Keir Starmer today tried to bury the Jeremy Corbyn era in his first conference speech declaring: “We can win the next general election”.In a sprawling address lasting an hour and a half, the Labour leader branded Boris Johnson a “tool” – but was repeatedly heckled by Corbyn supporters as he attempted to distance himself from the ideals of his predecessor.
He vowed to win back Labour voters who’d turned to the Tories in 2019, leaving “grandparents turning in their graves”, because they “couldn’t trust us in high office”.
Without mentioning his predecessor by name, he said: “We will never under my leadership go into an election with a manifesto that is not a serious plan for government.”
He hailed the achievements of Tony Blair , saying to the biggest cheer of the speech: “Let me offer the Conservative party a lesson in levelling up.
“If they want to know how to do it, I suggest they take a look at our record the last time we were in government – hospital waits down, GCSE results up, 44,000 more doctors, 89,000 new nurses, child poverty down 1 million, pensioner poverty down 1 million, rough sleepers down 75%, a National Minimum Wage and the OECD said that no nation had a bigger rise in social mobility than Britain.”
And he hit back at hecklers by saying “shouting slogans or changing lives?”, prompting a standing ovation from his backers, after delegates shouted through parts of his speech.
Yet he appeared to re-announce several details of a key Corbyn policy by vowing to spend £60bn on a decade making homes more energy-efficient.It is part of a borrowing splurge to fund £26bn-a-year on green initiatives as ‘the first green Chancellor’.
The speech marked a make-or-break moment for the Labour leader as pressure grew on him to announce his firm vision for the future of Britain.
Sir Keir did announce plans to hire thousands of new teachers – funded by £1.7bn-a-year more tax on private schools by removing their charitable status.
He promised “the most ambitious school improvement plan ever” to fix an education system battered by more than a decade of austerity.
The party leader also pledged to guarantee mental health treatment within a month for all who need it if he gets into 10 Downing Street.
He said he would raised the government’s 2.4% of GDP invested in science, research and development to 3%, and change the law to put legal duties on directors to ensure the long-term success of their companies.
But comparatively little firm policy was announced in the speech, with the leader instead focusing on “competence”, his personal life and drawing a line under the Corbyn era.
He refused to say if he would impose tax rises as Labour leader, instead saying: “There will be no promises we can’t keep or commitments we can’t pay for.”
He said his approach to tax would have 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” Sir Keir blasted “trivial trickster” Boris Johnson by comparing what the Prime Minister – an ex-journalist – was doing at the same time as him in their past careers.
In a brutal put-down he told delegates: “My dad was a toolmaker – although in a way, so was Boris Johnson’s.”
The former director of public prosecutions said: “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.
“And when this country was threatened by terrorists who were trying to bring down planes with liquid bombs, I spent the summer of 2010 helping to put those terrorists behind bars where they could no longer pose a danger to British citizens.
“While I was doing that, what were you doing Mr Johnson? You were writing a piece defending your right not to wear a cycle helmet.”
Sir Keir insisted it was too easy to brand Mr Johnson a “bad man”, instead he said “I think he is a trival man…a showman with nothing left to show”.
“I think he’s a trickster who has performed his one trick,” he added.
The Labour leader began writing the address on his summer holiday in Dorset and it was inspired by talking to voters who switched to the Tories in 2019.
Watched by his wife Victoria and joined by her at the end on stage, he also spelt out more about his personal life to the audience in Brighton.
The Labour leader opened up about his mum Josephine’s death, describing the moment he saw four nurses rushing to save her life.
He remembered seeing her in a hospital bed with “a riot of tubes and temperature devices”.
“I could sense the urgency in the conversation of the four nurses on my mum’s bed,” he said.
“I knew without being told that they were keeping her alive.
“I can hardly convey to you the emotion of seeing your mum in that condition.”
But he was heckled shortly after the emotional story by Carole Vincent, a former Big Brother contestant.He responded: “Shouting slogans or changing lives?”, leading to a standing ovation from more supportive parts of the hall.
The leader was introduced by Doreen Lawrence, who praised him for prosecuting her son Stephen’s killers.
Saying she’d been friends with him since he was a younger lawyer, she quipped: “Even back then, he had good hair”.
And she said as Prime Minister he would believe in “justice, security, opportunity”.
But the lengthy speech was punctuated throughout with heckles from individual or small groups of critics – who were often shouted down or told to “shut up” by other delegates.
A single heckler started singing “Oh Jeremy Corbyn” from the balcony, to cries of “oh shut up” from a handful of delegates.Another shouted “it was your Brexit policy!” when he said Labour lost support in 2019.
Sir Keir said: “The economic inheritance from the Tories will be appalling.
“A botched Brexit followed by Covid has left a big hole.
“The government is learning that it is not enough to Get Brexit Done.You need a plan to Make Brexit Work.
“I do see a way forward after Brexit if we invest in our people and our places, if we deploy our technology cleverly and if we build the affordable homes we so desperately need.”
Other hecklers then shouted “£15!” – a reference to calls for a £15 minimum wage which the leader rejected – as he spoke about poverty pay.
He joked: “At this time on a Wednesday it’s normally the Tories who are heckling me.”
The leader was also booed when he joked Sunday – when he pushed through rule changes – was “particularly nerve-wracking”… because of Arsenal’s 3-1 result.
The conference was riven by factional warfare after the Labour leader pushed through rule changes giving MPs tighter control on who can run for party leader.
Labour conference 2021 Highs and lows of conference Angela Rayner’s ‘Tory scum’ blast Victory for Starmer in rules shake-up Andy McDonald quits Shadow Cabinet Relations with the left collapsed further after Andy McDonald quit the shadow cabinet to support a motion calling for a £15 legal minimum wage – which passed last night.
Former shadow Chancellor John McDonnell branded the conference a “s***show” and accused Sir Keir of going back on his promises.
Former leader Jeremy Corbyn accused his successor of wanting to “prop up” the wealthy and powerful.
But Sir Keir denied his party was more divided than ever, saying: “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.”
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