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Keir Starmer bats away hecklers as he gets personal during Labour Party conference speech

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Sir Keir Starmer batted away hecklers during a mammoth speech in which he used his personal experiences to show off his human side as he announced a key climate change policy.

Doreen Lawrence, mother of murdered teenager Stephen Lawrence, introduced Sir Keir before his conference speech by thanking the Labour leader for helping prosecute his murderers when he was a barrister.

During the 90-minute speech, which was his first in-person conference address since he became leader, he hit out at the government, referenced his parents throughout and announced a plan to retrofit millions of homes.

Following five days of ups and downs in Brighton, including successfully getting a new way of voting for a leader through, he put Labour forward as the next party to lead the country.

Leader of the British Labour Party Keir Starmer gestures as he makes his keynote speech at the annual party conference in Brighton, England, Wednesday, Sept. 29, 2021
Image: Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer speaking at conference. Pic: AP

But he was also heckled by those who may be bigger fans of his predecessor, Jeremy Corbyn, who has criticised Sir Keir at fringe events this week.

However, he brushed them away by saying, “shouting slogans or changing lives, conference?” – to which he got cheers from the audience.

Among those who heckled Sir Keir during his speech was former Big Brother contestant Carole Vincent from east London, who told Sky News she had not planned to interrupt the Labour leader’s keynote address but she was prompted about he delivered “a speech which is full of nothing really.”

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“I saw it as standing up in a principled manner against what he was saying, because he wasn’t saying ‘we are going to give a £15 minimum wage’,” Ms Vincent added, noting that she suspects she might no longer be a Labour member after Wednesday.

Speaking after the party leader’s speech, a Labour spokesperson said “only a small number of people” were heckling and that this “did not knock [Sir Keir] off his stride”.

“They didn’t distract from the message,” the spokesperson added.

Doreen Lawrence speaks at Britain's Labour Party annual conference in Brighton, Britain, September 29, 2021. REUTERS/Hannah McKay
Image: Doreen Lawrence introduced Sir Keir

Sir Keir spoke of not being from a privileged background, of his father being a tool maker in a factory and his mum being a nurse in the NHS and her getting a rare arthritic disease for which he could “hardly convey to you the emotion of seeing your mum in that condition”.

For a leader who has often been accused of failing to show off his personality and any emotion, it appeared important for Sir Keir to connect on an emotional level with Labour members, who listened intently.

He also spoke of being a lawyer and chief prosecutor and how that has helped his approach to politics.

John and Penny Clough, the parents of murdered nurse Jane Clough, were in the front row of the audience and Sir Keir told of them coming to him to get justice for her and how they changed the law – and how crime “will always be a Labour issue”.

Sir Keir said Labour would fast-track rape and serious sexual assault cases and toughen sentences for rapists, stalkers and domestic abusers.

Recognising he came into politics “late in life”, the Labour leader said he was not a career politician and said he was nothing like Boris Johnson, who he said was waging war on traffic cones while he was prosecuting Stephen Lawrence’s murderers.

Leader of the British Labour Party Keir Starmer gestures as he makes his keynote speech at the annual party conference in Brighton, England, Wednesday, Sept. 29, 2021
Image: Sir Keir was cheered as he set himself apart from the Tories

He also said in 2010 he was helping put terrorists behind bars while Mr Johnson was defending the right not to wear a cycle helmet.

“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,” he said.

“I think he’s a showman with nothing left to show, I think he’s a trickster who has performed his one trick.”

During his speech, Sir Keir recognised Labour’s failure under Mr Corbyn to defeat the Conservatives, despite not referencing the former party leader by name, and praised the party activists who had saved it from “obliteration” in the landslide 2019 election defeat.

“I can see the ways in which we can remake this nation and that’s what we get to do when we win,” Sir Keir told the conference hall.

The question for many now will be whether Sir Keir’s speech can translate into improved perceptions of his leadership.

He promised Labour will “always fund the NHS properly” and would shift the priority of the health service away from emergency care to prevention, including funding mental health as much as physical health.

“Labour will guarantee that support will be available in less than a month,” he said.

That would include recruiting 8,500 more mental health professionals and ensuring every school has specialist support and communities have mental health hubs.

Another of the Labour leader’s key promises is on education and Sir Keir referenced a famous Tony Blair slogan (“education, education, education”) as he said: “Education is so important I am tempted to say it three times.”

He said Labour will launch the most ambitious school improvement plan, including ensuring children leave school with good qualifications and who are ready to work.

Theatre, drama and music will not be allowed to collapse, he said, as he mentioned he had music lessons with Fatboy Slim at school.

Delegates hold up a red cards as a group of hecklers attempt to interrupt the keynote speech of leader of the British Labour Party Keir Starmer at the annual party conference in Brighton, England, Wednesday, Sept. 29, 2021. (AP Photo/Alastair Grant)
Image: Delegates hold up a red cards during Mr Starmer’s speech

On the economy, Sir Keir said Labour would support small businesses and invest a minimum of 3% of GDP in science and research and development.

He said the finances inherited from the Conservatives “will need serious repair work” but the approach to taxation will be governed by taxpayers getting the best value for money.

Sir Keir’s shadow cabinet ministers have announced a raft of new policies this week and he added to that by saying climate change – which got a big clap – would be tackled by retrofitting 19 million homes over a decade to save families more than £400 a year on energy bills, with a £6bn a year investment.

And he hit out at Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, saying the SNP and the Tories “exploit the constitutional divide”.

After his speech, the Labour leader was joined by his wife, Victoria, on stage and they left the conference hall to the Fatboy Slim song “Right here, right now” – plus a standing ovation.

As a child, the Labour leader had music classes at school with the future DJ.

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Starmer wants ‘serious’ plan for government from his party

Members of Sir Keir’s shadow cabinet have reacted positively to the Labour leader’s speech.

“I thought it was the finest speech from a Labour leader, I think, in 10 years,” Labour’s shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth told Sky News.

And shadow environment secretary Luke Pollard described Sir Keir Starmer’s speech as a “real turning point for the party”.

Following his keynote address, Sir Keir was visiting party staff who had worked at the conference in Brighton to thank them for their efforts, a Labour spokesperson said.