Man arrested after glitter-throwing protest during Labour leader’s speech

The 28-year-old from Surrey was arrested on suspicion of assault, breach of the peace and causing public nuisance, Merseyside Police said.

Gwyn Wright
Tuesday 10 October 2023 19:21 BST
A protester throws glitter over and disrupts Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer, who was making his keynote speech during the Labour Party Conference in Liverpool (Stefan Rousseau/PA)
A protester throws glitter over and disrupts Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer, who was making his keynote speech during the Labour Party Conference in Liverpool (Stefan Rousseau/PA)

A man has been arrested after a protester disrupted Sir Keir Starmer’s speech at the Labour Party conference in Liverpool.

The 28-year-old from Surrey was arrested on suspicion of assault, breach of the peace and causing public nuisance, Merseyside Police said on Tuesday.

The protester was wearing a T-shirt linking him to a group called People Demand Democracy, which has named him as Yaz Ashmawi.

As Sir Keir began to address the gathering the heckler began shouting “true democracy is citizen-led” and threw glitter at the Labour leader.

The Labour leader pushed the activist away from the microphone with his right arm before security arrived.

The protester continued to shout “politics needs an update”, “we demand a people’s house”, “we are in crisis” and “our whole future is in jeopardy” as he was wrestled to the ground.

Sir Keir, who has repeatedly highlighted how he has shifted the party since Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership, said “protest or power, this is why we changed our party”.

After removing his jacket, the Labour leader said: “If he thinks that bothers me, he doesn’t know me,” before beginning his speech with glitter on the shoulders of his white shirt.

A Labour spokesman said Sir Keir had had been “completely unfazed” by the incident.

It “shows his true strength of character that he got on and delivered the speech of his life”, he added.

The protester was later removed from the conference building through a back exit by two police officers before being put in a police van.

People Demand Democracy, described as “friends” by Just Stop Oil, is calling for a “a fair, proportional voting system for Westminster elections”, as well as a “legally-binding national House of Citizens” to be selected by democratic lottery.

The group issued a quote from the protester – who they did not name – saying: “The Labour Party has been captured, donors and lobbyists have more control over Keir Starmer than his members.

“A House of Citizens will force politicians to listen to people, it dismantles their relationships with the rich, it would create meaningful change in our economy and fix inequality.

“It would address the climate and ecological emergency and transform our country.

“It would listen to scientists and communities and unearth consensus, not profit off conflict and division.”

Extinction Rebellion revealed Mr Ashmawi is one of its activists but said the glitter-throwing protest “was not an XR action”.

An XR spokesperson said: “We agree with Yaz that true democracy is citizen-led and that our politics needs an update.

“The greatest crisis we are facing is the climate and nature emergency and it is clear the political system is unable to cope with this.

“This is why XR is demanding a UK-wide, independently-run citizens’ assembly on the climate and nature emergencies.”

Shadow foreign secretary David Lammy said he was “really upset when that young man stormed the stage”.

“I saw him coming, and there was a bit of Tottenham that came up in me,” he said – a reference to his north London constituency.

“But he was a bit too fast and I wasn’t quite sure.”

At a conference fringe event, he said: “I was upset because the people of Tottenham need a Labour government … they look in on the news and they will see what Keir Starmer has to say.

“And that young man – probably middle class – has an issue, I understand it’s proportional representation, and he gets his moment of fame and the people of Tottenham, their opportunity is thwarted.”

Deputy Labour leader Angela Rayner told LBC’s Andrew Marr “I thought I was going to do a full John Prescott at one point” – a reference to her predecessor who punched an egg-throwing protester.

Green energy industrialist Dale Vince, who until recently donated money to Just Stop Oil, told the PA news agency there was “a lot to like” in the Labour leader’s speech.

Asked if he was confident that Sir Keir could deliver on the vision and things he would like to see happen, Mr Vince replied: “I do because he also expressed his commitment to the climate crisis.”

Greenpeace UK’s head of politics, Rebecca Newsom, also praised the Labour leader’s speech, saying his environmental plans are “like a breath of fresh air”.

After the speech finished, shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper told the BBC: “It just shows, doesn’t it, that you can’t bother Keir Starmer with stuff like that.

“It’s about power not protest, that is what Keir Starmer was talking about. We’re a party of power, not protest.

“He kept going and made this amazing speech. We heard the serious points that he was making, and there wasn’t any protester that was going to bother him.”

A Merseyside Police statement said: “We can confirm that a 28-year-old man from Surrey has been arrested following an incident at the Labour Party conference earlier this afternoon.

“The man was detained by security at the event and handed over to the police who arrested him on suspicion of S39 assault, breach of the peace and causing public nuisance.

“He has been taken to a police station where he will be questioned by police.”

The Liverpool exhibition centre where the speech was disrupted said staff had dealt with the protest “appropriately” and that it would assist Merseyside Police as required.

It is not the first time one of Sir Keir’s speeches has been interrupted by hecklers.

In July, activists from the group Green New Deal Rising interrupted the opposition leader’s speech on education in protest at Labour watering down its plans to spend £28 billion per year on a green prosperity plan.

In 2017, Theresa May had her address to the Conservative Party conference disrupted by a comedian who handed her a fake P45.

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