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Labour Attacks Tory Record On Levelling Up In Local Election Campaign Launch

Labour leader Keir Starmer has said his party will get Britain's future "back". (Alamy)

4 min read

Labour leader Keir Starmer has attacked the government's flagship levelling up proposals at a launch of the party's local election campaign in Dudley, with a plea to the electorate to vote for "a changed Labour party ready to serve the interests of working people" on 2 May.

Voters will go to the polls for local elections across England in May, with several major mayoralties due to be voted on, including in the West Midlands where Conservative Andy Street currently holds office. 

Starmer pledged to "get Britain's future back", with a significant proportion of his speech focusing on former prime minister Boris Johnson's pledges to "level up" the Midlands and the North – claiming the government had failed to deliver on it. 

"It was right here that the former prime minister – actually the former, former prime minister, if I'm going to be accurate – gave his big levelling up speech, a project he said would turn the tide on regional inequality in this country, and give a fair share to towns like Dudley," Starmer said.

"People say to me the worst thing you can do in politics is to prey on people's fear, yet in some ways preying on their hopes is just as bad. And that's what the Tories did with levelling up.

"Of course it struck a chord, of course a town like Dudley wanted that hope to be real, not just the promise of a better future, we all need that. It's also how that project knowingly spoke to what towns like [Dudley] have lost."

Starmer said Labour wanted to allow local communities to "take back control" with greater devolution in order to bolster economic growth across the UK in a bid to secure levelling up. 

"We will deploy the full power of Government to deliver security for working people; we will also give power away, put communities in control," he continued. 

"A new Take Back Control Act, with new powers for mayors, and for transport, skills, enterprise, energy, planning, rejuvenating our high streets, and new powers to generate growth in every town and city." 

He pledged to take a "full fat" approach to devolution, echoing rhetoric currently familiar to the Tory's stalled plans to deport migrants to Rwanda. 

"Devolution is absolutely essential for taking on regional inequality; democratic decisions are better made by local people with skin in the game - I've always believed that," Starmer added. 

"Because it wasn't some central planner who built the Old Round Oak steel factory all those years ago, it wasn't a big politician that made Stourbridge famous for glass production, or the Black Country and Birmingham the workplace of the world. No, that sort of pride is not in the gift of politicians, it's built up over the decades by the people, the businesses and the workers of a community in partnership with Government absolutely, that is vital.

"Levelling up doesn't happen by magic. But the energy and the drive must always come from a place itself." 

Starmer also said Labour wanted to "turn the page on Tory decline" by cracking down on antisocial behaviour, building homes, establishing a state owned energy company, getting the NHS "back on its feet", and greater mental health support in schools. 

"Written through every one of these priorities: a new purpose. A fundamental mission of this changed Labour Party to tilt this country back towards the service of working people, a return not just to the traditional Labour deal, but also the shift we need in the way this country creates wealth.

"A Britain that serves the interests of working people as they drive this country forward."

Ending his speech, Starmer said in order to get Britain's future "back" voters should support Labour in the local elections in May. 

But the Conservatives were equally scathing of Labour's ploy to utilise levelling up messaging for their campaign launch, noting that the choice of location was also a region where a Labour council has recently declared bankruptcy. 

“The sheer audacity of Sir Keir to launch Labour’s local elections campaign in the West Midlands is breathtaking," Conservative Party Chair, Richard Holden said. 

"This is where Labour have bankrupted Birmingham council, cut local services, increased council tax by 21 per cent and have a Labour Police and Crime Commissioner who has failed to cut crime and pushed the local force into special measures. 

“Across the country from Wales to London, wherever they’re in charge Labour mean the same thing: higher taxes and worse public services.

“Labour’s lack of a plan left Birmingham high and dry and local taxpayers to pick up the can. With no plan for Britain, we can’t let Labour take the country back to square one; like they’ve done to the people of Birmingham.”

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