Starmer faces down Corbynites in first 'real' conference speech
Keir Starmer draws on ‘principles’ of hard work and fairness inherited from toolmaker father as he says ‘strong economy’ can deliver social justice in first Labour conference address – but is HECKLED by Corbynites as he speaks movingly about late mother
- Keir Starmer is delivering his keynote speech to the first in-person Labour conference since becoming leader
- Leader is trying to move on from Jeremy Corbyn era in hour-long speech saying Labour focussed on ‘winning’
- Sir Keir is making a pitch to voters that the party is pragmatic rather than obsessed with left-wing dogma
- Do you know any of the activists who heckled Sir Keir during conference speech? Email [email protected]
Keir Starmer’s Labour conference speech: key points
- Sir Keir blasted Jeremy Corbyn’s disastrous 2019 election campaign saying he wants to win back voters ‘who thought we were unpatriotic or irresponsible or that we looked down on them’.
- He likened them to the Tories heckling him in the Commons at Prime Minister’s Questions, adding: ‘It doesn’t bother me then and it doesn’t bother me now.’
- Later he got a standing ovation by telling hecklers: ‘Shouting slogans or changing lives conference? We can chant all day.’
- He was heckled over proposals for a £15 minimum wage as he paid tribute to the NHS workers who cared for his mother and those working throughout the pandemic.
- Shouts were heard of ‘throw them out’, with sustained supportive applause for the Labour leader.
- A heckle of ‘it was your Brexit policy’ could be heard as Sir Keir spoke of a serious plan for Government.
- He attacked Boris Johnson over the haulage shortages threatening to cripple the country. He said the PM was overseeing ‘a fuel crisis, a pay crisis, a goods crisis and a cost-of-living crisis, all at the same time’, telling him: ‘Either get a grip or get out of the way and let us clear up this mess.’ He
- There was a standing ovation for Jewish ex-MP Dame Louise Ellman, who has rejoined the party after quitting over anti-Semitism, as Sir Keir told her: ‘Welcome home.’
- He mocked the PM in an ad-lib joke not in the printed speech, saying: ‘My dad was a tool maker, although in a way, so was Boris Johnson’s’.
- He set out his plans to make Labour reliable on law and order, citing the low rate of rape convictions and high levels of knife crime saying: ‘Under my leadership, the fight against crime will always be a Labour issue.’
- He branded Boris Johnson a ‘trivial man,’ likening him to ‘a showman with nothing left to show’ and ‘a trickster who has performed his one trick’.
- He unveiled something close to a new slogan: Work. Care. Equality. Security
- On schools, he drew an analogy to Tony Blair’s 1996 conference speech cry of ‘education, education, education’ telling the 2021 audience: ‘Education is so important I am tempted to say it three times.’
- Used education to blast PM’s ‘levelling up mantra’ by highlighting low funding, saying: If you can’t level up our children. You’re not serious about levelling up at all.’
Keir Starmer was repeatedly heckled by Corbynites today as he warned you cannot have a social justice without a ‘strong economy’ and spoke movingly about the experience of caring for his late mother.
In his first in-person conference speech following the pandemic, Sir Keir faced chants of ‘Oh, Jeremy Corbyn’ and shouts about his Brexit policy being to blame for the crushing election defeat in 2019.
In one grim piece of trolling, there were jibes screamed out as Sir Keir was talking about the care his late mother, an NHS nurse who suffered from a crippling a rare form of arthritis, received.
Sir Keir merely shook his head and carried on as he told how the Covid crisis had brought back memories of her illness.
He shrugged off other brickbats, saying he got the same treatment from Tories at PMQs every week. ‘It doesn’t bother me then, it won’t bother me now.’
As he was hit with more catcalls of ‘shame’, he shot back: ‘Chanting slogans or changing lives!’
He insisted the way to get the party ‘back in business’ is to focus on pragmatic solutions for Britain’s problems.
While some delegates held up red cards to show their disapproval, others yelled at them to be quiet and let the leader speak.
Sir Keir has confirmed that totemic policies such as re-nationalisation of energy and water are being watered down.
He defiantly channelled Tony Blair in one passage, saying that education was so important he was tempted to say it three times – a reference to the New Labour premier’s famous ‘education, education, education’ slogan.
Sir Keir also unveiled plans to recruit thousands more teachers and boost mental health services, as well as setting a ‘national mission’ to make every home in the country warm, well-insulated and cheaper to heat within a decade.
