QUENTIN LETTS: Blairite Keir Starmer exploded a lethal electoral grenade as he abandoned his Brexit script to shout: 'Nobody's ruling out Remain!'
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Not since Moses some 35 centuries ago has a red sea been so briskly bifurcated by a gleamy-eyed obsessive.
With a single off-piste remark, Shadow Brexit Secretary Sir Keir Starmer said Labour should consider remaining in the EU.
It happened at the height of his conference speech. Sir Keir abandoned his script and shouted: ‘Nobody’s ruling out Remain.’
Actually, they are. Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell seem distinctly cool on the idea, for starters.
But it was a choice moment. In the midst of this Corbynist worship-fest, a Blairite had just exploded a potentially lethal electoral grenade.
Some delegates, such as a smartly attired duo in front of me, loved it, clapping their bejewelled hands and rising to ovate.
Other delegates remained in their seats. Commentators who watched it on telly said the hall was overwhelmingly positive.
Well, I was in there and I’d say a third stood. Two-thirds stayed put on what our older daughter used to call their bontoms.
Bold Sir Keir! He stood there, blinking in his avian way, an uncertain smile quivering. Call to Momentum operatives: Code 10-14, guys, we’ve got a Blairite lawyer on the platform and he’s tooled up with vote-losing Europhile slogans. Can anyone get a clear shot at him?
Neither Mr Corbyn nor Mr McDonnell was present for Sir Keir’s speech. Mr Corbyn turned up almost immediately after Sir Keir left the hall.
When a young man from Northumberland gave a spirited speech about the EU being ‘a capitalist club’ which was hated by working-class Labour voters, he was given a special hug and pats on the back by Mr Corbyn.
Sir Keir’s moment of Remainer rebellion did not win the biggest cheers. They were reserved for some classic Tosh.
I am not being rude. This was a speech of vintage class-warfare by Aslef’s Tosh McDonald, making his adieu as a union leader.
Tosh is that noisy one with the long custardy hair, bearded muzzle and snaggled teeth: imagine if Sir Richard Branson had spent 40 years biting bottle-tops and shouting Tom Waits songs.
A piece of work is our Tosh. Voice as scratchy as Bronco. And still boiling with fury about Mrs Thatcher.
‘I hated her!’ he boomed. ‘I set alarm clocks an hour earlier than I needed just so I could hate her for an hour longer. Since she died, I don’t do that but I still wake up an hour earlier. I can’t help it.’
Huge cheers and this time the complete hall rose to its feet. Tosh clapped himself all the way back to his seat.
A couple of other union leaders criticised Sir Keir, telling him not to undermine The Leader.
Nervous young Gemma Bolton had a message for the Starmers and Adonises of this world: ‘We’ve had a referendum – do you honestly think a second one would achieve anything else?’ A man near me shouted ‘yes!’ but he was alone.
‘We’re gonna leave this hole here today united,’ bawled Manuel Cortes of the salaried workers’ association. It turned out he had said ‘hall’.
Tony Kearns of the Communication Workers adapted 1 Corinthians chapter 13, saying, ‘when I was a child... my dad taught me to hate the Tories. But when I became a man I realised he hadn’t told me how MUCH to hate them.’
Despite such bilious bluster, Conservatives should watch closely what is going on here. Many delegates are young, genuine and they look like modern Britain.
Among them was soft-spoken Carolanne Lello, who said of herself: ‘I’m a working mum from Stourbridge. I’m not special.’ This, rightly, won immediate shouts of ‘yes, you are!’
That sort of party solidarity counts for much more than Brexit splits at the top. And in electoral terms, working mums from Stourbridge DO matter, and are the sort of people the Tories desperately need to attract.