Politics

Keir Starmer on being as 'bold as Attlee' and why there'll be no return to austerity under his watch

We asked Labour leader Keir Starmer some key questions about what he will do if he is the next UK prime minister

Image: Ian Davidson / Alamy

Keir Starmer’s Labour seem to be on track for a landslide victory at the upcoming general election.  

The latest YouGov data predicts that the party will clinch a staggering 425 seats after polling day on July 4 – more than doubling their 2019 election tally. If these predictions come true, it will be Labour’s best ever election result. So, what will Britain look like under this new government?

Ahead of polling day, the Big Issue grilled party leaders, including Starmer, about their plans for ending poverty and more.

He claimed that he’d be as “bold as Clement Attlee” – the famous post-war PM who set up the NHS – and would step in to help a parent shoplifting baby-formula. Here’s what else Keir Starmer had to say…

BIG ISSUE: More than 10,000 Big Issue readers have demanded an end to poverty by backing our Big Issue Blueprint for Change. Will Labour commit to investing in people affected by poverty so we can end poverty once and for all? 14 million people are struggling to meet their most basic needs, including four million children. Will you promise them that you will lift them out of poverty?

KEIR STARMER: Poverty is a moral stain on our society. The last Labour government lifted over half a million children and the next Labour government will build on that legacy. We’ll have an ambitious, wide-ranging child poverty strategy, we’ll give all children in primary school free breakfast, protect renters from arbitrary eviction, slash fuel poverty and ensuring work is decent and secure for all. We will deliver the change our country needs, with an ambitious agenda to bring hope and opportunity to the next generation, and ensure everyone is better off with Labour.

The benefits system is punitive and causes distress for people who cannot work. The DWP assessment process is frequently dehumanising. How will you fix this and make sure help, rather than suspicion, is the motivating drive of Britain’s safety net? 

The system isn’t working, and too many people are unable to access the support they need to live independent, fulfilling lives. We want to change this, so we’ll tackle the backlog of Access to Work claims and give disabled people the confidence to start working – without the fear of an immediate benefit reassessment if it does not work out.

If you came across a parent in a shop who was shoplifting baby formula to feed their child, what would you do?

I’d offer to pay for it. The desperation of families around the country should make the Tories feel nothing but shame. Of course, shoplifting is a problem for businesses, so we’d have 13,000 more neighbourhood police to provide reassurance on our high streets. But we’d also change the rules so people could use food bank vouchers and loyalty card points to buy baby formula. And we’d tackle poverty by making work pay, reforming the welfare system, and stopping unfair evictions.

How will you make sure steel workers who are going to lose their jobs in Port Talbot and others like them whose livelihoods are being lost as green transition accelerates will be reskilled to avoid falling into poverty? 

If Labour wins this election, steelworkers should feel confident that £2.5bn in additional long-term investment across the UK would be there from a Labour government to protect jobs, our strategically important sovereign steelmaking capability and transition sustainably to green steel making. And we’lll ensure job support and a training guarantee to cover workers who could be made redundant from Port Talbot. I won’t allow what the Tories did to coal-mining communities to happen in our industrial heartlands today.

BIG ISSUE: Travel costs are often a barrier for young people when they are starting out in work and these costs frequently prevent them taking jobs and being socially mobile. Will you commit to introduce free bus travel for people under the age of 23 as happens in Scotland?

KEIR STARMER: We’ve got big plans to restore public transport, including putting local communities in charge of bus services and removing the Tories’ ideological ban on public ownership of buses. I want to see those services be made more accessible and more affordable for everyone. We’re not committing to a specific number on fares, because I won’t make any spending commitments without knowing how a Labour government would pay for them.

If you achieve the huge election mandate that polls are suggesting, will you be as bold as Attlee in 1945 or be locked into austerity-lite?

I’ll be as bold as Attlee. I ran a public service during austerity, I saw the impact of the Tories’ decisions. There will be no return to austerity with a Labour government. We’ll have a decade of national renewal instead, with ambitious investment and reform.

Why is all debate on migration currently framed around a negative impact? Doesn’t this simply play into a narrative that all those coming here are on the make and to be mistrusted?

People who come to the UK to work make a substantial contribution to our economy, our public services and our communities. But we do have to recognise that under the Tories, businesses are too dependent on bringing people here to fill vacancies, rather than training up British workers. And we cannot continue with the appalling tragedy of people dying in the Channel, exploited by criminal gangs.

Does it bug you that people insist you’re dull? How do you protect yourself against being damaged by personal attacks?

I’ve been called much worse than that, and that’s just on the football pitch! It’s water off a duck’s back as far as I’m concerned. There will always be people who think we should be doing things differently, it’s part of the job. It won’t stop me taking our argument for change to the public across this election campaign.

