Keir Starmer says he wants to follow in Blair’s footsteps as he offers ‘contract’ with voters

Labour leader cites former PM alongside Attlee and Wilson but makes no mention of predecessor Jeremy Corbyn

Andrew Woodcock
Political Editor
Tuesday 04 January 2022 15:33
Starmer dismisses Johnson as ‘branch of entertainment industry’

Keir Starmer today said he would be happy to follow in the footsteps of Tony Blair as he set out his plans for Labour to offer voters a “contract with the British people” at the next general election.

The Labour leader said the party will offer a platform based on the principles of security, prosperity and respect at the election which he expects in May 2023.

In a speech in Birmingham designed to kickstart his bid to position Labour as the government-in-waiting, he said that he wanted to deliver an administration worthy of the British people, rather than treating politics as a “branch of the entertainment industry”, as he accused Boris Johnson of doing.

Starmer said he wanted to follow the examples of former Labour prime ministers Clement Attlee, Harold Wilson and Tony Blair as he attempts – in an echo of Blair’s “new Labour, new Britain” slogan – to “create a new Britain in the 21st century”.

But he notably made no mention of predecessor Jeremy Corbyn, saying he had name-checked the trio from Labour’s past because they were proven election winners.

Asked by The Independent whether he was seeking a clash with Corbyn followers, he replied: “I don’t apologise for mentioning Attlee, Wilson and Blair.

“The thing that unites those three very different prime ministers is that they all won, they introduced Labour governments that changed Britain for the better. And I want to be the fourth on that list, writing the next chapter of our history.”

Sir Keir rejected accusations that he has yet to spell out a clear picture of what Labour stands for under his leadership.

But he set out no new policies in today’s speech, with aides saying that they would be launched over the months leading up to Labour’s annual conference in September.

Instead, he said that Labour’s “contract” with voters would include:

• A “solemn agreement” to uphold standards of selflessness, integrity, objectivity, accountability, openness, honesty and leadership.

• A “basic right” for individuals to feel safe in their community, to know that the NHS is there for them when they need it and to have job security if they work hard.

• The opportunity to thrive, realise ambitions, gain skills and make a good life.

• The right to “live in places we care for and to have our lives and ambitions taken seriously”.

But he added: “Any successful contract is a two-way deal.

“You can expect access to high quality healthcare, but there will be zero tolerance for abuse towards NHS staff.

“You can expect the opportunity to acquire new skills but you will be expected to work hard and do your bit.

“You can expect better neighbourhood policing but you will be expected to behave like good neighbours in your own community too.”

Starmer said that Johnson’s Tory government had shown itself to be “incompetent” just as the UK plunges into a cost-of-living crisis. And he said ministers had behaved as if the Covid restrictions did not apply to them.

Promising to offer “straight leadership”, he added: “I am well aware that just because the Tories lose the public’s trust it doesn’t mean Labour simply inherits it.

“Trust has to be earned.”

Standing in front of a union flag, Sir Keir said that Labour had always been a “deeply patriotic” party which had established Nato and given the UK an independent nuclear deterrent.

“I don’t think you cease to be a patriot because you notice your country has flaws,” he said. “On the contrary, the reason we in this party want to correct those flaws is precisely because we are patriotic.”

He cited previous pledges to provide neighbourhood crime prevention teams, enhance workplace protections, create 100,000 new start-up businesses and invest £28bn in green jobs as examples of Labour’s direction under his leadership.

And he promised a long-term plan for the NHS to show how a Labour government would shift its emphasis from emergency care to prevention.

Taking aim at Johnson, Sir Keir said: “I don’t think politics is a branch of the entertainment industry. I think it’s the serious business of getting things done.

“But I’m afraid at the moment we are going backwards. We have a prime minister who thinks the rules apply to anyone but him. Just when trust in government has become a matter of life and death, for the prime minister it has become a matter of what he can get away with.”

He insisted that the shortcomings of the Conservative administration could not be resolved by a change of leader, arguing that they stem not from the PM’s personal flaws but “the flaws of a whole style of government, the flaws of an ideology, of a political party that has been in power too long”.

And he concluded: “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, prosperity and respect you deserve.

“My contract with the British people will set out how we can create that new Britain.”

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