Sir Keir Starmer has promised a “take back control” bill aimed at devolving power out of Westminster as the centrepiece of a Labour government’s first King’s speech.
The Labour leader said he would “embrace” the message used by Boris Johnson and the Leave campaign during the Brexit referendum in 2016.
“The control people want is control of their lives and their communities,” Sir Keir said. “So we will embrace the take back control message – but we will turn it from a slogan into a solution, from a catchphrase into change.”
In his speech in Stratford, Sir Keir promised that the flagship bill would “spread control” out of Westminster – devolving new powers over employment support, transport, energy, housing, childcare provision and spending to local and regional authorities.
“There was something sitting behind that Leave vote,” he said. “That phrase was really powerful – it was like Heineken, it got into people. The more they asked themselves, ‘Do I have control?’, the more they answered ‘No’.”
Sir Keir also said a Labour government would not “spend our way out” of the “mess” inherited from the Conservatives – saying his party could not get its “big government chequebook out again”.
He said: “Of course, investment is required – I can see the damage the Tories have done to our public services as plainly as anyone. But we won’t be able to spend our way out of their mess – it’s not as easy as that.”
Promising a “decade of national renewal” if it comes to power, Sir Keir acknowledged it would take time to fix huge problems, but he vowed to “give people a sense of possibility again – show light at the end of the tunnel.”
Mr Starmer accused Rishi Sunak of being “in denial” about the scale of the crises in the NHS and economy – saying the prime minister had offered only “platitudes” during his own speech on Wednesday.
The Tory prime minister tried to relaunch his premiership by offering five promises to turn around the economy, cut NHS waiting lists and “stop the small boats” by the election in 2024.
“It was almost as if he’d arrived from the moon and looked around and said, ‘Everything’s busted – nothing’s working’,” said Sir Keir. “It’s no good coming along and making five promises and saying ‘Give us another chance – sorry about the last 13 years’. It’s just not going to wash with the British public.”
Shadow chancellor Rachel Reeves told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that Labour would have to use both investment and reforms to sort Britain’s woes.
“We know we can’t make all the changes we want to see overnight,” she said. “The neglect of our health service and the failure to grow our economy these last 13 years means an incoming Labour government is going to face a tough inheritance.”
Asked whether Labour would get close to the £70bn extra that the Health Foundation charity has estimated will be required by the NHS by 2030, Ms Reeves pointed to the financial chaos that ensued during the short tenure of former prime minister Liz Truss.
“So much that we want to do requires money, but so much also requires reform of our public services,” she said. Such reforms could involve increasing the amount of spare private health sector capacity the NHS currently uses, Ms Reeves confirmed.
Put to her that some within the Labour Party might consider such a stance to be “privatisation by the back door”, Ms Reeves added: “It is absolutely not.”