After 17 months as Labor leader, Keir Starmer finally delivered his first party conference speech to a packed house in Brighton, laying out a vision for winning the next election, his values and how they were influenced by his upbringing .
Here are some key quotes and themes from his 7,200 word speech and what they mean.
Work under Jeremy Corbyn
To voters who thought we were unpatriotic or irresponsible or despised them, I say these simple but powerful words: We will never enter an election under my leadership with a manifesto that is not a serious plan for the government.
Although Starmer failed to refer directly to his predecessor at one point, he tried to leave no doubt in anyone’s mind that there had been a clean break with Corbynism. The Labor leader recognized some voters rejected the party 2019 as a fanciful wishlist of policies that would be impossible to implement, therefore sought to reassure them that there would be a credible plan in the next election.
The importance of gaining power:
In just a few years, I want to be here with you to talk about the difference we are making, the issues we are solving as a Labor government. This is what this holiday is for. This is the object of the exercise.
Face down critics who didn’t hesitate to heckle and wave red cards at him in the lobby, Starmer defended spending the first few days of the conference focusing on internal party rule changes. These were essential to Labor’s overall mission by winning their first general election in 16 years, Starmer explained, adding that the chance to change lives by implementing decisions was more important than ideological purity.
The only thing about Boris Johnson that offends everything I stand for is his assumption that the rules don’t apply to him… I don’t think Boris Johnson is a bad man. I think he’s an ordinary man. I think he’s a showman who has nothing more to show. I think it’s a trickster who has achieved his only trick.
Starmer tried to portray the prime minister as a rule breaker and con artist, and compare that with his experience as the former head of the Crown Prosecution Service. His insistence that Johnson was not a “bad guy” was a significantly different description from the characterization of “scum” made by the assistant chef, Angela Rayner.
A botched Brexit followed by Covid left a big hole [in the economy]. The government is learning that just doing Brexit is not enough. You need a plan to make Brexit work. I see a way forward after Brexit.
Brexit remains a bit of an elephant in the labor conference hall, so Starmer has tried to ride a tightrope by accepting that the UK has left the EU while blaming the negative consequences of the deal Johnson brokered. .
The fuel crisis
If you get out and walk along the waterfront, it won’t be long before you come to a gas station that has no fuel. Higher level? You can’t even refuel!
Aware that many senior Labor officials were unhappy that they had not spoken further on the matter while the government was on the ropes, Starmer addressed the issue at the start of his speech. The leveling gag went well, and his criticism of the government’s slowness to respond played into a broader attack on the competence of ministers.
A “green new deal” and the climate crisis
Action is needed. Not in the future, but now. If we delay action by a decade, the costs of climate transition will double. This urgency is why the Labor Party will come up with a “new green deal”.
One of the fastest growing new Labor groups is the one supporting a ‘new green deal’. Starmer hope the engagement goes well with the millions of green voters he also hopes to win in the next election.
Covid and health
We have now lost 133,000 people to Covid. Each of them is someone’s mother, father, brother, sister, friend. I know it was difficult, but the situation is worse than it should be. It wasn’t just an 18-month government failure, it was an 11-year government breach of due diligence. There are cracks in British society and the Covid has crept in. Just when the nation needed four nurses on its bed, unfortunately, they couldn’t always be there…
Understandably, most of what we’ve heard from Starmer over the past year and a half has to do with Covid, so his criticisms of the government’s handling of the crisis are well known. Instead of attacking specific decisions, he attempted to portray the pandemic as having exacerbated much deeper inequalities created by the austerity campaign launched in 2010.
Education is so important that I am tempted to say it three times… Labor will launch the most ambitious school improvement plan in a generation.
It was one of many reminders to Blair, but behind it Starmer sought to show that Labor would make transforming children’s education a top government priority. This has proven fertile ground for Labor to denigrate the government, given the performance of former Education Secretary Gavin Williamson and the chaotic instructions given to schools during the closures.
Cities that were the crucibles of the original Industrial Revolution must be revived in the next… A secure, well-paid workforce of skilled people doing quality work and protected by good unions is not separate good business is the definition of good business.
The mention of “cities” showed that Starmer is up to the challenge of winning the back seats. that fell into the hands of the Conservatives for the first time – and sees them as the engines of a strategy for the future of work, to help reinvigorate communities that feel left behind.
Crime and justice
Every day as a lawyer, if you are a young radical like I was, you see yourself as working for justice… The fight against crime will always be a Labor issue.
Labor tried to park tanks on Tory lawns, accusing Tories of “defining the police” with austerity cuts. Starmer pointed out that fighting crime was one of the main ways he would fulfill the promise of “safety” for people. He sought to make a virtue of his time as head of the Crown Prosecution Service – referring to cases in which he had been involved, including the conviction of Stephen Lawrence’s assassins.
My mom worked incredibly hard. She was a nurse in the NHS and a very proud nurse too. I received a service ethic from my mother… My father was a toolmaker in a factory. He gave me deep respect for the dignity of work.
One of the main themes of the speech was what Starmer learned and took from his parents. He was used to present his story and personalize him so that people stop seeing him as just a former lawyer.
Culture (from Fatboy Slim to WH Auden)
There are verses from Auden that capture the beauty of skilled labor: “You don’t have to see what someone is doing to know if it’s their calling, you just have to look at their eyes. How beautiful, this look at the object ‘… When I was at school, I had music lessons with Fatboy Slim! I can’t promise everyone that.
Auden’s analogy of an “eye on the object” has been used to open and close the discourse, Starmer polishing his cultural references to try to prove that he has combat and fire in him, at the same time. amid criticism that he is not passionate enough to want to be prime minister.
Work is the party of the union… We are more progressive together. We are safer together. Together, we are more present in the world. We are bigger than Great Britain than we would be apart.
Many wonder if a Labor majority in parliament is possible without making significant inroads in Scotland. After being defeated in the Holyrood election this year, Starmer emphasized his belief in unionism, using it as an argument to reinforce one of his four main themes: Security.