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Read Labour leader Keir Starmer’s speech ‘A New Chapter for Britain’

The Labour leader laid out his vision for the UK's post-Covid recovery in a major speech.
Image credit: UK Parliament/Flickr

When I went to one of our brilliant vaccine centres a few weeks ago I saw something extraordinary. People arriving – by the dozen – with anxiety etched across their face.

Many hadn’t been out of the house for months, but as our brilliant NHS vaccinated them, I saw their anxiety drain away. And they left with smiles – broad smiles – on their faces.

It’s that spirit of hope and optimism that I want to start with today. A spirit we’ve seen too little in the last year.

The dedication of our frontline workers, the skill of our NHS, the brilliance of our scientists and the solidarity of the British people now point the way to a better future for our country and allow us to glimpse how we can thrive again as a nation. 

Covid has shown us the best of Britain, but it’s shown our fragilities too. This virus has a deadly ability to find the most vulnerable and to expose deep inequalities and injustices.

We have to seize this moment to address them. I believe there’s a mood in the air which we don’t detect often in Britain. It was there in 1945, after the sacrifice of war, and it’s there again now. It’s the determination that our collective sacrifice must lead to a better future.

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In a few weeks’ time, we’ll have a Budget that will offer a simple choice: A fork in the road. We can go back to the same insecure and unequal economy that’s been so cruelly exposed by the virus, or we can seize this moment, and go forward to a future that’s going to look utterly unlike the past. 

That choice will define the Budget. That choice will define the next election.

We know what the Conservatives say they want to do to: They want to Build Back. But I don’t want to go back. We can’t return to business as usual. And certainly not to an economy rooted in insecurity and inequality.

I want our country to go forward, to embrace the change that’s coming – in science, technology and work – and be ready to face the future 

Today I want to set out how we can build that future together. Covid is not only the worst health crisis in memory, it’s the biggest economic convulsion in 300 years. 

We have the worst death toll in Europe and the worst economic crisis of any major economy. I’ve said a lot about the incompetence of the government in handling the pandemic and I make no apology for that. They’ve been slow at every stage. They’ve ignored advice. They haven’t learnt from their mistakes.  

Yet a government out of its depth is not even half the story. The terrible damage caused by the virus to health and prosperity has been made all the worse because the foundations of our society have been weakened over a decade.

Ten years ago, at the start of this period of Conservative government, Professor Michael Marmot published a report on the state of England’s health. In February of last year he updated it and he’s done so again in the shadow of Covid. 

It shows that even before the pandemic, life expectancy had stalled – for the first time in a century, child poverty had shot up to over four million, and that a child growing up in a deprived area in the North East can expect to live for five years less than a child growing up in a deprived area in London. 

What sort of legacy is that, for a party that’s been in government for a decade? That life itself has got cheaper. And shorter.

In his most recent report, Marmot set out the costs of inequality. That Covid got into the cracks and crevices of our society and forced them open with tragic consequences.  

During the last year, my thoughts have returned time and again to the wartime generation; those who suffered through the horrors of World War Two; who rebuilt Britain from the rubble of the Blitz; created the NHS and built millions of homes fit for heroes and I contrast that with how so many of them were let down in their time of need – exposed to Covid in underfunded care homes, unable to say goodbye to families and loved ones.

How can the Prime Minister now look those families in the eye and say: “We did everything we could?” When the truth is that the Conservatives promised to fix social care for a decade, but never got round to it. The problem is even bigger than the serial failures of this government: It’s about an ideology that’s failed.

An ideology that’s proved incapable of providing security for the long-term, that’s indifferent to the moral and economic necessity of tackling inequality, and that left Britain unprepared when we were tested most.

Our care homes are perhaps the clearest example of this. But we see the same tragic story in overstretched hospitals and GP surgeries, in schools with ever-growing class sizes, in our once proud town centres and high streets, in an economy so insecure that millions of people can’t afford to isolate…and where the lowest paid have been amongst the most exposed.

These are the inevitable consequences of a decade of decisions guided by the notion that government can’t interfere with the market.

That you can strip back public services, ignore inequalities and take money out of the pockets of those who need it most, only to look the other way when the consequences of those choices became clear. 

