How the labour movement reacted to Keir Starmer’s conference speech

Elliot Chappell

Labour leader Keir Starmer delivered his keynote address to Labour’s online ‘Connected’ conference this morning. Here is how trade unions, figures and groups from across the labour movement reacted…

Richard Leonard

The Scottish Labour leader welcomed Starmer’s speech, saying he had spoken “passionately about the country he wants us all to live in” and “exposed the failures of the UK government to effectively deal with the health and economic crisis caused by the pandemic”.

Leonard said: “He showed clearly the priorities of the Labour Party – properly funded universal public services, world class education, investment in skills, working with business and trade unions to generate high-quality jobs, and a greener economy, and our enduring commitment to build a more equal society.”

Highlighting that the UK Labour leader talked about a “greener, cleaner and fairer society” in his speech, Leonard concluded: “These are priorities we agree on and are the priorities of the people.”


UNISON general secretary Dave Prentis said: “Today Keir Starmer showed Labour’s new leadership is focused on the future, on the challenges our country faces at this unprecedented time and, crucially, on winning the next election.

“Public service workers have faced a decade of austerity and pay cuts – they need a Labour Party that can, and will, win the next election. In Keir Starmer, Labour has a leader who can do just that.

“Keir understands public service workers – including some of the lowest paid in our country such as cleaners, catering staff and care workers – have kept ​the country going through the darkest of hours.

“Too often they’re under-appreciated, undervalued and underpaid. He was right to talk about ​the broken social care system. The ​Tories have mismanaged care for years – failing to fix it​, despite ​many promises.

“It will be up to Labour to fix the mess this government has created. Now, more than ever, we need a Labour government. The future of our country relies on electing one, led by Keir Starmer.

“Keir has made a big step in winning back the trust of the British people today​. It’s now the responsibility of everyone in the party and ​in unions to join him in that fight.”


Momentum co-chair Andrew Scattergood welcomed the Labour leader’s attack on the Prime Minister’s handling of the pandemic but criticised what he called a “missed opportunity to show substance”.

Scattergood said: “Keir Starmer taking the fight to Boris Johnson today is welcome, but after months of the leadership not commenting on policies, Keir Starmer’s speech was a missed opportunity to show substance.

“If Starmer wants to appeal to working class voters, his pitch should be based on solidarity with the working class and defending their interests, not just slogans and platitudes.

“74% of people want test and trace taken away from private firms yet Starmer was silent on the catastrophic failure caused by the outsourcing of test and trace, including to companies with links to the Conservative Party, or of Labour’s opposition to privatisation.”

The co-chair criticised Starmer for not mentioning Black Lives Matter, a green new deal or the Tories’ lifting of the eviction ban on Sunday, saying the government had unleashed a “tsunami of evictions across our communities”.

The suspension meant that court proceedings for eviction notices could not be progressed, but the courts restarted the process on Monday. Generation Rent estimated that 55,000 private renters have already been handed notice since March.

Scattergood added: “Even as Starmer pledged to win back trust, his Shadow Foreign Secretary suggested that he is rowing back on key promises from his leadership campaign to tax the super rich and corporations and to bring key services into public ownership.

“Breaking your promises to your electorate is no way to win back trust. If Keir Starmer wants to win this country’s confidence, he must show he’s a man of his word, not another careerist politician who will say what is needed to win power and then abandon his promises once he gets there.”


Responding to the keynote address this morning, GMB acting general secretary John Phillips said: “Keir set out today how true Labour values can and will make our country a better place.

“Fairness, equality, helping every child to reach their potential and valuing our public services, carers, key workers and communities is so important.

“Things can be different, our country will face huge choices in the weeks, months and years to come – these are the values that should be at the heart of we heal our country post-Brexit and heal our economy post covid-19.”


TSSA general secretary Manuel Cortes declared that the party “must be bold”. He said the Labour leader was right to remind the public of that Labour government’s since 1945 have been “transformative”.

He continued: “And so will the next one be. He was right to recognise the challenges of climate change and need to decarbonise our economy and pledge Labour’s future economic policies must support this.

“There is no doubt that ten years of austerity have left all of our communities badly scarred and now the economic fallout from the coronavirus health emergency will further deepen the vast inequalities within Britain. There can be no return to business as usual as the status quo wasn’t working for millions of our citizens.”


Usdaw’s Paddy Lillis said Starmer “rightly talked about government incompetence holding Britain back” and welcomed his ‘new leadership’ based on “decency, fairness, opportunity and security”.

The leader of the affiliated union remarked this morning: “He is delivering a competent and credible opposition that knows Labour needs to win in order to change people’s lives, and our country, for the better.

“We welcome his commitments to security and opportunity at work, recognising that many have not had a real terms pay rise for a decade, and working with trade unions to create quality jobs. This is at the heart of Usdaw’s ‘New Deal for Workers’ campaign and we look forward to working with Keir to achieve those aims.”

Starmer told the public today that the trust of the British people would only be won by a party that can “provide security and opportunity at work”, and talked about “structural flaws” in the economy including low pay and the housing crisis.

Lillis declared that “we cannot go back to the way we were” and said that there must be “lasting and fundamental changes to the way society views our lowest paid workers”.

He called for a “new deal for the workers” including demands a minimum wage of at least £10 per hour, an end to insecure employment, respect for shopworkers and action to ensure that retail jobs are no longer underpaid and undervalued.

The general secretary finished by saying: “On all those issues the government is not listening and we need the new leadership that Keir Starmer is offering the country, because only Labour will deliver for our members and all working people.”


The National Education Union welcomed Starmer’s commitment today to closing the “education gap at every stage in a child’s development” and pledged to set up his own taskforce on the issue if the Prime Minister failed to act.

Joint general secretary Kevin Courtney said: “We need to end the debilitating poverty that so many families endure. Changes need to be made to the help and support families can access, the benefits system that penalises so many, and housing.

“In 2018-19 some 4.2 million people in the UK were trapped in poverty. Shockingly, this means nine children in every class of 30. By Christmas, 200,000 more children will be pushed below the poverty line.

“Every day schools see the impact this has on their students. It is obvious that children and young people who are cold, hungry and worried, cannot concentrate or learn as effectively.”

Courtney went on to call for the government to expand the eligibility for free school meals to every child on Universal Credit, for the scheme to expanded year-round and to make sure school uniforms are affordable.

He added: “700,000 young people live in homes without internet access. To make sure no young person is left behind, the government must step up its scheme to provide free wi-fi access and laptops for disadvantaged children who don’t have this access and give schools a dedicated tech budget to combat the digital divide.

“All of this is readily achievable. The NEU looks forward to working with all political parties to ensure no child is left behind.”

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