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Keir Starmer’s Labour conference speech: what he said – and what he really meant

Our chief political commentator reads between the lines of the Labour leader’s speech in Liverpool

John Rentoul
Tuesday 27 September 2022 16:36 BST
What he meant: It is not that hard, to be honest. Don’t do stupid stuff. You can rely on me
What he meant: It is not that hard, to be honest. Don’t do stupid stuff. You can rely on me (Getty Images)

What Keir Starmer said: After all the changes we’ve made, all the hard work we’ve put in, finally we are seeing the results we want. Yes, conference, we can say it at last: Arsenal are top of the league.

What he really meant: After all that work and all those high expectations, the best I can come up with as an opening line is a rubbish football joke. Sorry.

What he said: At moments of uncertainty like this we must provide clear leadership.

What he meant: It is not that hard, to be honest. Don’t do stupid stuff. You can rely on me.

What he said: We can’t go on like this. What we’ve seen in the past few days has no precedent.

What he meant: I cannot believe my luck.

What he said: The government has lost control of the British economy – and for what? They’ve crashed the pound – and for what? Higher interest rates. Higher inflation. Higher borrowing. And for what? Not for you. Not for working people. For tax cuts for the richest 1 per cent in our society. Don’t forget. Don’t forgive.

What he meant: I am an unmerciful god. None of that kinder, gentler stuff – let’s get rid of them.

What he said: Our problems don’t end there. Raw sewage in our rivers and seas. Backlogs everywhere – at our borders, in our courts, in our hospitals.

What he meant: The plumbing on this is shocking. Real cowboy job.

What he said: They used to lecture us about fixing the roof when the sun was shining. But take a look around Britain. They haven’t just failed to fix the roof. They’ve ripped out the foundations, smashed through the windows and now they’ve blown the doors off for good measure.

What he meant: After they’ve ripped out the foundations there wouldn’t be any windows or doors, but trust me, I am a builder. I’ve got this. The New Jerusalem starts with the doors and we put in the foundation last.

What he said: I remember what rising prices feel like. I remember when our phone was cut off because we couldn’t pay the bill. How hard it was to make ends meet. It wasn’t easy.

What he meant: I am old enough to remember inflation. Pensioners can safely vote for me.

What he said: There’s something else I remember about being working class in the 1970s: hope. Not a grandiose, utopian dream, kind of hope. A hope that was ordinary.

What he meant: Tony Blair would have delivered that line really well.

What he said: After 12 long years our spirit is ground down. When I talk to working people now, they tell me they work harder and harder just to stand still.

What he meant: These people in Deborah’s focus groups depress the hell out of me.

What he said: We will never allow Putin’s threats and imperialism to succeed. We will stand alongside Ukraine and its people fighting on the frontline of freedom.

What he meant: I am not Jeremy Corbyn. He thinks the only “imperialism” in the world is American and that the west provoked Russia into invading Ukraine.

What he said: In their Budget last week they sent out a new message … We are not here for you. You are not our people. We are here for those at the top and the rest of you can shove off.

What he meant: I may have said this already – I could not believe my luck.

What he said: As Director of Public Prosecutions, I overhauled the handling of sexual violence cases to make them work better for victims.

What he meant: I had a real job once. I may have told you.

What he said: This working-class impatience is what drives me in this job too.

What he meant: I am a working-class human rights lawyer from north London.

What he said: I knew in April 2020, when I became leader of this party, we had a big task before us … to make our Labour Party fit to serve our country. That’s why we had to rip antisemitism out by its roots. Why we had to show our support for Nato is non-negotiable. Show we want business to prosper. Shed unworkable policies. Country first, party second.

What he meant: I am really not Jeremy Corbyn. I sang the national anthem. And no one is heckling.

What he said: So imagine we are looking back at the first term of the next Labour Government. How is Britain different? I’ll tell you.

What he meant: The John Lennon section. Above us only sky.

What he said: People have started to notice it’s possible to govern with integrity.

What he meant: I am purer than pure. This couldn’t possibly get me into trouble later.

What he said: That’s why today I’m so proud to launch our Green Prosperity Plan. A plan that will turn the UK into a green growth superpower.

What he meant: Some party is going to lead the world in the manufacture of meaningless soundbites. Why not this one?

What he said: A huge national effort. An effort that will double Britain’s onshore wind capacity, treble solar power, quadruple offshore wind, invest in tidal, hydrogen, nuclear.

What he meant: Careful on this bit. Ed Miliband will roll his eyes if I get my onshore and offshore wind mixed up again. Double, treble, quadruple. Words, words, words. Do not deviate from the autocue.

What he said: A new British sovereign wealth fund will drive us forward on this mission. We will make sure that the public money we spend building up British industry spurs on private investment.

What he meant: We will pick winners, and they will produce untold returns for the British people, not seen since the time of the South Sea bubble or that motorcycle company Tony Benn nationalised.

What he said: The Chinese Communist Party has a stake in our nuclear industry. And five million people in Britain pay their bills to an energy company owned by France.

What he meant: That is a disgrace. Fortress Britain should have nothing to do with the outside world.

What he said: The policy of my Labour government will always be to make Brexit work. It’s no secret I voted Remain – as the prime minister did.

What he meant: No, really, I cannot believe my luck. The Tories have elected another Remainer as prime minister.

What he said: If you voted to take control of your life and for the next generation to have control of theirs, then I say to you: that is what I will deliver.

What he meant: I can say “Take Back Control” at least as convincingly as she can.

What he said: For them [the Scottish National Party], Scotland’s success in the UK is met with gritted teeth, seen as a roadblock to independence, and so they stand in the way. We can’t work with them. We won’t work with them. No deal under any circumstances.

What he meant: We don’t need to work with them. They will have to let me run a Labour minority government in a hung parliament because they can hardly prop up a Tory government, can they?

What he said: So, conference, say it loud and believe it. Britain will deal with the cost-of-living crisis. Britain will get its future back.

What he meant: Some of you are not believing hard enough. We have no policies, but the government has made such a mess of things that we might win by default. All we have to do is believe.

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