Keir Starmer chose the imposing atrium of the modern Co-op Headquarters, just a stone’s throw from Manchester Victoria, to launch his five-point vision for a Labour government.
The speech primarily focused on Starmer’s “national missions” which are to form the backbone of Labour’s upcoming election manifesto. This follows Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s own five-point plan, released earlier this year, which focused on the economy, NHS waiting times and small boats in the Channel.
Trying their hand at the Conservative’s well-oiled ‘3-word slogan machine’, both Starmer and deputy leader Angela Rayner and lamented the Conservatives’ “sticking-plaster politics”, placing his long-term vision in clear contrast with what Labour views as Tory “short-term fixes”.
The five missions in Starmer’s vision for a Labour government are:
- Secure the “highest sustained growth” in the G7
- To make Britain a “clean energy superpower”
- Health and care system reform
- Reforming the police and the criminal justice system
- Break down barriers in childcare and education
The nature of such a wide-ranging, long-term vision leaves the plan lacking a sharp headline policy likely to cut through to the general public. However, this could be a deliberate strategy from Starmer following a growing feeling that the Tories are no longer afraid to usurp the political capital of a Labour proposal.
In answering a question from the press, Starmer said:
“Of course we also have to have short-term answers, the election’s still very much likely to be like, ‘what are you going to do about bills?’, particularly energy bills, to which we’ve got a specific policy.”
Starmer spoke of his “first-term” in office, a nod perhaps to the fact that much of what he wants to achieve are big-picture, structural issues, rather than short-term fixes through quick injections of cash.
‘Highest sustained growth’ in the G7
Perhaps the most ambitious of the set is Starmer’s commitment to achieving the “highest sustained growth” in the G7, a metric easily measurable at the end of his first term.
The UK currently finds itself in last place in the IMF G7 growth forecasts, the only country in the set predicted to contract, by 0.6%.
Growth is crucial if the country is to climb out of the current economic malaise it finds itself in. However, in a time of unprecedented inflationary pressures and a growing number of people scrambling to keep up with bills, ‘growth’ may come as an abstract concept.
Will growth pay the upcoming energy bill? Will growth pay for the rise in rent or mortgage payments? In the long-term maybe, but people live in the present. Starmer also referenced not wanting to focus this growth in any one area, in an apparent departure from the Conservative’s current levelling up agenda.
‘Clean energy superpower’
Starmer’s proposal to make Britain a “clean energy superpower” is another policy that feeds into a recurring theme of putting the country on a steady footing on the world stage, capitalising on a feeling in some circles that Britain’s global influence has been lost following Brexit.
Starmer pledged that through his already proposed GB Energy, which would be a publicly-owned clean energy company, he would achieve net-zero electricity production by 2030.
Another existing Labour policy, to insulate 19 million homes in Britain, was also restated by Starmer to feed into this pledge.
Further detail was light on how precisely this goal is going to be achieved but comes with a solidly assessable objective with a precise timeframe.
If a headline policy is to be found, it’s within these first two pledges, which present as the most complete policies of those put forward.
Healthcare and care system reform
Though presenting it as a vague sentiment rather than a hard policy, Starmer did, under questioning, state his intention to double the number of medical students to tackle growing vacancies in the sector.
In his labelling of this pledge as “reforming” healthcare, the Labour leader may want to take heed of the shaky ground already trodden by his shadow health secretary Wes Streeting, who caused a furore with his private-sector flirtation for reform in the NHS.
Starmer will need to tread carefully when fleshing out this pledge, as anything that hints of privatisation to his core voter base could be an insurmountable sticking point.
Reforming the police and the criminal justice system
Evoking ex-Labour PM Tony Blair may not be the fastest route to mending the very fresh wounds between Starmer and the Corbynite wing of the Labour Party, but that’s exactly what he did when he repeated those famous words, “tough on crime, tough on the causes of crime”.
The Labour leader went on to discuss the safety of women and girls on the streets of Britain, the state of policing and lenient criminal sentences.
Those currently working in our criminal justice system and facing a backlog of 63,000 Crown Court cases, as of last year, were seemingly omitted from Starmer’s justice reform plan at this stage.
Coincidentally, The Law Society last year published their own five-point plan to tackle that very problem.
Break down barriers in childcare and education
Whilst there are clear existing metrics that can measure Starmer’s potential policy success in this sector, as yet the ‘barriers’ that Starmer refers to remain largely undefined.
Under further questioning from the press, the closest Starmer came to detailed policy was the need for breakfast clubs in schools and, “much more”.
Again, this comes as another point in the plan that will require much further fleshing out if it’s to cut through to the general public.
Questions from the press
It was left to the journalists gathered in the room to try and contextualise some of Starmer’s long-term visions for Britain under a Labour government, and they did manage to tease out some of the more precise details listed above.
The other key theme tested was personal trust in Starmer, a two-fold issue that included both his rowing back on certain pledges from his Labour leadership campaign in 2020, particularly on wide-ranging public ownership, but also through his campaigning support for Corbyn in the last general election.
On the Corbyn question, Starmer was steadfast in his conviction that Corbyn has no place in the Labour Party and that the Labour Party needed to change as a result of its previous management.
This is partly a result of the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) 2020 report that took issue with the way complaints of antisemitism were handled by the Labour Party under Corbyn and the subsequent years of close EHRC scrutiny which recently ended.
Starmer will also be keen to distance himself from the disappointing 2019 election result, for which distance from Corbyn himself is key.
Half-baked or starting base?
This mini-manifesto is expected to be fleshed out further in the run up to what will likely be a 2024 general election campaign, which may leave some pondering the value in releasing what felt like, in places, a half-baked collection of general policy outlines.
Within the plan, there are some ambitious targets to address some of the biggest questions facing the country today, which Starmer admits himself will not be achieved easily, but to cut through to the general public and make the impact needed to persuade wavering voters, further details are required.
Nevertheless, for the many councillors that were present in the room, this speech gave them a much-needed refreshed vision to take out to their constituents on the doorstep in the upcoming local elections, which will act as a vital barometer of Starmer’s popularity that has up until now relied heavily on opinion polls.
As a template to work from, the vision outlined by Starmer in this speech may serve as an adequate opening gambit, but further work and greater detail is needed to make the impact on the general British public required for Starmer to secure a clear election win.