Keir Starmer to vow to be as bold as Labour in 1945, amid rising criticism of his leadership

Covid crisis is like post-war ‘call to arms’ Labour leader will say – likening his task to Attlee’s transformation of Britain

Rob Merrick
Deputy Political Editor
Wednesday 17 February 2021 22:59 GMT
The Labour leader is accused of excessive caution, of splitting his party – and of an inauthentic ‘flag and family’ stance
The Labour leader is accused of excessive caution, of splitting his party – and of an inauthentic ‘flag and family’ stance (Getty)

Keir Starmer will pledge to be as bold as when Labour built the NHS and the welfare state, as he hits back at growing criticism with a blueprint for recovery from the pandemic.

The crisis sparked by Covid-19 is “a call to arms” like 1945, the Labour leader will say – drawing a direct parallel with the way Clement Attlee transformed Britain from the ruins of war.

“I believe people are now looking for more from their government – like they were after the Second World War,” Sir Keir will say, arguing Boris Johnson’s “failed Conservative ideology” cannot provide that.

Casting himself as that leader-in-waiting, he will say: “This must now be a moment to think again about the country that we want to be.

“A call to arms – like the Beveridge Report was in the 1940s. A chance to diagnose the condition of Britain and to start the process of putting it right. That’s the path I would take in the March Budget.”

But the speech comes as Sir Keir’s leadership hits its first troubled patch, after almost a year of sky-high public approval ratings that wiped out the huge Tory poll lead.

He has been accused of excessive caution, of splitting his party by shunning its Corbynite wing and of a clumsy embrace of “flag and family”, to win back traditional Labour voters.

He “would not leave a trace of a meaningful political project in his wake” if he departed tomorrow, said Tom Kibasi, a key Starmer backer last year, in a stinging attack.

Sir Keir has also angered pro-EU Labour figures by declining to speak out on the trading crisis sparked by the completion of Brexit.

The speech in London – to include a flurry of new policies, Labour says – also sets the benchmark for Rishi Sunak, when the chancellor delivers a crucial Budget in two weeks.

Labour has already demanded he scraps deep cuts to universal credit, bails out town halls to avoid council tax rises and extends business rate and VAT help for suffering businesses.

Now Sir Keir will set further tests for ensuring there is “no return to business as usual” after the pandemic, demanding action to:

– Tackle inequalities “from birth”

– Ensure young people “don’t have to leave their home town to have a chance of getting a good job”

– Prevent “millions” of people being “denied the dream of home ownership”

– Put tackling the climate emergency “at the centre of everything we do”

– Shape the future of work to “harness the opportunities of automation and technology”.

“In a few weeks’ time, we will have a Budget that will be a fork in the road,” Sir Keir will say.

“We can go back to the same insecure and unequal economy that has been so cruelly exposed by the virus, or we can seize this moment and go forward to a future that is going to look utterly unlike the past.

“That choice will define the Budget and it will define the next election.”

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