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By Lord Watson of Wyre Forest
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Protester Throws Glitter Over Labour Leader Keir Starmer As He Opens Conference Speech

A protester interrupts Keir Starmer's conference speech (Alamy)

4 min read

A protester interrupted Labour leader Keir Starmer's conference speech in Liverpool on Tuesday by throwing glitter over his head.

Starmer was interrupted during his opening remarks but appeared to retain his composure as security staff removed the protester from the stage and dragged him out of the packed auditorium. 

After throwing glitter over the Labour leader, the protester shouted: "True democracy is citizen-led, politics needs an update, we demand a people's house. We are in crisis."

The protester was promptly dragged out of the conference hall by security. 

"If he thinks that bothers me, he doesn't know me," Starmer said, after removing his glitter-covered jacket. 

"Protest or power, that's why we changed our party conference, that's why we changed our party."

Starmer continued to deliver his speech with glitter in his hair, in which he promised a “decade of renewal” if Labour get into government at the next general election, pledging to build 1.5m homes over the next five years and be a party of “service” rather than “protest”.

Merseyside Police confirmed the protester, who is from Surrey, was arrested on suspicion of assault, breach of the peace and causing public nuisance.

The protester later identified himself as 28-year-old Yaz Ashmawi, who was demonstrating on behalf of a new group called People Demand Democracy which campaigns for electoral reform to introduce proportional representation. Ashmawi is also a member of the environmental group Extinction Rebellion. 

The People Demand Democracy group published a statement in which they claimed the Labour party had been "captured" by private sector lobbyists. 

“The Labour party has been captured, donors and lobbyists have more control over Keir Starmer than his members,” the statement said.

“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.”

On Wednesday, Starmer told Times Radio that he was "determined" he was not going to let the protest disrupt the speech.

"I was absolutely determined that this wasn’t going to disrupt what has been four years of really hard work, getting the Labour Party from where we landed in 2019, which is a very bad place to this last conference before the general election, where we had to set out and did set out our positive case," he said.

“I was determined we would get on with it. I just wanted to get on with the speech, and that’s why I rolled up my sleeves and got on with it. I didn’t want that idiot to interrupt that.”

Deputy leader Angela Rayner told LBC on Tuesday that she had “never seen Rachel Reeves so angry”, as she, the shadow chancellor, and the rest of shadow cabinet witnessed the incident at the front of the conference hall.

“I thought I was going to do a full John Prescott at one point," she joked, referencing an incident in 2001 when Prescott, the then deputy prime minister, punched a protester who had hit him in the face with an egg.

Labour sources told PoliticsHome it was "concerning" that the protester was able to storm the stage, with some suggesting more police and security personnel should have been stationed at the conference venues in Liverpool.

One shadow minister told PoliticsHome that the murders of Labour MP Jo Cox in 2016 and Conservative MP David Amess in 2021 showed it was "especially important" to ensure there were adequate security protections in place for MPs.

"It could have been a knife..." one member of Labour staff said, expressing relief that the protester had only used glitter to disrupt the speech.

"But it did give Keir the opportunity to appear statesmanlike," they continued.

A shadow minister felt that the leader delivering his speech with glitter in his hair was not actually the worst optics for the party.

"Last week, we saw the Tories threaten LGBT rights at their conference, this week we see Starmer with glitter in his hair... it's rather fabulous," they told PoliticsHome

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