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Starmer vows ‘mission government’ as he asks Tory voters to ditch ‘dangerous populists’ and join Labour

Starmer vows to end ‘chaos and crisis’ in direct appeal to Conservative supporters

Adam Forrest
Political Correspondent
Tuesday 10 October 2023 20:24 BST
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‘It’s time to get Britain building again’: Keir Starmer announces plans for new towns and houses

Keir Starmer has made a direct appeal to Conservative voters to join Labour, as he promised to lead a “mission government” in the national interest that would end the “chaos” of the Tory era.

The Labour leader rolled up his sleeves for his crucial conference speech – pledging to repair a “crumbling” Britain with a host of new towns and a new approach to economic growth, led by a renewed party.

A plan to build 1.5 million homes would save the “dream of home ownership” in Britain, he said.

Sir Keir also vowed to stick by Labour’s climate policy, after the prime minister watered down his net zero commitments. “When Rishi Sunak says row back on our climate mission, I say speed ahead,” he said.

In a major security breach, Sir Keir was attacked by a protester who rushed the stage – forcing him to brush off glitter and take off his jacket.

It came as Starmer:

  • Set his sights on a “decade of national renewal”, suggesting he wants two terms in power
  • Pledged to “bulldoze” his way to a series of new towns and restore the “dream of home ownership” with 1.5 million homes
  • Vowed to reform the health service, which he described as a “sickness service”, with technology
  • Boasted how he had changed party since Jeremy Corbyn and ended “gesture politics”
  • Promised to fight the election on economic growth

After the activist, a campaigner for voting reform who was later arrested, was dragged away, Sir Keir said: “If he thinks that bothers me, he doesn’t know me. Protest or power? That’s why we’ve changed our party, conference.”

Sir Keir also got an ovation and loud cheers for saying he had “ripped antisemitism out by the roots”. In an appeal to patriotism and a dig at his predecessor Mr Corbyn, he said Labour was “no longer a party of protest but a party of service – country first, party second”.

Appealing directly to loyal Tory voters, he said all those who “despair” and “look in horror at the descent of your party into the murky waters of populism and conspiracy” should now join the Labour Party.

Sir Keir urged Tories to join Labour (PA)

Sir Keir railed against the “dangerous” Tory government, claiming that Mr Sunak’s party had been taken over by “populism and conspiracy”.

He also warned the Labour faithful that the Tories would get nasty in the run-up to the general election expected in 2024, saying: “They will be dangerous. Wherever you think the line is, they’ve already got plans to cross it.”

He said the Conservatives will deploy a “scorched earth” approach to policy in a “fight to save their own skin” ahead of the election – as he mocked Mr Sunak for scrapping HS2’s leg to Manchester at the recent Tory conference in the city.

Promising to “bulldoze” through planning barriers, he announced plans for a series of new towns developed by state-backed companies with compulsory purchase powers – recalling the Attlee government’s new towns programme, which would eventually lead to the building of Stevenage, Crawley, Basildon, Milton Keynes and others.

Mr Starmer said he was willing to have a “fight” with countryside campaigners, as he also committed to building on some green belt areas – saying areas that are scrubland and car parks would be released.

Pledging to build 1.5 million new homes during the five years of the next parliament, he promised to restore the dream of home ownership to young people. “If we don’t take action, it will only become more distant. A luxury for the few not the privilege of the many,” he said.

Senior Tory MP Simon Clarke, the housing secretary under Liz Truss, backed Starmer’s call to build on greenbelt land. “My party needs to respond to this challenge,” he tweeted. Lord Frost, the former Brexit minister, said he “very much agreed”.

The Labour leader was interrupted by a proportional representation activist (AFP via Getty)

The Labour leader also vowed to get the NHS “back on its feet” by boosting capacity – getting the health service “working round the clock” with extra overtime payments, and using technology to drive efficiency and earlier diagnosis.

But Sir Keir warned there would be no New Labour-era injection of cash for the NHS. He said he wanted to use technology to “overhaul” every aspect of NHS delivery and pledged to oversee a “reforming state, not a chequebooks state”, warning the health service had become a “sickness service”.

Labour would “fight the next election on economic growth”, he said. Drawing battle lines with the Conservatives, he claimed they were supporters of “the trickle-down nonsense, that sees wealth trickle up and jobs trickle out”.

The leader of the opposition was briefly covered in glitter, but laughed off the attack (PA)

He vowed to turn the page on the cycle of “drift, stagnate, decline” under the Tories by steering the ship on industrial policy. This would involve “a new generation of colleges” training nuclear technicians, automotive engineers and computer scientists.

Sir Keir won a lengthy standing ovation from the Labour faithful for a section of his speech on class barriers. He pledged to smash the “hardest glass ceiling of all” – the “nagging voice inside” telling working class people they do not belong.

There were also jokes. He set his sights on Mr Sunak – mocking the PM for keeping a “close watch on the cost-of-living crisis from the vantage point of his short-haul helicopter”.

He said he was “beginning to see why Liz Truss won” as he segued into her being compared to a lettuce by the Daily Star during her short stint in No 10. “I still think we’d be better off with that lettuce,” he quipped.

Labour said the speech had answered the question of why people should vote Labour at the election, saying the choice was now between national renewal or permanent decline under the Tories.

Tory chairman Greg Hands attacked Mr Starmer for failing “to say anything about how he would tackle illegal immigration”. He also accused him of “the same short-term political decision-making of the last 30 years that has failed Britain – all glitter, no substance”.

The 28-year-old activist from Surrey who interrupted the speech was arrested on suspicion of assault, breach of the peace and causing public nuisance. The protester was wearing a T-shirt linking him to a group called People Demand Democracy, which has named him as Yaz Ashmawi.

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