Keir Starmer has kicked off the new year by delivering a major speech in Birmingham today that he used to set out a new “contract with the British people” based on the three principles of “security”, “prosperity” and “respect”.
He declared that Labour is a “national party”, not a “nationalist party”, and celebrated the “extraordinary cultural heritage” of the country, British scientists, the pharmaceutical industry and financial services, universities and the NHS.
Stressing his patriotism, the opposition leader said: “I don’t think you cease to be a patriot because you notice your country has flaws. On the contrary, the reason we in this party want to correct those flaws is precisely because we are patriotic.”
He put Labour’s current ambitions in the context of its historical achievements, saying: “What a record we have! These three chapters of change – Attlee, Wilson and Blair – made Britain a better country. We must be the people who write the fourth chapter.”
Asked after his speech why he did not mention other Labour leaders, such as Jeremy Corbyn, Starmer replied that it was because Clement Attlee, Harold Wilson and Tony Blair “all won!”. He added that he would offer “no apology” for exclusively naming the three.
Starmer also took the opportunity to criticise Boris Johnson today, asserting: “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.
“I have heard so many heart-breaking stories of people who missed family funerals because they were abiding by the rules. Meanwhile, the Prime Minister was at a cheese and wine party in Downing Street.”
But Starmer added that his concern over rule-breaking is “not just about the flaws of one individual”, but “about the flaws of a whole style of government, the flaws of an ideology, of a political party that has been in power too long”.
Asked about Covid rules after his speech, Starmer said it is “completely unacceptable” that the government has not ensured schools can be ventilated without keeping windows open in classrooms. He also called for mass testing in schools.
Asked whether Johnson would be deserving of an honour, after Tony Blair became the latest former Prime Minister to be knighted, Starmer replied: “No, I do not think this Prime Minister has earned the right to an honour. I do think Tony Blair has.”
On Labour mayor Sadiq Khan’s move to decriminalise possession of cannabis in London, Starmer said: “I’m not in favour of us changing the law or decriminalisation”. He said “we’ll look at” the measures being taken, “but we’re not in favour of changing the drugs laws”.
The mayor’s office has described the policy as a “limited trial”, which is “still in development”, and explained that it will mean 18- to 14-year-olds found with “small amounts of cannabis” will be “diverted to receive help” in a bid to “reduce offending”.
The Labour leader also told journalists today that he “stands by” the ten pledges he made during his leadership campaign in 2020, although the pledge to “defend freedom of movement post-Brexit” was immediately dropped.
He also committed to supporting common ownership of rail, mail, energy and water as a leadership candidate, but has made statements in recent months indicating that Labour does not back the nationalisation of key industries.
Below is the full text of Keir Starmer’s speech delivered in Central Birmingham today on a ‘contract with the British people’.
Today, I want to do something that leaders of the opposition rarely do. I want to celebrate the country we live in. It’s normally the job of the opposition to criticise and oppose. But it can make us sound pretty miserable. It can sound as if we don’t realise our own historical good fortune to have been born into a peaceful, creative liberal democracy.
Think of all that the British have to be proud of. The rule of law. Her Majesty the Queen. Universal public services. A creative heritage that is the envy of the world. And a thriving civil society on which we have relied so heavily during the pandemic.
To all the delivery drivers who worked through the supply problems, the workers in the NHS putting themselves in the line of danger, the care workers who made Christmas special: thank you.
Today, I want to describe a government that might be worthy of you. One of the best characteristics of the British people is that we are fair-minded. Our instinct, in a national crisis, is to give the government the benefit of the doubt. And because the pandemic posed an unprecedented problem we, Her Majesty’s opposition, did the same.
We supported where we could; we questioned where we had to. But the British people do not like being taken for granted. And they do not like being taken for fools. A government which refuses to follow the rules it sets for the rest of us loses the moral right to set those rules.
So I think that, as we begin this new year, Britain has entered a new phase. Because just as the government has revealed itself to be unworthy of your trust, its incompetence is becoming plain.
The cost of living is increasing. Energy bills are going up; wages are stagnant. Tax rises are coming in April. Too many people do not feel safe in their streets. And good luck to anyone trying to get a quick GP appointment.
I want to start the new year by making a pledge of straight leadership. Today I want to introduce my contract with the British people. This will be a solemn agreement about what this country needs and how a good government should conduct itself.
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. I am confident but not complacent about the task ahead.
So the very first clause in that contract, is a binding commitment about decency and standards in public life. Of course, these standards already exist. They are known as the Nolan principles: selflessness, integrity, objectivity, accountability, openness, honesty, leadership.
So my solemn promise to you will always be to run a government that honours these principles. I have a very clear idea of what a Labour government would look like. And in 2022, I want to take my plans to the British people.
