Labour conference: Starmer sets out ‘serious plan’ for government

Sir Keir Starmer

PA Media

Sir Keir Starmer has promised Labour will never again go into an election without a “serious plan for government”, in his conference speech.

He received a standing ovation following the 89-minute address, but was heckled by some left-wingers.

Sir Keir told them politics was about “changing lives” not “shouting slogans”, to cheers from delegates.

He unveiled a plan to cut household bills by upgrading the energy efficiency of 19 million English homes.

Sir Keir also promised more teachers and shorter waiting times for mental health treatment.

The Labour conference in Brighton has been dominated by rows between the leadership and left-wingers, including supporters of his predecessor Jeremy Corbyn.

But Sir Keir urged activists to come together to beat the Conservatives, at a time when energy bills are rising, petrol supplies are running short and the economy is recovering from the pandemic.

“These are big issues, but our politics is so small,” he told delegates. “So our politics needs to grow to meet the scale of the challenge.”

The speech was Sir Keir’s first chance to address a full Labour conference since become party leader 17 months ago, as last year’s event was held largely online because of Covid.

Addressing a packed auditorium at the Brighton Centre, he said he would “not stand for the record levels of knife crime that we have in this country today” and called Labour a party of “patriots”.

He spoke at length about his background, focusing on his previous career as a human rights lawyer and his mother’s years of suffering from Still’s disease, a form of inflammatory arthritis which severely restricts mobility.

He contrasted his life with that of Prime Minister Boris Johnson, whom he described as a “trickster”, a “trivial man” and a “showman with nothing left to show”.

With Labour having lost four general elections in a row, the last one by the biggest margin since the 1930s, Sir Keir attempted to distance himself from the policies of Mr Corbyn.

While he did not mention 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.

“It will not take another election defeat for the Labour Party to become an alternative government in which you can trust.”

At the start of his speech Sir Keir was repeatedly shouted at by one woman in the audience, but replied: “I normally get heckled by the Tories at this time of the week, so this doesn’t bother me.”

Pledges

Moving on to policies, he announced that a Labour government would upgrade 19 million homes so that they reach a minimum “Band-C” energy efficiency level, providing grants for low-income households to achieve this and low-interest loans for others.

The changes would include better insulation, double glazing and new heating systems, saving households £400 a year in bills on average, he promised.

Other pledges in the speech included:

  • 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

“I can see the ways in which we can remake this nation and that’s what we get to do when we win,” Sir Keir said.

“So let’s get totally serious about this – we can win the next election.”

Sir Keir’s speech ended a five-day conference which saw him get backing for changes to the way the party elects its leaders, against fierce opposition from the left, who feel they are being marginalised.

On Monday, shadow employment secretary Andy McDonald quit Labour’s front bench, saying he had been ordered to argue against raising the minimum wage to £15 an hour.

The next day, the conference backed a motion calling for this to be party policy, although this is not binding on the leadership.

And delegates voted in favour of nationalising the UK’s energy industry, despite Sir Keir ruling this out.

The leader also angered the left when he pushed through changes to the way Labour elects its leaders, including candidates needing the support of 20% of MPs – rather than the previous 10% – before they can run for the leadership.

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