Keir Starmer has declared to the 2022 Welsh Labour conference that the devolved Labour administration has shown how things can be done “differently and better” despite having “one hand tied behind your back by the Tories in Westminster”.
In a speech to delegates and those watching online today, the UK Labour leader thanked Mark Drakeford and the Welsh party and argued that “the Welsh Labour government is the living proof of what Labour in power looks like”.
“Every day you demonstrate the difference Labour makes, a blueprint for what Labour could do across the UK. So when I am asked how will we win, Wales is where I start. Right here. This is the difference a Labour government makes,” he said.
“You’re delivering for Wales. You’ve done it without sleazy dealings by working in partnership with local government, with trade unions, with the NHS, with local communities, to get through these challenging times together.
“No illegal parties, no bluster, just honest and reliable leadership – putting the interest and the priorities of people in Wales first.”
He said his plan for the UK is to “match” what the Welsh government has achieved, and asked members to “imagine what we could do if we had this Welsh Labour government, working together with a Labour government in Westminster”.
He added: “It is the honour of my life to be the leader of our party. But I tell you this: I have no ambition to be leader of the opposition. We gather here not just to oppose the Tories. But to replace them.”
The Labour leader also used his keynote address today to reaffirm his support for NATO amid the ongoing conflict in Ukraine, telling those watching that the opposition party is “the party of collective security” and “the party of NATO”.
“We must rise to the challenge by providing military equipment to Ukraine, by putting in place the toughest possible sanctions and by providing humanitarian support including a safe passage to sanctuary for all Ukranians fleeing the terrors of this war,” Starmer said.
“We know Putin’s playbook. He seeks division so we must meet him with unity. He believes the benefits of aggression outweigh the consequences. So we must take a stand. And he believes the West is too corrupted to do the right thing. So we must prove him wrong. I believe we can, and we must.”
Below is the full text of the speech delivered today by the Labour leader Keir Starmer to the Welsh Labour conference held in Llandudno.
Good morning, confernence! Bore da. And thank you Carolyn for that warm welcome. Carolyn is our brilliant deputy leader of Welsh Labour. Our proud MP for Swansea East and my very good friend. Who has stood up for me and supported me at every twist and turn; and who is a special friend to my wife and family. Thank you.
Conference, I have come here straight from Estonia, where I met NATO forces – including our Royal Tank Regiment and our Royal Welsh Battlegroup. I was able to thank them first hand for their work as part of Operation CABRIT. I was able to confirm to them and to senior politicians in Estonia Labour’s unshakeable commitment to NATO. And I was able to reassure them…in the face of Russian aggression in Ukraine. We stand united in the United Kingdom.
Conference, these are dark days. I remember how I felt when the Berlin wall came down. A mixture of hope, optimism and the promise of a better future across Europe. I didn’t think we would see in my lifetime. Russian tanks rolling into a European country. Soldiers kissing their children goodbye as they stayed to fight to defend their cities and their country – or the awful images of the bombing of a maternity hospital in Mariupol, and women and children fleeing for their lives.
There is no justification for Putin’s actions. They are an affront to the values of this country, this party and the international institutions, which we helped to build. For what crime does Putin accuse the people of Ukraine? It is their yearning for openness and democracy. To be free to determine their own future and decide for themselves what alliances they make.
Labour is the party of collective security. Labour is the party of NATO. Labour is the party of internationalism and Labour stands with the Ukrainian people. Earlier this week, President Zelenskyy addressed the House of Commons. An incredible moment. His courage, his conviction, his passion to defend his country inspires us all. We must rise to the challenge, by providing military equipment to Ukraine, by putting in place the toughest possible sanctions and by providing humanitarian support including a safe passage to sanctuary for all Ukranians fleeing the terrors of this war.
We know Putin’s playbook. He seeks division so we must meet him with unity. He believes the benefits of aggression outweigh the consequences. So we must take a stand. And he believes the West is too corrupted to do the right thing. So we must prove him wrong. I believe we can, and we must.
Conference, how great it is to be here with you in person, addressing you as Leader of the Labour Party for the first time. It is also the first time that the Welsh Labour team has had the chance to come together to celebrate the success of last year’s Senedd elections. And what a success it was. With an election result that matched the best Welsh Labour has ever seen.
So let me start this morning by saying congratulations – and well done. These election successes don’t happen by chance. They require teamwork, vision, perseverance and leadership. So let’s hear it for First Minister Mark Drakeford and his Welsh Labour team. People trusted you to bring them through the storm of the pandemic – and you did. And conference, I had the privilege of campaigning with Mark last year and I saw first hand how people appreciated his leadership. The people of Wales voted overwhelmingly to ‘Keep Wales Moving Forward’.
