Keir Starmer warns Boris Johnson against austerity and tax rises

Keir Starmer stood in front of a Union Jack backdrop today as he set out his economic vision for the future, days after being urged to undergo a ‘patriotic rebrand’ to win over lost Labour voters. 

The Opposition leader warned Boris Johnson not to ‘waste the sacrifices of the last year’ with a botched rebuilding of the UK economy, backed by a muted, pastel rendition of the UK national flag.

The major speech came after Sir Keir was last month told to put clear daylight between himself and his hard Left predecessor Jeremy Corbyn in the eyes of the electorate. 

A leaked report at the start of February suggested he makes ‘use of the flag, veterans’ to convince disaffected former voters who fled at the 2019 election that Labour reflects their values. 

The Labour leadership seem to have taken the advice to heart already, with Sir Keir and senior shadow ministers Anneliese Dodds and Rachel Reeves seen against the backdrop of the union flag for speeches and party political broadcasts even before the report came out.

The Labour boss warned the PM and Chancellor Rishi Sunak against hiking taxes or implementing a new wave of austerity in a ‘roadmap to yesterday’ as he sought to reboot his leadership.

He called for the March Budget to avoid short-term measures to balance the books and invoked post-war Labour prime minister Clement Attlee to say that Britain should be rebuild with a longer-term, futuristic vision. 

However, the faint pastel-hued Union Jack backdrop today was too vivid for some. Plaid Cymru’s Westminister leader Liz Saville Roberts complained on Twitter that he was ‘draped in the union jack (sic) … with no mention of Wales’. 

Sir Keir's pastel-shaded backdrop of the flag was barely discernible to the TV cameras

Sir Keir's pastel-shaded backdrop of the flag was barely discernible to the TV cameras

Sir Keir’s pastel-shaded backdrop of the flag was barely discernible to the TV cameras

Sir Keir, who has faced accusations of a lacklustre first year in charge of the party, also criticised the policies of predecessor Jeremy Corbyn as he set out to woo businesses, saying they were not 'something just to be tolerated or taxed'

Sir Keir, who has faced accusations of a lacklustre first year in charge of the party, also criticised the policies of predecessor Jeremy Corbyn as he set out to woo businesses, saying they were not 'something just to be tolerated or taxed'

Sir Keir, who has faced accusations of a lacklustre first year in charge of the party, also criticised the policies of predecessor Jeremy Corbyn as he set out to woo businesses, saying they were not ‘something just to be tolerated or taxed’

Rachel Reeves

Rachel Reeves

Anneliese Dodds

Anneliese Dodds

The Labour leadership seem to have taken the advice to heart already, with Sir Keir and senior shadow ministers Anneliese Dodds and Rachel Reeves seen against the backdrop of the union flag for speeches and party political broadcasts even before the report came out.

Mr Attlee heavily defeated Winston Churchill in the general election held following the Second World War and went on to build the NHS and other major arms of the welfare state. 

In another idea from the time Sir Keir also suggested the formation of a ‘British recovery bond’, with echos of the ‘war bonds’ that helped finance the war effort. 

Sir Keir, who has faced accusations of a lacklustre first year in charge of the party, also criticised the policies of predecessor Jeremy Corbyn as he set out to woo businesses, saying they were not ‘something just to be tolerated or taxed.’ 

He today described next month’s Budget as a fork in the road, saying that ‘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,’ Sir Keir said in the speech broadcast live from Labour headquarters.

‘That would waste the sacrifices of the last year. And it would choke off our recovery.’

And in a nod to late Labour former prime minister Sir Harold Wilson, who said the party is ‘a moral crusade or it is nothing’, Sir Keir said: ‘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.’ 

He called for the March Budget to avoid short-term measures to balance the books and invoked post-war Labour prime minister Clement Attlee to say that Britain should be rebuild with a longer-term, futuristic vision. 

Attlee (pictured), defeated Winston Churchill in the general election held following the Second World War and went on to build the NHS and the rest of the Welfare State

Attlee (pictured), defeated Winston Churchill in the general election held following the Second World War and went on to build the NHS and the rest of the Welfare State

Attlee (pictured), defeated Winston Churchill in the general election held following the Second World War and went on to build the NHS and the rest of the Welfare State

The Labour boss warned the PM and Chancellor Rishi Sunak against hiking taxes or implementing a new wave of austerity in a 'roadmap to yesterday' as he sought to reboot his leadership.

The Labour boss warned the PM and Chancellor Rishi Sunak against hiking taxes or implementing a new wave of austerity in a 'roadmap to yesterday' as he sought to reboot his leadership.

The Labour boss warned the PM and Chancellor Rishi Sunak against hiking taxes or implementing a new wave of austerity in a ‘roadmap to yesterday’ as he sought to reboot his leadership.

Labour’s flag fails 

Labour has sometimes had a tricky relationship with national flags.

 Emily Thornberry was accused of holding the working class in contempt after and sacked from the Labour frontbench in 2014 for appearing to mock a family home sporting the St George’s Cross.

Ms Thornberry, Sir Keir’s current shadow international trade secretary, sparked a storm when she claimed she had ‘never seen anything like it’ in a  showing a terraced home in Rochester.

The Kent home had three England flags and a white van parked in the drive. 

Ed Miliband fired her from his top team for the comment made during the World Cup in Brazil.

However a year later she was welcomed back by Jeremy Corbyn, who appointed her shadow employment minister.

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Sir Keir said there is ‘a chance to diagnose the condition of Britain and to start the process of putting it right,’ adding: ‘That’s the path I would take in the March Budget. To begin a new chapter in the history for our country.’

The pandemic was made worse because ‘the foundations of our society have been weakened over a decade’, he added.

