reflects his character, his seriousness of purpose, his disdain for politics’ penchant for theatricality.

But it is also a caution borne of an almighty opinion poll lead and a judgement that promising the moon on a stick isn’t affordable nor believable.

Whatever the analysis of this prospectus, and the steady arc of its assembly, beginning in this building and heading back to it, there is one remarkable fact worth reflecting on.

Labour was a party in dire straits five years ago and yet is now possessed of a discipline, focus and determination it hasn’t had in nearly two decades.

This can, on occasion, tilt towards an attention to detail that borders on absurd paranoia.

When I was invited on to the Labour battlebus to interview Keir Starmer, the whole thing was held up by fretting aides worrying that the "emergency exit" sticker on the window next to us would amount to an embarrassing gaffe.

You might remember there was a splash of fuss earlier in the campaign when Rishi Sunak was photographed near an "exit" sign on a plane.

And so, on the Labour bus, began a comprehensive debate among press officers about whether we would all have to move to another seat or whether some gaffer tape could be stuck over the offending sign.

In the end, said tape was applied, until it was concluded that it drew even more attention to what they were trying to hide, and so it was taken down.

Maddening for the reporter on a deadline – me.

But a rather daft illustration of a bigger point: this is a party with an attention to detail which means nothing is being left to chance. Even the gaffer tape.

And three weeks out from the general election, Labour is the runaway favourite to break the habit of its lifetime, and actually win.