Local election campaign launch: Starmer plots Labour wins ‘from Hastings to Hartlepool’

Starmer and Rayner launch Labour’s local election campaign 2024.

Keir Starmer and Angela Rayner have accused the Conservatives of “preying on hopes” of working people as they launch Labour’s local election campaign on Thursday.

The Labour leader and his deputy were in the Black Country to mount a high-profile attack they hope will help define the campaign, claiming the Tories are failing to deliver on their levelling up policy, as promised by former prime minister Boris Johnson.

Starmer said Labour was looking to win in Dudley, the West Midlands and across the country “from Hastings to Hartlepool”. He promised a “future better for your children” – but warned there was no “magic money tree” to solve councils’ cash crunch.

He spelt out clearly Labour’s commitment to its New Deal for Working People, despite some calls for it to be watered down, giving the one-word answer “yes” when asked by a journalist if the employment reforms package would happen in a first Labour term.

Starmer, Rayner and West Midlands mayoral candidate Richard Parker gave their speeches at the Black Country & Marches Institute of Technology, where former prime minister Boris Johnson vowed to level up in a 2020 speech of his own.

More than 2,600 council seats are up for election across 107 councils on May 2nd, along with elections for regional mayors and police and crime commissioners across England and Wales.


10.53am: Starmer against fire and re-hire

Keir Starmer was asked about whether his support for a ban on fire-and-rehire extended to Coventry city council.

The BBC reports councillors “approved a proposal to dismiss and re-engage” existing bin workers last December.

Starmer said he was against it “wherever it is”, but was not going to “wade into an industrial dispute”.

Starmer was also clear Labour remains committed to its New Deal, saying: “I believe deep down, respect and dignity at work matters.”

10.50am: Angela Rayner has Keir’s ‘full support’

Asked by journalists about the police looking into a Tory complaint involving Angela Rayner’s former council house, Starmer said Rayner had his “full support”.

He said Rayner had not broken any rules.

10.45am: No ‘magic money tree’

Starmer faces multiple questions from the media about the black hole in many local authorities’ finances, which feel likely to resurface throughout the campaign.

Labour would seek to “turn that around”. Of course he does “want to invest more”, and hopes there’ll be more to spend than under the Tories in the first year.

But that is only in so far as Labour can unlock existing levelling up funds that have not yet been spent, and shake up local authority funding settlements to cover three-year periods, not one.

He suggests he can’t “say there’s a magic money tree” Labour can shake on day one after the election, though, or “pretend we can turn the taps on” straightaway.

“The way out of that is to grow our economy,” he adds. Labour is going to have to “work hard” to be able to invest more, and ensure that private investment flows too.

Labour can also shake up the government’s “mindset” towards mayors, working in partnership rather than in conflict.

10.35am: Big swing needed to win

Starmer is asked about the general election, and highlights the fact Labour needs a bigger swing than even in its 1997 landslide even to get a tiny majority.

But Labour has gone from suffering its worst loss since 1935 in 2019, to being a “serious contender”, Starmer says.

He tells the shadow cabinet to “put the polls to one side”, as we need the “hard yards” of focus and discipline.

10.30am: ‘Madness’ of Tory unfunded tax cuts

Starmer attacks the Tories’ “madness” of unfunded tax cuts, their proposal to abolish national insurance, claiming there is “no way to fund it” other than “risky” borrowing or cutting pensions or the NHS.

It’s “like they think Liz Truss never happened”, he added.

10.25am: Communities are ‘not a charity case or political client’

Starmer highlights the pride of local areas, including in their football clubs, but says areas are “a little less sure of the ground beneath [their] feet”.

He says communities are ‘not a charity case or a political client”, but a “source of growth and dynamism ready to be unlocked”, rather than see politicians turn their back when votes have been counted.

10.20am: The Tories are ‘preying’ on the hopes of voters

Starmer said it was in some ways “just as bad” to be “praying on the hopes” of voters as pray on their fears, accusing the Tories of doing just that on levelling up.

He said that “of course” former prime minister Boris Johnson’s pledge to level up “struck a chord”, but the Tories did not have a “viable plan”. That is “unforgiveable”, and Labour will seek to turn that around.

“Towns like Dudley wanted that hope to be real.”

10.13am: Starmer says we can win from ‘Hastings to Hartlepool’

Keir Starmer

Keir Starmer kicks off by saying Labour is not looking for a draw in the local elections, but “looking to win” in Dudley, in the West Midlands, right across the country “from Hastings to Hartlepool”.

He wishes he were launching another kind of election campaign but Sunak “bottled it” as he wants another summer with his “beloved helicopter”.

The choice now is stability or chaos, unity or division, renewal or decline, he says.

Labour will “tilt the economy back towards the interests of working people”, get Britain building again, to “unlock the pride and potential” of communities like Dudley, and Labour will be campaigning on that, he says to applause.

10.08am: Rayner says some feel a ‘twinge of scepticism’

Angela Rayner says some people will feel a “twinge of scepticism” politically, but “that can pass and be replaced by an everyday hope for the future” that once powered towns like Dudley.

“You have my word that we won’t make promises we can keep.”

She highlighted Labour’s devolution plans, promising to end the “hoarding of power”.

“We seek power so we can hand it back to the people.”

She also highlighted Labour’s New Deal for Working People package of employment reforms, and cited former Labour prime minister Harold Wilson’s dictum that Labour is a “moral crusade or it is nothing”.

She said: “My moral crusade is to fight for the working people that built this land, so that they will benefit from the wealth that they create.”

10.05am: Angela Rayner says people’s ambition has been ‘stolen’

The deputy leader is speaking, and starts by saying people here “know what it means to graft” in a town that was one of the birthplaces of the Industrial Revolution.

Labour empowered working people to secure better rights in towns like Dudley, and the post-war Labour government built council homes here on an unprecedented scale, she says, and good public services voters can rely on.

But people’s ambition has been “stolen”, through the “greed of a politics that centralise power and wealth”.

10am: Richard Parker launches event

Labour’s West Midlands mayoral candidate Richard Parker kicks off the event, pledging to bring buses into public control, build council homes, deliver 150,000 new jobs and training places and revitalise high streets.

7.45am: ‘Politics with communities, not to them’

Starmer is also expected to say: “If we want to change our economy, we must also change our politics and put an end to politics that is done to communities, not with them.

“No more political hero complexes, no more fantasies, no more easy answers that require nobody – politicians or people – to lift a finger. The Tory era of politicians as performance art is coming to an end.”

7.35am: ‘Levelling up a ‘good ambition’ but preyed on voters’ hopes’

Parts of Starmer’s speech have been released to the media in advance.

Starmer is expected to say: “People say to me the worst thing you can do in politics is prey on peoples’ fear. Yet in some ways, preying on their hopes is just as bad. That’s what the Tories did with levelling-up. It is a good ambition for Britain, but it requires not just a new plan, also a fundamental shift in how we govern.”

Starmer will also double down on a familiar narrative over the past year, casting the local elections as a choice for millions of voters at the ballot box May 2nd between continued decline after 14 years of Conservative rule, and national renewal with Labour.

7.30am: Local elections in focus

According to analysts Michael Thrasher and Colin Rallings, the Conservatives could lose half of the council seats they are defending at the local elections if they repeat their poor performance at last year’s local elections.

The pair have said the Tories could lose as many as 500 seats across the country, with Labour expected to make around 300 gains.

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