Keir Starmer faces questions over cost of Labour manifesto

Keir Starmer faced new questions over how Labour would pay to fix Britain’s broken public services as he vowed to “turn the page for ever” on held-back potential and to end political “pantomime” during the party’s manifesto launch.

The Labour leader said he saw “potential held back” everywhere he went as a result of a lack of housing, the cost of living crisis, low wages and inadequate healthcare for children.

Putting wealth creation at the heart of the party’s plan for government, Starmer said the manifesto was a rejection of a “defeatist” approach to the economy which suggested the “only levers” were tax and spend, rather than growth.

“The way we create wealth is broken,” he told an event in Manchester. “It leaves far too many people feeling insecure. Wealth creation is our number one priority. Growth is our core business. If you take nothing else away from this today, let it be this.”

But he faced scepticism over how he could avoid deep spending cuts to public services such as transport, justice and local councils, without fudging his fiscal targets or putting up taxes.

Paul Johnson, director of the Institute for Fiscal Studies thinktank, said Labour was part of a “conspiracy of silence” along with the other main parties on the scale of the fiscal challenge and spending cuts to come.

“Delivering genuine change will almost certainly also require putting actual resources on the table,” he said. “Labour’s manifesto offers no indication that there is a plan for where the money would come from to finance this.”

Starmer was later asked when his government would be able to deliver growth. “As soon as possible. I’m not going to put a date on it,” he said.

He admitted that the challenges faced by Britain would not “disappear overnight” under a Labour government and he did not have a “magic wand”. He said the manifesto represented a “credible long-term plan” for the country.

“Britain has lost its balance,” the Labour leader said. “It is too hard for people to get on. Opportunity is not spread evenly enough. And too many communities are not just locked out of the wealth we create, they are disregarded as sources of dynamism in the first place. Ignored by the toxic idea that economic growth is something that the few hand down to the many. Today, we turn the page on that for ever.”

The pared-back manifesto focused on the party’s five missions of economic growth, clean energy, halving crime, reforming childcare and education and building an NHS for the future.

The 133-page document, which contained no big policy surprises but 33 pictures of the Labour leader, was a deliberate contrast to the Conservatives’ more policy-heavy offering earlier this week.

It reflects Labour’s cautious approach to the election and a desire not to give the Tories any opportunities to derail its campaign or dent its 20-point poll lead, with Starmer saying every policy had been carefully costed.

He said: “I’m not going to do what Rishi Sunak does, which is offer things that he can’t deliver because they’re unfunded. People have had too much of that. They are fed up with that.

“It’s not about rabbits out of a hat, not about pantomime. I’m running as the candidate to be prime minister, not to run the circus.”

The manifesto was intended to be business-friendly, targeted at former Tory voters and aimed at restoring the party’s economic credibility. Labour plans to raise about £7bn in revenue from tax, its costings document confirms, including from non-doms, VAT on private schools and cracking down on tax avoidance.

The party has promised not to raise taxes on working people or corporation tax, but there remain questions over whether other taxes, such as capital gains, could go up in government.

Labour also promised to scrap the multimillion-pound heavily delayed plan to send migrants to Rwanda and use the money to pay for a new security border command. It would bring in legislation to remove the right of hereditary peers to sit in the House of Lords and enforce retirement from the upper chamber at 80, with a longer term plan to abolish the upper chamber entirely.

Starmer pledged to build 1.5m new homes and reform the planning system, which he said acts as a “major brake on economic growth”, and reiterated Labour’s plan to create a state-owned, clean-energy generation firm Great British Energy, backed by £8.3bn over five years.

He said he was “determined” to do better than the Tories on standards after years of political scandals including PPE contracts, Partygate and MPs breaking the rules, which has continued despite Rishi Sunak’s pledge to lead a government of “integrity, professionalism and accountability”.

Labour has promised to set up an ethics and integrity commission with an independent chair with powers to start investigations into misconduct. Senior figures denied they had watered down a promise to ban former ministers from lobbying the government for five years, although there was no detail in the manifesto.

“We will get on with changing the codes and the ethics codes and the guidance that is in place straight away,” said Starmer. “But I know that nobody will believe it’s changed until they see the action that follows.”

Turning on the Tories, Starmer said Sunak’s plans would not address the UK’s problems, no matter how many they “throw at the wall hoping some of them will stick”.

In a dig at Nigel Farage, who is standing for Reform UK in Essex, he said: “If you want politics as pantomime, I hear Clacton is nice.”

A YouGov poll for the Times shows Reform overtaking the Conservatives for the first time. The survey has Farage’s party on 19%, narrowly ahead of the Tories on 18%. Labour were reportedly down one percentage point to 37%, according to the poll of 2,211 adults.

A climate protester disrupted Starmer’s speech, complaining Labour was offering the “same old Tory policies”. As the woman was escorted out of the building, Starmer said: “We gave up on being a party of protest five years ago. We want to be a party in power.”

Laura Trott, the chief secretary to the Treasury, said Labour’s manifesto “only contained tax rises, no tax cuts” as she repeated the disputed Tory claim that the rival party’s policies would cost every family £2,000.


Updated: Juni 13, 2024 — 7:11 pm

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