In a speech in Birmingham this morning, Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer has accused the government of “squabbling” over its Party’s leadership and has set out his vision of a “New Britain”.
He began by stating that he wished to “describe a Government that might be worthy of you”.
In reference to recent suggestions that the No 10 broke lockdown rules, he stressed that, “the British people do not like being taken for granted, and they do not like being treated as fools. A Government that refuses to follow the rules it sets for the rest of us loses the right to set those rules.”
An Opinium poll released last week estimated that Labour were twelve points ahead of the Conservatives under Johnson.
The MP for Holborn and St Pancras claimed that the country has entered a “new phase” in which the government has “revealed itself to be unworthy of your trust”.
“I want to start the new year by making a pledge of straight leadership. Today I want to introduce my contract with the British people.”
He said the first clause was a “binding commitment about decency, and standards in public life” following weeks of allegations regarding lockdown parties at Downing Street preceded by the Paterson sleaze scandal.
“I don’t think politics is a branch of the entertainment industry, I think it is the serious business of getting things done. But at the moment, I’m afraid we’re going backwards. We have a Prime Minister who thinks the rules apply to everyone except him,” Sir Keir argued.
“Security, prosperity and respect” would be the heart of his contract with the “British people”, and unveiled plans to host events across the UK where he will urge people to sign the pledge.
He went on: “We all need to know the NHS is for us when we need it, and if we work hard we should also have a right to job security”.
“The second term of the contract is prosperity. Everyone should have the opportunity to thrive, to realise our ambitions and make a good life for ourselves.
“And then there is a third term in my contract. Respect is a less obvious political virtue than security and prosperity. But it’s every bit as important… Everyone has the right to have our lives and our ambitions taken seriously, to be valued for who we are and what we do.”
He continued, attempting to counter perception of Corbyn’s Labour by describing it as a “deeply patriotic party” and referred to remarks by his namesake Labour co-founder Keir Hardie that “British socialism must wear a local garb”.
He explained that “The titans of 1945 were elected to power on the votes of the D Day servicemen and women. That Government took the spirit of collective sacrifice generated by the war and turned it into the National Health Service for which we are so thankful today.”.
“It was a patriotic government, which understood the importance of national defence, which created NATO, the alliance with us to preserve the peace in Europe ever since and gave this country its independent nuclear deterrent.”
“What a record – we have these three chapters of change, Atlee, Wilson, and Blair. They made Britain a better country. We must be the people who write the fourth chapter, the people who create a New Britain in the 21st century. And second, nobody could look on that record and say that is not a patriotic party.”
This was an interesting departure from previous speeches in which Starmer has echoed Blair but seemingly consciously avoided praising the erstwhile PM whose legacy proves controversial among both Labour membership and voters at large.
He vowed his commitment to security, citing his former role as the director of public prosecutions, saying that Labour would launch visible police hubs in “every community” and crack down on drug dens.
Echoing his party conference speech last October, Sir Keir spoke of how his father was unfairly looked down upon for working in a factory and complained about the lack of employment routes for people who did not choose an academic pathway.
On Northern Ireland, Sir Keir criticised the UK government for “playing fast and loose with the peace process”, and urged a “new and durable” strategy beyond “getting Brexit done”.
“Making Brexit is painstaking work and slogans won’t cut it. My goals will be to repair the alliances that this Government has damaged, while also ensuring our borders remain safe and secure. The contract that I want to agree with the British people is motivated by a desire to bring the country together.”
While Labour is not a “nationalist party”, it is a “national party”, Sir Keir emphasised.
He praised the BBC as a British achievement, describing it as “the world’s greatest broadcaster”. “a nation gives us a place to belong… There is so much of which we can be proud. But I don’t think you cease to be patriotic because you notice your country has flaws,” he explained.
He said that the government’s issues were not down to one individual but the Conservative Party as a whole, which he said has “been in power too long”.
“While the country is trying to stay safe and to make ends meet, the Tory Party is gearing up for a leadership fight,” he summarised. “People need solutions, people are struggling.”
He suggested that 2022 was going to be a “big year” for Britain with the forthcoming Platinum Jubilee, Commonwealth Games and the women’s Euros.
However he added that there were some “really big challenges” to be tackled this year as the UK recovers from “] the pandemic, combating the climate crisis,” and grappling with Brexit.
“I believe that the best still lies ahead for this country. but only if we have the courage to create a new Britain, a country in which you and your family get the security, the prosperity and the respect that you deserve my contract with the British people set out how we can create that new Britain,” he concluded.