“In a pandemic, character matters”: Starmer sets out electoral strategy in BBC interview

Sienna Rodgers

Keir Starmer has set out Labour’s new electoral strategy in a fresh BBC interview today, ahead of his first party political broadcast airing on ITV at 6.25pm and BBC One at 6.55pm and his coronavirus restrictions statement on BBC One at 8pm.

Accused by the BBC’s Laura Kuenssberg of being “personal” in his attacks on the Prime Minister, the Labour leader said: “I think, in a pandemic, character matters. Character absolutely matters because in a period like this everybody is looking at the Prime Minister to be assured.

“Everybody wants the Prime Minister and government to succeed in defeating and managing the virus. So character matters in a moment like this, more than perhaps than in other times because everybody is vested on whether the government gets it right and succeeds.”

Of Boris Johnson, described by the opposition leader on Tuesday as “writing flippant columns about bendy bananas”, Starmer added: “I don’t think he has got the right character for this and I don’t think he is up to it.”

Asked whether he “hurt” Labour members by declaring that the party deserved to lose in December 2019, the Labour leader replied: “What Labour Party members and affiliates and supporters want more than anything is for the Labour Party to win and election.

“Therefore what I am setting out is how do we get from where we are from where we need to be to win an election. There is huge support for that in the Labour Party and labour movement.

“The response to yesterday’s speech has been really, really positive because I think people see that we have got a mountain to climb, but we are climbing it, and we are heading in the right direction.”

Starmer reiterated that Labour must “understand that trust of the electorate is critical”, and acknowledged that his online conference speech did not focus on policy, saying: “It is why I set out the values of the Labour Party rather than detailed policies. Trust.”

Presented with the argument that he is rejecting the legacy of Jeremy Corbyn, the new leader said he was prioritising the need to “listen to what voters are saying”, adding: “What I am hearing is that the basic trust has broken down.

“Trust in the Labour Party is a force for good and a force for change. We need to rebuild that trust, and that is why I set out yesterday the values that drive [us]… They are long-standing Labour values but we need to translate them into trust going forward.”

Asked whether he could afford to wait before telling voters about his policy plans when there are crucial elections in May 2021, Starmer said: “I think at this stage, six months into a new leadership, when we are picking ourselves up from a devastating loss, what I need to do is set out the values that drive me.

“What are the instincts and beliefs that drive me forward and our party forward, build trust in the Labour Party and set out what it is we want to achieve. Of course next May we will have those important elections and of course we will have manifestos going into those elections.”

He added: “I have spent a lot of time in different parts of the country where people didn’t vote Labour this time, and the strong sense I get is they are looking at me and they are asking a very basic question, which is “are you listening to me? Am I being heard?”.

“They are not actually saying, ‘what is your detailed policy on this or on that?’. They want to know ‘what sort of party is this and what are your aspirations? What are your values and beliefs, and do they chime with mine?’.”

Grilled on a second independence referendum in Scotland, where Labour faces a tough set of Holyrood elections next year, Starmer said: “We will be going into that election in May making it very clear that another divisive referendum on independence in Scotland is not what is needed…

“I am setting out the position we will be taking going into the May election. We don’t know what will happen after that. We don’t know. We don’t know what will happen after May.

“And in politics, people tell you with great certainty what is going to happen next year and the year after, but it doesn’t always turn out that way. We are making our argument going into May that a divisive referendum is not needed.”

Starmer will appear on television this evening in Labour’s new party political broadcast, which features Starmer talking about where he came from and why he is proud of Britain, and in his statement responding to the Prime Minister on coronavirus restrictions.

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