Are you annoyed a general election was called just as a major international football competition was getting going?

We’ve been preparing for this for four years so I’m mostly glad we finally got the chance to take our campaign to the British people. It’s great to be on the campaign trail and I can tell you that most people I speak to agree that Britain needs change. I’d have liked a bit more spare time to watch the other teams, but I’ll definitely be making time on the campaign trail for England’s games.

Would you rather sit down for coffee with Rishi Sunak or Nigel Farage?

I’d get a takeaway and leave them at the coffee shop to argue over which of them should be leader of the Tory Party.

Big Issue vendors’ questions

BIG ISSUE: What support are you planning to give homeless people? Craig, Caffe Nero, Argyle St, Glasgow

KEIR STARMER: The Tories have completely broken their promise to end rough sleeping. Instead, homelessness has sky-rocketed under this government.  We desperately need to be boosting the number of affordable homes – it’s the only way of putting Britain back on track to ending homelessness. I would also use the full force of the government and work with mayors and local councils to review the support currently provided to tackle homelessness and implement a new strategy that addresses the root causes. That includes bold action from the centre of government, like reforming renters’ rights and banning no-fault evictions. 

We’ve had 14 years of a Tory government that treats homelessness as an afterthought. It’s time to turn the page with a Labour Party that will give this issue the attention it deserves.

What will you do to create employment opportunities for homeless people and when? Cristian, Morningside, Edinburgh

Far too many people are homeless because they are either out of work or not earning enough, so we will reform employment support, provide a national jobs and careers service, and work with local areas to create plans to support more disabled people and those with health conditions into work. We’ll also address soaring NHS waiting lists, which can be another barrier to people getting back to work. The Tories have left our NHS on its knees and they are failing to help the long-term sick get back into work. It’s time for change.

Would you consider a 1p tax rise that is ring-fenced for A&E to increase premises and staff in order to improve waiting times until GP appointments (and GPs) become more readily available? George Anderson, BBC Television Centre, London

George, I want to invest in the health service right away, which is why one of my first steps in government would be to use funds raised by closing tax loopholes for the super-rich to fund 40,000 extra appointments a week. That will bring down waiting lists and get people the care they desperately need. We also know we can make big improvements to NHS services without raising taxes on working people – under the Tories, the tax burden is the highest it’s been for 70 years.

The NHS is a mess, housing is a mess, where do we start to fix them? Paddi, Waterstones, Sauchiehall St, Glasgow

You’re right, things are in a mess, Paddi. That’s a consequence of 14 years of Conservative chaos, and in Scotland, years of SNP failure. The housing crisis is so acute because the Conservatives have failed to meet their housebuilding targets and failed to deliver affordable and social homes. We need to change our planning system, get homes built and deliver more affordable and social housing. That means ensuring developers honour their commitments in full to provide new social and affordable homes, ensure money earmarked for affordable housing and infrastructure gets out the door, and build more affordable homes in our next generation of new towns. 

As a first step to fixing the NHS we’ll have 40,000 more appointments a week on evenings and weekends to help bring down the backlog so the 7.5 million people waiting in pain aren’t waiting any longer. We will also make the NHS more efficient by doubling the number of MRI and CT scanners in the service so we can catch illness much earlier.

Why are you not turning empty and abandoned buildings into homes for homeless people? Josh Clarke Co-op, Henleaze, Bristol

We want to tackle the root causes of homelessness and the housing crisis. We’ll never get the UK out of the housing crisis until we build more homes. We will deliver a transformational package of reform to build 1.5 million homes over the next five years. We also want to kickstart the next generation of ‘new towns’, work with Mayors, and make it quicker to build on brownfield sites. As part of this we’ll bring about the biggest boost in affordable homes for a generation. Labour will get Britain building again and rescue the dream of homeownership for millions of people.

When was the last time you bought a Big Issue? What did you like about it? Paul Logan, Oxford Circus, London

I couldn’t give you the exact date but it was certainly in the last year or two, and it was from a vendor on Kentish Town high street. I’m an admirer of the Big Issue, not just for the employment opportunities it offers to vendors, but also the important campaigning it has done and continues to do.

Do you have a story to tell or opinions to share about this? Get in touch and tell us moreBig Issue exists to give homeless and marginalised people the opportunity to earn an income. To support our work buy a copy of the magazine or get the app from the App Store or Google Play.

Support your local Big Issue vendor

If you can’t get to your local vendor every week, subscribing directly to them online is the best way to support your vendor. Your chosen vendor will receive 50% of the profit from each copy and the rest is invested back into our work to create opportunities for people affected by poverty.
Vendor martin Hawes

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