This pandemic has pulled back the curtain on that way of doing things. This must now be a moment to think again about the country that we want to be. A call to arms – like the Beveridge Report was in the 1940s. A chance to diagnose the condition of Britain… and to start the process of putting it right. 

That’s the path I would take in the March Budget. To begin a new chapter in the history of our country – and to equip Britain for the opportunities of the future.

But I fear that the Conservatives are incapable of seizing this moment. That what we get on March 3 will be short-term and it won’t even be a fix. 

Successive Conservative Prime Ministers have used the rhetoric of change: of ‘northern powerhouses’, ‘burning injustices’ or ‘levelling up’. But all it ever adds up to is a few soundbites and the odd photo opportunity.

The truth is, whoever their Prime Minister is, the Conservatives simply don’t believe that it’s the role of government to tackle inequality or insecurity. 

They believe a good government is one that gets out of the way, rather than builds the path to a more secure future. You can get away with that in the short-term. Perhaps even for a few years, but after a decade the results are obvious. And so the mistakes the Conservatives are making today are the mistakes they always make. 

They try to pretend this is a different Conservative Party. You could have fooled me. If you can’t decide whether to plunge hundreds of thousands of children into poverty by cutting universal credit, you have no chance of mending our broken system.

If you vote against children getting free school meals, you’re not going to find the solution to millions of children growing up in poverty.

If you can’t support three million self-employed people, but you can spray billions on contracts that don’t deliver for our NHS, you’re not going to be able to build the economy of the future.

And if you freeze pay for millions of key workers you’re hardly going to build the high wage, high standards Britain that we so desperately need.

That’s why, despite the scale of the moment, all we can expect from this government is more of the same: A roadmap to yesterday. Another decade of insecurity and inequality. 

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Labour would choose a different path. A path that is focused on the long-term. That tackles inequality, invests in the future and builds a more secure and prosperous economy. That journey starts with the responsible steps that are necessary now to protect family incomes and to support businesses.

As the OECD, the IMF and the IFS have all indicated, the public finances must be returned to sustainability over the medium to long-term not in the short-term. So this is no time for a second wave of austerity. And this is no time for tax rises on businesses and families either. That would waste the sacrifices of the last year. And it would choke off our recovery 

That’s why a Labour Budget would protect families. We wouldn’t cut the £20 uplift in Universal Credit, benefiting 6 million families by £1,000 a year. We’d provide local councils with the funding they need to prevent huge rises in council tax. And we’d end the insult of a pay freeze for our key workers after they’ve given so much.

A Labour Budget would also back British business. By extending business rate relief and the VAT cut for hospitality and leisure. By easing the burden of debt that weighs down so many businesses. And by extending and updating the furlough scheme so it’s better able to help people back into work.

We’d also fix the gaping holes in the government’s Kickstart jobs scheme.

It shows how badly this Government has let down young people that on average 292 young people have become unemployed every day but the government’s flagship scheme only supports 13 jobs a day. That’s one job supported for every 22 jobs lost by young people. 

We also need to use this Budget to build a more sustainable, secure economy for the long-term. The Chancellor is pinning his hopes for recovery on short-term consumer spending.

But as the Bank of England have said, the vast majority of savings built up during the pandemic won’t be spent. That’s understandable. But it won’t help rebuild our country and it won’t do much to help savers.

There’s an opportunity here to think creatively. To build on the spirit of solidarity we’ve seen in the last year. And to forge a new contract with the British people.

The British people invest in rebuilding an economy that’s more secure. And the government provides financial security for millions of people – many of whom have saved for the first time.

If I were Prime Minister, I would introduce a new British Recovery Bond. This could raise billions to invest in local communities, jobs and businesses. It could help build the infrastructure of the future – investing in science, skills, technology and British manufacturing 

It would also provide security for savers and give millions of people a proper stake in Britain’s future.

This is bold, it’s innovative. And it’s an example of the active, empowering government I believe is needed if we’re to build a more secure economy. 

The March Budget is a pivotal moment. But I also want to lift our sights, to talk about the decade to come. Under my leadership Labour’s priority will always be financial responsibility.

I know the value of people’s hard-earned money – I take that incredibly seriously. I know that people rightly expect the government to look after it too. To invest wisely and not to spend money we can’t afford.

