Early evening summary
Rishi Sunak and Keir Starmer have now both made major speeches setting out their pitch to voters for the new year.
Sunak got in first yesterday (report here, and text of the speech here), and Starmer delivered his this morning (report here, and text of the speech here) – although, as he pointed out, Labour booked the venue and scheduled their speech first. Sunak set out five pledges, two of which he promised to achieve this year, and the others he implied would be done by the time of the next election. The promises were widely dismissed as unimpressive, because with the exception of an ambiguously-worded one on small boats, they were all outcomes that are likely to happen anyway. But it sounded like a transactional deal with voters, and Sunak was setting himself as someone who could go into an election campaign with a record of delivery. He said:
Others may talk about change, I will deliver it.
James Johnson, a respected pollster who used to work for Theresa May, said the speech showed that the Tories are responding to the concerns of the public.
But the speech also highlighted the weakness of Sunak’s position. Elections usually end up as a contest between change and more of the same (2019 was an exception – there were two change offers), but in his speech Sunak said very little in defence of the Conservative government’s record since 2010. Sunak said that the NHS was facing “challenges” and that people were looking ahead to 2023 “with apprehension”, but Starmer probably gave a much more realistic assessment of the plight facing the country. He said:
Houses that get burgled countless times yet the police never come. Hospitals putting out messages begging patients to stay away from A&E. Children going to school hungry. And it’s not just the poorest who are struggling.
Millions of families, pensioners, working people – people who’ve always kept their heads above water – are going without decent food and heating. Cutting back on their holidays, their meals out, Christmas presents – all the little things that make life more enjoyable.
While Sunak channelled Tony Blair (a pledge card, a long passage in the speech on the importance of family), Starmer cleverly appropriated Boris Johnson’s 2019 message, saying that Labour’s decentralisation programme would allow local communities to “take back control”. He announced Labour would include a “take back control” bill in its first king’s speech. Leftwingers were disappointed by another passage in the speech saying that Labour could not just rely on big spending to address the nation’s problems, but overall (and partly because, unlike Sunak, he was prepared to deliver an unpalatable message to his party) the speech was easily the more impressive of the two. The PM’s speech was rambling, while Starmer’s was well structured around a coherent argument. And while Sunak was unable to offer any real explanation for why so much with the country was going wrong, Starmer did have an analysis; Westminster politics did not work, he said, because “no similar country puts so much decision-making in the hands of so few people”.
Ministers have announced anti-strike legislation to enforce “minimum service levels” in six key public services including the NHS and schools as Rishi Sunak scrambles to get a grip on industrial disputes.
Rishi Sunak faces accusations he has misled the public after it emerged hospitals and councils have not received £300m in emergency funding to free up NHS beds that was first promised four months ago.
Starmer calls for compromise with public sector unions to end strikes
Keir Starmer has told the BBC that if he were in government, he would want to reach a compromise with the public sector workers on strike. In an interview with Chris Mason, the BBC’s political editor, he said that the government should be negotiating with the unions and that negotiations always ended in a compromise. He would not say exactly what he would offer the striking workers, but he said:
My instinct is that we would go the route of compromise. I’ll tell you what, it’s not just an instinct. Under the last Labour government, we did not have a national strike of nurses. We had nurses with fair pay. That’s the difference you get with the Labour government.
James Cleverly, the foreign secretary, has confirmed that the government wants to negotiate a solution to the Northern Ireland protocol dispute with the EU before the 25th anniversary of the Good Friday agreement at Easter this year. At a press conference with this German opposite number, Annalena Baerbock (see 2.19pm), he said:
There is definitely, definitely a desire in the UK and across the EU to get a resolution on this.
We’re not going to wait for an anniversary. We are working on this with all speed and alacrity as you would expect, and we will continue to work intensively towards a resolution on the issues that we have raised, and indeed looking to address the concerns that the commission has raised as well.
Here is my colleague Peter Walker’s analysis of the difference between what Rishi Sunak and Keir Starmer were saying in their new year’s speeches.
Unions say government's offer of talks on next year's pay deals won't solve current disputes
The unions sound more open to the idea of taking part in talks with the government on next year’s pay settlement (see 3.40pm), although none of them seem to view it as a significant concession. They want to talk about this year’s pay offer, not next year’s.
Gary Smith, the GMB’s general secretary, said:
We are always ready to discuss our members’ pay but the government is refusing to talk about problems as they exist now, instead they want to kick the can down the road.
There are huge questions over the NHS pay review body, as ministers’ actions have consistently undermined its independence. The process needs real reform and our members need a much stronger commitment than we heard today.
Pat Cullen, the Royal College of Nursing general secretary, said she would accept the invitation to talks, but that they would not solve the current dispute. She said:
We will meet with ministers to see their evidence for the pay process. However, only negotiations on our dispute can avert the planned action this month and I urge the prime minister to show a renewed sense of urgency, grasp the nettle and negotiate with nurses without further delay.
But Mike Clancy, the Prospect general secretary, said the talks would not benefit his members. He explained:
This hollow invitation ignores the fact that a majority of public sector workers are not covered by a pay review body, including nearly all civil servants. We have been calling for years for this to be rectified, something which the government has consistently ignored.
