Keir Starmer to echo David Cameron’s ‘big society’ vision in major speech

Keir Starmer will back organisations including the Royal National Lifeboat Institution (RNLI) and the National Trust, as he accuses the Conservative Party of attacking them to stoke a “divisive” culture war.

In a response to Conservative attacks on “woke” politics, the Labour leader will echo former prime minister and current foreign secretary David Cameron’s “big society” vision. 

He will accuse the Conservatives of “sabotaging civil society to save their own skins” and shore up the party’s weak poll position.

He will add: “They got themselves so tangled up in culture wars of their own making, that instead of working with the Royal National Lifeboat Institution – an organisation the late queen was patron of for 70 years – to find real solutions to stop the small boats, their rhetoric has helped demonise them.

“Instead of working with the National Trust so more people can learn about – and celebrate – our culture and our history, they’ve managed to demean their work. In its desperation to cling on to power, at all costs, the Tory party is trying to find woke agendas in the very civic institutions they once regarded with respect.”

Both the RNLI and National Trust have been the targets of attacks from Conservative politicians in recent years. 

Starmer, who holds an 18-point lead over Rishi Sunak’s Conservatives in the polls, will say: “Let me tell you, waging a war on the proud spirit of service in this country isn’t leadership”.

“It’s desperate. It’s divisive. It’s damaging. It comes to something when the Tories are at war with the National Trust. That’s what happens when politics of self-preservation prevail over commitment to service.”

Echoing David Cameron’s vision of the “big society”, he will urge charities, community leaders and faith groups to play an active role in Britain’s public life.

He will say: “Cameron talked about the big society, but when austerity kicked in, we ended up with the poor society”.

“Now we need a new vision for a new era. A renewed social contract. A new focus on those who build the bonds that connect us, the communities that nurture us, the institutions that support families and provide a bridge between the state and the market: a society of service.”

Starmer’s speech marks the first time since Cameron that a major party leader has outlined a vision for the sector, according to the charity providing the setting for his speech.

Pro Bono Economics chief executive Matt Whittaker has said: “Keir Starmer’s speech today is the first time a political leader in the UK has set out a strategic vision for how the sector can serve as a partner to government since David Cameron’s ‘big society’ concept in 2010.

“Since then, the sector has changed enormously and now has a workforce totalling just shy of one million.

“While it has grown in size and become ever more vital to supporting the most vulnerable in society, the charity sector has had to deal with £1.7 billion less government funding in real terms and four million fewer volunteers over the same period.

“Charities sit at the centre of everything the nation aspires to – from the health of the economy to the quality of life we enjoy. It is vital then that the government which comes to power following the next general election does what it can to help the sector unleash its full potential.” is the UK’s leading digital-only political website, providing comprehensive coverage of UK politics. Subscribe to our daily newsletter here.