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 his late mother, an NHS nurse who suffered from a crippling rare form of arthritis.
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.’
Shadow cabinet ministers rallied round the leader after the speech. Shadow foreign secretary Lisa Nandy said the heckling was ‘wrong’.
‘I think what you saw in the hall was a party that has changed,’ she told the BBC.
‘There are those who say we can stay the same, we can carry on with these pledges that we can’t keep, we can carry on standing on the sidelines waving placards and being a party of protest, and I say to them as Keir faced them down in the hall: you are wrong.’
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’s quips: Labour leader’s speech jokes
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.
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.’
‘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
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’.
SIR KEIR STARMER ACCUSES JEREMY CORBYN OF ALMOST ‘OBLITERATING’ LABOUR
Sir Keir said that under his leadership Labour will never again ‘go into an election with a manifesto that is not a serious plan for government’ as he launched a stinging attack on Mr Corbyn.
He pointed out that the conference in Brighton is the first held since the 2019 general election which saw the party crash to its ‘worst defeat since 1935’.
He said that the party’s activists and ‘loyal voters’ had helped save Labour from ‘obliteration’ under his predecessor.
Sir Keir said Labour must ‘understand and persuade the voters who rejected us’ at the last election.
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.’
Sir Keir said that under his leadership Labour will never again ‘go into an election with a manifesto that is not a serious plan for government’
LABOUR LEADER STRESSES HIS PATRIOTIC CREDENTIALS AND IMPORTANCE OF ‘BRITISH VALUES’
The Labour leader spoke at length about his time as the head of the Crown Prosecution Service.
He said that those are ‘three very important words’, telling the conference hall: ‘Crown brings home the responsibility of leading part of the nation’s legal system.
‘Prosecution tells you that crime hurts and victims need justice to be done.
‘Service is a reminder that the job is bigger than your own career advancement.’
The comments will be seen as an attempt by Sir Keir to bolster his patriotic credentials after a party plan was leaked in February this year which said Labour must make ‘use of the [Union] flag, veterans [and] dressing smartly’ to win back voters.
Sir Keir closed his speech by saying the UK is at a ‘big moment that demands leadership’.
He said his leadership would be based on the principles of ‘work, care, equality, security’ which he described as ‘British values’.
He said: ‘I think of them as the values that take you right to the heart of the British public. That is where this party must always be.’
LABOUR TRIES TO SEIZE CONTROL OF CRIME BATTLEGROUND
Sir Keir laid down the gauntlet to Boris Johnson on the key issue of crime – viewed by senior figures in the party as one of the key battlegrounds ahead of the next general election.
The Labour leader said that ‘under my leadership, the fight against crime will always be a Labour issue’.
He vowed to ‘strengthen legal protections for victims of crime’, adding: ‘We won’t walk around the problem. We’ll fix it.’
In one of only a handful of policy announcements in the speech, Sir Keir said a Labour government would ‘fast-track rape and serious sexual assault cases and we will toughen sentences for rapists, stalkers and domestic abusers’.
‘Today I’m here to tell you what I stand for,’ he said. ‘But I also want to tell you what I won’t stand for. I won’t stand for the 2 million incidents of anti-social behaviour this year.
‘I won’t stand for the record levels of knife crime that we have in this country today. And I won’t stand 9 out of 10 crimes going unsolved.’
Sir Keir claimed that Mr Johnson believes the ‘rules don’t apply to him’ but ‘that’s not how I do business’
SIR KEIR BLASTS ‘TRICKSTER’ BORIS JOHNSON
The Labour leader is normally reserved in his criticism of Boris Johnson and today he insisted he does not like political point scoring.
But he used his speech to lash the PM as he accused him of being a ‘trivial man’ who is a ‘showman with nothing left to show’.
Sir Keir claimed that Mr Johnson believes the ‘rules don’t apply to him’ but ‘that’s not how I do business’.
He sought to compare his professional career with Mr Johnson’s as he said he had ‘spent my entire working life trying to get justice done’.
He said: ‘In 2003, when I was working with the Policing Board of Northern Ireland, while I was learning up close how hard it is to make split-second life-and-death decisions in a riot. 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’.’
Sir Keir said that he does not believe Mr Johnson is a ‘bad man’ but added: ‘I think he is a trivial man. I think he’s a showman with nothing left to show. I think he’s a trickster who has performed his one trick.’
SIR KEIR VOWS TO BOOST NHS MENTAL HEALTH SERVICES
The Labour leader said that ‘one of the urgent needs of our time is mental health’ and that the party would ‘guarantee that support will be available in less than a month’.
