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Keir Starmer’s speech leads Unite to call for assurance over further austerity – UK politics live | Politics


Unite leader Sharon Graham demands assurance from Starmer that Labour will not return to austerity

Sharon Graham, the Unite general secretary, has also taken a swipe at Keir Starmer today. Unite has in the past been Labour’s biggest financial backer, and in a statement released after Starmer’s speech was delivered Graham said she wanted an assurance that Labour would not return to austerity. She said:

Right now our NHS is being deliberately run down and workers and communities are being lined up for another round of austerity.

So I want to hear Labour make it abundantly clear that the choices it will make will not lead to austerity – that we will not be getting some new buzz word that amounts to continued cuts to services and pay.

They cannot afford to tinker around the edges. We are a wealthy country and the money is there. We now need a government that is committed to making different choices.

Labour is not arguing for austerity and has repeatedly said that the cuts introduced by the Conservatives after 2010 went too far. But there is no agreed definition of what level of public spending amounts to austerity, and in his speech this morning Starmer said the nation’s problems could not just be solved by big spending. (See 11.54am.)

Sharon Graham.
Sharon Graham. Photograph: Darren Staples/Getty Images

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Momentum, the Labour group set up to promote Jeremy Corbyn and his policy agenda, says Keir Starmer should have been more radical in his speech this morning.

Amidst an NHS collapse, catastrophic failure of the privatised energy & water systems, and grotesque inequality, the Labour Leader prioritises… private-public partnerships & more limited state investment.

This is politics for the 1990s, not the 2020s.https://t.co/2cIsAlrtaS

— Momentum 🌹 (@PeoplesMomentum) January 5, 2023

Keir is right to call out the failure of the Tories & the whole Westminster system.

But to truly end ‘sticking plaster politics’, Labour must transform this failed economic system.

That means tasking on vested interests, embracing public ownership & investing in Britain.

— Momentum 🌹 (@PeoplesMomentum) January 5, 2023

And it is also critical of his failure to commit, in the Q&A after his speech, to abolishing tuition fees.

Abolishing tuition fees was a core tenet of Starmer’s leadership pledges.

A young generation saddled by debt & rent cannot bear another betrayal. pic.twitter.com/MUst19wbEe

— Momentum 🌹 (@PeoplesMomentum) January 5, 2023

Unite leader Sharon Graham demands assurance from Starmer that Labour will not return to austerity

Sharon Graham, the Unite general secretary, has also taken a swipe at Keir Starmer today. Unite has in the past been Labour’s biggest financial backer, and in a statement released after Starmer’s speech was delivered Graham said she wanted an assurance that Labour would not return to austerity. She said:

Right now our NHS is being deliberately run down and workers and communities are being lined up for another round of austerity.

So I want to hear Labour make it abundantly clear that the choices it will make will not lead to austerity – that we will not be getting some new buzz word that amounts to continued cuts to services and pay.

They cannot afford to tinker around the edges. We are a wealthy country and the money is there. We now need a government that is committed to making different choices.

Labour is not arguing for austerity and has repeatedly said that the cuts introduced by the Conservatives after 2010 went too far. But there is no agreed definition of what level of public spending amounts to austerity, and in his speech this morning Starmer said the nation’s problems could not just be solved by big spending. (See 11.54am.)

Sharon Graham.
Sharon Graham. Photograph: Darren Staples/Getty Images

Unite and Unison criticise Sunak over proposed anti-strike law

Unite and Unison, Britain’s two biggest unions, have both criticised the government for wanting to press ahead with anti-strike laws.

Responding to reports that a government announcement on this will come later today (see 8.48am), Sharon Graham, the Unite general secretary, said:

Yet again, Rishi Sunak abdicates his responsibility as a leader.

Instead of silly posturing and game playing, he should step up to the plate, act as a leader and start negotiating to resolve the crises his government has created.

The game is up – everyday people can see through the Tories’ web of lies. They can see that this government is not interested in ensuring that workers and communities get their fair share. This is a government for the rich and powerful.

And Sara Gorton, Unison’s head of health, said:

The public and health staff would welcome minimum staffing levels in the NHS every day of the week. That way, people wouldn’t be lying in agony on A&E floors or dying in the backs of ambulances.

But limiting legal staffing levels to strike days and threatening to sack or fine health workers when there are record vacancies in the NHS show proper patient care isn’t what ministers want.

