Keir Starmer has denied abandoning key pledges he made during his Labour leadership bid and said the “vast majority” of party members back him “100%”.
The Labour leader quoted Tony Blair as has promised to shake up government to boost economic growth, fix the NHS and tackle crime as part of his five “missions” for a Labour government.
Sir Keir said promised to secure the highest sustained growth in the G7 and be “tough on crime, tough on the causes of crime” – repeating the famous slogan used by Mr Blair before he won the 1997 general election.
But the Labour leader came under pressure to explain why he had ditched promises made during his 2020 bid to replace Jeremy Corbyn, such as renationalisation of utilities and rail services and scrapping university tuition fees.
Asked at a Q&A session after his speech in Manchester why people could trust him if he had “abandoned” pledges, Sir Keir said his main promise during the 2020 campaign was to deliver a Labour government. “That was the basis on which I was elected.”
Mr Starmer insisted: “The vast majority of Labour members and supporters are 100 per cent behind what we’re doing”, before claiming there was a very good way to find out if people trust him. “Let’s have a general election.”
Earlier, during a feisty exchange with Radio 4 Today programme presenter Amol Rajan, Sir Keir denied that he had abandoned “those important statements of value and principle”.
But he admitted that said he had to “adapt” some of those principles because circumstances changed, such as Covid, Ukraine and the dire state of Britain’s economy.
“They haven’t all been abandoned by any stretch of the imagination. But what I have had to do is adapt some of them to the circumstances we find ourselves in,” he said.
Pressed on his pledge to renationalise utilities, he said Labour analysis after the Ukraine war sparked and energy crisis “showed that we would have to spend a lot of public money on public ownership”.
Mr Rajan asked if he was “worried about crimes against the English language” – citing part of the five-mission plan which promises “new delivery-focused, cross-cutting mission boards”. The host asked: “Who is going to vote for that?”
Sir Keir promised in his speech to end “sticking plaster politics” and said Labour’s approach would offer “a clarity that will ruffle feathers across Whitehall and beyond, but one that is necessary”.
With his sights on a “decade of national renewal” – suggesting it would take at least two terms of Labour government – Sir Keir set out his five missions:
– Securing the highest sustained growth in the G7, with good jobs and productivity growth in every part of the country.
– Making Britain a “clean energy superpower” with zero-carbon electricity generation by 2030.
– Fixing the NHS by reforming health and care to speed up treatment, harnessing life sciences and technology to reduce preventable illness and cutting health inequalities.
– Making Britain’s streets safe by reforming the police and justice system, to prevent crime, tackle violence against women and stop criminals getting away without punishment.
– Breaking down the barriers to opportunity by reforming the childcare and education systems.
In echoes of New Labour, he promised to be “tough on crime, tough on the causes of crime” and also said he wanted to make greater use of the private sector. “I’m not concerned about whether investment or expertise comes from the public or private sector – I just want to get the job done”.
Sir Keir also vowed to fix the Brexit deal and “reset our relationship with the EU”, but claimed it was a “big mistake” to think Brexit was the only explanation for the UK’s low rate of growth.
Suggesting he was already planning for a second term, Sir Keir said: “I’m also honest enough to say that some of these issues are not going to be fixed within five years – they’re longer-term than that.”
Taking aim at the Conservatives, in particular former prime minister Liz Truss, he stressed the need for economic stability and said “they still don’t understand that chaos has a cost”.
“The noises you hear from them are a primal scream, the last gasp of a party caught between a rock of stagnation and the hard place of its economic recklessness,” he added.
Responding to the speech, Tory party chairman Greg Hands said: “Starmer has never made a pledge he intends to keep. He will say anything if the politics suit him. He lacks principles and has no new ideas.”
Commons leader Penny Mordaunt claimed Sir Keir was engaging in “cosplay Conservatism”, accusing the Labour leader offering Tory-lite policies at his “11th relaunch”.
The left-wing pressure group Momentum accused Labour of a lack of ambition. A spokesperson said Sir Keir had ditched “cast-iron pledges” on public ownership “in favour of the reheated third-way Blairism typified by these latest, vapid ‘missions’”.