Now, I have spent my career working as a lawyer. So you are probably expecting a thousand clauses, seven appendices and a list of definitions. Well, my contract won’t be anything like that. It will be a contract based on three simple principles: Security. Prosperity. Respect.
These are living principles. And that’s why in the coming months I will hold a series of events all over the country to persuade people to sign up to this new Britain that we can create together.
The first term in the contract is security.
- Everyone has the basic right to feel safe in their own community.
- We all need to know that the NHS is there for us when we need it.
- And if we work hard we should also have a right to job security.
The second term in the contract is prosperity.
- Everyone should have the opportunity to thrive.
- To realise our ambitions and make a good life for ourselves.
- To have the skills we need to prosper.
And then there is a third term in my contract. Respect is a less obvious political virtue than security and prosperity. But it is every bit as important.
- Everyone has the right to live in places we care for and to have our lives and ambitions taken seriously to be valued for who we are and what we do.
I want to create a contract defined by security, prosperity and respect. To create a contract for a government worthy of the fine nation in which we live. The Labour party is a deeply patriotic party. Keir Hardie once said that British socialism must “wear a local garb”.
He meant that British socialism was rooted in the everyday concerns of working people. The titans of 1945 were elected to power on the votes of the demobbed service men and women. That government took the spirit of collective sacrifice generated by the war and turned it into the National Health Service for which we are so thankful today.
It was a patriotic government, which understood the importance of national defence, which created NATO, the alliance that has preserved the peace in Europe ever since and gave this country its independent nuclear deterrent. The 1945 Labour government laid the foundations for the end of Empire and the beginning of the modern commonwealth.
Under Wilson the Open University extended higher education. The Race Relations Act of 1965 prohibited racial discrimination. Barbara Castle’s Equal Pay Act was a watershed moment in the fight for gender equality. The Blair government introduced a national minimum wage and repaired the public services that had been neglected under the Tories.
When I reflect on previous Labour governments, I have two thoughts. The first is, what a record we have! These three chapters of change – Attlee, Wilson and Blair – made Britain a better country. We must be the people who write the fourth chapter. The people who create a new Britain in the 21st century.
And second, nobody could look on that record and say that Labour is not a patriotic party. Those Labour governments had the ambition to build a society in which everyone can contribute and everyone is valued. To extend security, prosperity and respect to all. This is the tradition we embrace and the mission we inherit.
The first duty of a government is the security of its citizens. I was once this country’s leading prosecutor. Crime and anti-social behaviour are issues that matter to me personally. I have seen too many victims of crime, most of them not at all well off, not to know that security is a matter of social justice.
That’s why Labour will provide crime prevention teams in every neighbourhood. New Police Hubs will be visible in every community. We will introduce a tough new approach to closing down drug dens with new powers for local police and local authorities.
Security also means knowing the NHS is there for you when you need it. I will be setting out a long-term plan to show how a Labour government will shift the emphasis from emergency care to preventing people getting sick in the first place.
We will also ensure people feel more secure at work by introducing the new protections for workers that Angela Rayner announced at our party conference last year. For example, one thing the pandemic has taught us is that everyone needs decent pay when they are sick. But that isn’t the case for millions of British workers.
I know of care workers looking after vulnerable people who can’t afford to be ill because they won’t get paid. This is not only unfair to them, it is unsafe for the country – and a Labour government will fix it.
And a Labour Britain must be a prosperous nation. This country needs an industrial strategy to improve our productivity to ensure we Buy, Make and Sell more in Britain and to revive the places that made Britain wealthy.
So, for example, at our conference we pledged an extra £28bn a year in capital investment to combat climate change to create the next generation of jobs and to inspire innovation for a clean future. And this promises a future to places that were once defined by what they made.
Let me give you a flavour of what I think might be possible. Not long ago, I visited the Humber gas works. The gas they stored there helped keep the price low but the government let it close in 2017 and you have seen what has happened to gas prices since.
But the workers there are not looking to the past. They are convinced that, with the right investment and government support, The Humber could become a hub for the production of hydrogen. These workers want to make a historic contribution to combating the climate crisis. To be in the vanguard of the next industrial revolution. All they need is a government that shares their ambition and runs with it.
Of all the things Boris Johnson has done, the one that truly astonished me was that a Prime Minister who claims to be interested in levelling-up tore up their own industrial strategy. What an act of extraordinary self-harm.
Labour would create 100,000 new start-up businesses and new hubs of excellence building on existing strengths such as video gaming in Dundee and biopharma in Cambridge.
Here in Birmingham, there is Brandauer, which began life as a pen manufacturer, and which now produces plates used in hydrogen fuel cells, a technology that could help to power lorries that have zero emissions.
In each of these examples, new technology is being used imaginatively to create prosperity. But that prosperous future is only possible if we equip our people properly.