The party said spending £6billion a year upgrading 19million homes would cut carbon emissions, create hundreds of thousands of jobs, and save families over £400 a year on energy bills.
In a stark message to the Left, he said: ‘To those Labour voters who said their grandparents would turn in their graves, that they couldn’t trust us with high office, to those who reluctantly chose the Tories because they didn’t believe our promises were credible.
‘To the voters who thought we were unpatriotic or irresponsible or that we looked down on them, I say these simple but powerful words. We will never under my leadership go into an election with a manifesto that is not a serious plan for government.
‘It will not take another election defeat for the Labour party to become an alternative government in which you can trust. That’s why it has been so important to get our own house in order this week and we have done that.’
Anger is running high among hard-Left activists following days of squabbling over internal rule changes, the minimum wage, Israel and the military alliance with the US.
Taking to the podium to Fat Boy Slim’s Right Here, Right Now after a video playing up his working-class background and stellar legal career, Sir Keir kicked off by joking that the start of conference had been ‘nerve-wracking’ – but only because his beloved Arsenal were playing Tottenham.
He quickly swiped at the government over the fuel crisis, saying: ‘Level up? You cannot even fuel up.’
And he launched a series of excoriating attacks on Mr Johnson, describing the PM as a ‘tool’, a ‘trivial man’, and a ‘trickster’.
In one of his edgiest gags, Sir Keir said: ‘My dad was a tool maker, although in a way, so was Boris Johnson’s.’
In his first in-person conference speech following the pandemic, Keir Starmer faced chants of ‘Oh, Jeremy Corbyn ‘ and shouts about his Brexit policy being to blame for the crushing election defeat in 2019
As Sir Keir was hit catcalls of ‘shame’ and other jibes throughout his speech, he shot back: ‘Chanting slogans or changing lives!’
Sir Keir shrugged off the brickbats, saying he got the same treatment from Tories at PMQs every week. ‘It doesn’t bother me then, it won’t bother me now.’
Deputy leader Angela Rayner, right, was in the front row for Sir Keir’s speech after they clashed over her ‘Tory scum’ comments. Left, shadow chancelllor Rachel Reeves
Sir Keir, who served in Jeremy Corbyn’s (centre) shadow cabinet, said the former Labour leader would not have the party whip reinstated unless he apologised for his claim that the extent of Labour’s anti-Semitism crisis had been overstated
Keir Starmer tried to liven up his stolid lawyer image with a few one liners in his speech, mostly at the expense of Boris Johnson.
But he also took aim at hard Left hecklers in the audience who heckled him over Jeremy Corbyn’s suspension, his anti-Brexit stance and refusal to back leftwing demands for a £15-per-hour minimum wage.
Here are some of his zingers:
He mocked the PM in an ad-lib joke not in the printed speech, saying: ‘My dad was a tool maker, although in a way, so was Boris Johnson’s’.
As he was heckled he said: ‘At this time on a Wednesday it’s normally the Tories that are heckling me. It doesn’t bother me then, and it doesn’t bother me now.’
He played up his credentials as a former director of public prosecutions. He highlighted work he did in Northern Ireland in 2003, saying: ‘As I worked with the police to create a lasting institution in accordance with the Good Friday Agreement, Boris Johnson was a guest on Top Gear where, in reference to himself, he said to Jeremy Clarkson: ”you can’t rule out the possibility that beneath the elaborately constructed veneer of a blithering idiot, lurks a blithering idiot’.”
He added: ‘When, in the autumn of 2010, I was the chief prosecutor working with Doreen Lawrence to finally get a prosecution of two of the men who murdered Stephen, Boris Johnson was writing an article in The Telegraph declaring a war on traffic cones.’
The speech had been billed as one of the most personal Sir Keir had delivered, and he described how he learned the importance of ‘good work and fair growth’ from his parents ’round the kitchen table’.
‘I learnt it at home, from my dad. How pride derives from work. How work is the bedrock of a good economy. And how a good economy is an essential partner of a good society,’ he said.
‘That’s why I am so proud to lead a party whose name is Labour. Don’t forget it. Labour. The party of working people.’
Ignoring more shouts from the audience, he went on: ‘My mum worked incredibly hard too. She was a nurse in the NHS and a very proud nurse too.
‘I got from my mum an ethic of service. But my mum was also, unfortunately, a long-term patient of the NHS.
‘When she was young, she was diagnosed with Still’s disease. It’s a rare form of inflammatory arthritis which severely restricts mobility. This disease, along with the drugs she had to take to control it, took a heavy toll.
