QUENTIN LETTS: Streeting manipulated the activists like a masseur

QUENTIN LETTS: Streeting manipulated the activists like a masseur


QUENTIN LETTS: Streeting manipulated the activists like a masseur… this was a pitch for the future leadership

FORWARD to victory. Let the gralloch of Rishi Sunak begin! That was the mood as Labour’s conference closed. Triumph assured, doubt absent.

They found a soprano to sing The Red Flag, accompanied by an intense-looking pianist from Liverpool Cathedral. 

After the curled-lip speech from education spokesman Bridget Phillipson the song should possibly have been that Red China ankle-swinger Socialism Is Good. 

You don’t know it? 

‘Firmly adhere to the communist party in the assured construction… of our great motherland!’ 

Once Comrade Phillipson’s in charge, it will be used daily at school assemblies. We may even have to chant it while standing at our work stations.

Shadow health secretary Wes Streeting speaking during the Labour Party Conference in Liverpool

Britain’s main opposition Labour Party Shadow Education Secretary Bridget Phillipson speaks on the final day of the annual Labour Party conference in Liverpool

Ms Phillipson (educ. Hertford College, Oxford) was the first main speaker of the morning. No ray of sunshine, she. 

The speech was a mixture of sloganeering and sulphurous class war. 

One moment she was saying ‘our greatest days are yet to come’ and ‘it’s all about hope’, the next she was snarling that private schools were ‘arrogant’ and she was going to ’whack em with tax’ in order to pay for Bridget’s Breakfast Clubs.

She was furious that an independent-education lobbyist had, in an email, called her ‘chippy’. 

Well, she growled, ‘chippy people make the change that matters’ and those toffee-nosed poshies were going to be given a dose of salts. 

One hesitates to intrude on what is plainly sensitive turf but after listening to this pinched speech it was not altogether impossible to conclude that the lobbyist may have been on to something. 

In private Ms Phillipson may well be charming company. In public her persona is grindingly mirthless.

The very next contribution in the hall came from a Liverpool woman who lamented that a nearby private nursery school had gone bust. 

The delegate complained that some 50 staff had lost their jobs and two hundred families were obliged to find a different school. 

The conference hall agreed this was bad. If Labour wins the election and makes private education 20 per cent pricier, thousands more schools will be likely to collapse. 

No matter! The construction of our great motherland will have taken a great step forward.

Wes Streeting, shadow health secretary, was ‘more skilful’ in his speech

The Labour MP accused the Tories of believing problems are there to be exploited

Wes Streeting, shadow health secretary, was more skilful. Little Wes has come on nicely as an orator, even if some of his lines were gamey. 

He was introduced to the hall by a music teacher who, poor man, was dying of cancer. 

That, along with the fact that Mr Streeting himself has had cancer, lent emotional power to the moment.

There were only three frontbenchers in Liverpool this week who were convincingly fluent at the lectern – the same number as the Tories had in Manchester last week.

Angela Rayner was one, Mr Streeting another.

He moved his eyes without obviously relying on an autocue.

He deployed pauses for dramatic effect, nodded his head emphatically, blew out his cheeks in disbelief and made a couple of decent wisecracks. 

When he began his speech he welled up spontaneously about the cancer patient we had just heard.

Moments later, with a completely straight face, Mr Streeting complained that Tories believed ‘problems are there to be exploited’. 

Even after three decades watching politicians, I still sometimes find myself gasping at their shamelessness.

As much as any of last week’s speeches by Suella Braverman or Penny Mordaunt, this was a leadership pitch. 

Mr Streeting surfed on some of Ms Phillipson’s anti-private schools stuff. There was shrewd hyperbole, too, about the wickedness of the Tories. 

Shadow Paymaster General Jonathan Ashworth speaks on the final day of the annual Labour Party conference in Liverpool

Sir Keir Starmer laughs during a speech on the final day of the Labour Party’s annual conference in Liverpool

You have to do that to fuel the Labour activists’ indignation. Mr Streeting manipulated them like a masseur.

And then we had the finale from John Ashworth, recently downgraded in the shadow cabinet. 

His task here was that of after-dinner speaker, sending everyone off with a few gags.

He was wheezy, hunched, darty-eyed, whimpering and puckering with merriment at his own jokes. 

It was pure Roy Kinnear, and done well. Our third natural speaker of the week.

You could sense that dullard Starmer watching and thinking ‘wish I could do that’.

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