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By Lord Watson of Wyre Forest
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Labour MPs Say Keir Starmer’s “Turning Point” Speech Proves The Party Is “Ready To Win”

Kevin Hayes / Alamy Live.

4 min read

Keir Starmer has been praised for his first in-person conference speech where he promised to deliver a “serious plan for government”.

Labour MPs have said Starmer’s speech proves the party are “ready to win” after he repeatedly distanced himself from the Corbyn era and said the party needed to “get serious” after their 2019 election defeat.

Speaking to PoliticsHome after the conference set piece, shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth said the speech was the “finest” a Labour leader has given at conference for 10 years.

“I think Keir can leave this conference with his head held high and with a party united behind him,” he said.

Ashworth believed it showed the party was changing. "This is a radically different party," he continued. "I’ve seen this party in different guises but this is a radically different party and it is changing because it wants to win.”

Starmer was repeatedly heckled during the speech by activists who expressed their support for Jeremy Corbyn, called for the party to back a £15-an-hour minimum wage, and held up coloured paper to “give Starmer the red card”.

But responding to the group, Ashworth said there was a “few squawks here and there” that were “rather underwhelming”.Shadow Northern Ireland Secretary Louise Haigh said Starmer “knocked it out the park” and it was “clear the whole room absolutely loved it”.

“It was the sound of a party absolutely united.”

Responding to the hecklers, she said they were a “tiny tiny minority, and they know where the door is”.

David Lammy, the Shadow Justice Secretary, said Starmer set out a “bold, ambitious plan” that he hadn’t seen from the Labour Party “in many years”.

Speaking immediately after the speech, he told PoliticsHome: “The public will be left with a real sense of the man and frankly it’s the man I know: bright, intelligent, honest, and full of integrity. 

“The speech exuded that, frankly, and it spoke to the issues of the time, too: our education system, our care system, patriotism, our military.”

He said the speech was a “turning point” in that it “re-orientated the party towards the general public and their concerns.”

On the handful of hecklers, he said: “There are some in this hall who can’t come along for the ride and I say to them: look, think about winning – that’s what we want to do.”

Former Labour leader Ed Miliband left the hall giving the thumbs up and said it was a “great speech”. Ex-interim leader Harriet Harman said the speech had been an important step in Starmer’s efforts to “reset” the party.

She said: “I thought it was an excellent speech. It was purposeful and it was hopeful, and it really made sense why he’s in politics and it resonated with where the country needs to go.”

Messages on the threat the Conservatives pose to the union, as well as his pledge to clean up politics, will resonate with the public, she suggested.

“He’s shown he’s prepared to have rows here if it’s for a purpose and he won’t shrink in taking the party in the direction he thinks it needs to go,” Harman added.

Senior Labour figures said they hoped the speech would help reunite the party following a fractious few days which were at times dominated by party battles over their internal rules.

Davena Rankin, a Unison delegate from Scotland said she hadn’t gone into the speech as a particular fan of Starmer but it had won her over. Her colleague Primjit Sian said the focus on mental health had been important to her as a family friend had recently taken their own life and thought championing that as an issue was impressive.

But one party member who had joined in with the heckling told PoliticsHome they thought the speech was “absolutely trash”.

“It was boring and completely pointless. Another Blairite in a suit. How can he stand up there and rubbish the reputation of Jeremy Corbyn after he took us so close to winning. It was disgusting.”

Starmer's critics seemed to be in the minority, however. Another member said the “idiots in the audience” who had disrupted the speech “proved exactly why we had to get back to a party that is focussed on winning and not one that is obsessed with slogans and squabbling”.

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