And this is from Caroline Lucas, the Green party MP, on Keir Starmer’s speech. She criticises him for not embracing “big ideas”, like a wealth tax, nationalistion of public services, a universal basic income and electoral reform.

Memo to Starmer: our country’s in crisis – climate crisis, health crisis, economic crisis. Ending sticking plaster politics is meaningless if he’s blind to big ideas: wealth tax, public services in public hands, basic income, voting reform -which could truly transform our country

— Caroline Lucas (@CarolineLucas) January 5, 2023

The Conservative party claims Keir Starmer was just offering “empty slogans” in his speech. A party spokersperson said:

Today was another vacuous relaunch from Keir Starmer – his tenth bid to sell himself as Labour leader without a single solution to address the challenges we face.

He spent more time listing off his own supposed achievements than setting out Labour’s plan to deliver for the British public – failing to mention how he will cut crime, crack down on illegal migration and reduce borrowing …

This is same old Labour – empty slogans, uncontrolled spending, and no detailed plan to secure the future prosperity of Britain.

Starmer’s speech and Q&A – summary

dHere are the main points from Keir Starmer’s speech and Q&A.

We will spread control out of Westminster. Devolve new powers over employment support, transport, energy, climate change, housing, culture, childcare provision and how councils run their finances.

And we’ll give communities a new right to request powers which go beyond this.

All this will be in a new “take back control” bill – a centrepiece of our first king’s speech. A bill that will deliver on the demand for a new Britain. A new approach to politics and democracy. A new approach to growth and our economy.

He also confirmed that he was deliberately adopting the “take back control” Brexit slogan because the desire for more local control was one aspect of the leave campaign in 2016, and of the yes campaign for Scottish independence in 2014, that he felt was justified. He explained:

I go back to Brexit. Yes, a whole host of issues were on that ballot paper. But as I went around the country, campaigning for remain, I couldn’t disagree with the basic case so many leave voters made to me.

People who wanted public services they could rely on. High streets they could be proud of. Opportunities for the next generation. And all of this in their town or city.

It was the same in the Scottish referendum in 2014 – many of those who voted ‘yes’ did so for similar reasons. And it’s not an unreasonable demand.

It’s not unreasonable for us to recognise the desire for communities to stand on their own feet. It’s what take back control meant. The control people want is control over their lives and their community.

So we will embrace the take back control message. But we’ll turn it from a slogan to a solution. From a catchphrase into change. We will spread control out of Westminster. Devolve new powers over employment support, transport, energy, climate change, housing, culture, childcare provision and how councils run their finances.

Starmer made this “take back control” argument last month, when he published a report setting out more details of Labour’s plans to decentralise power out of Westminster. But he did not announce then that there would be legislation for this in the first king’s speech, and media coverage of the December announced focused on his plans to abolish the House of Lords.

None of this should be taken as code for Labour getting its big government chequebook out. Of course investment is required – I can see the damage the Tories have done to our public services as plainly as anyone else.

But we won’t be able to spend our way out of their mess – it’s not as simple as that.

As the BBC’s Chris Mason reports, Starmer omitted a word included in the text released overnight in this passage that implied he thought previous Labour government’s spent too much. See 11.12am.

  • Starmer refused to confirm that he remains committed to abolishing tuition fees. In its 2019 manifesto Labour said it was committed to abolishing tuition fees, and Starmer said he supported this when he stood for the Labour leadership. But asked if he would implement this policy, he replied:

University tuition fees are not working well, they burden young people going forward. Obviously we have got a number of propositions in relation to those fees that we will put forward as we go into the election.

But I have to be honest about it; the damage that has been done to our economy means that we are going to have to, and we know we will, cost everything as we go into that election, and we will do that with discipline, as we have done so far.

I am not going to spell out our manifesto in advance … but I can say that every commitment we make will be absolutely fully funded. That is a cast-iron guarantee as we go into that election.

Frankly, the government is all over the show on this. Every day there is a different briefing as to whether there is going to be legislation, what it is going to be and when it is going to come.

I think there is a reason for that and that is because I don’t think this legislation is going to work. I am pretty sure they have had an assessment that tells them that it is likely to make a bad situation worse.

Obviously we will look at what they bring forward, but if it is further restrictions then we would repeal it and the reason for that is I do not think that legislation is the way that you bring an end to industrial disputes.

I thought his promises were weak and low ambition. Inflation is the biggest example of that. So you get inflation down to a rate lower than is already predicted, it is not a big promise to the British public.

