Keir Starmer has declared that the Labour Party under his leadership will go “further and deeper” than New Labour in changing party culture with the intention that Labour again becomes the “natural vehicle” for working people.
In a speech at the Progressive Britain conference on Saturday, the Labour leader indicated a new focus on offering “hope” to voters following last week’s local elections, which saw Labour gain control of 22 new councils, including key targets of Medway, Plymouth and Stoke-on-Trent.
Starmer told attendees that “restoring hope for working people” is his “project”, having argued this week that Labour needs to “go from reassurance to hope” amid “a lot of scepticism about politics”.
He said: “The Labour Party will only restore hope in the country, if we once again become the natural vehicle for working people, an agent for their hopes and aspirations, a party of the common good.
“Some people think that all we’re doing is distancing ourselves from the previous regime – that totally misses the point. This is about taking our party back to where we belong and where we should always have been.”
Starmer told attendees that the party’s project “goes further and deeper than New Labour’s rewriting of Clause IV”, describing it as Clause IV reform “on steroids”. He will suggest that there is a need to change Labour’s “entire culture” to ensure that it is a party that “speaks for, fights for [and] wins for working people”.
Rapturous reception for Keir here at Congress House @progbrit.
He says he used to be a decent mid distance runner, and any runner knows the hardest yards come at the end despite Labour’s success at the local elections.
Labour is on track but there’s “a lot more work to be done” pic.twitter.com/pV4Isgr136
— Tom Belger (@tom_belger) May 13, 2023
The Labour leader added: “We are on a path towards power, but there’s still more work to be done, and the toughest part lies ahead. The task now is to measure up to the scale of change that Britain needs. To demonstrate we can be the hope – the light at the end of the tunnel – working people need.”
He also said: “The British people need a politics which gets the value of respect and service and uses it to deliver stability and change. Security and hope.
“That is why I’m here, that is my project. A new partnership between politics and working people. A new Labour project for our times. A changed Labour Party for a changed Britain.”
In a speech in January, Starmer had announced plans to “spread control out of Westminster” through a ‘take back control’ bill to be introduced in Labour’s first term in government, pledging to devolve new powers to local communities and deliver a “new approach” to politics and the economy.
He argued in his latest speech on Saturday that people “want a politics that is done with them, not to them”, adding: “We can seize the opportunities of tomorrow and make them work for working people. But this ambition must never become unmoored from working people’s need for stability, for order, security.”
Starmer declared that the Conservative Party “can no longer claim to be conservative”, telling attendees: “It conserves nothing we value – not our rivers and seas, not our NHS or BBC, not our families, not our nation.”
He added: “We must understand there are precious things – in our way of life, in our environment, in our communities – that it is our responsibility to protect and preserve and to pass on to future generations.
“And look – if that’s sounds conservative, then let me tell you: I don’t care. Somebody has got to stand up for the things that make this country great, and it isn’t going to be the Tories.”
John McTernan, previously political secretary to Tony Blair, called it an “important speech – ambitious and reassuring, just like Keir himself.”
The campaign group Momentum repeated its past calls for “transformative change, not reheated Blairism” following the speech, however.
Meanwhile addressing the Fire Brigades Union conference this week, Angela Rayner declared that the “primary ambition” of the next Labour government will be to “hand power back” to working people.
She reiterated the party’s commitment to deliver its new deal for working people and repeal anti-strike legislation brought forward by the Tories.
The deputy Labour leader told attendees that a Labour victory is “within our sights”, but added: “To get this victory, we have to come together. We have to be the family that sticks together. That works for each other. We know we can do it. Look at what we’ve achieved together before.”