Keir Starmer: UK needs election now whether Liz Truss stays or goes

Labour leader says government is ‘completely at end of the road’ and his party is preparing for power

Keir Starmer has called for a general election now regardless of whether Liz Truss is ousted by the Conservatives, saying the government is “completely at the end of the road” and Labour is preparing for power.

In an interview with the Guardian, the Labour leader said Truss had driven the economy “into a wall” while “trashing our institutions”, and changing the prime minister again without allowing the country to vote would not be acceptable.

However, Starmer said he had told his shadow cabinet not to be complacent about the party’s 30 points-plus poll lead, and that Labour was “not going to sit back” but fight for every vote.

He said people were “looking to Labour for the answers to the next election” and the party needed to carry on putting in the work to win the contest, rather than assuming the government’s incompetence would cause the Tories to lose.

“My approach on this is to challenge the proposition that governments lose elections. I believe oppositions have to win them,” he said. “And therefore, we are not going to be complacent, we’re not going to sit back. What I said to the shadow cabinet on Tuesday was that my mentality and their mentality has to be to work on the basis that we are behind in the polls at all times.”

As Truss sacked her chancellor, Kwasi Kwarteng, and faced the threat of being deposed after less than two months, Starmer said: “Change in personnel at the top of the Tory party is not the change we need. We need a change of government.”

Asked if a general election was necessary immediately, or if Truss is replaced, Starmer said: “Yes … We are in the absurd situation where we are on the third, fourth prime minister in six years and within weeks we have a got a prime minister who has the worst reputational ratings of any prime minister pretty well in history. Their party is completely exhausted and clapped out. It has got no ideas, it can’t face the future and it has left the UK in a defensive crouch where we are not facing the challenges of the future because we haven’t got a government that could lead us to the future. For the good of the country we need a general election.”

He said the “gateway to government” was economic stability and credibility, with fiscal rules already set out by Rachel Reeves, the shadow chancellor, and a promise to show its workings on the costings of every policy.

Pressed on how confident he is that Labour will win the next election, Starmer said: “I feel very confident in the Labour party. I think what you saw in our conference was a changed Labour party … almost everybody who attended, and not just the Labour party members and activists but other commentators, lots of people there from the media and businesspeople, they could sense that the mood had changed and that this was a party which was confident, was assured, and was preparing to go into power. That’s a feeling we haven’t had in the Labour party for a long time. I see this as a once in a generation opportunity.”

With Truss fighting for her political career, Starmer said it was not good enough for the Conservatives to think they could “start changing the personnel again”.

“It’s not just a few weeks of chaos, it’s 12 years of failure,” he said. “We’ve got an economy which has been stagnant, not growing enough for 12 years. We’ve got public services on their knees, if not on their face. We’ve got a government run out of ideas, energy and completely at the end of the road. And now it is in the worst of all states – in denial.”

He said Truss’s decision to restore the corporation tax rise was the right thing to do but the U-turn was “not a get out of jail card”. The Labour leader said the consequences of the mini-budget were being felt across the country, with people struggling with mortgages and businesses “aghast” at what the government is doing.

Starmer also challenged Truss’s claim to have been the “woman who was prepared to be unpopular and taking difficult decisions” when she was now “spinning around U-turns so fast, we can’t even count them any more”, while at the same time having “completely trashed the reputation of the Tory party as a party of aspiration or economic credibility”.

The Labour leader said his party would be ready for power, and had been preparing behind the scenes. Starmer recently put his party on a campaign footing by parting ways with his chief of staff, Sam White, and creating a new headquarters. Labour HQ will now oversee key parts of the party operation including communications and policy development in order to hone its messaging and manifesto offer.

However, Starmer also highlighted that any incoming government would have huge problems on its hands.

“I am worried about the state of the economy that they’re going to leave,” he said. “I think anybody who’s looked at the numbers in the last few months, but particularly since that kamikaze budget, would be concerned about the state of the economy. The reason the market has reacted in the way it has in the last few weeks is not some abstract concept but is because those that are investing huge amounts of money don’t have confidence in what the government is doing.

“That is a profound verdict of failure of the government in relation to the economy, and an incoming government is going to have to pick up that mess. So I am concerned about the state of the economy, because they have driven it into a wall.”

It is potentially two years until the next general election but Starmer said his party was already in a position to fight one.

“I asked my team to ensure that we would have a manifesto ready at any time, should an election be called, because I think politics is very, very unstable at the moment,” he said. “I’ve not known it this unstable for a long time; the government could fall any time. So we’re in a position to deliver a manifesto at speed, but any time in the coming weeks or months, if necessary.”

He would not be drawn on any talks between Labour and potential Tory MP defectors, but said it was an open secret that many Conservatives were “very, very worried about their position the next general election”.


Rowena Mason Whitehall editor

The GuardianTramp

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