Keir Starmer’s first speech to a live conference: what he said – and what he really meant

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

John Rentoul
Wednesday 29 September 2021 14:19
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<p>‘Level up? You can’t even fill up’ </p>

‘Level up? You can’t even fill up’

What Keir Starmer said: Before I start let me tackle the issue of the day head on. If you go outside and walk along the seafront, it won’t be long before you come to a petrol station which has no fuel. Level up? You can’t even fill up.

What he really meant: This isn’t what I want to talk about because there’s nothing any government can do, but people care about it, so I’ll feel their pain and move on.

What he said: To the voters who thought we were unpatriotic or irresponsible or that we looked down on them, I say these simple but powerful words: We will never under my leadership go into an election with a manifesto that is not a serious plan for government.

What he meant: Last time I stood on a manifesto that was not a serious plan for government. You can trust me.

What he said: It will not take another election defeat for the Labour party to become an alternative government in which you can trust.

What he meant: It will take many more election defeats than that.

What he said: At this time on a Wednesday it’s usually the Tories that are heckling me: doesn’t bother me then; doesn’t bother me now.

What he meant: My predecessor’s supporters are the red Tories now.

What he said: I am so proud to lead a party whose name is Labour. Don’t forget it. Labour. The party of working people.

What he meant: Handy hint to remind delegates which conference they are at.

What he said: I had the great honour of becoming this country’s chief prosecutor, leading a large organisation; the Crown Prosecution Service. Three very important words. “Crown” brings home the responsibility of leading part of the nation’s legal system...

What he meant: Which is odd since I often used to propose the abolition of the monarchy. (Keir Starmer, 2005.)

What he said: ...“Service” is a reminder that the job is bigger than your own career advancement.

What he meant: Although career advancement is good too.

What he said: It’s easy to comfort yourself that your opponents are bad people. But I don’t think Boris Johnson is a bad man. I think he is a trivial man.

What he meant: That, Angela, is how you deal with your opponents. Most floating voters are put off by your abuse, but many of them will agree with my “more in sorrow than in anger” approach.

What he said: Precision editing of the genome will help us wipe out pathogens. The science of robotics and exoskeletons helps patients who are struggling to move. I could talk about this all day. But I won’t.

What he meant: Are the hecklers asleep yet?

What he said: Then we need to give our young people the tools of the future. Education is so important I am tempted to say it three times.

What he meant: Not hard to decode that one. The hecklers are definitely asleep.

What he said: I want to see enterprising, creative companies. I want to see them make a profit.

What he meant: I had a bet with Peter Mandelson that I could get a positive reference to “profit” into my speech.

What he said: The government is learning that it is not enough to Get Brexit Done. You need a plan to Make Brexit Work.

What he meant: I don’t think Brexit can work, which is why I was so dead against it. But we will offer a plan to Make the Best of a Bad Job. Good slogan for the next election, eh?

What he said: Our approach to taxation will be governed by three principles: the greater part of the burden should not fall on working people...

What he meant: Don’t tax you, don’t tax me, tax that man behind the tree.

What he said: ...The balance between smaller and larger businesses should be fair. And we will chase down every penny to ensure that people paying their taxes always get value for money.

What he meant: Tax the predators not the producers, the bad companies not the good ones; and save money by cutting waste. Always a good idea, value for money.

What he said: Take a look at our record the last time we were in government.

What he meant: Where are those hecklers? It’s all gone quiet over there. They can’t even be bothered with “Iraq” and “PFI” now.

What he said: Hospital waits down, GCSE results up, 44,000 more doctors, 89,000 new nurses, child poverty down 1 million, pensioner poverty down 1 million, rough sleepers down 75 per cent, a national minimum wage and the OECD said that no nation had a bigger rise in social mobility than Britain. You want levelling up? That’s levelling up.

What he meant: It has been reported that I’ve told shadow ministers not to repeat the Tories’ “levelling up” slogan – on the contrary, I’m going to wrap it around their necks.

What he said: In a few short years from now I want to be here with you talking about the difference we are making, the problems we are fixing, as a Labour government. That is what this party is for. That is the object of the exercise.

What he meant: Tells you something that I have to spell it out, doesn’t it?

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