Keir Starmer has said Labour can become “Britain’s bricks and mortar” again as he sets out his vision for the country.
The Labour leader’s much-trailed 11,500-word essay ‘The Road Ahead’ hits back at criticism he has failed to outline a plan for power in the 17 months since he seized the helm.
It was published by the Fabian Society as MPs, campaigners and activists gear up for the party’s conference in Brighton.
Here is what we have learned from the Labour leader’s lengthy treatise.
Starmer set out ‘ten principles’ for a ‘contribution society’
The former Director of Public Prosecutions sets out ten principles for what he calls a “contribution society” in which everyone has a part to play but people are rewarded for putting in.
These principles are:
We will always put hard-working families and their priorities first
If you work hard and play by the rules, you should be rewarded fairly
People and businesses are expected to contribute to society, as well as receive
Your chances in life should not be defined by the circumstances of your birth – hard work and how you contribute should matter
Families, communities and the things that bring us together must once again be put above individualism
The economy should work for citizens and communities. It is not good enough to just surrender to market forces
The role of government is to be a partner to private enterprise, not stifle it
The government should treat taxpayer money as if it were its own. The current levels of waste are unacceptable
The government must play its role in restoring honesty, decency and transparency in public life
We are proudly patriotic but we reject the divisiveness of nationalism
Starmer sees the Covid pandemic as a turning point
The Labour leader sees Covid-19 as a major turning point for Britain, akin to that of the recovery from World War 2.
Starmer tells a tale of two pandemics, saying lockdown “was a more difficult, damaging experience” for poorer people than it was for the more affluent.
“The burden fell on those who couldn’t work from home and those who were already struggling,” he says.
He goes on to say “people want to emerge from lockdown into something better”, as Brits did when they emerged from the Second World War, adding: “I believe we are living through a time when the individualism that prioritises personal entitlement, moral superiority and self-interest is receding in society’s rear-view mirror.”
He says: “Britain under the next Labour government will no longer be trampled by the tyranny of low expectations.
“If we are to reimagine what is possible, we will need to demand high standards.
“If we are to unlock the vast reserves of potential and productivity in this country, we will need to be restless.
“If we are to overcome cynicism, we will need to be the party of practical action.”
Labour is pro-business and will ‘fix’ the Brexit deal
Boris Johnson once reportedly said “f*** business” when told firms feared Brexit would damage the economy.
Trade barriers have added an extra £600m in cost since Britain left the EU and there is a growing frustration over red tape, staff shortages (such as HGV drivers) and empty supermarket shelves.
Starmer underlines he sees business as “a force for good” and pledges to “fix the holes in the shoddy Brexit deal” and rebuild ties with Europe.
He says: “We have seen from the government’s failure to properly manage our departure from the European Union what happens when the expertise and concerns of business are ignored.
“The sight of empty shelves in our supermarkets should be embarrassing to ministers who failed to understand the complex supply chains and streamlined logistics that British businesses rely upon. By creating unnecessary red tape and bureaucracy, the government has cost both businesses and consumers.”
The Labour leader has very little to say on immigration, however, saying only that “the idea that the immigration and social security systems are a free-for-all has been fertile territory for populist politicians, who have sowed mistrust”.
Starmer will refuse to fight the culture wars
Many claim Boris Johnson’s Tories are keen to fight the next election on the “culture wars” and “woke” issues, as campaigners raise questions on Britain’s history, and racial, gender and social equality.
Starmer calls the Tories “war on woke” an “increasingly bizarre obsession” and makes clear that he sees the battleground differently.
Rather, he thinks Labour should not wade into every row and instead focus on opposing the “conspiracy theories, crankery, misinformation and hatred” allowed to flourish, often as part of the debate.
He says the Government has “many slogans”, such as “levelling up”, but adds: “In the absence of a defining economic project or plan, theTories have instead plunged headfirst into the murky depths of the so-called ‘culture wars’.”
“Building bonds between fellow citizens has never been more crucial,” he later adds. “But rather than take on these challenges, the Conservatives have tried to exploit divisions, leading to an increasingly bizarre obsession with what happens on university campuses, a crime bill that offers statues of slavers more protection than women walking down the street, and McCarthyite accusations of Marxist plots against everyone from teachers to those protesting racism.”
But Starmer has some fighting talk for the SNP
Rather than the culture wars, Starmer sees the SNP’s push for independence and what he calls the rise of “the multi-headed hydra of nationalism” as a “more immediate threat”.