They saw the value in the work this Welsh Labour government was doing – and how you were doing it. Working together in our common endeavour to build a stronger, fairer, greener Wales in a modern United Kingdom. Mark and the whole Welsh Labour team, I’m grateful to you for your honesty, wisdom and friendship. There are some changes in Welsh Labour, of course. I want to thank the staff team who played a central role in delivering those results: former general secretaries Louise Magee who’s with us today – and David Costa, who’s in Costa Rica! And former Head of Communications Luke Young who is also here today. Louise and Luke – this is even better than Costa Rica!
They leave Welsh Labour in good stead, ready with a new team to go forward to the next chapter. And, in that spirit, I’d like to welcome to post: Jo McIntyre, Joe Lock and Victoria Solomon. Thank you for all you are already doing – and all the work you will do. I know it’s not easy, but I can promise that every Labour victory will be worth it.
Conference, the success of Welsh Labour also belongs to each and every one of you. Labour members who go out day after day, week after week to have those conversations on the phone, on the doorstep. From the Vale of Glamorgan, to Delyn, to Swansea. All those hours, all those weekends and evenings, all those conversations – adding up, to make the crucial difference. You’ve shown ambition, commitment and passion. And it paid off. Thank you.
And with 54 days until we go to the polls again for the local elections. We need to summon that same energy once again. And I look forward to being back with you on the high streets, the beach fronts and the doorsteps. Making the positive case for our great Welsh Labour candidates. The prize in these elections is a great one. Together, we could secure the future of Welsh Labour councils. Secure the opportunities for the Welsh Labour government. And secure the best possible future for Wales.
When it comes to the campaigning spirit, I want to acknowledge the service and hard work of former Shadow Welsh Secretary Nia Griffith MP in last year’s elections. Nia made more calls on Dialogue than any other MP I know – at the last count it was over 600 – and that was just the phonecalls! Thank you so much Nia. And I’d also like to thank Wayne David MP for his service for over two decades, representing Wales at Westminster and in Brussels. Thank you Wayne. And Jo Stevens, my colleague and close friend joins me here today, as our Shadow Secretary of State for Wales, Jo is a committed champion of Wales and a wise counsel to me in and out of the shadow cabinet.
One of my only regrets on becoming Leader of the Party was that I had to give up the office that I shared with Jo! Jo and I are with you every step of the way on this path to getting the best out of these elections in May – and beyond. Thank you, Jo, for everything you have done. And everything you are going to do.
Conference, earlier this year I set out my contract with the British public based on three principles: security; p prosperity; and respect. These are simple words, but they have the ability to truly transform our communities. Let me start with security. I believe that everyone has the basic right to feel safe in their own community. I don’t want to see communities blighted by crime and antisocial behaviour. We all know that Tory cuts have slashed policing, victims of crimes left without answers and no plan to improve community safety. That’s not good enough. That is why the Welsh Labour pledge to fund 600 Police Community Support Officers across Wales – 100 up on last May – is so important.
We all need to know that our communities will be safe for us, for our families and for our neighbours. That’s the real impact of Labour in power. To feel secure, we also need to know that the NHS will be there for us when we need it. And that it will have the resources it needs to take care of us. Security is also built on the policies that this Welsh Labour government is delivering: a real living wage for care workers; improving the quality of care and reducing the worry for working families; mental health support for young people; to build resilience and fight against the crisis caused by the pandemic; ambulance services improved across Wales with investment to ensure that no one is left without vital support when they need it most.
And what a leap towards greater security for children, In Wales from the 21 March, the physical punishment of children will be illegal…And Children will finally have the same protection from physical harm as adults. Security also means having a stable job, one that can support your needs, and your family’s needs. That is why the next Labour government. Will deliver a new deal for working people that sees proper pay, job security and equality in the workplace for everyone. Labour is the party of working people. The clue is in the name!
The second clause of my contract is prosperity. Everyone should have the opportunity to thrive and to build the skills needed for life and for work. We should all be able to realise our ambitions and make a good life for ourselves and our families. Throughout the pandemic, when people were struggling. This Welsh Labour government stepped up and provided free school meals during the holidays. Not with a last minute U-turn after a really good kicking from a Premier League striker. But with foresight, extending school meals right through the holidays to summer 2022, supporting children to learn better and grow strong. For every child, and thousands of families, who were struggling; this has made a profound impact.
