The pair were like star-crossed lovers at last night's event
It’s possible that Keir Starmer has never been this happy before. When he walked into the auditorium yesterday evening with Gary Neville, his grin was so wide you could have fit every delegate, and their mobility scooters, in his mouth. He looked delighted.
Neville-Starmer are perfectly star-crossed. Theirs is a love whose month is ever May. Neville described Starmer as “trustworthy — he has integrity”. All Labour had to do was “get behind him” and power would roll into the party’s hands. “You are absolutely spot on Gary,” Starmer swooned at one point. “Gary’s right.”
Stardust is hard to find at a party political conference. Among the lanyards and the caffeine, the stacks of printed speeches and the stuffed recycling bins, the bloke who plays Phil Mitchell would be welcomed onstage like Tom Cruise. So Neville — former Manchester United captain — is received wildly. The only louder cheers at the conference were for a throwaway reference to Mo Mowlam’s memory.
Neville may not have brought peace to Northern Ireland, but he could burp and get a standing ovation for it here. He knocks over a bottle of water early doors, then a woman behind me shouts “YES” so loudly I fear the mental health awareness stewards will have to escort her out of the building
It descended into a Peroni Dad-off. Tieless Michael Mann bank heist suits; Alan Partridge banter. Starmer plays football with his staff, so Neville advises him to stick to the “centre-Left of midfield”. And don’t forget, says Nev, to play “some nice passes to that left-wing because they’re a little bit noisy.” Get it?
They agreed on everything. There should be equal pay for women and men in sport. English football needs an independent regulator. Boris Johnson was a weapon. Liz Truss is a gambler — “Truss has tanked the pound lower than my reputation in Liverpool”, said Neville. The way to beat the Tories is to be like United going after yet another Premier League trophy — “laser-focus.”
Neville’s ubiquity in recent months — fundraising dinners in Manchester, broadcast and podcast interviews with Sky and the BBC, two-hour fringe events at this conference, a splash in the Mirror yesterday morning, then intimately a deux with Starmer last night — speaks to Labour’s strategy in the months leading up to the election. Neville’s political message is simply: look at that absolute shower in Number 10.
There’s not much else there. There’s not that much else there with Starmer either. He won’t promise anything extraordinary. He thinks he doesn’t have to. Voters look at the Tory wreckage — Neville has directed them there by yelling about it on breakfast television — and Labour win by default. The rest is Dad jokes.