“Change is what my Labour Party will offer” – Starmer’s speech in Gateshead

Keir Starmer

Below is the full text of the speech delivered by Keir Starmer in Gateshead this morning:

Good morning, everyone. Three days ago, my focus was on the immediate past. On the importance of leading with truth and integrity. On the difficult times our country faced in lockdown. And on the fact that those who make the rules shouldn’t break the rules. I set out my position on that question. And the difference between me and the Conservative Party now desperately trying to launder its integrity. Even as it stood by an unfit Prime Minister to the bitter end.

Today, I want to put my focus where it ought to be. Where it will be every day between now until the next general election. On the future. On the sort of nation that Britain can be and the sort of nation Labour wants it to be.

Because at the moment Britain is stuck. Stuck with a tanking economy. Stuck at home unable to get a passport or a flight. Stuck on the phone trying to book a GP appointment. Our taxes are going up. Food and energy bills are out of control. And many of the public services that we rely on have simply stopped working.

Britain deserves better than this. We need a fresh start. And I know you expect me to say this, but we won’t get that from a Conservative Party infected with the chaos virus caught from Boris Johnson.

Only Labour can reboot our economy and end the cost-of-living crisis. Only Labour can revitalise our public services and re-energise our communities. Only Labour can unite the country and clean up politics.

These three tasks will define my government. Because until we address them, we leave ourselves vulnerable to the shocks and crises we have endured this past, long decade.

Yet the way I see it, the challenges we face – climate change, technology, an ageing population – are an opportunity to re-energise Britain. Some nation is going to lead the world in new nuclear power. Why not this one? Some nation will create the first generation of quantum computers. Why not us? Some nation will design medicines personalised to match our unique DNA. Why not Britain? This determination to move Britain forward is what drives me.

Britain should be a confident and prosperous nation. But at the moment it’s full of people worried about the next bill coming through the letterbox.

Take Zoe, from Sunderland, just down the road. Like many people, Zoe’s gas and electricity bills have doubled. She says: “I’m struggling to get by. I haven’t managed a full shop for food in over a month. The cost of living is scaring me and the future looks terrifying.”

I’ve been up and down the country a lot recently – it’s one of the good things about this job. And let me tell you: I’ve heard a version of Zoe’s words from almost everyone I have met. Her words reflect the reality facing millions of working people in Britain right now. People like my family.

I didn’t come from a privileged background. My start in life was completely ordinary. Dad was a tool-maker. Mum was a nurse. Our house was a pebble-dashed semi and we had a Ford Cortina – this was the 1970s!

But I owe everything – all my values – to my upbringing. My work ethic and dedication to public service. But the real gift my parents gave me was the opportunity to get on. And that is why I came into politics.

I have been lucky enough to take a journey through my life. From a working-class family to head of the Crown Prosecution Service. So when I say I don’t want anyone in this country held back by their circumstances – you know it is not just words.

It’s why – for me – the state of our economy is personal. Because when people like Zoe are so scared of the future. When our economy is so wracked by low growth and insecurity – then working people get stuck. And that means Britain gets stuck.

The most important goal of my Labour government will be to grow the economy. And we will not accept growth that doesn’t improve people’s lives. An economy can grow and leave some of its people behind. But a nation cannot grow in that way.

Not long ago, I was in Burnley and was left in no doubt by the people I met there. They all had great ambitions, for themselves and their town. But they don’t have a government that shares that ambition. Boosterism and wishful thinking are not the same as ambition. If you don’t have a plan to make your hopes real, all you are selling is an illusion.

The other thing my background gives me is impatience. If you are born without privilege, you don’t have time for messing around. You don’t walk around problems without fixing them. Or surrender to the instincts of organisations that look to preserve themselves rather than modernise.

So, believe it or not, I’m not that interested in the political game. The daily saga of who is up and who is down in Westminster. No, not even this week or last. I’m impatient to get things done. I can see what is wrong with Britain and I want to fix it.

