Keir Starmer: 'Northern Powerhouse' and 'levelling up' only add up to soundbites and photo opportunities

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer has taken aim at Government promises to fight inequality and regional divides as he positioned Labour to forge a new relationship with business.

In a speech today - which came after Sir Keir had faced questions over his leadership - the former Director of Public Prosecutions said the Conservatives were “incapable of seizing this moment” and that the March 3 Budget would be “short-term and it won’t even be a fix”.

Sir Keir set out how he aimed to change what Labour had “failed to realise” - that social justice and equality was achieved through a strong partnership with business.

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And he said any government led by him would focus on tackling “inequalities and injustices”.

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer during a visit to Terminal 2 at Heathrow Airport, London, to see the COVID-19 response. Photo: PA

“Successive Conservative Prime Ministers have used the rhetoric of change: of ‘northern powerhouses’, ‘burning injustices’ or ‘levelling up’,” he said.

“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.”

Sir Keir’s intervention was billed as setting out Labour’s long-term vision for the economy ahead of the Budget next month.

And he said: “We know what the Conservatives say they want to do, 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.”

He said if Labour was setting the Budget the party would keep the £20 uplift in Universal Credit, give more funding to councils, and end the pay freeze for the public sector.

He said business rate relief would be extended, as well as the VAT cut, and the furlough scheme would also remain to help people back into work.

He said: “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.”

He added the Budget was a “pivotal moment” and that Covid had “shifted the axis on economic policy”.

“The age in which government did little but collect and distribute revenue is over,” he said.

“I believe people are now looking for more from their government - like they were after the Second World War.”

He said: “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 inequalities and injustices that this crisis has so brutally exposed, and to build a better, more secure, future.”