Starmer’s conference speech marks break with Labour’s left

Party leader heckled repeatedly but Sir Keir also received 17 standing ovations

Keir Starmer has promised to win back voters with a "serious plan for government" in a speech to Labour's annual conference in Brighton that marked a sharp break with the party's left. Sir Keir was heckled more than 20 times during his 90-minute speech but he received 17 standing ovations as he spoke about how his personal and professional background shaped his political outlook.

The Labour leader accused Boris Johnson of failing to address multiple crises affecting Britain, including fuel shortages and the rising cost of living. The government on Wednesday deployed soldiers to drive fuel tanks to replenish empty pumps at filling stations across the country.

“We have a fuel crisis, a pay crisis, a goods crisis and a cost of living crisis – all at the same time,” Sir Keir said.

"Let me quote what the prime minister said to the United Nations last week: 'We believe that someone else will clear up the mess we make because that is what someone else has always done.' Well, prime minister, either get a grip or get out of the way and let us clear up this mess."

Unlike Labour's deputy leader, Angela Rayner, who this week described the prime minister as "scum", Sir Keir said he did not believe Mr Johnson was a bad man.

‘A trivial man’

“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. Once he had said the words ‘Get Brexit done’ his plan ran out. There is no plan,” Sir Keir said.

He spoke at length about the respect for work he learned from his father, who was a toolmaker, and for care from his mother, a nurse. And he used his experience as a former director of public prosecutions to underscore his commitment to fighting crime.

“Under my leadership, the fight against crime will always be a Labour issue. Labour will strengthen legal protections for victims of crime. We won’t walk around the problem. We’ll fix it,” he said.

Sir Keir did not mention Jeremy Corbyn by name but he turned his back on his predecessor's legacy, denouncing Labour's 2019 manifesto as "not a serious plan for government". He won one of his longest standing ovations when he listed the achievements of Tony Blair and Gordon Brown in cutting hospital waiting lists, hiring more doctors and nurses, reducing child and pensioner poverty along with the number of rough sleepers and introducing a national minimum wage.

More divided

Conservative party chairman Oliver Dowden said the hecklers during Sir Keir's speech and the resignation of a shadow minister during the conference showed that Labour was more divided than ever.

“Labour spent five days talking to themselves about themselves instead of to the country. From resignations in the middle of their own conference, to their union backers deserting them, to disrupting their leader’s speech, Labour are too preoccupied fighting amongst themselves to put forward a plan for our country,” he said.

Denis Staunton

Denis Staunton

Denis Staunton is London Editor of The Irish Times

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