Keir Starmer – 2020 Keynote Speech to Labour Connected

The speech made by Keir Starmer, the Leader of the Opposition, on 22 September 2020.

Thank you Ruth for that incredibly powerful introduction and for paying me the huge honour of introducing me today. I know how hard the last few years have been for you. You exemplify the values I want the Labour Party to stand for. Thank you for everything you’ve done – and will continue to do – for this Party.

I’m delighted that we’re here in Doncaster. My wife’s mum was born and grew up here – just next to the racecourse. We’re regulars here. Visiting family friends but also to go to the Ledger. Though of course sadly not this year.

I’m also told that this is the first Labour Leaders’ Speech in Yorkshire since Harold Wilson in 1967. The circumstances were a bit different then.

For one thing, Wilson was able to update conference about Labour’s achievements after three years in government. So I look forward to coming back one day in the same circumstances that brought Wilson here!

I want to say a heartfelt thanks to the Labour Party staff and volunteers who have moved a virtual heaven and earth this week. To all the speakers, the panellists and the thousands of members who’ve taken part.

I also want to say thank you to the Labour Party members, supporters and affiliates for putting your faith in me to be your new Leader.

When you grow up in a small town in Surrey, you rarely thank your parents for naming you “Keir”. And when, as a teenager, I became the fourth member of the East Surrey Young Socialists, it didn’t seem likely that one day I would stand before you as the second Keir to be Labour leader. But I am, and it’s the honour of my lifetime to lead this great movement.

These are extraordinary circumstances.

The warnings yesterday from the Government’s advisors were stark. They can’t be ignored.

Labour will act in the national interest. We will be a constructive opposition. We will support whatever reasonable steps are necessary to save lives and protect our NHS.

But I also want to say this: There should be nothing inevitable about a second lockdown.

It would be a sign of Government failure, not an act of God. It would take an immense toll on people’s physical and mental health and on the economy. We need a national effort to prevent a national lockdown.

But instead of getting a grip, the Government has lost control. Our testing system collapsed just when we needed it most.

The British people want the Government to succeed in fighting this virus. We all need the Government to succeed.

This is the time for leadership.

Today I want to set out how my leadership of this party and, in time I hope, my leadership of this country, will be defined by the values I’ve held dear all my life.

By the instincts and beliefs that inspired me to become a lawyer fighting for justice, to become the Director of Public Prosecutions and into Labour politics.

The thread that runs through my life and the belief that will inspire my leadership of this Party is the desire to change lives for the better. The desire to make a difference to my country.

This is a country that has given me so much.

I am thankful to the National Health Service that cared for my mum for much of her life. For the chance to be the first in my family to go to university. To go on, to practice the law and to have the privilege of leading the Crown Prosecution Service.

And to be able to give my parents what they said was one of the proudest moments of their lives: to be there, with me, at Buckingham Palace as I was awarded a knighthood for services to criminal justice.

Family values mean the world to me. I was lucky enough to grow up in a loving family and I have the great joy now of a family of my own.

The mission of the Labour party I lead is to extend that same opportunity to everyone.

And my vision for Britain is simple: I want this 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. A country that embodies the values I hold dear. Decency, fairness, opportunity, compassion and security. Security for our nation, our families and for all of our communities.

Sadly, we don’t have a government that has such high standards.

I’m hugely ambitious for this country. I think Britain has so much yet to achieve. And it angers me that this government is holding us back.

I’ve tried to be constructive. I appreciate that these are unprecedented times and that governing is difficult. I’ve tried to be fair, to give the government the benefit of the doubt.

But now, with one of the highest death rates in the world, and on the threshold of one of the deepest recessions anywhere, I’m afraid there is no doubt.

This government’s incompetence is holding Britain back. They couldn’t get kids back into school in June. They couldn’t work out a fair system to get exams marked. They couldn’t get protective equipment to care workers and they wasted millions of your money in the process.

Their failure to protect care homes is a national scandal. They still can’t organise a testing regime that’s even serviceable, let alone world-beating.

The reason this incompetence angers me is that I think of the sacrifices people have made.

I think of the dedication of all those who have worked so hard to keep us safe. The families that had to stay apart. The grandparents unable to hold grandchildren for the first time. Partners denied the chance to be present at scans and births.

And in the most tragic circumstances people robbed of the opportunity to say goodbye to those taken before their time.

Covid has made us appreciate what we value: that family really does come first. Always.

And that the greatest contribution we can make is to care for one another. To be good neighbours. Good citizens. To protect those in need and build strong communities.

So, to all the care workers, the van drivers, the cleaners, the shop workers and the life-savers in the NHS, I just want to say: thank you.

You changed lives for the better. You made a difference.

