And Starmer said that he would not rule out increases to income tax under a Labour government, saying only that he would aim to ensure those with the broadest shoulders bear the greatest burden.
Shadow chancellor Rachel Reeves today said she does not have “any plans to increase the rates of income tax”, indicating that she would instead target earnings from stocks and shares and buy-to-let properties to boost government finances.
But Sir Keir told BBC1’s Andrew Marr Show that, while Labour is not currently considering increasing income tax, “nothing is off the table”.
The Labour leader’s rejection of the nationalisation of energy sparked fury on the left at the party’s annual conference in Brighton, after he pledged during last year’s leadership campaign to “support common ownership of rail, mail, energy and water”.
Asked directly by Marr whether he would nationalise the big energy companies if Labour wins the next election, Starmer replied: “No.”
Confronted with his 18 month-old promise, Starmer said that it did not include the word “nationalisation”.
“When it comes to common ownership, I’m pragmatic about this,” he said. “I do not agree with the argument that says we must be ideological.
“Where common ownership is value for money for the taxpayer and delivers better services, then there should be common ownership.”
He pointed to the £37bn NHS Track and Trace system as an example of the kind of service Labour would keep in public hands, rather than leaving it to the private sector as the government did.
Diane Abbott, the shadow home secretary under Jeremy Corbyn, accused Starmer of abandoning previous pledges by ruling out nationalisation. “Campaigning for the leadership, Keir Starmer said he was in favour of common ownership. It was one of his ten pledges.”
Labour delegates voted in favour of a “socialist green new deal” motion on the conference floor on Sunday which explicitly backed public ownership of energy companies.
Gaya Sriskanthan, co-chair of the Momentum, welcomed the result: “This is a turning point. The grassroots have had enough of timid centrism and have overwhelmingly endorsed transformative socialist policy that meets the crises of the 21st century head on.”
Ed Miliband, shadow energy secretary, said in his conference speech on Sunday that Labour wanted to see a green Britain “where public and alternative models of ownership play their proper role” in the energy sector.
On Saturday, Mr Miliband had been more explicit, telling The Independent: “We do believe there is an important role for public ownership.”
Ms Reeves will set out plans for a “fair tax system” in her speech to conference on Monday.
Speaking to the Sunday Times, she indicated that this would see increased levies on the wealth of the richest rather than hikes to income tax paid by most workers.
“I don’t have any plans to increase the rates of income tax,” said Ms Reeves.
“I do think that people who get their income through wealth should have to pay more.”
She identified “people who get their incomes through stocks and shares and buy-to-let properties” as targets for tax rises.
But Starmer insisted that his shadow chancellor was not making a commitment to no income tax rises under a Labour government.
He told Marr: “One of our tax principles is that we will not, when we tax, unfairly burden working people.”
But he added: “We are looking at tax. Nothing is off the table. But we don’t know what the state of the national finances will be when we go into the next election.
“What Rachel Reeves has said is that she is not currently considering income tax. That is fine.
“What I am saying is that as we go into the election we will apply the principles that we have set out to the situation as it arises.”
Starmer refused to say whether Labour would reverse Rishi Sunak’s 1.25 per cent percentage point increase in National Insurance to pay for the NHS and social care, despite opposing it in parliament.
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