Keir Starmer aims to end questions about his leadership in first major election campaign speech

Labour leader will launch a presidential-style election campaign to address his critics

David Maddox
Political editor
Monday 27 May 2024 00:50 BST
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Starmer joins Anas Sarwar in the launch of Labour’s general election campaign in Scotland
Starmer joins Anas Sarwar in the launch of Labour’s general election campaign in Scotland (Getty Images)

Sir Keir Starmer will use his first major speech of the general election to make Labour’s campaign personal as he tries to quell concerns expressed about what sort of prime minister he will be.

The Labour leader’s “presidential” speech comes as the Tories have accused him of threatening to make a £38.5bn black hole in public finances with his spending plans.

This latest attack comes after Sir Keir has suffered months of questions about his leadership style and the number of times he has U-turned on issues.

This included abandoning his 10 left-wing pledges in the leadership election to replace Jeremy Corbyn, ditching his opposition to Brexit and abandoning his £28bn a year green deal.

Sir Keir has also been accused of being “boring” and lacking charisma as he tries to haul his party from near oblivion in 2019 to retaking Downing Street after 14 years in opposition.

British opposition Labour Party leader Keir Starmer will make a major speech today
British opposition Labour Party leader Keir Starmer will make a major speech today (Reuters)

In his speech today, Sir Keir will acknowledge that questions have been about his character and leadership. But he plans to answer them with a single pledge to voters: “I will fight for you.”

In a speech in a target seat in the South East, he will say: “I know those people are looking at this election, looking at me personally. So, I make this promise: I will fight for you.

“I took this Labour Party four years ago, and I changed it into the party you see today. I was criticised for some of the changes I’ve made, change is always like that.

“There are always people who say, don’t do that, don’t go so fast. But whenever I face a fork in the road, it always comes back to this: the golden thread: country first, party second.”

He will also defend the six “first steps” he has put on a pledge card which some believe lack ambition and a timetable for delivery.

Tory chair Richard Holden attacked Starmer on Sunday
Tory chair Richard Holden attacked Starmer on Sunday (LBC)

These include tackling antisocial behaviour, creating 40,000 more NHS appointments a week, recruiting 6,500 extra teachers, creating Great British Energy, launching a new border security command, and delivering economic stability.

He will say: “I am proud of these first steps towards our missions. They are a new path for our country. A plan that will turn the page, deliver stability and change.

“And because we have been so ruthless in making sure these policies are deliverable, fully-funded and ready to go. We also provide the certainty that working people, businesses and communities need.

“A clear direction, not the endless spinning around that successive Conservative governments have subjected our country to.”

Sir Keir comes into the election with a massive poll lead but he will insist that he is not taking any votes for granted.

The Labour leader will warn: “Whatever the polls say, I know there are countless people who haven’t decided how they’ll vote in this election.

“They’re fed up with the failure, chaos and division of the Tories, but they still have questions about us. Has Labour changed enough? Do I trust them with my money, our borders, and our security?

“My answer is yes you can – because I have changed this party. Permanently. This has been my driving mission since day one. I was determined to change Labour so that it could serve the British people.”

Prime minister Rishi Sunak arrives at Birmingham airport on Sunday
Prime minister Rishi Sunak arrives at Birmingham airport on Sunday (PA Wire)

The decision to put himself at the centre of the campaign in a presidential style comes after Tories and Labour ran briefing campaigns against Mr Sunak and Sir Keir losing energy already in what will be a gruelling contest.

The Tories denied that Rishi Sunak had gone to ground by Saturday, as the Labour leader appeared to take a rest on Sunday.

A Tory campaign source said: “Yesterday the PM hit the campaign trail two hours before Sir Keir surfaced. Today there is no sign of Starmer whatsoever and we are just four days into the campaign. Campaigns are tough, tiring things and it's understandable that he may be weary. But being prime minister is a 24/7 job which requires stamina.”

Not to be outdone, Labour was swift to hit back with colourful details of what Mr Sunak’s top team has been up to including his currently seat-less party chair Richard Holden.

The Labour spokesperson said: “Keir and the Labour Party are working round the clock, enjoying taking our message of change to the country. We were out speaking with voters across the country within half an hour of the election being called. Meanwhile the PM has been holed up with his aides at his house, the Tory party chair spent yesterday afternoon at a pub in Westminster and the cabinet appear to have completely disappeared.”

Responding to Sir Keir’s speech, Mr Holden claimed that new analysis from Treasury costing shows that Labour has a £38.5bn black hole in its policies – the equivalent of £2,094 in taxes on working families.

He said: “It is bizarre that Sir Keir Starmer has spent the day at home resting ahead of a speech which doesn’t say anything.

“Sir Keir Starmer has been Labour leader for four years but has failed to set out a clear plan to secure Britain's future.

“All he has managed to achieve is to break the 10 promises he made when he ran for the leadership and create a £38.5bn black hole in his spending promises, meaning Labour would have to put up taxes by £2,094 on every hardworking family.

“The choice is clear: stick with the plan that is working and take bold action for a safer, more secure future with Rishi Sunak. Or, go back to square one with Sir Keir Starmer and the same old Labour Party.”

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