The idea that after 13 years of failure you can come along in the 13th year and say: ‘I have got five new promises please give us one more chance’, I just feel is so far removed from reality.

Yes, there are good people of course – many MPs share my determination to tackle Britain’s problems quickly. But as a system – it doesn’t work.

You know, sometimes I hear talk about a “huge day in Westminster”, but all that’s happened is someone has passionately described a problem, and then that’s it.

Nothing has changed, but the circus moves on. Rinse and repeat. Honestly – you can’t overstate how much a short-term mindset dominates Westminster. And from there, how it infects all the institutions which try and fail to run Britain from the centre.

I call it ‘sticking plaster politics’. And in a kind of last minute frenzy, it sometimes delivers relief. But the long-term cure – that always eludes us. And it’s at the heart of all the problems we see across our country right now.

I came to politics late in my career. I’ve run large organisations, institutions that had to serve our country, and I’ve changed them all – including the Labour party. That’s why I came into politics eight years ago. A new way to serve. A new way to get things done. More opportunities to change our country for the better.

Keir Starmer during his Q&A with journalists.
Keir Starmer during his Q&A with journalists. Photograph: Justin Tallis/AFP/Getty Images

Culture secretary Michelle Donalan confirms Channel 4 won’t be privatised

Yesterday it emerged, from a leaked letter, that Michelle Donelan, the culture secretary, wanted to drop plans to privatise Channel 4. This morning the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport has confirmed that privatisation will not go ahead. In a press release it says:

Michelle Donelan has decided not to privatise Channel 4 after reviewing the business case for its sale. The broadcaster will remain in public ownership but with greater commercial flexibility, increased investment in skills and jobs across the UK as well as new production arrangements to support its long-term sustainability and growth.

The government, following discussions with Channel 4 and the independent production sector, have confirmed an ambitious package of measures as an alternative to a sale. This includes reforms via the media bill, which will eventually allow Channel 4 to make and own some of its content and a new statutory duty on its board members to protect the broadcaster’s long-term financial sustainability. Channel 4 has also committed to increasing roles outside London and providing more opportunities for people from across the UK to gain experience in the sector as part of this package.

Starmer’s speech – verdict from Twitter commentariat

Political journalists and commentators are more positive about Keir Starmer’s speech than they were about Rishi Sunak’s yesterday. Here is what some of them are saying.

From Sky’s Beth Rigby

2 leaders, 2 speeches, 2 visions. Sunak’s 5 point plan a message of realism/competence to regain trust after chaos of Johnson/Truss. Starmer in completely different zone. The candidate of change, 20 pts ahead in polls, with the fire of a politician who thinks he could be next PM

— Beth Rigby (@BethRigby) January 5, 2023

From the Times’s Henry Zeffman

Pretty audacious from Starmer, who says Labour would introduce a Take Back Control bill in its first King’s speech.

It would devolve power from Westminster and give communities a new right to request more powers pic.twitter.com/6puHkrBAE2

— Henry Zeffman (@hzeffman) January 5, 2023

From my colleague Peter Walker

Keir Starmer speech was a bit woolly in places and somewhat lacking in new ideas, but still notably better than Rishi Sunak’s yesterday. Headlines will focus on the “take back control bill”, but the repeated refrain of ending “sticking plaster politics” could be more resonant.

— Peter Walker (@peterwalker99) January 5, 2023

From LBC’s Sangita Myska

Starmer attempting to own and rehabilitate the BREXIT slogan “Take Back Contol” is bold – but will it work?

— Sangita Myska (@SangitaMyska) January 5, 2023

Keir Starmer sounds convincing and sure footed but what does “active partnership between public and private sector”, “reform”, “decade of national renewal” actually mean?

— Sangita Myska (@SangitaMyska) January 5, 2023

From the writer and broadcaster Steve Richards

Very smart of @Keir_Starmer to seize the ‘take back control’ slogan..and give the term some substance…

— steve richards (@steverichards14) January 5, 2023

From my colleague Rafael Behr

Keir Starmer has got steadily better at making a speech – both in terms of building an argument and the rhythm of delivery.

— Rafael Behr (@rafaelbehr) January 5, 2023

Starmer correctly identified that ‘Take Back Control’ is a slogan of once-per-generation effectiveness, so he’s nicking it for Labour.

This is a smart speech.