This country has always made a world-class offer to a small section of society and a sub-standard offer to those who do not take the academic course. It will be a vital clause in my contract with the British people and the task for my Skills Advisory Council to ensure that the next generation of students is ready for work and ready for life.
I believe passionately that everyone has a right to be treated with respect. No places should be left behind. And nobody should be treated as if they don’t matter.
I know this can happen. I saw it with my dad. My dad always felt undervalued because he worked in a factory. He felt people looked down on him. And he wasn’t wrong about that.
People have their dignity and it needs to be respected. I want to live in a country in which crucial skills are valued. In which everyone is respected for what they contribute. And in the Britain we make, we will all play by the rules.
I regard the rule of law, as one of the things that makes Britain great. Due process. Treating institutions with respect. The integrity of British justice has always been the envy of the world. And this has always been a big part of our economic success.
A good reason to do business in Britain is that you know a contract will be respected. And that respect underwrites your investment. That’s why doing things the right way matters as much as doing the right things. This year, I will set out what I mean by respect: what it demands of government and what it demands of us all.
Because 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.
I believe that these values – security, prosperity and respect – unite the whole of the United Kingdom. The UK is a unique construct of four distinct national identities.
It is complex and it can easily be exploited for political gain, as we have seen in Northern Ireland the government is playing fast and loose with the peace agreement as the price of getting Brexit done. And a reckless government in Westminster that does not seem to care about what happens in Scotland erodes people’s faith in our common bonds.
But I believe in our union of nations. I believe we are better together than any of us would be apart. I believe that each nation can speak with a progressive voice.
But we need a new and durable constitutional settlement. Which is why I am delighted that Gordon Brown’s Commission on the Future of the UK will chart a new course for our union of nations.
Security, Prosperity and Respect are also the values that should inform Britain’s role in the world. I am determined that Britain should profit from our strong global relationships. That means not just getting Brexit done but making Brexit work.
When I spoke at the CBI last November, I described how we would approach this. Making Brexit work is painstaking work, and slogans won’t cut it. My goals will be to repair the alliances that this government has damaged while also ensuring that our borders remain safe and secure.
The contract I want to agree with the British people is motivated by a desire to bring the country together. We do not bind a nation by emphasising what divides us. We build a nation from the common bonds between us.
Our high streets, our community centres, our places of worship, the spaces we share. The Labour Party is not a nationalist party. But it is a national party. Because a nation gives us a place to belong.
We are all shaped by the landscape and the villages, towns and cities where we live. For me, a football stadium will always be the heart of any community. These are the places that give our lives meaning, that shape our identities, the businesses, pubs, shops and places of worship in which our lives unfold.
This is a remarkable nation with an extraordinary cultural heritage. British music, British fashion, British advertising, British acting. The diplomatic soft power wielded by the BBC, the world’s greatest broadcaster, which enjoys its centenary this year.
I think, too, of the scientists whose wisdom is guiding us through the pandemic. Our world-class industries in pharmaceuticals and financial services. Universities which are a magnet for the best students the world over. There is so much of which we can be proud.
I am personally thankful that I grew up in a country which had a national health service to care for my mum when she needed help. That gave me the opportunity to go to university and become a lawyer and fight for what is right.
This country has presented me with great opportunities. It’s a great place to live. But I don’t think you cease to be a patriot because you notice your country has flaws. On the contrary, the reason we in this party want to correct those flaws is precisely because we are patriotic.
I came into politics to make things happen not just to talk about them. 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.
I have heard so many heart-breaking stories of people who missed family funerals because they were abiding by the rules. Meanwhile, the Prime Minister was at a cheese and wine party in Downing Street.
And let’s be clear – it’s the party that is the problem. This is not just about the flaws of one individual. It’s about the flaws of a whole style of government, the flaws of an ideology, of a political party that has been in power too long.
After 12 years in power, while the country is trying to stay safe and make ends meet, the Tory party is gearing up for a leadership fight. Too busy squabbling over their leadership to provide any. Meanwhile the real problems that people face are just ignored.
People need solutions. People are struggling and they need help. This government is simply turning away.
This year, 2022 is a big year. It is Her Majesty the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee. This city is looking forward to hosting the Commonwealth Games. We will host the women’s Euros and our men’s teams will compete in the World Cup.
Which gives us an opportunity, as there was in the European Championships last year to glimpse the open, generous, tolerant nation that we are at our best. The England team is a living embodiment of a successful nation – young men of many backgrounds united by their talent and their patriotic pride.
I want to lead a government that does right by them. I want to create a national community in which everyone feels secure and everyone feels they belong. The Britain I want is a country in which those who contribute get something back.
Because 2022 is also the first year in which we need to tackle some big challenges. Repairing after the pandemic. Combating the climate crisis. Making Brexit work.
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.
Thank you for listening and a Happy New Year to you all.