Sir Keir said Labour would recruit more than 8,500 extra mental health professionals to support care for a million more people every year.
He vowed that ‘under Labour, spending on mental health will never be allowed to fall’.
Sir Keir also warned that ‘small politics will no longer do’ because of the UK’s rapidly ageing population.
He said a Labour government would place an emphasis on prevention in order to reduce the pressure on the NHS.
Sir Keir said Labour’s activists and ‘loyal voters’ had helped save the part from ‘obliteration’ under the leadership of Jeremy Corbyn
Sir Keir said that ‘education is so important I am tempted to say it three times’ in a call back to Tony Blair’s famous conference speech in 1996
LABOUR LEADER CHANNELS TONY BLAIR’S ‘EDUCATION, EDUCATION, EDUCATION’ MOMENT
Sir Keir did not mention Tony Blair by name in his speech, but the Labour leader did hint at the ex-PM’s legacy as he set out the party’s plans on education reform.
‘Education is so important I am tempted to say it three times,’ he said, in a call back to Mr Blair’s Labour conference speech in1996 when he said his three main priorities were ‘education, education, education’.
Sir Keir said that ‘when you don’t invest in young people, the whole nation suffers and the less fortunate are left behind’.
He said a Labour government would launch ‘the most ambitious school improvement plan in a generation’.
He said young people under Labour would be taught ‘practical life skills’, with two weeks of compulsory work experience reinstated and a guarantee that every child would be able to see a careers adviser.
Sir Keir vowed to re-write the national curriculum to create a ‘curriculum for tomorrow’.
Labour would add a fourth pillar to ‘reading, writing and arithmetic’ as the foundation for learning in the form of ‘digital skills’.
SIR KEIR PROMISES ALL LABOUR PLEDGES WILL BE AFFORDABLE
A bid to establish a reputation for economic competence was at the heart of Sir Keir’s speech.
He said Labour’s approach to the economy would be guided by three principles: ‘The greater part of the burden should not fall on working people. The balance between smaller and larger businesses should be fair. And we will chase down every penny to ensure that people working people, paying their taxes always get value for money.’
He reiterated shadow chancellor Rachel Reeves’ plan to create a new Office for Value for Money to scrutinise all spending.
‘There will be no promises we can’t keep or commitments we can’t pay for,’ he said.
He also pledged to set a target to invest a minimum of three per cent of GDP in science and research and development.
LABOUR VOWS TO INSULATE EVERY UK HOME IN BID TO TACKLE CLIMATE CHANGE
On climate change, Sir Keir said ‘action is needed, not in the future, but now’.
He said upgrading the nation’s homes would be central to his plans to reduce emissions.
He pledged to insulate ‘every home that needs it, to make sure it is warm, well-insulated and costs less to heat’.
Labour would also roll out a Clean Air Act, with every one of the party’s policies having to meet a ‘net zero’ test.
He hailed Ms Reeves’ plan to spend an additional £28billion a year on helping the nation go green.
The Labour leader turned his fire on Nicola Sturgeon as he vowed to counter her attempts to secure Scottish independence
SIR KEIR SLAMS NICOLA STURGEON’S ‘BAD GOVERNMENT’
Boris Johnson and Jeremy Corbyn were not the only politicians to be criticised by Sir Keir.
He also turned his fire on Nicola Sturgeon as he vowed to counter her attempts to secure Scottish independence.
‘Scotland is in the unfortunate position of having two bad governments – the Tories at Westminster and the SNP at Holyrood,’ he said.
‘When Nicola Sturgeon took office she said she wanted to be judged on her record. These days, with the poorest in society less well-educated and less healthy and the tragedy of so many drug-related deaths we hear rather less about the SNP’s record.’
Sir Keir said the SNP and the Tories ‘walk in lock step’ as they ‘both exploit the constitutional divide for their own ends’.
‘Labour is the party that wants to bring our nations together,’ he said.
SIR KEIR SIGNALS MAJOR DEPARTURE FROM CORBYN ERA ON DEFENCE
The Labour premier tried to rebuild the party’s reputation on defence and national security as he signalled a major change in approach on the issues when compared to his predecessor.
Mr Corbyn was a fierce critic of NATO and military intervention.
But Sir Keir told activists: ‘Labour is the party of NATO, the party of international alliances.
‘Under Labour we will rebuild our alliances, we will mend broken relationships and we will do right by the great Britons who serve in our armed forces.’