Keir Starmer outlines Labour's centre shift - the main points of his conference speech

Opposition leader faced down hecklers and promised a 'serious plan for government'

UK Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer explained his plans for the party's future in a speech to the annual political conference in Brighton on Wednesday.

In his 90-minute address, he promised a "serious plan for government” as he attempted to move the party to the centre ground and away from the Jeremy Corbyn era.

The former lawyer attacked his Conservative counterpart, Prime Minister Boris Johnson, describing him as "trivial" and said he had "botched Brexit".

Here are the main points from a speech that divided supporters and critics:

Starmer shown the red card by a loud left

It would have come as no surprise to Mr Starmer that activists in the party who support Mr Corbyn would heckle as he takes the party back towards the centre ground.

He was met by chants of “shame” and calls to support a £15 minimum wage as some held up sheets of red paper to give the appearance of a football red card.

But he was prepared for his detractors, asking them whether they were “shouting slogans, or changing lives”.

“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 said.

The heckling was drowned out by applause on the conference floor.

Ovation for New Labour as Starmer buries the Corbyn era

Some of the loudest applause came when he highlighted gains made under Tony Blair’s Labour government.

Supporters gave a standing ovation when Mr Starmer offered the Tories “a lesson in levelling up” by noting his own party’s record on introducing a minimum wage, boosting education and the NHS.

“You want levelling up? That’s levelling up,” the leader said.

Having pushed through changes to party rules designed to prevent a more radical MP becoming Labour leader, Mr Starmer blasted Mr Corbyn’s record as leader without naming him.

“To the voters who thought we were unpatriotic or irresponsible or that we looked down on them, I say these simple but powerful words,” Mr Starmer said.

“We will never under my leadership go into an election with a manifesto that is not a serious plan for government.”

Starmer deploys three-word slogan as he mentions the B-word

As the former shadow Brexit secretary under Mr Corbyn who argued for another referendum on EU membership, Brexit is a thorny issue for Mr Starmer.

But he chose to take the issue on, criticising Mr Johnson’s handling of failures arising from Brexit rather than the departure itself.

“The economic inheritance from the Tories will be appalling: A botched Brexit followed by Covid has left a big hole,” Mr Starmer said.

“The government is learning that it is not enough to Get Brexit Done. You need a plan to Make Brexit Work.”

Starmer seeks to define Labour as ‘patriots’

The left has long struggled with being vocally patriotic in England, but Mr Starmer has spotted a way to tackle the Tories on the very subject they hope to thrive on.

He cited the government’s battle with England footballer Marcus Rashford, who campaigned on free school meals, and then took the fight to Priti Patel.

“But I couldn’t believe it when Rashford and the England team took the knee to highlight and condemn the racism they have had to endure, the Home Secretary encouraged people to boo,” Mr Starmer said.

“Well, here in this conference hall we are patriots. When we discuss the fine young men and women who represent all our nations, we don’t boo. We get to our feet and we cheer.”

He also praised the military and declared Labour to be “the party of Nato”.

Comparisons aplenty with Boris Johnson

Mr Starmer mentioned the prime minister about 10 times as he sought to paint himself as a “responsible leader with clear values” who can “make this nation anew” after the coronavirus.

He said he was fighting for justice for Stephen Lawrence, while Mr Johnson was writing an article “declaring a war on traffic cones”.

“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,” Mr Starmer said.

Quote
I think he is a trivial man. I think he’s a showman with nothing left to show.
Sir Keir Starmer

And he contrasted his efforts for justice with Mr Johnson’s behaviour, after the prime minister backed aide Dominic Cummings following his lockdown trip to the town of Barnard Castle and initially supported former health minister Matt Hancock following his rule-breaking clinch with one of his aides.

Mr Starmer said “the one thing about Boris Johnson that offends everything I stand for is his assumption that the rules don’t apply to him”.

New policies seek to define his vision for Labour

Mr Starmer fleshed out a number of new policies for Labour during his speech after facing accusations that he has stayed silent on exactly how his government would look.

He said a Labour administration would make it a “national mission” over 10 years to retrofit homes, and the party said the policy would require an annual investment of £6 billion.

He also said “spending on mental health will never be allowed to fall” under Labour, as he pledged to deliver treatment to all those who need it within a month.

The promise would mean treatment – rather than just assessment – would start sooner and would place a focus on the wellbeing of young people with hubs and support in schools

He also focused on education, announcing “Labour will launch the most ambitious school improvement plan in a generation” and a plan for practical and digital skills.

Family, past and present

Mr Starmer filled his speech with references to his family, starting with his parents Rodney and Josephine Starmer, who he said had been driven by the promise that their children’s lives would be better than theirs.

He spoke about his mother, who was a nurse and he said instilled in him the “ethic of service” and the principle of care but he also noted she was a long-term patient of the NHS, having suffered with Still’s disease.

While he said his father, a toolmaker, gave him a “deep respect for the dignity of work”.

He tied up the family message by bringing his wife Victoria on to the stage as he received a lengthy standing ovation.

Updated: September 29th 2021, 6:04 PM
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