Keir Starmer pitches to working class and Tory voters ahead of next election
In a speech that was light on policy, and heavy on rhetoric, Sir Keir aimed to set himself and his party as on the side of working class voters who have borne the brunt of sacrifices made during austerity, the pandemic and the cost of living crisis.
In an open pitch to Conservative voters, he said anyone who wants a party that fights for the union, the environment, rule of law, family life and a bond between generations should join the Labour Party.
He pledged that his government will banish the “nagging voice” that some voters have which says: “No this isn’t for you. You don’t belong here. You can’t do that”.
“I grew up working class, I’ve been fighting all my life, and I won’t stop now,” he told a packed conference hall, before adding that he will support the working class ambition to go the university, rather than seeing higher education as a “false dream”.
Sir Keir said that Labour’s project of building 1.5 million new homes, new towns, reforming the green belt, green industry and technical education will be its answer to levelling up, and claims that Conservatives turned their back on these areas “as soon as they counted the votes”.
“If you think our job in 1997 was to rebuild a crumbling public realm, that in 1964 it was to modernise an economy left behind by the pace of technology, in 1945 to build a new Britain out of the trauma of collective sacrifice, then in 2024 it will have to be all three,” he said.
The speech yesterday attracted praise across the political spectrum, with right-leaning think tanks such as the Adam Smith institute, calling it a “serious, innovation-focused, positive vision for the country”.
Simon Clarke, the former levelling up secretary, said that Labour’s approach to housing risked “comprehensively” outflanking the Conservatives on house building and home ownership.
The speech, aimed to be delivered as an incoming prime minister, rather than leader of the opposition, comes as Labour continues to lead the Conservatives by between 15 and 20 points in opinion polling ahead of the next election.
The Labour leader, shortly after taking to the stage, was interrupted and handled by a protester calling for changes to the UK voting system, while throwing glitter onto Sir Keir.
After he was dragged away by security guards, Sir Keir told the conference: “Protest or power, this is why we changed our party”.
Merseyside Police said that a 28-year old man from Surrey had been arrested on suspicion of assault, breach of the peace and causing public nuisance.
Pressing ahead with his speech, the Labour leader invoked Gordon Brown’s own speech to the party conference in 2009, in contrasting Labour’s previous achievements in office with the last 13 years of Conservative government.
“Thirteen years of ‘things can only get better’ versus thirteen years of ‘things have only got worse’,” he said.
Sir Keir told the assembled Labour MPs, candidates, activists and members that he wanted to make sure that politics “treads lightly” on people’s lives after the sacrifices they have made during pandemic and cost of living crisis.
“That our job is to shoulder the burden for working people, carry the load, not add to it,” he said.
He added that he wanted to people’s need to cut back, which sees the public “picking up a treat in the supermarket just to put it back on the shelf”.
“We have to be a government that takes care of the big questions so working people have the freedom to enjoy what they love,” he said.