‘The NHS that had been her livelihood became her lifeline. There were times, many times, when mum was so ill that she had to go into hospital.
‘I remember going into the intensive care unit one day, as I often did. Mum’s bed was a riot of tubes and temperature devices.
‘I could sense the urgency in the conversation of the four nurses on my mum’s bed. I knew without being told that they were keeping her alive…
‘When that long day was over, I thanked them for what they had done. And they said to me ‘we are just doing our job’. And they were.
‘They were doing their job for my mum that night, someone else’s mum the night before, someone else’s mum the night after.
‘But that’s not just a job. It’s a calling.’
At that point there was a loud bout of heckling, although the exact nature of the shout was unclear.
Shaking his head sadly, Sir Keir continued: ‘So, when I think of the extraordinary dedication of doctors and nurses, working to keep people alive as the Covid virus took hold, I know what that looks like.’
The leader said said the country faces a ‘big moment’ in its history, adding: ‘I see a Government lost in the woods with two paths beckoning. One path leads back where we came from.
‘None of the lessons of Covid are learned. The flaws that were brutally exposed by the pandemic all worsen. Childhood poverty increases. The crisis in social care gets worse. The housing market is still broken. Slow and steady decline.
‘But there is another path down which we address the chronic problems revealed by Covid, with the kindness and the togetherness that got us through.
‘That path leads to a future in which a smart government enlists the brilliance of scientific invention to create a prosperous economy and a contribution society in which everyone has their role to play.
‘It will be a future in which we make an opportunity out of tackling the climate crisis and in which Britain is once again a confident actor in the world.
‘I believe in this country and I believe we will go forward.’
Turning to his main theme about the need to move on from the disastrous Corbyn era, he told the audience: ‘Too often in the history of this party our dream of the good society falls foul of the belief that we will not run a strong economy.
‘But you don’t get one without the other. And under my leadership we are committed to both. I can promise you that under my leadership Labour will be back in business.’
At one point when he was interrupted again, with jibes including ‘shame’ and calls for a £15 minimum wage, Sir Keir replied: ‘You can chant all day,’ before being applauded by the audience.
Sir Keir desperately entreated his party to ‘get serious’, saying they had ‘lost badly’ to the Tories.
‘I can see the ways in which we can remake this nation and that’s what we get to do when we win,’ he said.
‘Yet, in a way the more we expose the inadequacy of this government the more it presses the question back on us. If they are so bad, what does it say about us? Because after all in 2019 we lost to them, and we lost badly. I know that hurts each and every one of you.
‘So, let’s get totally serious about this – we can win the next election.
‘This government can’t keep the fuel flowing, it can’t keep the shelves stocked and you’ve seen what happens when Boris Johnson wants more money – he goes straight for the wallets of working people.’
He urged activists to think of how they could ‘start to write the next chapter in our nation’s history, bending it towards the values that bring us, year after year to this conference hall to seek a better way’.
‘I have loved my first full conference as leader but I don’t want to go through the same routine every year,’ he said.
‘In a few short years from now I want to be here with you talking about the difference we are making, the problems we are fixing as a Labour government.
‘That is what this party is for. That’s the object of the exercise and as the leader of this party I will always have that eye-on-the-object look. How beautiful it is, that eye-on-the-object look.’
The leadership’s main aim at conference has been to show voters the party has changed since Mr Corbyn – at that time backed by Sir Keir – led it to electoral catastrophe in 2019.
Shadow cabinet members privately accept that SIr Keir has an almost impossible task to overturn Boris Johnson’s 80-strong majority in a single election.
They are already urging him to cling on if he loses the poll, which some believe could come as early as next year, but manages to make significant progress against the ‘popular’ PM.
The mood in Brighton this week has been one of grim resolve as Sir Keir and his allies try to get a grip on the party machine.
While some delegates held up red cards to show their disapproval, others yelled at them to be quiet and let the leader speak
Sir Keir’s address was disrupted throughout by raucous shouting from hard-Left elements in the crowd in Brighton
At one point when he was interrupted again, with jibes including ‘shame’ and calls for a £15 minimum wage, Sir Keir replied: ‘You can chant all day,’ before being applauded by the audience
Starmer heckled as he praised NHS staff who helped his sick mother
Keir Starmer was heckled from the Labour conference crowd as he praised NHS nurses for caring for his mother.
The Labour leader was praising the care given to Jo Starmer (below, in a wheelchair), who suffered from Still’s Disease, an autoimmune disorder that led to her losing her legs.
