‘Will you just let me finish?’: Teenage environmental protesters disrupt Sir Keir Starmer during keynote speech

6 July 2023, 10:50 | Updated: 6 July 2023, 11:52

Demonstrators interrupt Labour party leader Sir Keir Starmer
Demonstrators interrupt Labour party leader Sir Keir Starmer. Picture: Alamy

By Kit Heren

Environmental activists have disrupted a speech by Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer.

The two activists appeared behind Sir Keir as he was speaking at a Labour event at a school in Gillingham.

Sir Keir was unveiling his party's pledge to improve education in the UK, when the protesters emerged with a banner.

The activists were protesting Labour postponing its plan to borrow £28 billion per year to invest in green jobs and industry, citing the parlous state of the economy.

One of the protesters, who were on the stage for several minutes, said: "We need a new green deal right now."

"Which side are the Labour party on?" asked the other.

Read more: Keir Starmer pledges to shatter 'class ceiling' with 'radical reform' of education system

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The Labour Leader will join Nick Ferrari on Friday from 9am to answer your questions during the latest Call Keir - Watch Live on Global Player

Sir Keir Starmer interrupted as protesters disrupt speech

Sir Keir responded by telling the pair to "let me finish", and told them: "I'll come and talk you about it."

The protesters were led away by security.

Labour has said it would ramp up spending on for a green prosperity fund by the middle of a first parliament if it came to power at the next election.

Climate activists from the Green New Deal Rising group claimed responsibility for the disruption to Sir Keir Starmer's speech.

According to the group, one of the protesters was student Dieudonne Bila, who said in a statement: "I disrupted Keir Starmer's speech because I desperately want to see a future government committed to protecting people here and all over the world from the climate crisis.

"We won't stand by and allow private companies to continue making billions as heating becomes unaffordable, or be silent in the face of extreme heat, flooding and droughts."

Read more: 'Awful': Chris Pincher should quit as an MP says Angela Rayner, branding Tories a 'disgrace'

Demonstrators interrupt Labour party leader Sir Keir Starmer
Demonstrators interrupt Labour party leader Sir Keir Starmer. Picture: Alamy

Sir Keir told the crowd afterwards: "I think they might have missed the fact that the last mission I launched was on clean power by 2030, which is the single most effective way to get the green future that they and many others want."

He was speaking at the Mid Kent College to unveil Labour's plan to shatter the "class ceiling" by undertaking "radical reform" of the education system in Britain, which he says is preventing children across the UK from becoming successful.

Sir Keir said: "I promise you this, whatever the obstacles to opportunity, wherever the barriers to hope, my Labour government will tear them down.

"We will change Britain, break the link between where you start in life and where you end up. The earnings of our children should not be determined by those of their parents."

Demonstrators interrupt Labour party leader Sir Keir Starmer
Demonstrators interrupt Labour party leader Sir Keir Starmer. Picture: Alamy

Labour's proposed education reforms including an attempt to boost child development by setting a goal of more than half a million children hitting their early learning targets by 2030.

The Labour party also set out plans to modernise the school curriculum "so that it properly prepares young people with the knowledge, skills and personal qualities needed to thrive in work and life".

Demonstrators interrupt Labour party leader Sir Keir Starmer
Demonstrators interrupt Labour party leader Sir Keir Starmer. Picture: Alamy

Other planned reforms include:

  • Strengthening the teaching profession, which would see Labour aim to "end the recruitment and retention crisis that is doing so much damage to standards in schools"
  • Reforming skills, with Labour aiming to create more opportunities for young people "to learn vocational skills and adults to retrain in the skills businesses need"

Speaking at the school on Thursday, Sir Keir said Labour would give primary schools money to pay for "world-class early language innovation".

He said better speaking ability could improve education outcomes and also help with more general life skills.

"Not just for the workplace, but also for working out who you are, for overcoming shyness or disaffection, anxiety or doubt," Sir Keir said.

Labour party leader Sir Keir Starmer
Labour party leader Sir Keir Starmer. Picture: Alamy

"Or even just for opening up more to our friends and family. We don't do enough of that as a society - I'm as guilty as anyone. But wouldn't that be something precious for our children to aim for? I think so.

"Confident speaking gives you a steely core, an inner belief to make your case in any environment, whether that is persuading your mum to buy you some new trainers, a sceptical public to hear your argument, even your daughter to let go of the iPhone.

"It is not fool-proof but we do need to nurture it early, in the early years in primary school. So today I can announce that we will give every primary school new funding, paid for by removing tax breaks on private schools, that will let them invest in world-class early language innovation, help our children find their voice."

He also accused the Conservatives of not caring anymore about school standards, which he said are "the most fundamental front line in the battle for more opportunity".

Sir Keir referenced Conservative former education secretary Michael Gove in his speech
Sir Keir referenced Conservative former education secretary Michael Gove in his speech. Picture: Getty

The Labour leader echoed Tory former education secretary Michael Gove in naming "the soft bigotry of low expectations" as a barrier to children's progress.

"I didn't agree with everything he did in education, clearly, but [I did] when he said that it was an important strike against the class ceiling."

"Whatever else you thought about education in that period, the Tories simply don't care anymore. They're not interested in raising school standards. How can they be when the number of teachers leaving the profession is at record highs?

"We've got to turn this around urgently. That's why we'll tackle the retention crisis by rewarding great new teachers who commit to a career in the classroom."

Asked about how he would deal with the current strike action among teachers, Sir Keir said his government would be negotiating with unions every day until the dispute was solved.

He said: "If I had the privilege to be prime minister, if Bridget Phillipson was the education secretary of state, I would ask her and tell her and require her to get in and negotiate every day of the week until it was resolved.

"The Government is sitting it out. Children not being able to school is damaging, everybody knows that. Teachers know it.

"Nobody wants this industrial action, we have to resolve it, the Government's got a report, a recommendation. It is sitting on it, doing nothing. And in the meantime it is not having the negotiations.

"So get in the room, negotiate and sort this out and get our schools back working."

Addressing the issue of extending free school meals, Sir Keir said that a Labour government would be "constrained by the economics".

He added: "And we are constrained also by this question of whether that is the best targeting of the resources that we've got.

"We've gone down the route of breakfast clubs, but other councils and Wales have gone down a different route. It's a debate we should welcome as an ongoing debate about what's the best way here to move forward."

Labour party leader Sir Keir Starmer
Labour party leader Sir Keir Starmer. Picture: Alamy

Sir Keir announced his five 'national missions' to 'fix' Britain back in February, which centred around the economy, the NHS, crime, childcare and the environment.

Education Secretary Gillian Keegan said: "Labour's empty words are easy - delivery is difficult."Under Labour we had worse standards in schools, poorer outcomes for kids, and skills training that promoted pole fitness and balloon artistry."

Labour offers nothing but flip flop after flip flop, from tax hikes to tuition fees - showing there is no guarantee that they will even stick to their word.

"Keir Starmer's track record shows he will have probably changed his mind by the start of the summer holidays. So there's no way parents and teachers can rely on anything he says."

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