‘The Attlee moment’: Keir Starmer on his vision for Labour 

Sir Keir Starmer

Sir Keir Starmer - Credit: Archant/Ian Vogler/Daily Mirror/PA

The country is getting to a "fork in the road",  according to Sir Keir Starmer as he looks ahead to life after the pandemic.

Speaking to the Ham&High Podcast, Mr Starmer said as far as Labour is concerned it will not be "back to business as usual”. 

The Holborn and St Pancras MP was elected last year as Labour leader, following the party's defeat under Jeremy Corbyn in December 2019.

In recent weeks, a leaked strategy document recommending use of the union flag to appeal to voters has served as a catalyst for debates about Labour's direction.

Mr Starmer told the Ham&High he will this week lay out his plans going into the 2024 general election.

He said his priority up to now has been to understand the 2019 election defeat and to build trust in Labour but that we are "now getting to a real fork in the road". 

Boris Johnson has hailed the “significant milestone” of the first 15 million jabs in the vaccination programme, but Mr Starmer has been critical of the government's handling of the pandemic, and the backdrop against which it arrived.

He said: “Because although it is true that the prime minister's delay and indecision and slowness have had profound consequences in the pandemic - we've got 100,000 plus dead, more than any other country in Europe; we’ve got the biggest recession of any major economy - but it was the structural weaknesses actually that were there: the inequalities; the lack of funding for public services; the lack of resilience for the NHS - they’re the deep causes of this." 

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He continued: “It's almost the sort of Attlee moment for us, the spirit of the Labour government after the Second World War in terms of the change that we need to bring about through tackling those inequalities. After that sort of sacrifice and that sort of solidarity of the last year, I think that we've got to move forward. And so there is this fork in the road.” 

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer during a visit to a community pharmacy vaccination centre

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer during a visit to a community pharmacy vaccination centre - Credit: Stefan Rousseau/PA

The government's universal credit benefits overhaul has faced criticism, and Mr Starmer said that while the middle of a pandemic is not the time to scrap it, in the longer term, it needs reform. 

“I don't think universal credit has worked very well," he said. "At the same time as putting it into some sort of universal form – I'm not against some form of that, because all the different benefits weren't working very well - there was a lot of money taken out of the system and there are structural problems. The money isn't paid up front. Sometimes you have to take loans.  

“The number of people I have in my constituency who have got problems with universal credit is second only to the housing problem. 

“One of my concerns is that if you only have one benefit paid universally, it's usually paid to one person within the household. That is a problem where you've got domestic abuse, where you've got domestic violence, or just coercion within the house. So I do think it needs reform.”  

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer - Credit: Stefan Rousseau/PA

He said economic recovery and a "new partnership with businesses" have to be central to Labour's plans.

While standing for the Labour leadership, Mr Starmer made 10 pledges, one of which was “common ownership”: that rail, mail, energy and water should be in public hands and “not making profits for shareholders”. 

Asked whether nationalisation is part of his plans, he told the Ham&High Podcast: “I used the term 'common ownership' because I actually think there are different forms of ownership. I’m very strong on co-ops etc. But at the moment what's in my sights is the fork in the road and the transformation we’re going to have to make coming out of this pandemic.” 

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer during a visit to Terminal 2 at Heathrow to see the Covid-19 response

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer during a visit to Terminal 2 at Heathrow to see the Covid-19 response - Credit: Ian Vogler/Daily Mirror/PA

Mr Starmer welcomed President Biden taking office in the US “because I think that will usher in a new era globally” for the environment.

“Now, climate change has to be central to everything we do, which is why one of the commitments we made about an incoming Labour government in 2024 is that every policy, everything that we introduce would be assessed for its impact...on climate change because it has got to be so central to everything we do.”  

Mr Starmer backs "low-traffic neighbourhoods" introduced in the last year in principle, describing the air pollution statistics in his constituency as "pretty shocking".

“Now, when you introduce traffic systems, some of them work, some of them don't. I think that is inevitable," he said. 

"The experience I've had in the five and half years I've been MP is that where some are being introduced there’s been a degree of concern about them, then they settle down and actually they’ve worked out alright and most people have accepted them. Others not so much, and some of the recent ones I think have been reversed now by the council. I think there needs to be that flexibility, but what's driving this is this desire to lower air pollution.” 

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Ham&High Podcast

Ham&High Podcast - Credit: Archant