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Keir Starmer says Brits are 'right to be anti-Westminster' and slams Tories for 'salting the earth of Britain’s future'
4 January 2024, 11:19 | Updated: 4 January 2024, 12:04
Sir Keir Starmer has told British people that they are right to be sceptical of politicians, as he accused the Conservative Party of harming the country's future.
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The Labour leader said that the Tories would "unleash a gauntlet of fear" at the next general election, which will almost certainly take place this year.
Sir Keir's party are widely tipped to re-enter government after 14 years of opposition, and he urged voters to "hold on to the flickering hope in your heart that things can be better" when they go to the polls.
But he declined to offer many specifics on what Labour would do in power, telling reporters simply that he wanted to "target growth".
Speaking in Bristol on Thursday, the Labour leader said: "This year at the general election, against the tide of cynicism in Westminster, the gauntlet of fear the Tories will unleash, and most of all the understandable despair of a downtrodden country, I will ask the British people to believe in it again.
"I will say you’re right to be anti-Westminster and angry about what politics has become. But hold on to the flickering hope in your heart that things can be better, because they can, and you can choose it."
Sir Keir accused the Conservatives of taking "the change option off the table altogether" and of "salting the earth of Britain's future".
He said: “Whether you’re thinking of voting Labour for the first time, whether you always vote Labour, or whether you have no intention of voting Labour whatsoever: my party will serve you."
Sir Keir said that politics should not be "vanity dressed up as virtue".
He added: "This isn't a game. Politics shouldn't be a hobby or a pastime for people who enjoy the feeling of power. Nor should it be a sermon from on high, a self-regarding lecture, vanity dressed up as virtue.
"It should be a higher calling, the power of the vote, the hope of change and renewal married to the responsibility of service. That's what I believe in."
The latest the general election could be would be January 2025, because a parliamentary term can last five years at the longest. The current parliament first met on December 17 2019, and will automatically dissolve on December 17 this year 2024 at the latest. An election would be held 25 working days later.
But most commentators expect the election to be held in autumn this year, or even as early as May.
Sir Keir said he was ready for an election, adding that he had "hated the futility" of four years in opposition, which he described as a "long, hard slog".
He said: "The thought of millions of people right across our country putting a cross on that ballot paper. It's what we've been waiting for, preparing for, fighting for - a year of choice, a chance to change Britain, a clock that is ticking on this government.
"Because whether it's in the spring or later in the year, the moment when power is taken out of Tory hands and given not to me but to you, that moment is getting closer by the second."
He told voters: "This is your year, the opportunity to shape our country's future rests in your hands. And that is a new year message of hope. The hope of democracy, the power of the vote, the potential for national renewal.
"The chance, finally, to turn the page, lift the weight off our shoulders, unite as a country and get our future back."
The Labour leader said he wanted to fight the election on the economy, which has traditionally been seen as the Conservatives' strength. He also told voters no longer to consider Labour a party of protest.
Sir Keir said: "I have read that the Tories want to fight the election on this terrain. That they think their economic comfort zone still has some purchase.
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"But let me tell you, what used to be their strength is now their weakness. The so-called party of business which now hates business, that boasts about tax cuts while raising taxes higher than at any time since the war. That claim even now to be the party of sound finance, but that crashed the economy and made you pay.
"They have nothing left on this anymore. Their credit rating is zero and we have turned the tables with a plan for the growth Britain needs."
He went on: "We don’t just expect an election on the economy, we want an election on the economy and we are ready for that fight, ready to close the book on the trickle down nonsense once and for all."
Sir Keir warned that the next few years would not be easy amid widespread economic difficulties.
"But this year is the chance, the only chance, to change our course, the future of Britain in your hand".
Labour has criticised the Conservatives for the high levels of tax paid by people in Britain under their administration. But asked for specifics on unfreezing income tax thresholds, Sir Keir declined to comment.
He told reporters: "I do want more people to have more money in their pocket. That's a fundamental principle we start with.
"Now, the question is how do we get to that? I'm challenged on tax all of the time. The first lever that we want to pull, the first place we will go, is growth in our economy because that's what's been missing for 14 years."
He added: "Any tax cuts have to be fair and affordable, and we have to be realistic about that. But I think the place to go is to growth on this. "
He said he was "fundamentally opposed" to the idea of cutting inheritance tax, which the Conservatives have reportedly considered.
"I don't believe in tax breaks for those who are already well-off when there's nothing on offer for working people," he said. "So, I wouldn't be doing what they're floating."
He also defended the plan to borrow £28 billion to fund green energy investment, calling attacks on the proposal "misconceived".
Asked if he would be open to processing asylum claims offshore in a revised version of the Conservatives' Rwanda plan, Sir Keir Starmer there was a difference between "processing offshore and deporting" people to places like Rwanda.
He pointed out that "the Ukraine scheme has an element of processing offshore before people arrive in this country. It can be done.
"I'm open to sensible suggestions and credible solutions to what is very obviously a problem.
"I've simply refused to back down from my central proposition that I do not accept that you can smash drug gangs, terrorist gangs, people-smuggling gangs, but somehow everybody does not think you can smash the gangs that are running this foul trade in the first place."
Sir Keir did not confirm whether he would maintain the increased family visa salary threshold brought in by the current government.
He told reporters: "I've been clear, I hope, that one of the main drivers of lawful immigration is the fact that we don't have the skills we need here in this country.
"If we look at the rising numbers of work visas, care worker visas, they've gone hugely through the roof. That's because we haven't got a skills strategy in this country to deal with it.
"I think that that's what we need, and that ought to have the effect, will have the effect, of driving the numbers down."
The Labour leader also said his commitment to protecting single-sex spaces was "unwavering", confirming that they would definitely be maintained if he were Prime Minister.
"From my time as chief prosecutor, I worked with a whole bunch of people on violence against women and girls, and saw and know myself from my own observations just how important it is."