A protester throws glitter over and disrupts Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer making his keynote speech during the Labour Party Conference in Liverpool. Picture date: Tuesday October 10, 2023. (Photo by Stefan Rousseau/PA Images via Getty Images)
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LIVERPOOL, England — U.K. opposition Labour Party Leader Keir Starmer on Tuesday promised “a decade of national renewal” during a keynote conference speech disrupted by a protester.
The man accessed the stage as Starmer opened his remarks and doused him with glitter. After a brief pause as the protester was escorted out of the conference hall, Starmer removed his jacket and dusted himself off to rapturous applause from party members.
“If he thinks that bothers me, he doesn’t know me,” Starmer declared.
“Protest or power, that’s why we changed our party, conference. That’s why we changed our party.”
Starmer was speaking to a full conference hall with multiple packed overspill rooms during what the party claims was its most attended conference on record among members and exhibitors.
The Labour leader opened his speech by promising “a decade of national renewal,” a signal of the party’s confidence of a generational shift in power after next year’s General Election.
He also lauded the change the party has undergone since its landslide election defeat in 2019, proclaiming that Labour is “a party no longer in thrall to gesture politics, no longer a party of protest — a party of service.”
“We should never forget that politics should tread lightly on people’s lives, that our job is to shoulder the burden for working people – carry the load, not add to it,” he said.
He also pledged to build 1.5 million new homes and an acceleration of the National Grid along with a wave of new infrastructure, creating jobs in the process, promising that his government would “get shovels in the ground, cranes in the sky and build the next generation of Labour new towns.”
“This Labour Party will fight the next election on economic growth. An economy that works for the whole country is what the British people want,” he added, arguing that investment in national infrastructure was key to securing better distributed growth.
Starmer committed to the creation of a new publicly-owned national energy company, Great British Energy, which will be based in Scotland, along with the already-announced national wealth fund to invest in infrastructure. Labour also plans to set up technical excellence colleges across the country with close links to local communities, he announced Tuesday.
Throughout conference, senior ministers have emphasized Labour’s commitments to economic growth, fiscal responsibility and political stability. Shadow Chancellor Rachel Reeves on Monday said the party was “ready to serve, ready to lead and ready to rebuild Britain” as she announced a slew of sweeping economic reforms Labour plans to implement, should it win power in 2024.
“The barriers of dogma will not block our path. That’s why we hold out the hand of partnership to business, champion the need for a competitive tax regime, understand that private enterprise is the only way this country pays its way in the world,” Starmer said Tuesday.
Labour holds around a 20-point lead over Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s Conservative Party across most major polling, with the ruling party damaged by a string of scandals, the fallout from Sunak’s predecessor Liz Truss’s market-roiling “mini-budget” and a cost-of-living crisis.
“We are here to make the government more dynamic, more joined up, more strategic, focused at all times and without exception on long-term national renewal,” Starmer told conference on Tuesday.
Labour members told CNBC prior to Starmer’s speech that this was the most hopeful conference they had attended in many years, while many fringe events focused on issues the party expects to inherit next year.
However, the leader warned that the wounded Conservative government would be ready for a fight as they head into what promises to be a fierce election campaign.
“A party that has so completely severed its relationship with the future, that is prepared to scorch the earth just to get at us, they will be dangerous. Wherever you think the line is, they have already got plans to cross it,” he said.
Sunak is required to call an election before the end of January 2025, and the overwhelming sense at the Labour conference was of a party that is very much preparing for government.
“I grew up working class. I’ve felt the anxiety of a cost-of-living crisis before and until your family can see the way out, I will fight for you,” Starmer concluded, adding that Labour has a plan for a Britain “built to last.”
“A plan to turn the page and say, in a cry of defiance to all those who now write our country off: Britain must, Britain can, Britain will get its future back.”
The Conservative Party posted on Twitter following the speech that Starmer’s remarks were “”more of the same old short-term approach that has dominated politics for the last 30 years,” while party Chairman Greg Hands said it made no reference to immigration or inflation and entailed “piling needless costs on to British families to meet Net Zero.”