The Speaker
Sunday, 19 May 2024 – 18:50

“Shouting slogans or changing lives” – Keir Starmer set out his plan for government

“Shouting slogans or changing lives”. That was Keir Starmer’s response to hecklers during his first speech in front of an in-person Labour conference since taking over the reins in April 2020. Starmer spent 90 minutes on the conference stage, offering his life story to those who didn’t know him; his vision for those who doubt him; and a rallying cry to the party’s remaining hard left who seek to undermine him. 

It had been a frought conference for the Labour leader, with a front bench resignation supposedly over his refusal to back a £15 minimum wage, and left-wing Corbynite MPs such as Rebecca Long-Bailey and Zara Sultana using fringe event speeches to rail against his leadership.

However, the leader came out fighting, and stood defiant against hecklers in the crowd, drawing clear contrasts between himself and his predecessor Corbyn. If there was one thing he wanted to get across, it was that Labour were once again a government in waiting. No longer a party of student politics and protest rallies; after 11 years of Conservative rule Starmer wanted to make clear that Labour were ready to take over, and that he was the person to lead them into government.

His impassioned speech began with a story about his life. A first-generation university student, he noted the values his parents instilled in him; his dad, a toolmaker, and his mum, an NHS nurse. It was during a moving passage about his mum’s battle with Stills disease that one heckler began shouting, leading to his quip: “Shouting slogans or changing lives, Conference?”.

This drew resounding applause from the conference hall, and for the next hour, Starmer laid out his vision for Britain, drawing contrasts all the way through to the current prime minister, Boris Johnson.

Whilst Starmer was prosecuting criminals, Johnson was campaigning for his right not to wear a cycle helmet, Starmer told the Brighton hall. 

He made it clear that he wanted to turn his back on the party infighting, but also laid down the gauntlet to the left of the party, making it clear that he was more concerned about winning elections than uniting the party.

Starmer urged activists to come together to beat the Conservatives, noting rising energy bills, the ongoing fuel crisis and the death toll from the pandemic. He contrasted the Conservatives record to serious policy proposals of his own – one of the first major speeches in which he outlined policy.

“These are big issues, but our politics is so small.”

“So our politics needs to grow to meet the scale of the challenge.”

Starmer – unlike his predecessor – sought to acknowledge the successes of the last Labour government, setting out clearly his alignment with the successes of new Labour, against the failed election of Corbyn’s leadership in 2019.

He also outlined a number of policies, often focusing on building a technologically advanced economy and focusing on the working poor:

  • Providing mental treatment within a month for all people in England who require it
  • Creating 8,500 more specialist mental health staff, providing an extra million people a year with help
  • Training “thousands” of extra teachers in England – his aides did not provide a more specific figure
  • Reforming the inspection body Ofsted to focus more on improving struggling schools

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