Labour leader Keir Starmer has renewed his commitment to the ten pledges announced during the party leadership election earlier this year – including the hike in income tax for top earners – and described them as “priorities”.
As a leadership contender in February, Starmer announced that – if elected to replace Jeremy Corbyn as Labour leader – he would increase income tax for the top 5% of earners and reverse Conservative cuts to corporation tax.
But Shadow Foreign Secretary Lisa Nandy recently appeared to suggest that this commitment had been dropped due to the new circumstances in which the country found itself as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.
Asked whether the increased tax on high earners pledge had been scrapped, in light of the shadow cabinet recently expressing its opposition to any tax increases, Nandy replied: “I expect so, based on what you just said.
“In the middle of a global pandemic… the idea of raising taxes and squeezing people who are in work and trying to make ends meet is just completely the wrong priority for the country.”
Asked about Starmer’s fifth pledge on common ownership of rail, mail, energy and water, Nandy said: “I think giving the public much more control over how those things work, so that they work in the public interest, is right.”
She added: “We want to see those public utilities work much better. There are different ways to do that. Bringing them back into public hands is one way of doing it; giving the public much more control is another.”
But in a new interview with HuffPost UK Starmer has denied that the policies have been thrown out – and even given Labour members hope that the scale of his ambitions may have grown since the leadership due to Covid-19.
Asked whether his pledges had changed, he told HuffPost: “No, they were important pledges – very important pledges – in terms of the approach I would take and the priorities I would have as leader of the Labour Party, and they remain my priorities.
“What I’m saying is, the work and the challenge now is so much more profound than we thought it was in 2019. Or even this year before the pandemic hit. It actually means we might have to be bolder than we might have imagined.”
Economic policies that may be considered “bolder” could include wealth taxation. Anneliese Dodds advised the government in July to consider using wealth taxes to fund the UK’s coronavirus recovery and emphasised the popularity of the idea.
Starmer told HuffPost UK: “The next general election is in 2024, so I don’t think it’s prudent at this stage to set out tax arrangements for 2024, when we don’t know the size of the debt, we don’t know the damage that has been done.
“And we haven’t yet set out what the strategic priorities will be for the next Labour government. So that’s the kind of work that will necessarily have to be done closer to the election. We will then set it out in full detail and in a costed way.”
The full list of pledges as listed by Starmer’s leadership campaign earlier this year were as follows:
- Economic justice: Increase income tax for the top 5% of earners, reverse cuts to corporation tax and clamp down on tax avoidance.
- Social justice: Abolish universal credit and the welfare sanctions regime, set a wellbeing goal and prioritise it equally with GDP, stand up for universal services, defend the NHS and scrap university tuition fees.
- Climate justice: A green new deal, introduce a Clean Air Act to tackle pollution locally and demand international action on climate rights.
- Promote peace and human rights: No more illegal wars, introduce a Prevention of Military Intervention Act, put human rights at the heart of foreign policy and review all UK arms sales.
- Common ownership: Support common ownership of rail, mail, energy and water, end outsourcing in our NHS, local government and justice system.
- Defend migrants’ rights: Full voting rights for EU nationals, defend freedom of movement post-Brexit, create an immigration system based on dignity and compassion, end indefinite detention and call for the closure of centres such as Yarl’s Wood.
- Strengthen workers’ rights and trade unions: Work with trade unions, tackle insecure work and low pay, repeal the Trade Union Act, oppose Tory attacks on workers’ rights.
- Devolve power, wealth and opportunity: Introduce a federal system, including a regional investment bank and control over regional industrial strategy, abolish the House of Lords and replace it with an elected chamber.
- Equality Act: Remove obstacles to limit opportunities and talent by building on the achievements of the party, which include the Equal Pay Act, Sure Start, BAME representation and the abolition of Section 28.
- Provide effective opposition to the Tories: Provide “forensic” opposition to the government linked with the membership and a “professional election operation”, unite the party, promote pluralism and improve the party’s culture, take robust action to eradicate antisemitism and maintain effective links with trade unions.
Starmer also responded to stinging criticisms recently made by Gogglebox stars who were watching him be interviewed by Andrew Marr. They slammed Starmer for refusing to give some answers and for not opposing government restrictions.
“You’ve got to take all this on the chin. Frankly if you can get through my household with my kids not taking anything I do seriously, then you can take Gogglebox. This is all part and parcel of being leader of a political party,” Starmer said.
“It’s perfectly open to everybody to challenge, laugh, joke, cajole. All of my friends and family do it to me all of the time, so I’m pretty used to it. Some people do think that if you’re the opposition you should oppose everything the government does. I don’t agree.”