Welsh investment in the green economy will also deliver prosperity. Thousands of new jobs will be created as a direct result of programmes to insulate homes. clean air and seek cleaner energy sources. These are high quality, skilled jobs, right here in Wales. I saw some of them first hand when I visited the Gower with Mark Drakeford last year. Community transport and active travel schemes will connect Wales like never before, allowing everyone the chance to find new opportunities. I know how impactful just a little bit of help can be when you need it. That is why the Welsh Labour government fund to help 500 unemployed people start their own business will be so transformative. A little spark of help to start a fire of prosperity.
The third clause in my contract with the British public is respect. Respect is perhaps a less obvious political virtue than security and prosperity. But it is every bit as important. Everyone has the right to have their lives and ambitions taken seriously. To be valued for who we are and what we do. When I look at the current UK government it pains me to see how much this respect is lacking. Whether it’s dodgy contracts for Tory mates, partying at Downing Street or flaunting the rules they set for everyone else.
Contrast that with the respect that Mark has shown Wales. Mark moved into a room at the bottom of his garden so he could continue to do his job and protect his family. What a man for the moment. That is leadership. Meanwhile, in Westminster, we have a Prime Minister who breaks the rules, dreams up absurd and unbelievable excuses and then sends his front bench out to defend the indefensible.
No wonder, two thirds of the public think that the way politicians act undermines democracy. Six out of ten people think politicians are likely to lie to them. That doesn’t bother the Prime Minister one bit. He wants the public to believe that politics is no longer a force for good. Cynicism that drags us all into the gutter. But it bothers me. I know good politics and good politicians change lives. Look at the very many great achievements of the governments of Attlee, Wilson, Blair and Brown. Look at the great achievements of the Welsh Labour government. And before too long I want to return here to discuss with you, the great achievements of the next Labour government.
I’ve rooted my contract with the British public in the thousands of conversations I’ve had since I became leader. I have spent my time in the places we need to win. I have spoken to people who’ve lost trust in politics. I’ve talked to people about their fears about their ideas for their towns, their experiences at work, their hopes for their kids.
The things that matter to them and their hopes for a better society, after the trauma of Covid. They have ideas. They want change. They have ambition. All they want is a government that shares their ambition. That is why I have pledged to them: security; prosperity; respect. Diogelwch; ffyniant; parch. Thank you to the Welsh Labour team behind the scenes for their coaching on that one! Here in Wales, a Welsh Labour government is the living proof of what Labour in power looks like. How things can be done differently and better. Every day you demonstrate the difference Labour makes, a blueprint for what Labour could do across the UK.
So when I am asked how will we win, Wales is where I start. Right here. This is the difference a Labour government makes. Even with one hand tied behind your back by the Tories in Westminster, you’re delivering for Wales. You’ve done it without sleazy dealings by working in partnership with local government, with trade unions, with the NHS, with local communities, to get through these challenging times together. No illegal parties, no bluster, just honest and reliable leadership. Putting the interest and the priorities of people in Wales first. My plan is to deliver a UK Labour government that can match that.
Imagine what we could do if we had this Welsh Labour government, working together with a Labour government in Westminster – what a change we could make. And what a difference we could bring to millions of lives. This isn’t a pipe dream: this it is our mission. I refuse to accept that we are stuck where we are now. There is another way to lead this country. This United Kingdom – and the nations which come together in it. Our best days are ahead of us.
I refuse to accept, that there is no place to talk about the future and no way to bring people together on the things that we have in common and the change we need to build. I refuse to accept that all that matters is where people were on Brexit. Just as I refuse to accept that the people of this country no longer care about what happens in Europe. Or that we will tolerate child poverty rising again, here at home. I refuse to accept that the biggest cost of living crisis in our lifetimes dhould break the backs of ordinary families.
It is because I believe in the people of the United Kingdom that I am angry that we have a government at Westminster more concerned with handing contracts to their mates than addressing the challenges the UK faces. It is because I believe in us that I am angry that the Tories have allowed the UK to be a place that is laughed about abroad. And, conference, I am angry that we have allowed these Tories to beat us.
This is on all of us to fix. And we can fix it. We are not just on the road to the locals this May. We are on the road to the next general election. Whether it’s next year or the year after, the general election approaches. I want to lead the United Kingdom because I believe in it. In all its parts and all its differences. In all of our home nations. In all of the good and decent people who share the same hopes and dreams, fears and frustrations, the same land and the same coasts and the same threats to our way of life.
It is the honour of my life to be the leader of our party. But I tell you this: I have no ambition to be leader of the opposition. We gather here not just to oppose the Tories. But to replace them. Throughout our history, our leaders have been driven by our love for our country. But also full of passion for what more it can be. Each time, Labour has built a new and better Britain. That is my ambition too. Not to oppose the Tories, but to replace them. To build a better country. It is our duty to win. I believe we can. Thank you, conference.