— Rafael Behr (@rafaelbehr) January 5, 2023

From ITV’s Paul Brand (commenting on the fact that Starmer was asked, by a Telegraph journalist, what the difference was between Labour and the Tories)

Quite something when you stop and think about Starmer being asked what the difference is between Lab and Cons. Of course Starmer argues there are lots of differences. But there’s no way that Q would have been asked at the last election. A sign of how far politics has travelled.

— Paul Brand (@PaulBrandITV) January 5, 2023

From Tom Harwood from GB News

Potentially the most important part of Starmer’s speech. Not being widely picked up upon.

That he is willing to take on vested interests over planning in order to get things built. Potential to be economically transformative if actually followed through.https://t.co/8AMh8WbsBx

— Tom Harwood (@tomhfh) January 5, 2023

Chris Mason, the BBC’s political editor, says that when Keir Starmer delivered his speech this morning, he omitted a word included in the overnight preview that implied criticism of previous Labour governments. In a post on the BBC’s blog, Mason says:

In advance of Keir Starmer’s speech, reporters were told he would say a Labour government led by him wouldn’t be “getting its big chequebook out again”.

That word ‘again’ was striking – implying that perhaps previous Labour governments had spent too much.

But, curiously, that word “again” didn’t pass Sir Keir’s lips in the speech itself.

And here is the Labour party’s summary of the speech in a tweet.

Q: Lisa Nandy has said you would align to EU law in more areas. What are those, and does it mean you would compromise UK sovereignty?

Starmer says he has set out the five principles that would govern how he approaches that. He says he does not think anyone believes the current system is working.

And that’s the end of the Q&A.

Q: You did not mention small boats. Is that because you have not got a plan?

Starmer says Labour has got a plan for dealing with this issue.

Only 4% of people who crossed the Channel last year have had their claims processed. He says he could not believe that figure when he saw it.

Starmer refuses to confirm that he’s still committed to abolishing student tuition fees

Q: Given what you say about not offering big chequebook government, does that mean you will drop the plan to abolish student tuition fees?

Starmer says the current tuition fees system is not working.

But Labour will have to be honest about what it can do, he says. The damage done to the economy means that it will have to cost everything it would do before goes into the election. He goes on:

And we will do that with discipline as we’ve done it so far.

I’m not gonna spell out our manifesto in advance.

When Starmer stood for the Labour leadership, one of his 10 pledges was that he would “support the abolition of tuition fees and invest in lifelong learning”.

UPDATE: See the post at 11.54am for the full quote.

Starmer says Labour would repeal anti-strike bill proposed by government if it becomes law

Q: Would you repeal the government’s proposed anti-strike government if it is law by the time you win an election? And do you think there is a case for minimum service level legislation?

Starmer says the government is all over the place on this. He does not think this legislation will work. And he thinks the government has had advice saying it would make the situation worse. He goes on:

If it’s futher restrictions then we will repeal it … I do not think that legislation is the way you bring an end to industrial disputes.

That is significant. In the past, Labour figures have said they would oppose the bill, but sidestepped questions as to whether they would repeal the bill if it makes the statute book.

UPDATE: See the post at 11.54am for the full quote.

Keir Starmer speaking at the Here East tech campus in Stratford, east London.
Keir Starmer speaking at the Here East tech campus in Stratford, east London. Photograph: Justin Tallis/AFP/Getty Images

Q: What would you offer nurses to end the strike?

Starmer says the government should talk to them. There has to be compromise, he says. He says nurses do not want to be on strike.

The government has got “no strategy whatsoever” for dealing with this, he says.

Q: Do you think there more scope for getting the private sector do deliver public services?

Starmer says he does not favour central government controlling everything, or leaving it all to the market. He favours “an agile, active state working with in partnership with private business”.

Starmer dismisses Sunak’s five promises to voters as ‘weak’

Q: How would your approach to resolving the strike be different?

Starmer says Sunak’s promises yesterday were “weak”. He cites the inflation pledge as an example, pointing out that inflation is expected to go down anyway.

On health, he says Labour has a fully funded plan to expand the workforce.

This is an example of what he means by not just having a sticking plaster approach, he says.

UPDATE: See the post at 11.54am for the full quote.

Starmer won’t say if Labour would match Tory spending limits at next election

Starmer is now taking questions.

He says he wants to take quite a few.

(Rishi Sunak won plaudits from the media for taking 15 questions at his press conference yesterday.)

Q: Will you match Tory spending limits going into the election?

Starmer says he made the point about not using a big chequebook because Labour will inherit a badly damaged economy.

It already has its fiscal rules. It will stick to those.

But he wants a different approach.





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