And it makes me angry that, just when the country needs leadership, we get serial incompetence. Six months in, a Cabinet chosen on loyalty alone shows no sign of having learnt any lessons from the crisis.

Here are two things I’ve learnt.

First, if you neglect your public services, you won’t be ready when a crisis hits. Nobody blames the government for the existence of the virus.

But the under-funding of the NHS, the abandonment of social care and the lack of investment in prevention, that’s all on their watch. That’s all down to them.

And it always ends this way with Tory governments:

Public services are neglected, cut-back, and left to decline. For a party called the Conservative Party, they don’t seem to conserve very much.

The second thing I’ve learnt is that a crisis reveals character like nothing else.

And I think we’ve learnt a lot about this Prime Minister. Tory backbenchers know it. His Cabinet knows it. We all know it.

He’s just not serious. He’s just not up to the job.

Whenever he encounters a problem, Johnson responds either by wishing it away or by lashing out.

He kept wishing away the problems with testing, pretending they didn’t exist. He wished away the problems with the Irish border. Then, when he finally realised what he’d signed up to, he lashed out and decided to break international law.

We’re all doing our bit to combat the virus by obeying the rule of six. Meanwhile the government won’t even obey the rule of law.

And this is the big difference between the Prime Minister and me:

While Boris Johnson was writing flippant columns about bendy bananas, I was defending victims and prosecuting terrorists.

While he was being sacked by a newspaper for making up quotes, I was fighting for justice and the rule of law.

The grown-up way to deal with Brexit is to negotiate properly and get a deal.

And on Brexit, let me be absolutely clear. The debate between Leave and Remain is over.

We’re not going to be a party that keeps banging on about Europe. The Prime Minister has repeatedly promised that he will get a deal.

So go on and get one.

British business needs a deal. Working people need a deal. Our country needs a deal.

And if the Prime Minister fails to get one, he will be failing Britain. If that happens, he’ll have nobody to blame but himself. And he will have to own that failure. It will be on him.

We want to get this deal done, and like everybody else, we’re growing tired of the Prime Minister’s bluster.

The arrogance of this Government makes me so angry. A government Minister telling parents to “stop carping” when they can’t get a test for their sick child angers us all.

But as well as anger, I feel frustration. Frustration that every Labour Party spokesperson is a shadow.

Shadow Education. Shadow Health. Shadow Chancellor. Shadow Foreign.

Until we come out of the shadows, this party can’t change anything.

The promise that brought us all into politics – to change the country for the better – is pointless if all we can do is object to endless Tory governments.

So let’s be blunt. Let’s be brutally honest with ourselves.

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?” You look at yourself and ask: “what were we doing?”

The Labour Party has lost four general elections in a row. We’ve granted the Tories a decade of power.

The Tories have had as many election winners in five years as we’ve had in seventy-five.

It’s a betrayal of what we believe in to let this go on. It’s time to get serious about winning.

That means we have to change, and that’s what we’re doing.

This is a party under new leadership.

As I promised on my first day as leader we will root out the antisemitism that has infected our party. We’re making progress – and we will root it out, once and for all.

We’re becoming a competent, credible Opposition

But that’s not enough. I didn’t come into politics to be in opposition, and neither did you. I came into politics to change lives.

But you don’t get the permission to act unless the public trusts you. And we still have a lot to do.

I don’t underestimate the work that will be needed. But I can make this promise:

Never again will Labour go into an election not being trusted on national security, with your job, with your community and with your money.

That’s what being under new leadership means.

And the best incentive for being deadly serious about victory is to remember why we want to win.

I don’t want to win power just to be Prime Minister. I want to win because of the country I love and because of the values I hold dear.

When you win, you come out of the shadows. You change lives. You make a difference to your country.

To do that, we must once again be the party of the whole United Kingdom. The party of England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.

We must make the case much more persuasively that we achieve more together than we do alone.

To stop the Nationalists ripping our country apart by design and to stop the Tories dismantling it by neglect.

I’m not the sort of Leader who wants to turn the clock back. Times change – and so do political priorities.

But let’s remind ourselves of what this party can achieve at its best.

This is the party that created the National Health Service and founded NATO.

This is the party of the Equal Pay Act and this is the Party of the Open University.

This is the Party of the National Minimum Wage and this is Party of the Good Friday Agreement.

These achievements show that we inherit a task and a purpose.

All three of the post-war Labour winners – Attlee, Wilson and Blair – saw it as their task to modernise Britain.

In 1945, Attlee had to build a society fit to reward the sacrifices of the war.

In 1964, Wilson had to make the “white heat of technology” work for working people.

In 1997, Blair wanted to extend the new era of opportunity to everyone.

In the 75 years since the historic victory of 1945 there have only been three Labour winners. I want to be the fourth.

And when you look back to 1945, 1964 and 1997 you learn an important lesson. The lesson is don’t look back, look to the future.

