THOSE of us whose political consciences were formed by Labour still approach their annual conferences with a degree of hope. This party, after all, was the one which – more than any other – enabled my community to lift itself out of poverty and discrimination.

When the Irish were being told to go home by many voices in civic Scotland – nationalist and Tory alike – the Labour Party largely welcomed us and provided platforms for our voices to be heard and opportunities for us to serve our new country. There will always be a place for this party in the softest part of your political heart.

And so, you want them to do the right thing; to make themselves a force once more in Scotland and the UK. You listen keenly during their speeches and in all their interviews for any indication that they have something positive to offer these islands.

READ MORE: George Kerevan: Where Labour's 2021 conference has gone so badly wrong for Keir Starmer

Even just a signalled nuance here and there suggesting self-awareness would be welcome. But, as has been depressingly the case during Keir Starmer’s impostor 18 months as leader, there was little from these last few days in Brighton that made you think this bunch deserved to be in charge of a party calling itself “Labour” at all.

Only someone who sits on the margins of reality would think that a clunky, 11,000-word treatise was a way of connecting with the lost voters. Starmer’s essay would make you weep. After a year and a half as leader, was this it?

During that time, which has proceeded in tandem with Covid-19, all of the inequalities and inbred corruptions of Britain’s ruling class have been laid bare. Prior to the pandemic it was easy for these to be concealed or disguised with the help of a compliant press and the continuing end-of-the-pier antics of the Windsors. Covid, though, laid them all bare.

So rapidly did they pile on top of each other that the alternative reality factories operating in Britain’s red tops simply couldn’t deflect them quickly enough: the billion-pound racketeering operation in PPE equipment; the personal conduct of assorted ministers in Boris Johnson’s administration; the eye-watering revelations by Dominic Cummings of persistent and criminal incompetence in dealing with Covid. And all of it unfolding against the drum beat of racism and cruelty coming from Priti Patel’s Home Office.

Yet still Labour under Keir Starmer lost Hartlepool in the heart of its heartlands, indicating that no Labour seat in England is safe from the Tories. This is very bad news for the rest of us. Future economic projections, framed by 18 months of the pandemic, show that those living in our most vulnerable communities will experience the worst of Covid’s buffeting in unemployment, reduced wages and worse mental and physical health outcomes. There will be no levelling up in these places, only a levelling.

And all that Starmer could muster was a long, barely coherent essay that could have been produced by Mr Bumble, overseer of the poor house in Oliver Twist: work hard; contribute to society; keep your nose clean and tip the forelock to big business. It signified a race to the centre ground of British politics, that dream-like location where the Tories always like their opponents to be.

You never find Tories anywhere near the centre ground. Even Edward Heath’s one-nation Toryism and John Major’s more utilitarian version of it in the 1990s was still predicated on corporate rule, of ensuring wages barely rose above subsistence and granting licence to multi-millionaires and corporations to shape markets to their liking. Even on those occasions when we’ve deluded ourselves that the Tories are pursuing reasonable and mild courses, they are in fact channelling extremism.

And when a Labour leader such as Jeremy Corbyn recognises this and suggests entirely reasonable policies to curb the excesses of corporatism and the tax-avoiding, acquisitive super-rich he is dismissed as extremist.

IN what universe of Keir Starmer’s multi-millionaire imagination does a place exist where by occupying the centre ground Labour can oppose and resist the rule of class-based corporate influence?

The National: Thumbs up - then-Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn delivered a speech on Brexit at the Pitsea Leisure Centre while on the general election campaign trail in 2017

Jeremy Corbyn knew the truth and so did the millions of those who gave him their vote in 2017, leading to a surge that brought Labour to the edge of power. Corbyn’s electoral gains were achieved in the face of betrayal by Starmer and his right-wing acolytes within the party and a larger campaign of lies orchestrated by those who had most to lose in the former leader’s vision.

This had offered an alternative future for the UK which sought to re-integrate workers into the economic narrative and stitch fairness into workplace transactions. It envisioned a careful deployment of borrowing during a time of historically low interest rates and a sensible relationship with the European Union that existed beyond the ignorantly binary choices of Brexit.

Starmer’s performance at Brighton these last few days suggests not only that he possesses no vision to curb the corrupt and cynical excesses of Toryism, but also that Labour are becoming as irrelevant in the 21st century as the Liberals were for most of the 20th century.

For different reasons, Labour in Scotland have already become irrelevant and nothing from its senior Scottish branch officers indicated that this will change.

The National: Anas Sarwar, leader of the Scottish Labour Party

There was Anas Sarwar at the start of the week peddling the same old myths and declamations about the SNP being the party of “division and grievance”. Sarwar has only been in charge of Scottish Labour for a few months – a job that he craved with every fibre of his being. In this time he has been little more than a spectral political presence. It’s as if, having secured the job he long desired, he knows this is as good as it gets. If he’s still banging away at the old “nasty and divisive” line after 14 years of profound decline in his party’s fortunes then there truly is no way back for his party in Scotland.

You’re only left to conclude Labour exist now merely as a job opportunity scheme for a professional class of political geeks who want to embellish their CVs prior to lucrative careers advising corporate finance – just like Alistair Darling. And maybe a decade or so slumbering in ermine in the House of Lords like their barons and lordships Foulkes, McConnell and Robertson.

This old nonsense was also being advanced by grown-up politicians like Andy Burnham, who’ll probably succeed Keir Starmer. There he was, too, telling the same old lies about Scottish nationalism being just like all the other nationalisms.

And, for its viewers in Scotland, that was just about it. Just old tropes and cliches and some selfies for Twitter with their pet journalists. Nicola Sturgeon can rest easy for another few years in this twilight existence between devolution and independence.