‘We’ve the worst death toll in Europe and the worst economic crisis of any major economy.

‘Now, I’ve said a lot about the incompetence of the Government’s handling of the pandemic and I make no apology for that.

‘They have 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 to prosperity has been made all the worse because the foundations of our society have been weakened over a decade.’

In another reference to Mr Attlee’s administration, he added: ‘The age in which Government did little but collect and distribute revenue is over.

‘I believe people are now looking for more from their Government – like they were after the Second World War.’

Sir Keir Starmer said he would create a ‘new partnership’ between Labour and businesses, announcing plans to offer 100,000 start-up loans if he comes to power.

War bonds: Patriotic loans to help pay for the defeat of the enemy

A war bond is a fundraising measure that has commonly been used during conflicts including both world wars.

In essence it is a patriotic loan from a member of the public to the Government to bankroll the ‘war effort’. 

It provides the Government that issues them with a ready source of cash to pay for items like tanks, aircraft and other materiel. 

They usually see members of the public pay a set price for a bond that pays them a set rate of interest over a pre-determined number of years. 

This means that the holder makes money during the term of the bond. When it ends, which is called ‘reaching maturity’, they are repaid the price of the bond in full.

A 1915 war bond ad

A 1915 war bond ad

A 1918 war bond ad

A 1918 war bond ad

War bonds provide the Government that issues them with a ready source of cash to pay for items like tanks, aircraft and other materiel

So the taxpayer makes money through buying the bond and being paid the interest, although often the interest rate was not huge. 

Historically, advertising campaigns were run to suggest it was a patriotic duty to buy them, rather than promoting huge financial returns.

Silent movie star Charlie Chaplin helped promote US Liberty Bonds during the First World War. 

What the Government gets through a massive bond issue is a massive supply of ready cash, which is vital for huge spending projects like a war, or huge postwar rebuilding. 

But they can often take a long time to fully repay. Britain’s First World War debt was only repaid in full in 2015 – more than 100 years after the outbreak of the conflict.

The Government repaid some £1.9billion still owed to more than 100,000 people who held war bonds issued in 1917 to help fund the military effort.

The Government was paying 3.5 per cent in interest to the 120,000 people who bought the bonds. The Debt Management Office estimated that Britain has paid some £5.5 billion in total interest on the loans since 1917.

Low interest rates six years ago meant mean the Government was able to pay off the debt by issuing new bonds which pay a much lower rate of interest.

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The party leader said in an online speech: ‘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.

‘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.

‘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.’

He backed the creation of a ‘British recovery bond’ to help provide money for investment in communities.

The Opposition leader said the move was in response to the Bank of England suggesting the ‘vast majority of savings built up during the pandemic won’t be spent’.

Federation of Small Business (FSB) chairman Mike Cherry said: ‘The past 12 months have been incredibly difficult for all small firms right across the country as well as the wider economy, which is why it’s especially welcome to see the Leader of the Opposition’s pro-enterprise proposals to help people start their own businesses.

‘Small firms are the backbone of the country and without vital support for them including key help for entrepreneurs we won’t be able to get the country’s economic engine roaring once more. 

‘In particular we are pleased to see the adoption of proposals to really drive start-up creation, which we have proposed in to policymakers in Government and across Parliament by building on the success of Start-up Loans and the New Enterprise Allowance.

‘As we enter the recovery phase of this crisis, it’s small firms that will be in the driving seat for jobs and growth.’

Sir Keir is facing questions about why Labour remains below the Conservatives in the polls. And last night his ‘reset’ speech was dismissed as not radical enough by the Left-wing of his party.

Andrew Scattergood, co-chairman of the pro-Jeremy Corbyn Momentum group, said it had ‘no ambition, little substance’.

He added: ‘We can’t win in 2024 by promising to be better managers of the same system.’

Sir Keir, the former Director of Public Prosecutions, was expected to bring his experience as a lawyer to forensically cross-examine Boris Johnson in the Commons.

But earlier this month he was humiliated by having to admit he had made a mistake at Prime Minister’s Questions.

Amanda Milling, co-chairwoman of the Conservative Party, said: ‘Keir Starmer said this speech would deliver his big vision for the future of the country, a ”policy blitz” with ideas to rival Beveridge and relaunch his failing leadership. But there are only two new policies – one taken from the Conservatives and the other from the CPS, the think tank co-founded by Margaret Thatcher.

‘After 10 months of Keir Starmer all Labour has to offer is others’ ideas, empty rhetoric and calling for things the Government is already doing.

‘The Conservatives are getting on with the job and rolling out the vaccine and delivering on our commitments to the British people.’

Starmer’s jibe at Labour Left over its attitude to UK businesses

Keir Starmer hit out at the anti-business attitude of his predecessor Jeremy Corbyn and his shadow chancellor John McDonnell today as he tried to reset ties with the private sector.

In a thinly-veiled reference to the previous party leadership he said that Labour ‘for too long’ failed to realise that it needed ‘a strong partnership with business’ to achieve its aims of social justice and equality.

It had echoes of Tony Blair’s ‘prawn cocktail offensive’ of the 1990s as he sought to rid the party of its militant past. 

But for five years Mr McDonnell (above) had a difficult relationship with businesses over his hard Left past. 

In 2018 he urged business to get behind Labour’s plans for higher taxes if they want a seat at the policy making table.

He said: ‘There are some policies that you will like and some of which you will be less enthusiastic about.

‘I don’t expect some people to be overjoyed at having to pay a bit more in income tax or corporation tax or at the introduction of a Financial Transaction Tax.’

But speaking today Sir Keir said: ‘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 governments can’t do this on their own.

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

 

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