Those are my guiding principles. But I think that Covid has shifted the axis on economic policy.  

Both what is necessary and what is possible have changed. The age in which government did little but collect and distribute revenue is over. 

The mistakes of the last decade have made sure of that. I believe people are now looking for more from their government – like they were after the second world war.

They’re looking for government to help them through difficult times, to provide security, and to build a better future for them and for their families. A government that knows the value of public services, not just the price in the market. 

A government that invests in British skills, science, universities and manufacturing, that provides world-class education for all of our children, and whose driving mission is to tackle inequalities from birth.

A government that can ensure people don’t have to leave their home town to have a chance of getting a good job and won’t leave university with crippling debt. 

That can build a new generation of affordable homes – and not stand idly by while millions are denied the dream of homeownership.

A government that can work with trade unions and businesses to shape the future of work, and harness the opportunities of new technology. A government that will ensure care homes are places of dignity. A government that reflects our values on the world stage. And that puts tackling the climate emergency at the centre of everything we do. 

That’s what I mean when I talk of a future where Britain can be the best place to grow up in and the best place to grow old in. 

 But none of this is possible if you don’t believe in the power of good government. And the need to create a new partnership between an active government, enterprising business and the British people. 

The Conservatives are incapable of this: 

They simply don’t believe it’s the duty of government to deliver social justice and equality – that’s why they’ll always fall back on the short-term demands of the market.

But, if we’re honest, for too long Labour has failed to realise that the only way to deliver social justice and equality is through a strong partnership with business.

Under my leadership, that mind-set will change. 

I believe in the power of active, enterprising government working alongside British business. Not because I believe business is something just to be tolerated or taxed, but because I know that government can’t do this on its own.

And that a new partnership with British businesses is the only way to build a secure economy, strong families and a prosperous country.

The vast majority of businesses know this too. They know the days of ignoring their social and climate responsibilities are long gone. In fact, many businesses are waiting for politicians to catch up.

A new partnership with business – one where we have high expectations of business and where business can have high expectations of Labour – is pivotal to my leadership. And to my vision of the future. 

It’s also personal to me. My dad worked on the factory floor his entire life. A steady, secure job allowed him to build a better life for his family. 

That’s why, when I think about business I see a source of pride, dignity and prosperity. And I know there’s no vision of a future where Britain fulfils its potential in which business does not thrive.

That’s why, if I was Prime Minister, I’d back a new generation of British entrepreneurs. By providing start-up loans for 100,000 new businesses across every region of the UK

For too long, businesses have been concentrated in too few parts of our country. This doesn’t reflect where our talent lies and it stifles potential.

This is just a start in addressing that. But we can’t afford to ignore it any longer. 

People often ask me why I want this job. The answer is simple: To change people’s lives. Because when I see an injustice, I want to put it right.

That’s not just about policy choices: it’s an utter determination that pulses through my veins. That’s why I went into law. It’s why I spent two decades fighting human rights cases.

It’s why I served as Director of Public Prosecutions – to fight against injustice and to help keep our country safe. It’s why I’m so proud to lead the Party I love. And why I want to lead the country I love.

The last decade of failed Conservative ideology and the last year of our collective suffering demand we now create a new, more secure future.

For me, this isn’t just a political question. It’s an economic question too, because if Britain is to succeed in the world if we’re going to be ready to face the challenges of the 2020s and the 2030s.

We can’t waste anyone’s talents. We can’t accept that some regions of our country are being held back. We can’t accept that if you’re born into a deprived background, you’ll have worse life chances.

Or that if you’re from Black, Asian or minority ethnic communities you’ll face structural racism and discrimination at every stage of your life.

The Britain of the future, the Britain I want to build is going to need the talents of everyone.

Inequality is not only morally bankrupt, it’s economic stupidity too. A fair society will lead to a more prosperous economy. It’s not the choice of one or the other, as the Conservatives would have you believe. 

We either have both or we have neither. 

Harold Wilson once said that the Labour party is a moral crusade or it is nothing. He was right. Our moral crusade now is to address the inequalities and injustices that this crisis has so brutally exposed – and to build a better, more secure future.

Thank you.