It’s what I have done with our own party. When I took on this job in April 2020, I knew we had a big task before us. We had to change our party and prepare for power all in one go. Not change for change’s sake, but change with a purpose: to remake a Labour Party that understands its purpose is service, not self-indulgence. Country first, party second.

That’s why we had to root out the antisemitism which had infected our party. That’s why we had to show our support for NATO is non-negotiable. Show that we want business to thrive and prosper and shed policies that won’t work. The Labour Party was stuck. Stuck in opposition. Stuck licking its wounds after four painful defeats.

Of course, we still have more to do, but now Labour is moving forward again. That is what I will do for Britain – and I will do it with a plan to tackle the three biggest issues we face.

  1. Rebooting our economy and ending the cost-of-living crisis
  2. Revitalising our public services and re-energising our communities
  3. Uniting the country and cleaning-up politics.

Let me start with the economy. I’ve explained why this is personal. How my mission in politics cannot be achieved unless we get our economy growing again.

So let me tell you now: Labour will fight the next election on economic growth. The first line of the first page of our offer will be about wealth creation. We will show how a Labour economy based on partnership and contribution can make Britain richer. And we won’t retreat to a comfort zone on public services and hope the focus of the country shifts.

Many of our plans are already in place. Our strategy to buy, make and sell more in Britain. Our five-point plan to reform the Northern Ireland protocol and make Brexit work. Our climate investment pledge that invests £28bn a year to help us win the race for the next generation of jobs.

Gordon Brown is looking at new forms of economic devolution for us, so that every city, every town, every place has the chance they deserve to contribute to our economy. David Blunkett is leading a skills commission made up of entrepreneurs, business leaders, and policy experts. Whilst Lord Jim O’Neil is looking at how we can make Britain the best country in the world to start a new business.

And never forget it was Labour who pushed so hard for a windfall tax on energy companies to help those struggling with their bills. In the weeks ahead, I will say more about how an economy based on partnership and contribution works and how it can grow us out of the cost-of-living crisis.

But let me say here why I think only Labour can deliver for Britain – whoever emerges from the chaotic circus now playing out in Westminster. Because the task as I see it, is to create an economy that is strong, secure, and inclusive. One that is resilient to the shocks of an uncertain world – which doesn’t just create jobs, but good, well-paid secure jobs. And growth that does not harm society or peoples’ lives or trash the public finances.

I cannot believe what we are hearing from the candidates to be the next Tory leader. The Tory leadership race hasn’t even officially begun yet, but the arms race of fantasy economics is well underway. Over the weekend, the contenders have made more than £200bn worth of unfunded spending commitments. Let that sink in.

That’s more than the annual budget of the NHS, splurged onto the pages of the Sunday papers, without a word on how it’ll be paid for. And on taxes, the vast majority of them served in Boris Johnson’s government. They went out every day for months and years to defend his behaviour. They backed every one of his 15 tax rises. They’re behaving like they’ve just arrived from the moon. They nodded along and trooped through the voting lobbies to support them. Now, it turns out they were opposed to them all along. The hypocrisy is nauseating.

When I say decency and honesty matter, that includes being honest about how we fund every single thing we promise. It’s why when I say we have a plan for investing in education, I also say it’ll be funded by closing the VAT loophole for private schools. Or when I say we need to sort out mental health treatment in this country, I also tell you that we’ll do it by closing tax loopholes used by private equity.

Politics means tough decisions. It means being frank with the public. It doesn’t mean tossing out tens of billions of unfunded spending commitments just to play to the gallery of Tory MPs and members.

But it also means being frank with your own party. I don’t believe you can achieve a strong economy with just a tired formula of deregulation and tax cuts. But nor do I believe you can achieve it if all you have is redistribution and public sector investment. Most of all, I don’t think you can achieve it with the false choice running through the government’s levelling up agenda – of North versus South, city versus town. That’s not partnership. We need every community to make a contribution to growing national prosperity. We can’t have people like Zoe stuck.