We need to be thinking about the questions of 2024 and the 2030s, not the questions of the past.

If anything, Covid has quickened the pace.

The challenges we now face mean that even the questions of 2019 already seem like ancient history.

What we say at the next general election isn’t written yet. But it will be rooted in Labour values.

It won’t sound like anything you’ve heard before. It will sound like the future arriving.

The trust of the British people will only be won by a party: that can provide security and opportunity at work, that ends the structural flaws in our economy that mean that working people have barely had a pay rise in a decade, that fixes the housing crisis so that young people finally have the prospect of owning their own home, that understands the need for an economy that’s healing the climate crisis, not contributing to it, that guarantees the security and integrity of this nation, that gives our young people the start in life they deserve, that gives our older people the dignity that they’ve earned and that cherishes our diversity and takes pride in a society where everyone belongs.

We know that Covid affects our black, Asian and minority ethnic communities disproportionately. But the Government still hasn’t done anything about it.

That’s why I’ve asked Doreen Lawrence to lead an inquiry. I worked with Doreen to prosecute her son’s killers.

Racial inequality is one of the causes that brought me into politics. And the eradication of structural racism will be a defining cause for the next Labour government.

Covid-19 thrives on inequalities: structural inequalities that we must defeat.

I think you can measure a country by how good it is to grow up in. And it’s a test of our compassion, how good it is to grow old in.

The young and the old have been badly let down by this government. Our children and young people have been an afterthought.

And the gap between the best and worst-off families threatens to get even wider.

This inequality scars life chances: and I fear it will leave a lasting legacy for a generation of children.

The government promised catch-up support, but it’s failed to materialise. And now the failure to get tests for children and teachers who need them means kids are missing out this term as well.

Opportunity for the young should go way beyond party politics. It has to be a national mission to end the deep injustice that a child’s future is determined by their postcode, not by their potential.

What we need is a national strategy with clear targets to close the education gap at every stage in a child’s development

A strategy enforced through an independent body, such as the Children’s Commissioner, and embedded in everything that we do.

If the Prime Minister won’t act, we’ll set up our own taskforce and get on with it. Because if levelling up is to mean anything, it must mean closing the education gap and making sure no child is held back.

But, above all else, we need a government that cares enough to act.

Coronavirus has also revealed the perilous state of social care in this country.

Families have come under great stress caring for their loved ones. It’s hard enough to see your family in pain without financial ruin too.

If we didn’t realise it already we’ve learnt that care workers do some of the most vital work in society. Yet they’re under-paid, under-recognised, and under-appreciated.

Our care workers are heroes. But the social care system in Britain is a disgrace to a rich nation.

The Tories have had a decade to sort it out, but they’ve done nothing. David Cameron promised he would fix it. Theresa May promised she would fix it. A year ago Boris Johnson promised he would fix it.

Let’s hold them to that promise.

This is a matter of basic fairness and human compassion. The Government needs to act and to act now.

It must ensure that the mistakes made in the first spike cannot happen again this winter. And it must bring forward comprehensive social care reforms that guarantee all care workers at least the real living wage.

After a decade of drift, this Government must finally fix our social care system. So that it treats those who have given so much with the respect, love and dignity that they deserve.

I can see in my mind’s eye the country I want us to be. Properly funded universal public services. World-class education which unleashes everyone’s potential.

A huge investment in skills and a plan, working hand-in-hand with businesses and trade unions, to create high quality jobs.

An economy that doesn’t force people to move hundreds of miles just to find a decent job. One that truly works for all regions and nations of this United Kingdom. With opportunity and security in every part of the country and at every stage of our lives.

A country committed to a greener, cleaner and fairer society. Where every policy is judged not just by how much it costs today but also by what it does for the planet tomorrow.

A country which would be an active force for good in the world, once again admired and respected. Leading the world – and leading by example – in tackling the climate emergency.

It would be a country which is the best place to grow up in and the best place to grow old in.

I can see it. I can describe it. But it’s all just a dream unless we win back the trust of the people. And we’ve got a long road ahead of us.

We’re not going to win back those we’ve lost with a single speech or a clever policy offer. Trust takes time.

It starts with being a credible Opposition. With taking the job seriously. That’s what we will do.

So to those people in Doncaster and Deeside, in Glasgow and Grimsby, in Stoke and in Stevenage, to those who have turned away from Labour, I say this: we hear you.

Never again will Labour take you or the things you care about for granted. And I ask you: Take another look at Labour.

We’re under new leadership.

We love this country as you do. This is the country I grew up in and this is the country I will grow old in. And I want it to be the country I know it can be.

That, in the end, is why I do this. To change lives for the better. To make a difference to my country.

I know the good a Labour government can do. And I’m already looking forward to it.

Thank you.