How the labour movement reacted to Keir Starmer’s economy speech

Elliot Chappell
© ComposedPix / Shutterstock.com

Keir Starmer delivered a speech on his vision for the economy this morning, outlining a plan to “begin a new chapter in the history of our country”. Here is how trade unions, figures and groups from across the labour movement reacted…

UNISON

General secretary Christina McAnea argued that Starmer was right to say there can be no going back to normal as the country needs a “bold change of direction, not a return to the failed austerity and spending cuts of the past”.

She added: “Proper funding of local services, a national care service on a par with the NHS and decent pay for all those who’ve kept our country going is crucial if there’s to be a fairer, more equal society and a return to economic prosperity.”

TUC

General secretary Frances O’Grady welcomed the speech from Starmer on social media, saying he was “right to call for an economy that has decent work at its heart, values our key workers and protects low-paid families”.

GMB

Acting general secretary Warren Kenny said: “Covid has shown us not only who the key workers of this country are, but the fragilities and fault lines of our public services that have been underfunded and sold off for more than a decade.

“Today, Keir Starmer started to set out the positive difference that an active Labour government under his leadership as Prime Minister can make.”

TSSA

TSSA leader Manuel Cortes commented that Starmer – and Shadow Chancellor Anneliese Dodds – have “got this dead right” because “we simply can’t return to the economic model we had prior to the pandemic”.

On Labour policy, he said: “Labour in power must tackle poverty wages, ever-growing inequality which scars our nation and just like in 1945, provide a new dawn which gives everyone a decent and growing standard of living.

“The choice at the next election will be between tried, tested and failed Tory economics and an incoming Labour government which will give hope and opportunities for all of our people.”

FBU

Fire Brigades’ Union general secretary Matt Wrack agreed with remarks in the Labour leader’s speech calling out the failed Tory ideology that Wrack said has “delivered devastating austerity and a disastrous Covid-19 death toll”.

But the union leader added: “However, it’s frustrating that from the very start Labour hasn’t consistently challenged the government, too often giving it a free pass for failing to plan for and manage a pandemic.

“The country needs a different economic settlement, one that solves inequality, delivers well paid jobs, secures public services and tackles the existential threat of climate change.

“But currently, many of us are concerned that Labour is not talking about radical policies such as those developed over the last five years that we know would transform the country.

“Labour needs to inspire people to win power, and our movement has the ideas and policies needed to rebuild after this crisis. Keir needs to unite our party and our movement around a radical vision to reshape our economy – and that requires more than rhetoric.”

Momentum

Momentum co-chair Andrew Scattergood criticised the speech from the Labour leader, arguing that it “showed no ambition and little substance” and “we can’t win in 2024 by promising to be better managers of the same system”.

While describing opposition to austerity and support for investment as a “good start”, he criticised Starmer for not announcing policies such as a green new deal and warned Labour risked being “outflanked by the Tories” if Sunak invests in the economy.

Progress

Progress director Nathan Yeowell welcomed the proposal from Starmer for a Covid recovery bond, announced during the speech, and said his comment that inequality is morally bankrupt and economically stupid “just about nails it”.

“We can’t go back to a prevailing system that has heaped misery upon the vulnerable, the low paid, ailing towns,” he tweeted. “Covid has cracked open the fault lines across Britain. It’s time for Starmer to shape a country that works for everyone.”

The Fabian Society

Fabian Society general secretary Andrew Harrop expressed his support for Starmer’s “vision for a responsible economy steered by an activist state” and the commitment from the Labour leader to form a “new partnership with business”.

“The state cannot act alone because public spending will never solve all the country’s problems,” said Harrrop, adding: “Labour’s plan is for a government that forms a partnership with business by setting fair rules and big priorities.”

IPPR

“Starmer is right to say that the pandemic must mark a turning point for the UK’s economy and social contract,” Institute for Public Policy Research executive director Carys Roberts commented after the speech this morning.

