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Keir Starmer warns party against complacency as Labour conference begins


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Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer has warned his party not to get “giddy” after its emphatic by-election win in Rutherglen as it maintains a 16-point lead ahead of the Conservatives with a general election expected next year.

Labour was buoyed on Friday by the scale of its victory against the SNP in the Scottish seat of Rutherglen and Hamilton West on a swing of 20 per cent.

But shadow ministers were ordered not to appear triumphal and or to refer to Starmer as “the next prime minister” for fear of looking complacent, as the Labour party conference started in Liverpool on Sunday.

“Don’t get giddy,” the Labour leader said on Sunday at the start of the annual conference. “It is not going to be ‘job done’,” Starmer told the Observer newspaper. “The battle has hardly begun in terms of this final part of the journey.”

UK prime minister Rishi Sunak has failed to close the polling gap with Labour amid dissatisfaction with his leadership within his party which has been in power since 2010.

However, Starmer is wary of appearing hubristic in the way that former Labour leader Neil Kinnock was accused of taking victory for granted in 1992 — after 13 years of Tory government — before crashing to defeat.

Starmer will use the conference to flesh out details of his plans for government should Labour win the next general election, while addressing questions over where the party now stands.

Since winning the leadership three years ago, Starmer has shifted the party to the right, rejecting the more radical policies of his predecessor Jeremy Corbyn.

On Sunday, he announced that Labour would turn existing further education colleges into new specialist “technical excellence colleges” to address the UK’s ongoing skills shortage.

The proposed colleges would specialise in key areas such as house building, health, renewable energy, nuclear or computing, with a focus on responding to local employment needs.

Separately, Wes Streeting, shadow health secretary, announced Labour’s plans to improve NHS services by expanding out-of-hours work to allow faster treatment for patients.

Streeting claimed that investing £1.1bn to fund overtime at weekends and evening shifts could enable the health service to provide an extra 2mn operations, scans and appointments in the first year.

The proposal would see neighbouring hospitals pooling their staff and using shared waiting lists to make the best use of available capacity. “Patients will be given the choice to travel to a nearby hospital to get treated on an evening or weekend, rather than wait longer,” Labour said.

Meanwhile, Rachel Reeves, shadow chancellor, suggested a Labour government would introduce a planning bill within its first 100 days to “back the builders not the blockers”.

Reeves told the Sunday Times she would review the rules surrounding “greenbelt” areas where building is restricted.

Bridget Phillipson, shadow education secretary, suggested that Labour could bring back maintenance grants for poorer students by increasing the debt burden on wealthier graduates.

An investment of £2.3bn a year to bring back grants — scrapped by former prime minister David Cameron in 2016 — could be raised by levying higher student loan interest rates on higher earners, according to Phillipson.

The conference started a day after Hamas launched its biggest attack inside Israel in decades, killing hundreds of people and taking others captive.

Starmer condemned the attacks and said “Israel has a right to defend herself”. “There is no justification for this act of terror which is being perpetrated by those who seek to undermine any chance for future peace in the region.”



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