That is what the Conservative Party doesn’t understand about the modern economy. They don’t believe in partnership. They don’t believe you need state and market, business and worker, the everyday economy and the technological frontier – all working together for a strong, secure and inclusive economy.

But we can’t do that without first-rate public services. That’s the second big challenge where only Labour is the answer. Every Labour government inherits the same task from the Tories – to revitalise neglected public services. It will fall to us to do the same again – and we will. It is not just a social justice issue, it speaks directly to the type of economy we want to build.

We saw that in the pandemic. Close public services like childcare, schools, GP surgeries and look at the impact on productivity.

When we push forward with our plans to make sure everyone can access mental health treatment within one month, when we recruit 8,500 mental health professionals, fully-funded by closing a tax loophole on private equity – this is an investment in the economic strength of the country as well as the health and wellbeing of our communities.

Or to take another example, hundreds of thousands of people over 50 have left the labour market since the pandemic. A million more people are out of work on benefits. The biggest drop in the employment rate of the major G7 economies. And as Jonathan Ashworth (Shadow Work and Pensions Secretary) is setting out today, we will reform employment support to help people get back into work.

But, reforming public services can’t just be a question of investment. We will also need to think imaginatively – about how technology is expanding the range of what is possible to do, about how we can put people in control of more personalised and responsive services.

This means we have to think differently about the purpose of each of our public services. In health, it means finally making good on the promise to prevent illness, not just cure it when it happens. In education, it means not just imparting knowledge, but developing the creativity, resilience, curiosity, and problem-solving abilities of every young person. In social care, it means giving people a better quality of life and paying for it in a way that is genuinely fair. And in tackling crime, it means developing neighbourhood crime hubs that can prevent crime and build community cohesion rather than reacting when things go wrong.

Each of these would mean big strategic changes to the way our public services work. And allow more people to fulfil their ambitions free from illness or insecurity.

This leads me to the third defining task of my government. Re-energising communities, uniting the country and cleaning up politics. A Labour government will bring people back together.

I am tired of our divisive politics. We have a government with no understanding of how to grow the economy or reform our public services. So it creates division to set us against one another and distract from its failures.

Some people say to me: “This is politics now.” Division is how you win. Let me be clear: I want no part in that. If this is what politics has become, then we will change politics.

We’ve already set out plans to clean up Westminster. Under Labour, there won’t be any MPs lobbying for their friends, but a Labour Britain will be one where we celebrate who we are. One which embraces both our differences and what we have in common.

There will always be issues that divide us, points of disagreement. There is nothing wrong with that, that’s democracy. But even in a robust democracy, it is vital we settle those disputes in a civilised way – that we play by the rules.

That’s the reason I took the action I did when faced with those allegations in Durham. I wanted to show that politicians will risk their careers on matters of principle. That we are not, as so many people in this country believe, only in it for ourselves. And that I am committed to the values which earn Britain respect all around the world – fair-play, respect for difference, the rule of law.

Labour will end the era of divisive politics and clean up Westminster. And show we are the self-confident, forward-looking, optimistic United Kingdom I know we can be.

I don’t think it’s too hard to describe what people want from politics. The mission I’ve set out today certainly isn’t complicated. I don’t want anyone in this country to be held back by their circumstances. And I want to get Britain moving again, so we can once more face the future with confidence.

I have talked today about why that mission is personal to me. And I have talked previously about the moment I knew I needed to leave the law and go into politics. About the daily injustices I saw as Director of Public Prosecutions. Important examples are etched on my mind, for example, when we failed to deliver justice for Jane, the daughter of John and Penny Clough.

Over the last few weeks, I have thought a lot about that. Thought about the nature of rules and how you change them. But what I thought back then, is what I still think now.

There is no substitute for politics when it comes to tackling injustice and changing this country, and change is what my Labour Party will offer at the next general election.

We will give Britain the fresh start it needs – we will reboot our economy, re-energise our communities, revitalise our public services, unite the country, clean-up politics and end the cost-of-living crisis. Thank you.

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