Keir Starmer’s conference speech: five key messages

<span>Photograph: James McCauley/Rex/Shutterstock</span>
Photograph: James McCauley/Rex/Shutterstock

It lasted just 50 minutes rather than last year’s 90, but Keir Starmer’s speech to the Labour conference covered a lot of ground, and even included some policies. Here are five main takeaways from his address:

1. Britain isn’t working

It says a lot that so much of the speech involved attacking a prime minister who has been in power for precisely three weeks, and Starmer took the obvious route of noting the mauling from financial markets that Liz Truss’s government has faced in recent days.

He was at pains to tie her to the record of 12 years of Conservative rule, winning big applause in quoting the chancellor, Kwasi Kwarteng, who referred in his mini-budget to the UK’s “vicious cycle of stagnation”.

More generally, Starmer sought use the plight of public services to attack the government. Many voters may not notice the pound’s value unless they go on holiday. But they do notice cancelled trains, delayed NHS appointments and crumbling schools. This is fertile ground for Labour.

2. Green growth

Aside from attacks on the government, possibly the next biggest element of the speech was connected to economic growth based around sustainable energy and other green issues, not least the flagship policy announcement of Great British Energy, a publicly owned company to invest in domestic green power.

Much of this has been touted by Ed Miliband for some time, and the speech showed the wider influence of the shadow climate change secretary. But with the energy crisis created by the Ukraine invasion, these are policies whose moment seems to have come.

Another fairly obvious open goal for Starmer was a renewed commitment to a mass programme of domestic insulation, something mysteriously neglected by Truss’s government so far.

3. The return of Brexit

In recent years, this has been the policy area that could not be named, especially given the way Boris Johnson weaponised it in the 2019 general election. But things have changed.

In part, it is the sheer passage of time. But it is also down to the expected efforts of Truss and Kwarteng to use the departure from the EU as a way to hack away at rights and protections on everything from employment to the environment.

Under Truss, Starmer argued, “the Tories are changing the meaning of Brexit before your eyes”. Not least in “red wall” seats, this could be a compelling argument.

4. It’s not going to be easy

Perhaps the key moment of Starmer’s speech came about 10 minutes from the end, and was easy to miss. Discussing the running down of public services, Starmer said he would “love to stand here and say Labour will fix everything”.

But, he added, the scale of the damage to public finances and services “means this time the rescue will be harder than ever”. The message was implicit but clear: this is not 1997. There will not be massive amounts to spend.

In part, this was also an unspoken response to the economic policy set out by Rachel Reeves, the shadow chancellor, on Monday. Labour may restore the 45p top tax rate, but they are keeping Kwarteng’s cuts to the basic rate and to national insurance. Squaring this with a mass programme of public investment will not be easy.

5. This is Starmer’s party now

Last year the Labour leader faced some heckles from disgruntled delegates. This time his main problem was having to stop for 13 different standing ovations. If you ever doubted that the Corbynite left has been crushed, this speech – both the reception and the content – made it clear.

There was a glowing reference to the achievements under Tony Blair, and the support for Nato. One of the loudest sections of applause followed Starmer’s comment that he had been forced to “rip antisemitism out by its roots” from the party.

The policy approach is, in fact, more left wing than Blair, but the intended message is the same – this is a party anyone can feel happy voting for. Labour are once again “the political wing of the British people”, Starmer said. The next, and far bigger, task is to make voters believe this.