Labour delegates sing national anthem at conference for first time

Keir Starmer has led Labour members in tributes to the Queen and a rendition of the national anthem – the first time the anthem has been sung at the party’s conference.

Despite warnings that the singing would be likely to attract protests and heckles, the speech and anthem passed without any protests from party members, a moment that one Labour source said was a great signifier of “how the party has changed”.

Starmer opened the conference in Liverpool under a banner bearing the Queen’s image, with union jacks either side of the stage, and he praised her as “this great country’s greatest monarch”.

He said the end of her 70-year reign offered a reminder of how far the country had come since she took the throne. “A reminder that our generational battle against the evil of fascism and the emergence of a new Britain out of the rubble of the second world war don’t belong only to the past but are the inheritance of each and every one of us,” he said.

“As we enter a new era, let’s commit to honouring the late Queen’s memory. Let’s turn our collar up and face the storm, keep alive the spirit of public service she embodied and let it drive us towards a better future.”

Delegates stood for a minute’s silence before the singing of God Save the King, with Starmer joined on stage by his deputy, Angela Rayner, and the party chair, Anneliese Dodds.

The former Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn had criticised the decision to sing the national anthem at party conference, arguing there was no precedent for doing so.

In an interview with the BBC, Corbyn said it was “very, very odd” for a Labour conference to sing God Save the King. He said: “They’ve never done it before, there’s never been any demand to do it … We don’t as a country routinely go around singing the national anthem at every single event we go to.

“We don’t sing in schools, we don’t have the raising of the flag as they do in the USA and other places. We are not that sort of, what I would call, excessively nationalist.”