Wed, 17 April 2024

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By Bishop of Leeds
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Keir Starmer Asks Cynical Voters To Believe In Politics Again

Keir Starmer delivered a speech from the outskirts of Bristol (Alamy)

4 min read

Labour leader Keir Starmer has issued a plea to the British public to believe in the country and in politics again with 2024 likely to be an election year, and attacked the Conservative government’s record in power, which he said had driven "the country I love into the rocks of decline".

Giving a speech on Thursday morning from a marginal seat near Bristol, Starmer said he wanted to give “a new year message of hope”. A general election must be called by the end of 2024, and Labour is currently 18 points ahead in the polls. 

Starmer addressed what is believed to be great swathes of undecided voters, and acknowledged that there had been a "tide of cynicism in Westminster" and an "understandable despair of a downtrodden country".

"I will ask the British people to believe in it again," Starmer said.

"I will say you're right to be anti-Westminster, right to be angry about what politics has become. But hold on to the flickering hope in your heart that things can be better, because they can.

"You can choose it. You can choose the hope of national renewal, the responsibility of service, what politics can and should be, And you can reject the pointless populist gestures, the low road cynicism that the Tories believe is all you deserve."

He also attacked the politics of "sleaze" and "cronyism", and that he had "hated the futility of opposition" for the last four years and "powerlessness" of it.

The Labour leader's speech warned that 2024 will see "any opportunity for division" being "exploited for political potential", and said it would be a "huge test" for Labour to not only defeat the Conservatives electorally, but "defeat their entire way of doing politics".

He promised that a Labour government would bring about "a total overhaul of how we approach the economy and government" and a new focus on tackling "tomorrow's problems", including climate change, terrorism, and developments in science and energy technology.

Although no policies were announced, Starmer hinted that there would be radical economic measures included in the party's election manifesto. The Times reported that shadow chancellor Rachel Reeves is weighing up cuts to income tax or national insurance in the party's election manifesto.

Labour is expected to attack the government's record on taxation as the year continues, with a Labour source telling PoliticsHome that they did not regard the government's National Insurance cuts as a "strength" for the Tories.

We are of the view that this is actually just reminding people that after 14 years of the Tories... households are £1,200 worse off," they said.

"And it's reminding people: why is the tax burden at the highest since the Second World War? We're fairly content with people being reminded of that, and the government will wear that record."

With both major parties already in campaign-mode, access talks between Labour and civil service are expected to start relatively soon. 

A new Institute for Government (IfG) report has warned that the talks should begin immediately if Starmer’s Labour is ready to govern the country effectively.

Later on Thursday, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak confirmed that the general election will be held in the second half of the year, seeminly ruling out an election in the spring.

Luke Pollard, Labour & Co-op MP for Plymouth Sutton & Devonport and Shadow Armed Forces Minister, responded to Starmer's speech by saying: "At 10am Keir Starmer says bring it on to a General Election. By lunchtime, Rishi Sunak has tried to rule out a May election.

"It's time for a fresh start with Labour, not five more years of decline under the Tories. Whenever an election is called, let's work hard to win it."

Shadow Minister for Prisons, Parole and Probation Ruth Cadbury said she believed it had been "an extremely powerful & important speech from Keir".

"The focus on the volunteers and community groups who've filled in the gaps after a decade of Conservative cuts to public services was particularly welcome," she said.

Another shadow minister, Feryal Clark, praised Starmer for "vowing to clean up politics and offering real change", and called on the electorate to vote Labour if they want a "better future". Many Labour MPs echoed these words on social media, signalling Starmer's speech as the launch of their party's general election campaign.

However, Grassroots left-wing Labour group Momentum said it was time that Labour should "rise to the challenge" and instead focus on delivering public ownership of public services, wealth taxes, investment in infrastructure, and free school meals.

Veteran Labour MP Jon Cruddas told Italian newspaper La Repubblica that he was concerned about a "lack of independent thought" in the party.

"Starmer remains quite an elusive political character... I understand his caution but the Labour Party could be destroyed by victory," he said in the interview.

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