Starmer wins plaudits for pledge to work with business
Sir Keir Starmer: ‘we must unleash our creativity’
Sir Keir Starmer’s pledge to support small firms and to invest in the digital economy was seen as a positive shift in Labour’s plan to work alongside business.
However, the party’s leader was urged to deliver details on how and when he would deliver his vision.
In his first address to a hall full of annual conference delegates, Sir Keir pledged to invest in skills and increase productivity by “unleashing our creativity”.
He said: “I have no doubt that the small businesses of this country are the next generation wealth creators.
“I want to see enterprising creative companies. I want to see them make a profit and employ more people.
“I want to create the conditions in which inventive small businesses can grow into inventive big businesses.”
He told the audience Brighton: “Labour will make Britain a world leader in science and research and development. We will set a target to invest a minimum of 3% of GDP.
“This nation will not grow with the low-wages, low-standards and low-productivity of the Tories. I’m determined to change this by investing in our businesses, by unleashing our creativity.”
Shevaun Haviland, director general of the British Chambers of Commerce, said: “The Leader of the Opposition is right to focus on business conditions that would help small and medium-sized firms.
“Businesses will welcome the focus on digital skills, investment in R&D and the need to make Brexit work. However, despite the warm rhetoric, what firms really need are concrete, costed proposals and meaningful detail on delivery.”
Tony Danker, CBI Director-General, said: “The Labour party has taken an important step forward by outlining an agenda where businesses can find common ground.
Tony Danker: ‘important step’
“Its ambitions to decarbonise the economy and build a better future for everyone through improving education are shared by business. Lifelong learning is the bedrock of productivity, growth, and in turn, rising wages.
“Commitments on R&D spending, investment and digital skills signal an understanding of core business priorities essential for delivering a dynamic and future-focussed economy.
“Business will want to see more about their plans to unlock investment and innovation to achieve these goals.”
Sir Keir said the party’s “green new deal” would ensure more work was undertaken in the UK.
“In Scotland, I saw the great potential of wind power at Whitelee Windfarm. Yet, of the 250 wind turbines at Whitelee, not one was made in Britain,” he said. “From their manufacturing base in Fife the workforce can see the turbines literally being towed in from places such as Indonesia.
“The next generation of deep-sea wind turbines could be our opportunity. Skilled engineering, off-shore work, sectors where we could lead the world, if only we had a government willing to lead.
“Public funding was an important component of so many inventions – the personal computer, the internet, the iPhone. If only we funded science seriously we could make a historic contribution to the battle against climate change. Action is needed. Not in the future, but now.”
On the constitution, he said a “cavalier government” was placing the union “in peril”, adding that “Scotland is in the unfortunate position of having two bad governments – the Tories at Westminster and the SNP at Holyrood.
“When Nicola Sturgeon took office she said she wanted to be judged on her record. These days, with the poorest in society less well-educated and less healthy and the tragedy of so many drug-related deaths we hear rather less about the SNP’s record.
“The SNP and the Tories walk in lock step. They both exploit the constitutional divide for their own ends.
“Labour is the party that wants to bring our nations together.
“Under the fantastic leadership of Anas Sarwar, Labour is the party of the union. Because it’s not just that divorce would be a costly disruption, though that is true. And it’s not just that our union is in all our economic interests though that is also true.
“It’s that we are more progressive together. We are more secure together. We are a bigger presence in the world together. We are greater as Britain than we would be apart.
“As Gordon Brown said recently “when a Welsh or a Scottish woman gives blood…she doesn’t demand an assurance it must not go to an English patient”.
“I am delighted that Gordon will lead our commission to settle the future of the union and I know Gordon believes that if you look past the Tories’ pathetic attempts to divide us in a culture war you can glimpse a tolerant, progressive nation of which we can be proud.”
Sir Keir faced some heckling, not least from a group chanting “Oh, Jeremy Corbyn”, but the Labour leader responded by throwing back the question: “Shouting slogans or changing lives forever?”
The heckling, however, was a reflection of a sometimes ill-tempered and divisive conference that signal problems that will need to be addressed if the party is to live up to its claim of turning a page on the Corbyn years when it lost a lot of its traditional support.
LibDems: ‘We’ll work with Brown’
The Scottish Liberal Democrats later said they would be prepared to work with Gordon Brown to reform the UK.
Scottish Affairs spokesperson Wendy Chamberlain MP said: “Gordon Brown brings heft to the campaign to stand up for Scotland’s place in the U.K and make the case for a reformed UK against the damage caused by the twin nationalisms presented by the Conservatives and the SNP.
“Liberal Democrats have long campaigned for reforming the whole of the U.K. with federalism, voting reform and an elected second chamber.
“If Labour are moving it that direction, we’d be happy to discuss that agenda with the former Prime Minister.”