Sir Keir Starmer sought to distance himself from Labour’s “recent past” on Monday evening as he said his party had previously been “afraid to speak the language of class”.
In what appears to be a subtle attempt to quiet the Tony Blair and New Labour comparisons, he said that would not be the case in “my Labour Party”, repeating that his mission was to “smash the class ceiling” stopping poorer people from getting on.
Sir Tony declared the “class war is over”, two years after taking power in 1997.
It comes after Sir Keir last month appeared at the former prime minister’s Institute for Global Change conference. It invited a string of comparisons with the party now to its character under Blair’s leadership. Sir Tony spoke glowingly of Sir Keir’s performance as Labour leader.
However, Sir Keir has now tried to put a more left-wing gloss on his leadership in an article for the Scotsman newspaper, ahead of a visit to Rutherglen and Hamilton West, where a by-election will take place.
On the visit he also played down assertions of a division between Scottish Labour and the party at Westminster.
Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar has said he would “press” a Labour government to drop the two-child benefit cap.
Sir Keir said: “Anas and I have got a very, very strong working relationship. So anybody who’s trying to find division is going to have a very, very long search.”
In his article, Sir Keir promised a “new deal that will strengthen workers’ rights and finally make work pay” – which will mean “no more zero hour contracts, no more fire and rehire, and a real living wage for everyone”.
Sir Keir said his “political project” was to reconnect Labour with its working-class roots.
He continued: “There may have been times in the recent past where Labour was afraid to speak the language of class at all – but not my Labour Party.
“No, for me, smashing the ‘class ceiling’ that holds working people back is our defining purpose.”
He added: “Can you look around your community today and say, with the certainty you deserve, that the future will be better for your children?
“Working people I speak with have their doubts – and that’s putting it mildly. From Kirkcaldy to Glasgow, Inverness to Rutherglen, they all tell me how little trust they have in politics to change things for them.
“And, if I’m totally frank, this extends to my Labour Party.
“Countless people tell me they support Labour values. Yet they remain unconvinced that we – or, for that matter, Britain itself – still offer the way forward for Scotland or their community.”