Reinforced by a strong lead in the opinion polls, Britain’s leader of the opposition has put forward his arguments to become the next prime minister.
As Boris Johnson reels from a disastrous final two months of 2021, Sir Keir Starmer set out in a speech an alternative government that he hopes will appeal to the British public.
With the possibility of a general election next year, the Labour leader is bidding to portray himself as a strong, steady leader untainted by the mishaps that have gripped Mr Johnson’s administration.
Recent Conservative bungling has opened a door for voters to have another look at Labour and its leader.
If the British public wants a sensible, straight but less ebullient leader then they will see another option, Mr Starmer's aides believe.
In the two years since he became Labour leader at the start of the pandemic, he has strived to expunge the disastrous tenure of the former leader, left-winger Jeremy Corbyn, who many believed made the party unelectable.
In a speech heavy with patriotic references and with the British Union flag displayed behind him, Mr Starmer laid out his new “contract with the British people”.
Continuing his theme, he said Queen Elizabeth’s Platinum Jubilee and the Commonwealth Games in Birmingham offered the opportunity for Britain to show it was an “open, generous, tolerant nation” as demonstrated by the England football team that reached the final of the Euros.
Playing on the sleaze that has gripped Downing Street, with rule-breaking Christmas parties and a ham-fisted attempt to circumvent parliamentary rules, he promised “straight leadership” based on the values of “security, prosperity and respect”.
While the speech lacked major policy announcements it sought to portray Mr Starmer as a very different leader to Mr Johnson, who is “flawed” and leads a “reckless” government.
“We have a prime minister who thinks the rules apply to anyone but him,” he said.
In a cutting reference to the prime minister’s jovial style, which initially endeared him to voters, Mr Starmer reasoned that politics was not “a branch of the entertainment industry”, but “the serious business of getting things done”.
“I want to start the new year by making a pledge of straight leadership. Today I want to introduce my contract with the British people”, he told the audience in Birmingham.
He suggested that Britain was entering a “new phase” at the start of the new year as the government has shown itself to be increasingly incompetent.
In the coming months British households will face sharply higher living costs, with energy bills rising and tax increases scheduled to start in April.
While the Conservatives under Boris Johnson have forfeited the trust of voters, Mr Starmer said Labour cannot afford to be complacent and still had to earn the confidence of the public.
He said his “contract” would ensure people have a “basic right” to feel safe in their own communities, knowing the National Health Service was there for them when they needed it, while having the opportunity to thrive and prosper.
Mr Starmer stated he would build on the record of the party’s previous election winners — Clement Attlee, Harold Wilson and Tony Blair — who he said all made Britain a better country.
What the Labour leader will want to emphasise now is that — beyond Brexit — Mr Johnson has achieved little else.
But he will know, too, that politics is a long game and the pandemic has eviscerated the Conservative agenda.
A long stretch without gaffes, a more purposeful direction, strong leadership and an end to the pandemic, could yet see Mr Johnson return as a formidable electoral force.