Sir Keir said that after taking over the leadership of the party following its disastrous election performance last year, he has a “mountain to climb” to overcome Boris Johnson’s 80-seat majority and win back voters in Labour’s former northern heartlands.
The Labour leader spoke to The Yorkshire Post on a visit to Doncaster, an area he says he knows well as his wife Victoria’s mother was brought up in the town.
His speech to Labour’s virtual party conference this year was from the Danum Gallery, Library and Museum, in the town.
Labour lost nine seats across Yorkshire and the Humber to the Conservatives in the 2019 General Election, including some they had held for decades.
And though some recent opinion polls have put Labour ahead of the Conservatives – with one suggesting it would win back Don Valley if the election was held now – he said there was “much more work that needs to be done”.
He said: “I’m very conscious of the need to listen to people in Doncaster. And it’s only by listening that we can begin that work. But I’m not going to pretend that this isn’t a hard task.
“I am absolutely determined that we will win the trust of people again in Doncaster, the trust that we’ve lost.
“But I’m not going to pretend for a minute that that has already been done.
“It’s going to be hard graft every week, every month and every year into 2024.
“I’m going to spend a lot of time in Yorkshire and a lot of time in Doncaster. Seriously, we will be here a lot.”
In a year when the Government has come under fierce criticism for its handling of the coronavirus pandemic, Sir Keir has been labelled ‘Captain Hindsight’ by Mr Johnson when he attacked his performance in the Commons.
The PM has also laid accusations against Labour “dithering” instead of joining the Government’s efforts to eradicate the coronavirus from the UK.
But Sir Keir said he had tried to be constructive and support the Government when that was the right thing to do and challenge them when they make mistakes.
He said: “Any government would have struggled in this pandemic. There’s no point pretending that it’s easy.
“But Boris Johnson is characterised by being always too slow to react, because he pretends problems aren’t there, and he pushes them away. And then the problem hits him and then he doesn’t learn the lesson.”
Sir Keir and his wife Victoria will visit a memorial garden on Christmas Day to remember her mother, Barbara, who was brought up in South Yorkshire and died in February.
Describing his Christmas plans, he said: “We will be at home with our kids, we’ve got a boy who is 12 and a girl who is 10, so we’ll be up very early.
“We will try to take them out for a walk, which will be a struggle because my wife and I want to go for a walk and they won’t.
“We will go to the memorial garden probably on the morning. And then we’ll go home and stay at home and have something nice to eat.”
'Yorkshire has been let down for too long by bad rail links'
People in Yorkshire should not be forced to choose between HS2 and improving its other rail links as poor transport has been holding the region back for too long, says Sir Keir Starmer.
The Labour leader said the controversial high-speed project, connecting London with Yorkshire and Manchester, “needs to happen” alongside improvements to infrastructure east to west across the region.
Boris Johnson has said the Government’s “ambition” to build the eastern leg of HS2 up to Leeds “remains absolutely unchanged” after Government advisers recommended scrapping the scheme.
The advisers from the National Infrastructure Commission recommended concentrating on regional links with the budget available for rail projects in the North and Midlands, putting at risk the section of HS2 between the West Midlands, Sheffield and Leeds.
Sir Keir said: “People in Yorkshire are fed up with the lack of rail infrastructure, it has been going on for years. This was going on when I was living in Leeds, my mother-in-law was brought up in Doncaster so we know the area well, this has been going on a long time.
“People are fed up that that still hasn’t been fixed. They’ve been given commitments on that, and it hasn’t happened. It shouldn’t be a question of whether you get the rail infrastructure you need in Yorkshire and going across east to west and around the towns and cities, or HS2, it should be both.”