Starmer insists Labour are not scaling back government ambitions

Starmer insists Labour are not scaling back government ambitions

Sir Keir Starmer has denied he is scaling back Labour’s ambitions as he launched the party’s doorstep offer to voters ahead of the general election.

Sir Keir Starmer has denied he is scaling back Labour’s ambitions as he launched the party’s doorstep offer to voters ahead of the general election.

The Labour leader unveiled a pledge card with six “first steps” his party would take if it were to win power as he spoke at a campaign event in Essex.

The steps include measures to invest in the NHS, education and policing, to set up a new national energy company and an elite border force, and to promote economic stability.

Sir Keir hit back at suggestions the pledges were a scaled-back version of his party’s ambitions for government set out previously in five missions for “national renewal”.

The Labour leader cast an informal figure at the event, appearing without a jacket and tie and with his shirt sleeves rolled up, in contrast to the other high-profile party figures in attendance.

He sought to portray the first steps as only a part of Labour’s wider programme for government, but also attempted to manage expectations about what the party could achieve in power following the UK’s recent economic difficulties.

“I’m not scaling back our ambition absolutely at all,” he said.

“The way I’ve set this out has been a strategy I’ve been operating to for four years.”

He said the first stage of the strategy was to recognise the “scale” of defeat Labour suffered in 2019 and to change the party, and the next was to “expose the Government as incompetent”, which he said had been assisted by the behaviour of “several of their prime ministers”.

“We’re not reducing the mission,” Sir Keir said.

“I don’t accept that they’re small first steps,” he continued to insist in a Q&A with the media.

“If you’re waiting on an NHS waiting list, this is a change that makes a massive difference.”

He also emphasised the need for economic stability, which Labour’s campaign material says will requires “tough spending rules”.

The Labour leader said he had recently spoken to a couple in Wolverhampton who had decided they could not afford to have a second child as a result of the fallout from Liz Truss’s 2022 mini-budget.

“I’m not prepared to let an incoming Labour government ever do that kind of damage to working people,” he told the audience.

Sir Keir sounded a note of caution about his willingness to make pre-election spending commitments when asked if he would rethink Labour’s position on the two-child benefit cap as a means towards ending child poverty.

The Labour leader said ending child poverty would be “central” to his party in power, but added: “What I can’t do is make promises that I can’t deliver on.”

The launch event held in Purfleet also featured speeches from members of Labour’s shadow cabinet, including shadow chancellor Rachel Reeves, and shadow health secretary Wes Streeting.

Messages of support from Labour campaigners, members of the public, and business leaders were played throughout the event.

This included from Boots CEO Sebastian James, a family friend of Conservative former prime minister and current Foreign Secretary Lord David Cameron.

Rob Boughton, the boss of housebuilder Thakeham, which has in the past donated large sums of cash to the Conservative Party, meanwhile endorsed Labour’s housing agenda.

Labour’s campaign will include its biggest advertising spend since the previous general election, with ad vans and billboards featuring images of Sir Keir alongside the six steps, as well as material in regional newspapers in key battleground seats.

Conservative party chairman Richard Holden claimed Sir Keir’s launch was “devoid of any plan for Britain”, while Commons Leader Penny Mordaunt compared him to the Beatles song Nowhere Man.

She told the Commons: “There’s nothing there. There’s no vision, no plan, no principles on which to steer by, which is why this pledge card will go the same way of all the others.”

The SNP meanwhile claimed Sir Keir had made “no mention of Scotland”, though Labour is expected to make distinct campaign launches in both Scotland and Wales in coming weeks.

The Child Poverty Action Group urged him to set out more ambitious plans to tackle poverty.

The charity’s chief executive Alison Garnham said: “A child poverty reduction plan is essential, but scrapping the two-child limit would have to be step one.”

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