Revealed: Why stage invader glitterbombed Keir Starmer

Man arrested after storming stage during Labour leader’s speech

Jon Stone
Policy Correspondent
Wednesday 11 October 2023 10:59 BST
Keir Starmer showered in glitter by stage intruder during Labour conference speech

Keir Starmer’s speech at Labour conference got off to a rocky start on Tuesday after a protester stormed the stage and doused him in glitter.

The man, named as Yaz Ashmawi, rushed on stage of the beginning of the address in Liverpool and shouted: “We demand a people's house, we are in crisis –  politics needs an update. We are in crisis.”

A group which calls itself the People Demand Democracy, which Just Stop Oil describes as “friends” and which had just five followers on Twitter before the incident, claimed responsibility for the stunt. The protester was wearing a T-shirt featuring the group’s name.

Ashmawi was dragged from the room by security after the microphone was cut and shouted “democracy first” as he was removed from the venue. Police in Liverpool later said a 28-year-old from Surrey was arrested on suspicion of assault, breach of the peace and causing public nuisance.

Security at the Liverpool venue was notably laxer than that at the Conservative conference in Manchester last week, with limited bag-searched for attendees on the way in, in contrast to the full airport-style security for Rishi Sunak’s party.

Following the incident, Sir Keir, who has repeatedly highlighted how he has shifted the party since Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership, told the audience: “If he thinks that bothers me, he doesn’t know me. Protest or power?

“That’s why we’ve changed our party, conference. It’s just as well it was me, because my wife’s dress is really beautiful.”

The Labour leader then removed his jacket, before beginning his speech with glitter on the shoulders of his white shirt.

According to its website, People Demand Democracy campaigns to replace the House of Lords with what the group calls a “permanent citizens assembly”.

This would effectively means the upper house would be selected at random like a jury, or what the group refers to as a “democratic lottery”.

Sir Keir Starmer was doused in glitter at the start of his keynote speech
Sir Keir Starmer was doused in glitter at the start of his keynote speech (REUTERS)

They also support proportional representation for Commons elections. The group is not large, and as of 6pm - four hours after the stunt - had around 300 followers on Twitter.

A statement posted on the group’s website attributed to the protester said: “A House of Citizens will realign power in society, it will empower people to set the agenda, guide policies and keep politicians in check. We all need a chance for a seat at the table, we all deserve a voice in the room.

“A People’s House brings people together like a jury, and provides the time to hear from experts and scientists to decide what policy is best for everyone.

“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.

Sir Keir Starmer was doused in glitter at the start of his keynote speech
Sir Keir Starmer was doused in glitter at the start of his keynote speech (REUTERS)

“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.”

The group says it wrote a letter to both Sir Keir and Mr Sunak asking them to “implement our demands by 30th September 2023 or we will take proportionate action to get our message across”.

Merseyside Police have mounted a high-profile operation with measures in place including a no-fly zone for drones around the conference venue. But security inside the centre is a matter for The ACC Liverpool group which runs the venue.

All people within the fenced-off secure zone surrounding the centre and the Pullman hotel require a conference pass, which is only issued after an accreditation process.

Attendees bringing bags have them searched or scanned, but otherwise security is relatively light-touch compared with the airport-style operation which was in place at the Conservative Party conference in Manchester – partly due to the increased risks surrounding the presence of the Prime Minister.

A party spokesman said Sir Keir was “fine” and “completely unfazed” by the incident.

But the party refused to comment on whether a review of Sir Keir’s security arrangements would be launched. “I wouldn’t get into security matters”, the spokesman said.

Sir Keir used the speech to address themes of housing and devolution, pledging Labour would bring the UK a “decade” of national renewal.

In a nod to New Labour, the opposition leader said the country had “13 years of ‘things can only get better’ versus 13 years of ‘things have only got worse’”.

The protester was dragged away by security
The protester was dragged away by security (PA)

“This is what we have to fight: the Tory project to kick the hope out of this country. Drain the reservoirs of our belief,” he said.

“I have to warn you: our way back from this will be hard, but know this: what is broken can be repaired.

“What is ruined can be rebuilt. Wounds do heal. And ultimately that project – their project – will crash against the spirit of working people in this country. They are the source of my hope.”

The ACC Liverpool group said it ”recognises the rights of all groups and individuals to free speech and freedom of expression” but the safety of all those attending events including speakers, performers, customers and staff is of the utmost importance”.

The venue said “highly-trained stewarding and security teams ensured the incident was dealt with appropriately”.

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