Keir Starmer has warned that “the financial situation has changed” and that therefore there are commitments that he made when standing to be Labour leader that he will no longer be able to fulfil in government.
Asked if it is the case that “there are things that you promised when you ran for leader that because of changed circumstances you are now not promising” during a BBC Radio 4 interview this morning, Starmer told listeners: “Yes, the financial situation has changed. The debt situation has changed.”
The Labour leader added: “Let me just be clear on this, when it comes to rail obviously a large part of rail is already in public ownership and we would continue that. That’s a different case, all these sectors are slightly different.”
His comments followed an interview by Rachel Reeves on Monday morning, during which the Shadow Chancellor said that the commitment from Labour in 2019 to nationalise rail, energy and water “just doesn’t stack up against our fiscal rules”.
Following her interview, a Labour Party spokesperson said: “We are pragmatic about public ownership as long as it sits within our fiscal rules – a point Rachel was underlining in the interview by referencing this framework. For example, we know there is a positive role for rail in public ownership.”
On the ten pledges made to members during his leadership campaign – including that “public services should be in public hands” – Starmer argued this morning that “a lot has happened in the last two years, we’ve been through Covid, we have debt on a scale we’ve not seen for a long, long time if ever before”.
“We have to go into the next election making choices,” he said. “Where we have to say we will do X, because we can afford it, but we might not be able to do Y. And I don’t think anybody would say that nothing has really happened in the last two years to change our finances”.
“We’ve got to say no to some things. We’ve got to have priorities that we carry into the next election. That’s why I’ve already said no to the 2019 manifesto. That is gone and we start from a clean slate going forward,” he said. The Labour leader said last month that the party was “starting from scratch”.
Put to him that he is “abandoning” his pledges, including to “stand shoulder-to-shoulder with trade unions”, Starmer said: “We’ve already produced an employment green paper, we launched it at conference last year. That gives day-one rights to everybody at work. We did that in consultation with our unions.”
His interview came ahead of further day of strike action by RMT members on Wednesday. Starmer said he “completely understands” why working people are going on strike and told listeners: “I support the right to strike.”
“But the role of government is to facilitate – make sure those negotiations take place to an agreed settlement. But what we’re not seeing from this government is a government prepared to lift a finger to make sure we get an outcome,” he added.
The Labour leader sparked controversy when he ordered his frontbenchers not to join picket lines when RMT took industrial action last month. Several of his shadow team defied his instruction and Unite general secretary Sharon Graham accused Starmer of “hiding” and urged him to “decide whose side you are on”.
Starmer reiterated his instruction to Labour frontbenchers again today, telling ITV’s Good Morning Britain viewers that “a government doesn’t go on picket lines, a government tries to resolve disputes”.
Tory leadership candidates Rishi Sunak and Liz Truss took part in a live TV debate on Monday. Starmer said he “watched on catch up as much as I could bear” and said he saw both hopefuls to replace Boris Johnson “take lumps out of each other”.
He accused Sunak of “acting as if he has just come down from the moon” and “ignoring the fact that he was Chancellor just a few weeks ago”, “declaring that everything is in crisis” while he was in fact “the architect of that”.
Starmer highlighted that Truss “voted for 15 tax rises”, telling listeners: “Now [she is] saying she wants tax cuts but in this sort of economic fantasy world that she’s living in without saying where she’s going to get it from.”
He argued that the “single biggest problem over the last 12 years has been the failure to grow the economy” and said “there’s no point pretending that this is a result of Brexit or Ukraine” but that it has “been there for 12 years”.
The Labour leader gave a speech on the economy in Liverpool on Monday, saying that his party would “fight the election on economic growth” and that “rebooting the economy” would be the “defining task” of a future Labour government.
“We have to show economic credibility. That’s why I want to fight on the economy. Too often the Labour Party goes into its comfort zone when it comes to an election, vacates the pitch on the economy,” the Labour leader told listeners.
“I’m determined we’re going to fight on the economy because I don’t think the last 12 years allows the Conservative government to say they’re the party that is strong on the economy.”
He said Labour would apply “three principles” to the tax system: “Firstly, is the tax fair? I want to see the tax burden on working people go down and I want to see tax on all forms of income – whether earned or not.”
“I want a more efficient tax system, that’s the second principle, which is why we’re looking at some of the tax loopholes – charitable status for private schools is one that we have said we would end,” he added.
“And the third principle… is that the burden on business has to shift and that’s why we’ve said we’ve got to get rid of business rates and have a fairer way of taxing business that has a level playing field.”