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Sir Keir Starmer

Labour members react to Sir Keir Starmer's first conference speech as leader

  • 2020 Labour Conference took place virtually this year due to COVID-19 restrictions
  • New Labour leader, Sir Keir Starmer, made his first official conference speech as leader
  • Some members are divided over statements the leader made

Labour members have been left divided after Labour Leader Sir Keir Starmer’s speech at this year’s virtual online conference in Doncaster, outlining big changes to the future of the party.

One statement from the new Labour leader, Sir Keir , which seems to have caused the most controversy among party members is the insinuation that Labour “deserved” to lose the 2019 election.

Described by the Financial Times as a ‘merciless repudiation of the Jeremy Corbyn era’, Sir Keir used his first official conference speech as Labour leader to argue that “when you lose an election in a democracy you deserve to. You don’t look at the electorate and ask them: ‘what were you thinking?’,”

Some Labour members took to twitter to voice their reactions on this statement.

Rory Leonard, chair of Stockport Young Labour, said: “Keir Starmer has shown himself to be far more competent than Johnson at PMQ’s and I, like most left-wing members, feel that both Keir and Jeremy would have handled the response to the pandemic in a far better way than the shambolic and reckless way that Johnson has.

“Unfortunately, while Keir’s Connected speech may have ticked all the boxes in terms of voter hit-words thought up at Labour HQ, it ultimately lacked in policy and substance.

“There was no mention in the speech of the Tory’s disgraceful outsourcing of Test and Trace, no mention of the Black Lives Matter movement … no mention of the fact the Tories have shamefully this week allowed the eviction ban to restart after a six month pause."

Councillor David Meller is a Labour councillor for Cheadle Hulme North in Greater Manchester.

Reflecting on Starmer’s speech, he told NQ: “For me, it was an excellent speech. I think it was reflective and didn’t just focus on where we’ve perhaps gone wrong over the last five years, but over the last 10: we’ve lost four General Elections in a row now and we need to address why we’ve done so.

“This isn’t the fault of one leader or one faction: this has been an issue across the piece for some time now.

"It’s clear the fault doesn’t lie with the electorate but with the party – we can’t keep blaming the electorate for not getting the right results.”

Sir Keir Starmer made clear that the party is “under new leadership”, by promising members to “never let Labour go in to an election not being trusted on national security, with your job, with your community and with your money. That’s what being under leadership means.”

This emphasis on ‘new leadership’ and national security seems to some that Sir Keir Starmer seeks to distance himself from the leadership of his predecessor Jeremy Corbyn, who was infamously named as ‘a danger to national security’ by a former Mi6 boss, Sir Richard Dearlove.

A YouGov poll from December 2019 asking respondents which party they think would be best at handling defence and security found that only 14% answered the Labour party compared to 39% for the Conservative party.

Regarding national security, Councillor Meller said: “I think on issues like defence and nationhood we have been found to be lacking for quite some time. We know our anti-austerity policies have been broadly popular but when it comes to people feeling they can trust us to keep them and this country safe, we’ve been found wanting.”

While more recent figures (September 2020) show that this percentage has only risen to 15% for the Labour party since this new leadership, whilst falling to 36% for the Conservative party, Sir Keir's new approach may set to improve this number for Labour.

At the beginning of the last Labour leadership contest, YouGov also found that 50% of Labour members thought it was important for the leader to have a sense of patriotism.

Sir Keir also used his conference speech to urge former Labour ‘red wall’ voters who largely abandoned the party at the last election to “take another look at Labour…we love this country as you do.”

“My vision for Britain is simple: I want this country to be the best country to grow up in and the best country to grow old in. A country in which we put family first.”

These statements follow reported ‘concern’ within the leader’s team that the Labour party ‘had become too closely associated with critiquing the UK’, and aim to make the party “proud of being patriotic”.

Cllr Meller said: “I don’t think there’s anything wrong with being optimistic and proud of your country and if anything, by shrouding this with Labour values of equality, decency, fairness and what has worked well in recent years, it will help wrestle the flag, so to speak, away from the right.

“I think what Keir wants to demonstrate is by voting Labour, we can retain the union, be proud of our identity and with it, the Labour values attached to it as part of a government led by him.”

Another recent YouGov poll found that Labour are closing the gap between the Conservatives and themselves, with voting intention figures showing 41% for the Conservatives and 38% for Labour.

However, in a poll over who would make the best Prime Minister, Sir Keir leads with 37% agreeing he would make a better Prime Minister over Boris Johnson (30%).

Regarding the recent polls, Rory Leonard said: “whilst it is obviously encouraging that Labour are now creeping ahead of the Tories in recent polls, it is essential that Keir keeps holding Johnson to account, and, more importantly, sticks to the left-wing pledges he made during the leadership campaign.

“The working class, and the millions struggling after 10 years of brutal Tory austerity and incompetence depend on this.”

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