Starmer pledges ‘serious plan for government’ as he shrugs off hecklers

Sir Keir Starmer brushed off heckling from leftwing delegates and promised a “serious plan for government” as he addressed the Labour party conference in Brighton in his first major live speech since becoming leader of Britain’s main opposition party.

“Shouting slogans or changing lives?” he told a phalanx of protesters at the front of the crowd as they tried to disrupt his speech — a comment that prompted huge cheers from the rest of the hall.

Starmer announced a new plan to spend £6bn a year on upgrading insulation in 19m homes to tackle climate change.

The Labour leader said that as prime minister he would launch a “national mission” to make every home in the country cheaper to heat within a decade. The upgrades would save families more than £400 a year on energy bills, he said, and help the country meet its 2050 net zero carbon target.

The Tory government, by contrast, recently scrapped its Green Homes Grant scheme and has not yet replaced it.

Starmer, who has sought to shift Labour towards the centre ground, has infuriated supporters of his “hard left” predecessor Jeremy Corbyn since becoming leader in April last year. Not only has he sacked almost all Corbynistas from his shadow cabinet, but earlier this week he forced through rules changes to make it harder for a left-winger to become leader in future.

Starmer thanked the party for their efforts in the 2021 general election, in which the party endured its worst result for 80 years. But he issued a stark message about the job ahead for the demoralised party, which is still lagging behind the ruling Conservatives in the polls.

“My job as leader is not just to say thank you to the voters who stayed with us. It is to understand and persuade the voters who rejected us,” he said.

That means dumping the Corbyn manifesto of 2019 — when Starmer was shadow Brexit secretary — which voters did not find “credible”, he said.

“To the voters who thought we were unpatriotic or irresponsible or that we looked down on them, I say these simple but powerful words,” he argued. “We will never under my leadership go into an election with a manifesto that is not a serious plan for government.”

Starmer said a Labour government would inherit damaged public finances and that he took “very seriously” his responsibility for spending taxpayers’ money.

As prime minister he would bring in tougher sentences for serious sexual assault cases, spend £28bn a year on a Green New Deal, hire more than 8,500 mental health professionals and launch “the most ambitious school programme in a generation”.

A Starmer-led government would set spending on science and research at 3 per cent of GDP and set up a New Deal for Working People with a ban on zero-hours contracts and a £10 minimum wage.

Labour would also change the priority duty of directors to “make the long-term success of the company the main priority”, he said.

Starmer also argued that his party would be the party of working people. “Work, care, equality and security” would be his catchphrase.

Previous Labour leaders, including Corbyn, have distanced themselves from the Blair years. By contrast Starmer won huge cheers as he listed the achievements of the New Labour administrations — from 1997 to 2010 — including a minimum wage, lower hospital waits, more doctors and nurses and a decline in child and pensioner poverty.

Meanwhile the Labour leader turned his fire on Boris Johnson, the prime minister, over his handling of the recent fuel crisis.

The price of fuel, gas and electricity bills had risen, there were gaps on supermarket shelves and rent was rising. “Yet at this very moment, the government is putting up tax on working people. Putting up tax on small businesses and slashing universal credit,” he said. “Prime minister, either get a grip or get out of the way and let us clear up this mess.” 

At the weekend, deputy leader Angela Rayner was criticised for describing the prime minister as “scum”. Starmer, by contrast, told the audience: “I don’t think Boris Johnson is a bad man, I think he’s a trivial man,” he said.

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