Hinting at how Labour might make the case for the Union in any second independence referendum north of the border, he claims the SNP and Scottish Tories feed off division.
He says: “Both the SNP and the Conservatives use culture to distract and deflect, creating division between people of these islands. The business of effective governance and improving people’s lives comes second to ideology. Both use nationalism freely to whip up fear of the other.”
He adds: “Nationalists like to portray themselves as patriots. But patriotism and nationalism are not the same. In fact, they are opposites.
“Nationalism represents an attempt to divide people from one another; patriotism is an attempt to unite people of different backgrounds. Nationalism is about the casting out of the other; patriotism is about finding common ground. Nationalism is the flag as a threat. Patriotism is the flag as a celebration.”
These are lines which will be highly contested by Nicola Sturgeon and other pro-independence figures.
The Corbyn era and Labour ‘navel gazing’ is officially over
Frustration at Corbyn’s rejection of Blair’s years in power run through the treatise, with Starmer fuming that “in recent years” the party has been “squabbling over its own past, rather than one focused on the future”.
He contrasts Labour’s “towering achievement in government” with “long periods of self-doubt and navel-gazing” and lambasts his predecessor, saying: “We had moved from being the party of ‘white heat’ to the party of sepia-tinged nostalgia.”
He adds: “In recent decades, the legacy of the 1997 Labour government has become contested to the extent that the party has at times felt like separate families living under one roof.
“This has been harmful and alienating. It has not progressed the cause of achieving a Labour government and has been damaging to our country.”
Jeremy Corbyn is not mentioned once in the document (neither, by the way, is Boris Johnson ) while the word ‘future’ crops up some 34 times.
Tony Blair is back in fashion
In 1995, Blair gave the 1945 anniversary lecture for the Fabian Society, and he called it Let Us Face The Future.
In Starmer’s essay, for the same think tank, the Labour leader appears to directly reference Blair’s critique of his party in 1995, writing” “We must take inspiration from 1945 – but that cannot mean dwelling on the past. Instead, we must face the future.”
He adds: “It is impossible to live in this moment and not feel the winds of changes blowing, just as they did in 1945 and 1997.”
He also mirrors some of New Labour’s language, calling for a “new settlement between the government, business and working people”, a “new deal” for working people and “an effective partnership of state and private sector”, which sees Starmer distance himself from Corbyn’s policies of renationalising services like utilities and rail.
Throughout, Starmer holds up Blair’s, and Gordon Brown’s successes and “ambition” for the country in opposition to the Tories’ record.
Starmer backs new laws to tackle racial inequality – but is less clear on trans rights
Starmer pledges a new Race Equality Act and his view to tackle “complex structural racism” which exists in Britain.
This follows the vile racism faced by England stars such as Marcus Rashford after they took the knee at games and outcry over a highly-criticised Government-commission report which claimed to have found no evidence of systemic racism in the UK.
The Labour leader writes: “When people across the world come together to say that black lives matter, when England footballers take the knee before the biggest games of their lives and when black people chant ‘we can’t breathe’,they aren’t asking for more nice words or inquiries – they are demanding real progress.
“We would introduce a new Race Equality Act in the UK, aimed at tackling the complex structural racism that holds back people from every community.”
While Labour has said separately that it backs reforming Gender Recognition Act and self-declaration for trans people, Starmer’s essay makes no mention of trans rights.
Mental health waiting list targets
Starmer said, as Blair set his Government waiting NHS waiting list targets in 1997, he would back similar targets for mental health services.
This follows reports that people needing support for mental health problems ranging from depression and anxiety to psychosis and eating disorders are left waiting months and in some cases years for help.
He said: “The 1997 Labour government set ambitious targets for waiting lists in the NHS and they worked: the next Labour government will set ourselves the same challenge on mental health.
“The mental health charity Mind suggest that just one in eight adults with a mental health problem are currently getting treatment 24 and waiting lists are soaring.”
Starmer plans to stick around… and for a long time
Perhaps most revealing were the final words of Starmer’s treatise, in which he makes clear he in post for the long haul.
It comes amid speculation he could face a challenge from the Left of his party and critics pointing out that Labour has yet to catch up with the Tories in the polls while an election could come as early as 2023.
Starmer says: “To anyone who believes in a better future, based on these principles, I say: join us.
“The road ahead will be long. The journey will not always be simple.
“But the choices are clear and the prize at the end great. At this historic moment, Labour has a chance to once again build a better country for working people. This is the path we have chosen: let us take it together.”
Discussion about this post