Labour Party Conference: Keir Starmer sets out his vision for Britain in speech to party faithful
Sir Keir Starmer has unveiled his vision for a first-term Labour government of “hope, aspiration and home-ownership” as he planted his party’s flag firmly in the centre ground of British politics.
The Labour leader vowed to build a “fairer, greener, more dynamic nation” if he gains the keys to No 10 in a historic political shift after the party’s 2019 general election disaster. “As in 1945, 1964, 1997, this is a Labour moment,” he said in his keynote speech to the party’s annual conference in Liverpool.
With Britain rocked by a currency crisis and a tax and debt storm, he took aim at the Government and told the party faithful: “Don’t forget. Don’t forgive.”
He told activists that Liz Truss's Government had crashed the economy to offer tax cuts for the richest 1 per cent in society.
He said they had left a “Britain all at sea, where a cloud of anxiety hangs over working people". The Labour leader said: "At moments of uncertainty like this we must provide clear leadership.
“We must stand with working people. Meet their ambitions for real change. Walk towards a better future and build a new Britain, together."
He added: “The next Labour government must restore our sense of collective hope. It’s time for Britain to stand tall again, to believe in ourselves again, to chart a new course and to get our future back.”
With many of the Labour faithful believing for the first time in years that they are on the brink of a return to power, Sir Keir stressed the need to be “prepared, disciplined and focused” for the looming election battle.
But in an at times deeply personal speech, he also gave a glimpse of what he sees Labour could achieve in office. “So imagine we are looking back at the first term of the next Labour government. How is Britain different?” he said. “We’ve defeated the cost-of-living crisis and the clouds of anxiety have lifted. Services are there when you need them. Our economy is stable again. Business has the certainty to invest. The NHS is back in good health.
“Britain is fairer... There’s more opportunity, more affordable housing, fairer taxes, higher wages, jobs — more secure. Families can aspire again. Look forward with hope, again.
“We’re leading the world on climate change... New jobs, industries, technologies benefit all parts of the country.
“We’re proving net-zero can be achieved, the most precious gift to the next generation is within our grasp, a safer, more prosperous world to live in.”
Sir Keir, 60, echoed words from Sir Tony Blair as he declared that Labour must be the “political wing of the British people”, seeking to rebuff Tory claims that it is in the pocket of its union funders. With the latest poll putting Labour 17 points ahead of the Tories, who are under fire for an alleged lurch to the Right, he added: “Conference, on climate change, growth, aspiration, levelling-up, Brexit, economic responsibility, we are the party of the centre-ground.”
Marching his party onto traditional Conservative territory, he vowed to boost home ownership in Britain from 65 per cent to 70 per cent.
He gave a series of pledges including “no more buy-to-let landlords or second homeowners getting in first”, a new mortgage guarantee scheme for first-time buyers and planning reforms “so speculators can’t stop communities getting shovels in the ground”.
He declared: “My message is this: If you’re grafting every hour to buy your own home Labour is on your side. Labour is the party of home ownership in Britain today.”
However, the most immediate crisis for many households was the cost-of-living crisis fuelled by the crash in the pound, which could force the Bank of England’s Monetary Policy Committee to further hike interest rates, fuelling economic misery for many with higher mortgage payment bills.
Chancellor Kwasi Kwarteng is gambling on boosting growth, with less focus on redistributing wealth, arguing that his policy will deliver benefits across communities. But Sir Keir said: “If they want to fight us on redistribution, if they want to fight us on workers’ rights... we will take them on — and we will win. We will win not just because we have fairness on our side but because we have economic reason on our side too. Trickle-down economics doesn’t work.”
Labour has pledged to reverse the cut to the 45p top rate of tax, to fund the training of thousands more doctors and nurses, but its economic plans appear to still be based on large-scale borrowing, if not on quite the scale of the Government. Seeking to address this, Sir Keir warned his party that responsible government meant being fiscally responsible so it would not be able to “do things, good Labour things, as quickly as we might like”. He insisted: “We will only borrow to invest when it’s in the long-term national interest.”
He emphasised his “working-class impatience” as he told how his family had been hit by rising inflation in the Seventies, with their phone being cut off because they could not pay the bill. However, in a Blairite message, he also emphasised the need to reform public services rather than just plough more money into them.
“I would love to stand here and say Labour will fix everything. But the damage done — to our finances and our public services — means this time the rescue will be harder than ever,” he was set to say. “It will take investment — of course it will. But it will also take reform.”
With the Labour Left largely sidelined from power within the party, Sir Keir told how Labour had had to change from the Jeremy Corbyn years to make it “fit to serve our country”.
He added: “That’s why we had to rip anti-Semitism out by its roots. Why we had to show our support for Nato is non-negotiable. Show we want business to prosper. Shed unworkable policies. Country first, party second.”
He also stressed a Labour government would “stand alongside” Ukraine against Vladimir Putin’s war.
As he seeks to regain dozens of seats in the Red Wall in the North and Midlands, where many traditional Labour voters deserted the party in 2019, Sir Keir stressed his aim is “to make Brexit work”. Accusing the Government of planning to slash workers’ rights, lower standards on food, animal welfare or the environment, and cut redistribution after Brexit, he said : “I want to speak directly to the people who left Labour on this issue. Whether you voted Leave or Remain, you’ve been let down.”
In a further sign of championing the Blairite stance which saw Labour win power in 1997, Sir Keir was said: “I want to be crystal clear about this: I’m not just pro-business, I want to partner with business. So, we will scrap business rates, level the playing-field for start-ups and the high street, give employers new flexibility to invest in the world-class training they need.”
He hardly mentioned the unions in a speech which referenced “hope” at least eight times, “aspiration” six as he vowed to unleash Britain’s “entrepreneurial spirit.”
Sir Keir promised Labour would create a publicly owned clean energy firm sayind Great British Energy would provide "British power to the British people".
Sir Keir said the war in Ukraine was not to blame for the way the Tories had left the UK unprepared for the economic fallout and soaring energy bills.
"The war didn't ban onshore wind. The war didn't scrap home insulation. The war didn't stall British nuclear energy. The Tories did that."
The country had been left with Sweden owning the largest onshore wind farm in Wales - "energy bills in Swansea are paying for schools and hospitals in Stockholm" - while "the Chinese Communist Party has a stake in our nuclear industry" and "five million people in Britain pay their bills to an energy company owned by France".
In response, Labour would set up Great British Energy within its first year in office to "take advantage of the opportunities" in clean power.
He acknowledged there would be "tough battles on issues like planning and regulation" but the road to net zero emissions was "at the heart of modern, 21st century aspiration".
"The future wealth of this country is in our air, in our seas, in our skies. Britain should harness that wealth and share it with all.
"British power to the British people."
Announcing a Green Prosperity Plan, Sir Keir laid out his vision to turn the UK into a green growth superpower, to achieve 100 per cent clean power by 2030 by doubling Britain’s onshore wind capacity, trebling solar power, quadrupling off-shore wind, and investing in tidal, hydrogen and nuclear.
“I come at this not just as leader of the Labour Party, but also as a father. As a father, I am spurred on by the voices of our children, the cry of indignation, demanding our generation act before it’s too late,” he said.
With Labour widely seen as unable to gain a Commons majority without winning far more seats in Scotland, Sir Keir also took at swipe at the Scottish National Party, ruling out any coalition deal. “We can’t work with them. We won’t work with them. No deal under any circumstances,” he stressed.