But she added: “It’s true that ten years of austerity weakened our public service and economy. But many of the UK’s economic problems go back decades, from low business investment to regional inequalities.

“The task for Labour now, if it wants to change people’s lives and put right injustices, is to build a bold policy agenda to fundamentally reform the economy and offer real security to all families.”

Sketching out some of the policy ideas she thinks Labour should draw on, Roberts highlighted worker board membership, stronger competition to tackle tech giants’ power and fairer wealth distribution, including through taxes on assets.

Labour MPs

Yvette Cooper described the speech on Twitter as “powerful and optimistic” and argued that a “Labour partnership with businesses and communities can draw on our country’s strengths & build a better future”.

Clive Lewis welcomed the speech and said “it’s great that Keir Starmer is laying out his diagnosis” but added “I’d go further” as the country’s problems go back further than the past ten years of Tory government.

The Norwich South MP told LabourList: “We need not just a partnership between government and business, as important as that is, we need to create ways for people all over the country to be involved in both economic and political ‘levelling up’.

“Keir is right that government and active state play a vital role but that doesn’t mean more Westminster and Whitehall, it means more power to people in their towns and workplaces.”

Labour MP Barbara Keeley labelled it an “excellent speech”, adding: “We can’t accept that some regions of our country are being held back. We can’t accept that if you’re born into a deprived background, you’ll have worse life chances.”

Tweeting after the event ended, Hull West and Hessle MP Emma Hardy highlighted a particular line in the speech, “you shouldn’t have to leave your home town to get a good job”, and said this resonated with her.

“I’ve been saying for ages that social mobility (social justice) without geographical mobility should be possible,” the shadow education minister wrote. “A combination of infrastructure and digital investment would help.”

Also referring to this line, Labour MP and shadow for tourism and heritage Alex Sobel explained that “many young people leave our northern towns and cities to seek work elsewhere” and warned this could be accelerated post-Covid.

Feryal Clark said Labour and Starmer “do not want to see a country where children go hungry, where life expectancy differs across the country, and where people cannot see a brightness in their future” and said we need “resilience in the economy”.

Rachel Hopkins welcomed the opposition to austerity committed to by Starmer and added she was please to hear that he would “provide local councils the money they need to deliver services for our communities and a pay rise for our key workers”.

Deputy Welsh Labour leader and PPS to Starmer Carolyn Harris wrote that the speech was “fab”, tweeting: “He has a vision for how our country can build a better and brighter future. Something we need in these challenging times.”

Other commentators

Economist Tom Kibasi, who was involved with Starmer’s leadership election but recently said his leadership needed a “course correction”, tweeted that the speech delivered from Labour HQ this morning was a “step in the right direction”.

But on Starmer’s comment that Covid should hail a post-war moment of change, he highlighted that all parties have said this and added: “What are the dividing lines? Saying that your opponents don’t really mean it simply isn’t sufficient.”

The Guardian columnist Owen Jones tweeted shortly after the speech ended: “The best part of Keir Starmer’s speech is making the case that equality and prosperity go hand in hand.

“One of the biggest lies peddled by the right is that they’re mutually exclusive – when the Nordic countries, which are richer and more equal, show otherwise.”

Former party adviser Ayesha Hazarika commented online that the address was a “solid, strong speech” and said the Labour leader gave a “robust but not hysterical critique of ten years of Tory government”.

She described the his proposed partnership with business as a “new idea” and argued: “Starmer correctly identified fact that many business leaders are up for this and want to be good corporate citizens.”

Journalist Chaminda Jayanetti described the speech as “decent enough”. He tweeted: “Nothing that unexpected but played to Labour’s strengths and tried to tackle some of their weaknesses.

“But what really matters is whether Labour actually sticks to the arguments and messages Starmer set out today, instead of legging it after two bad polls.”

Head of UNISON Labour Link Mark Ferguson argued the speech set out a “clear choice for the future of the country” and added: “I hope anyone slagging it off before they’d even heard it feels a little bit silly.”

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