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‘Vague, vapid and of little substance’

Sir Keir Starmer's speech receives icy reception from leftwingers

A SPEECH by Sir Keir Starmer on how he would lead a post-Covid recovery if he became prime minister received a chilly reception from leftwingers today, with Momentum dismissing it as having “no ambition” and “little substance.”

The Labour leader pledged to stamp out inequalities and injustices exposed by the coronavirus pandemic if he wins power.

He announced that an issue of “recovery bonds” would be party policy. They would serve as IOUs to those who lent money to the government, which he said would spend it on rebuilding local communities, jobs, businesses and infrastructure.

Sir Keir compared the recovery from the coronavirus pandemic to the aftermath of the second world war, arguing that there was an opportunity to “forge a new contract with the British people.”

He said that the bonds “would also provide security for savers and give millions of people a proper stake in Britain’s future.”

Sir Keir also promised more “affordable homes,” but he did not specify whether they would be homes for social rent. 

Postwar Labour prime minister Clement Attlee, whom Sir Keir has suggested is his model for leading the post-Covid recovery, ushered in a mass housing scheme, with council properties accounting for about 80 per cent of new homes.

He also pledged that Labour would forge “a new partnership with business” by backing a “new generation” of start-ups with loans for 100,000 new firms.

Left Labour activist group Momentum argued that Sir Keir risks being outdone by the Tories on economic policy. 

Momentum co-chairman Andrew Scattergood said that the speech showed “no ambition, little substance”, adding: “Rishi Sunak is not George Osborne and if he decides to invest in the economy and the NHS, Labour risks being outflanked by the Tories.”

Mr Scattergood suggested that Sir Keir should have announced policies like a green new deal that would expand public ownership in Britain.

The absence of a green new deal from the speech also irked Green MP Caroline Lucas.

She said: “I’m as in favour of recovery bonds as the next person but, if that’s the extent of Starmer’s vision, we’re in more trouble than I thought.”

No Holding Back, a campaign group of socialist MPs, said that Sir Keir seems to have his priorities wrong as Labour “needs a partnership with society, paid for by taxation,” not a “partnership with business, paid for by society.”

Group member Jon Trickett MP said that he would have instead set out policies such as a wealth tax, stronger workers’ rights, ending NHS privatisation, extending the Covid furlough scheme up to Christmas and banning unscrupulous bosses’ “fire-and-rehire tactics.”

Unite assistant general secretary Howard Beckett described Mr Trickett’s policy suggestions as “real commitments needed to make sure workers do not pay for this crisis.”

Marxist economist Grace Blakely said that Sir Keir “pales in comparison to the post-war social democrats to whom he compares himself.”

She said that the speech had been an opportunity for him to “present a bold alternative” to the status quo under the Tories, but that his “vague and vapid” speech had “failed spectacularly.”

Unions gave the speech a more mixed reception, with the TUC, public-service union Unison, transport union TSSA and general union GMB among those welcoming it.

GMB acting general secretary Warren Kenny said Sir Keir recognised “the fragilities and fault lines of our public services that have been underfunded and sold off.”

And Unison general secretary Christina McAnea said that he was right to argue that Britain needs a “bold change of direction, not a return to the failed austerity and spending cuts of the past.”

But the Fire Brigades Union’s Matt Wrack said that if Sir Keir was right to call out the terrible impact of Tory austerity, “currently, many of us are concerned that Labour is not talking about radical policies such as those developed over the last five years that we know would transform the country.”

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