8 Key Takeaways From Keir Starmer's Conference Speech

The Labour leader introduced himself to party members and the public in a high-stakes speech in Brighton.
Hecklers interrupted Keir Starmer at regular intervals throughout his speech.
Hecklers interrupted Keir Starmer at regular intervals throughout his speech.
JUSTIN TALLIS via Getty Images

Keir Starmer has just delivered his first in-person conference speech at a pivotal moment for his leadership and for the direction of the party.

It was the first time the Labour leader has been able to address members in the flesh, as Covid restrictions forced him to introduce himself to the public via Zoom - something that has made it more challenging for people to warm to him.

Delivered against the backdrop of a raging fuel crisis and with perhaps just two years until the next election, this was the moment that Starmer needed to make an impact.

Here HuffPost UK takes you through the main takeaways from his conference speech.

1. Chanting slogans, or changing lives?

The battle between the left and right of the party has been only too visible at this year’s conference, and it was very much on display throughout Starmer’s speech.

Hecklers interrupted the Labour leader at regular intervals, shouting “shame”, “where’s Peter Mandleson” and ”£15″ - in response to the issue that caused Andy McDonald’s resignation.

But Starmer had good put downs to much of the heckling, which served to show voters the battle he has on his hands to get Labour back into power: instead of focusing on winning over members, winning over the country.

He joked how “at this time on a Wednesday it’s normally the Tories that are heckling me”.

“It doesn’t bother me then, and it doesn’t bother me now.”

And in response to further heckles, as he spoke about the death of his mother Starmer replied from the stage: “Shouting slogans or changing lives, conference?”

2. Winning power

Even before he started speaking, Starmer signalled the urgency of the moment with his choice of song - Right Here, Right Now, from Brighton’s own Fatboy Slim.

Starmer immediately addressed those who - despite knowing their grandparents “would turn in their graves” - voted Tory because they “couldn’t trust us with high office”.

In a dig at his predecessor Jeremy Corbyn, he said: “I say these simple but powerful words. We will never under my leadership go into an election with a manifesto that is not a serious plan for government.”

And he was reflective about the scale and significance of Labour’s loss, saying: “The more we expose the inadequacy of this government the more it presses the question back on us. If they are so bad, what does it say about us? Because after all in 2019 we lost to them, and we lost badly.”

3. Education, education, education

Starmer didn’t say it three times, but he was tempted to - one such reference to the Blair and Brown years that Starmer was keen to talk up, not down.

The Labour leader highlighted how 40% of young people leave compulsory education without essential qualifications and said his party would “not put up with that”.

The key policy announcement was that Labour would reinstate two weeks of compulsory work experience and guarantee that every young person gets to see a careers advisor.

He said every school would have access to specialist mental health support and access to a mental health hub.

Starmer emphasised the importance of young people’s mental wellbeing, also announcing that Labour would guarantee that support would be available for those who need it in less than a month.

4. Battling Boris

Anyone who watches Prime Minister’s Questions on a Wednesday will know just how different Starmer is to Boris Johnson.

Starmer attempted to pitch himself as a man of principle and Johnson as a careless one.

He told the conference: “The one thing about Boris Johnson that offends everything I stand for is his assumption that the rules don’t apply to him.

“When Dominic Cummings took a trip to Barnard Castle to test his eyesight, Boris Johnson turned a blind eye.

“When Matt Hancock breached his own lockdown rules, Boris Johnson declared the matter closed.

“When I got pinged, I isolated. When Boris Johnson got pinged, he tried to ignore it. That’s not how I do business.”

He finished his attack with: “It’s easy to comfort yourself that your opponents are bad people.

“But I don’t think Boris Johnson is a bad 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. He has no plan.”

5. Tough on crime

On the day that Sarah Everard’s murderer was sentenced, Starmer pledged to fast-track rape and serious sexual assault cases and toughen sentences for rapists, stalkers and domestic abusers.

6. Brexit

While the Labour leader has previously been loathe to mention the B word, in his speech Starmer had a slogan to match Boris Johnson’s.

“The government is learning that it is not enough to Get Brexit Done,” he said. “You need a plan to Make Brexit Work.”

The Tories’ successful attack line against Labour has been that they inherited a dire financial situation when they came to power in 2010 and in the midst of the global financial crisis.

But Starmer pointed to the current weaknesses in the economy - characterised by the lack of fuel - and said the public finances Labour would inherit “will need serious repair work”.

7. Tax

Outlining his three key principles to taxation, Starmer said the burden should not fall on working people, the balance between smaller and larger businesses should be fair and that value for money was essential and would be scrutinised by an Office for value for money.

8. Energy

Starmer also pledged that Labour would bring forward a green new deal that would prioritise upgrading homes and bringing down bills.

He said it was Labour’s “national mission” to make “every home in the country warm, well-insulated and cheaper to heat” within a decade.

Cutting carbon emissions would create hundreds of thousands of jobs, he said, and save families over £400 a year on energy bills.

With £6 billion of annual investment, Labour would upgrade 19 million homes in a decade.