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Keir Starmer Pledges "First Steps" For Labour Government

Labour leader Keir Starmer will set out "first steps" for power in an Essex speech on Thursday (Alamy)

6 min read

At a major speech in Essex on Thursday, Labour leader Keir Starmer will announce the first "steps" he would take in as prime minister if Labour is elected into Government at the next general election.

Labour officials say the six new pledges will play a key part in its election manifesto, at an event which will widely be viewed as an unofficial general election campaign launch.

Prime Minister Sunak must call an election this year and is currently expected to hold it in the Autumn. Labour is the favourite to win after fourteen years in opposition, with Sky's latest poll tracker giving Starmer's party an average lead of 20 per cent over the Conservatives.

The steps, presented to Starmer's Shadow Cabinet on Wednesday, focus on the economy, the National Health Service, illegal immigration, energy, crime and education.

Labour has today also released new posters which the party plans to publish on billboards and in regional newspapers in key general election battlegrounds across the country. 

Starmer, pictured in black and white with his sleeves rolled up, features prominently in the posters, with the material referring to "my first steps", rather than "our" or "Labour's".

A Labour spokesperson confirmed this was a deliberate strategy of putting the Labour leader front and centre of the party's campaign in the run up to the general election. They told PoliticsHome they wanted Starmer's "personal stamp" on it. The new posters represent Labour's biggest spend on political advertisement since the last general election in 2019.

Labour leader Keir Starmer

A Labour spokesperson said the steps represented a "bridge" to the full manifesto, which the party will publish much closer to election day.

They also stressed that policy areas like housing and the environment, which are not specifically mentioned in the six new steps, will form important elements of the Labour manifesto when it is published.

Here's Starmer's key areas of focus:

Economy

The first of Labour's steps is to "deliver economic stability".

The issue of the economy has historically been a weakness for Labour, particularly in the years following the financial crisis of 2008 when the party was in power.

However, Starmer and Shadow Chancellor Rachel Reeves feel confident taking the fight to the Conservatives on the economy after Liz Truss' shortlived and chaotic stint in Downing Street in 2022 sent interest rates soaring and inflicted serious damage to the Conservatives' reputation for economic management.

Labour's pledge to stick to "tough spending rules" reflects a determination to be seen as responsible with public finances, but has prompted questions for Starmer and Reeves about how they will repair public services without significant investment.

NHS

The second is to "cut NHS waiting times" by creating 40,000 appointments a week, paid for by closing down tax avoidance and loopholes. 

The health service has historically been one of Labour's strongest cards to play, and heading into the next election the party has enjoyed large leads over the Tories in polls when people have been asked which party is better at handling the NHS.

Considering the strain hospitals have faced in recent years, and given the many months of stand-off between striking health workers and Tory ministers over pay, it is no surprise that the opposition party wants to frame it as a key issue heading into the next general election.

Illegal immigration

In recent months, Labour has sought to step up attacks on the Tories over illegal migration and the Sunak government policy of deporting people to Rwanda. 

The Prime Minister says the policy is vital for deterring small boat crossings and will have a clear effect when flights to Rwanda start taking off, which it hopes will happen this Summer.

However, over 6,000 people have arrived in the UK this calendar year despite the government's efforts, which Labour believes represents an opportunity to accuse the Conservative government of incompetence. Sunak's promise to "stop the boats" set a high bar for success that even some Tory MPs privately admit is very unrealistic.

Starmer has now pledged to "launch a new border security command," having already confirmed he will ditch the Rwanda policy if elected to No 10, describing the policy as ineffective and over-expensive. In his new steps, the Labour leader says he will "smash" criminal gangs which smuggle migrants across the Channel by recruiting "hundreds of new specialist investigators" and the "use of counter-terror powers".

Last week Natalie Elpicke, the MP for Dover, defected from the Conservatives to Labour, accusing her former party of having failed to protect the country's borders. The presence of Elphicke on the Labour benches is viewed as an attempt to bolster support among voters with more hardline views on immigration. 

Energy security

Starmer will today re-iterate Labour's policy of setting up a publicly-owned energy company called Great British Energy.

The policy, first announced at the party's 2022 conference, is central to Labour's economic agenda and promise to turn the UK into a "clean energy superpower". The party says it will pay for it through an expanded windfall tax on major oil and gas companies.

The issue of energy security has brought into much sharper focus in recent years by Russia's invasion of Ukraine, which sent global energy prices soaring. 

In that time, the Conservative Government has also come under pressure to curtail the profits of major energy companies. Labour has recently faced criticism for dropping its commitment to spend £28bn on the policy, and a price-tag is conspicuously absent from Labour's new pledge. 

Crime

Security has emerged as a theme in Westminster heading into the next general election, with both the Tories and Labour trying to make it a dividing line — including voters feeling secure in their streets and local areas.

Labour's fifth "step" focuses specifically on a "crack down on antisocial behaviour" through more neighbourhood police officers, more stringent penalties for offenders, and a new network of youth hubs.

The rhetoric echoes New Labour's well-known pledge to be "tough on crime, tough on the causes of crime".

Education

The final "step" in Labour's plan is to recruit 6,500 teachers in the first term of government, "to prepare children for life, work and the future, paid for by ending tax breaks for private schools".

One of the major challenges facing whichever party wins the next election is boosting staff numbers in the education sector amid concerns of tight budgets and teachers quitting the industry.

Like with other parts of its agenda, Labour will likely face questions between now and the general election about how it will square its commitment to "tough spending rules" with giving schools the spending boost which industry leaders say they need.

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