He told the Brighton audience of speaking to nurses caring for her during a stay in intensive care, saying: ‘I thanked them for what they had done. And they said to me ”we are just doing our job”.
‘And they were. They were doing their job for my mum that night, someone else’s mum the night before, someone else’s mum the night after.
‘But that’s not just a job. It’s a calling.’
It was at this point he was interrupted from the floor.
After a brief pause he continued, saying: ‘So, when I think of the extraordinary dedication of doctors and nurses, working to keep people alive as the Covid virus took hold, I know what that looks like.’
But efforts to highlight policies have been largely overshadowed by rows over party rule changes, splits with his deputy Angela Rayner, and the surprise resignation of shadow cabinet minister Andy McDonald, who accused Sir Keir of making the party ‘more divided than ever’.
Trying to turn his fire on the government amid the fuel crisis, Sir Keir described Mr Johnson as ‘lost in the woods’.
The speech has been billed as his most personal to date, with aides saying it will be ‘more optimistic, more focused on the future, more outward looking’ than recent interventions.
‘It will be a clear indication that Labour will never again go into an election with a manifesto that isn’t a serious plan for government,’ one insider added.
Sir Keir was introduced by Baroness Lawrence, whose son Stephen was killed in a racist attack in South East London in 1993. She praised his work as director of public prosecutions.
In a round of interviews this morning, Justice Secretary David Lammy said Sir Keir had proved this week – amid spats with the hard-Left and one resignation from his senior team 0 that he is a ‘fighter’.
‘The road may have been a bit bumpy at points but he has come out, as cool as a cucumber, and as a fighter,’ he told Times Radio.
Sir Keir was someone with ‘compassion and kindness running through him’ and he is ‘in touch with suburban Britain’, he said.
In a series of policy announcements, Sir Keir will say Labour would guarantee access to mental health treatment in less than a month.
The party would create a National Excellence Programme for education, and recruit more teachers to enhance the prospects of the 40 per cent of young people who leave compulsory education without essential qualifications.
Mr Lammy said the party will not make the same ‘mistake’ as Mr Corbyn by endlessly splashing cash without explaining where it is coming from.
‘We will not be making proposals that cannot be costed, the public need to know where the money is coming from.
‘Clearly it was the case at the last general election, we were coming up with policies like free broadband, policies on pensions for women, a four-day week, and the public were saying ‘how much is this going to cost’?
‘It was coming at the last minute, they felt confused and they didn’t feel able to trust us because of some of the issues that were dominating the party.’
He believes voters who had given Mr Johnson the benefit of the doubt are now concerned about his competence.
A Labour spokesman said: ‘We know the shine is coming off Boris Johnson, we know that we are in a situation where there are serious questions around the competency of the Government, its ability to deliver.
‘So therefore what we will be using the speech to do is to show that these are serious times that require a serious leader, and that is Keir Starmer.
‘What we will be doing in between now and the next election is making sure that we’re setting out the policies that we’re going to stand on.
‘And when we do so they will be costed, affordable, practical, and that’s the type of party that we’ll have.’
A shadow cabinet minister told MailOnline: ‘If you look at history, it’s very rare for one prime minister to be followed by another with a similar character. Voters decide it’s time for a change.’
They added of Mr Johnson. ‘He’s been through a whole list of scandals which would have killed any other politician’s career and I think a tipping point will come when people look at him and decide they don’t like what they see.’
In a round of broadcast interviews last night, Sir Keir shrugged off left-wing agitation.
He told BBC News: ‘My focus is on how we get Labour into a position to win a general election.
‘Two years ago, we were here in Brighton for our Labour Party conference. And within a few short months, we’d crashed to the worst general election results since 1935. I am not prepared to let that happen.
‘And if that means tough decisions, to change our party, then I’m going to take those tough decisions.
‘There will be some people who don’t agree with those changes. I understand that, we’re a broad church in the Labour Party. But I’m not going to be deflected from my central mission, which is to get a Labour government so we can change it live.’
Asked what was more important to him – winning or unity – he replied: ‘Winning. Winning a general election.’
Sir Keir said Mr Corbyn would not have the Labour whip reinstated unless he apologised for his claim that the extent of the party’s anti-Semitism crisis had been overstated.
‘It has been going on for months and the ball is in Jeremy’s court,’ he told BBC News.
‘Jeremy was asked to apologise to take down the post that caused the problem the first place and to work with us.’
Despite his criticism of Mr Corbyn, Sir Keir served in his shadow cabinet and stood on his 2019 election manifesto.
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