These workers have been some of the most harshly treated over the past decade of real-terms pay cuts, and now the government is signalling its intent to leave them out once again.
Our members have already indicated their willingness to take industrial action and there is nothing in this announcement that will persuade us not to proceed to a formal ballot as planned.
Unions say they will fight anti-strike legislation
More union leaders have condemned the government’s proposed anti-strike bill.
Mark Serwotka, general secretary of the Public and Commercial Services (PCS) union, said this was an attack on the union movement. He said:
Just when you thought the government could go no lower, ministers say they’re looking to deal with strikes by making them illegal, rather than negotiate with unions.
PCS members are on strike because they cannot afford the cost of living. We view any attempt to outlaw strikes as an attack on the trade union movement and we will resist that at every stage.
Jon Richards, the Unison assistant general secretary, said the government should be building trust with unions, not silencing them. “Unison will be examining these proposals and considering how to respond, including any appropriate legal challenge,” he said.
Gary Smith, the GMB general secretary, said the government was scapegoating unions. He said:
A government that has presided over 13 years of failure in our public services is now seeking to scapegoat the NHS staff and ambulance workers who do so much to care for the people of our country.
And Pat Cullen, the Royal College of Nursing general secretary, said the proposed bill was undemocratic. She said:
Curtailing workers’ freedom to participate in lawful industrial action is always undemocratic and we will look closely at what the government releases next week.
She also said that the NHS needed safe staffing levels not just on strike days, but all the time. She said:
Safe staffing levels that are set in law are what we want to see year-round not just in these extreme circumstances. We’ve long campaigned for governments to be accountable for safe and effective staffing levels in the NHS and social care to prevent one nurse being left with 15, 20 or even 25 sick patients. Legislation exists in other parts of the UK and England is lagging behind.
Angela Rayner, Labour’s deputy leader, has described the government’s proposed anti-strike law (see 3pm) as “insulting”. She said:
These proposals are unworkable and unserious from a dead-end government. It’s insulting to key workers that Rishi Sunak thinks that threatening teachers and nurses with the sack will end strikes.
At every stage the government has sought to collapse talks and throw in last-minute spanners. Now the prime minister is wasting time on shoddy hurdles that even his own transport secretary admits won’t work.
Rayner was referring to Mark Harper, the transport secretary, saying an anti-strike bill won’t be a solution to the current pay dispute.
This morning Keir Starmer said Labour would oppose the anti-strike bill and repeal it if it is law after a Labour election victory. (See 10.43am.)
TUC criticises ministers for offering talks on next year's pay settlement but not this year's
In his statement Paul Nowak, the TUC general secretary, also criticised the government for offering talks on next year’s pay settlement but not this year’s (see 3.40pm). He said:
The only offer of talks is for next year. But we need to resolve the current disputes and boost the pay of public sector workers now.
The prime minister said yesterday his door is always open – if he’s serious, he should prove it. He should take up my offer to get around the table to improve this year’s pay and end the current disputes.
There is a world of difference between promises of jam tomorrow with technical discussions about pay review bodies, and proper negotiations on pay in the here and now.
TUC says government's proposed anti-strike law 'wrong, unworkable, and almost certainly illegal'
Paul Nowak, the new general secretary, has attacked the government’s proposed anti-strike law (see 3pm) as “wrong, unworkable, and almost certainly illegal”. In a statement he said:
This is an attack on the right to strike. It’s an attack on working people. And it’s an attack on one of our longstanding British liberties.
It means that when workers democratically vote to strike, they can be forced to work and sacked if they don’t. That’s wrong, unworkable, and almost certainly illegal.
The announcement offers nothing more to help with this year’s pay and the cost of living crisis.
Government proposes talks with public sector unions on pay deals for 2023-24
As mentioned already (see 3pm), the government has combined its announcement of a new anti-strike law with an offer to open talks with public sector trade unions on pay deals for next year. It is a carrot and stick approach, and the hardline announcement about legislation provides cover for what amounts to at least a change of tone in the government’s stance on pay.
Ministers have repeatedly said they are not willing to increase the pay offers for 2022-23 that are already on the table, and which have provoked strikes in multiple sectors. But the government says it will open direct talks with unions on pay for 2023-24, before evidence is submitted to the pay review bodies. In its news release, the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy says:
The government will invite trade unions to meet for honest, constructive conversations about what is fair and affordable in public sector pay settlements for 2023-24, as part of a reasonable approach to avoiding prolonged industrial action.
Ministers are reaching out to unions to invite them to sit down and discuss the evidence that the government will be submitting to the pay review bodies – and hopes that unions will also share their evidence.
If the offer is accepted, discussions will take place between government departments and unions in the coming weeks on issues including pay evidence, workload and conditions in the public sector. These discussions will help ensure the evidence submitted to the pay review bodies is as considered and informed as possible, including reflecting areas of common ground.
The government also says it is calling on the unions to call off their ongoing strikes while the new talks take place.
NHS workers and teachers to be included in new bill requiring unions to provide minimum service levels during strikes
The government has just published details of its proposed anti-strike legislation. It has come out in the form of a press release from the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy but, in a sign perhaps that that the government is nervous about being seen as being too anti-union, the press release is headlined: “Government invites unions to return to the table and call off strikes” and the information about the proposed bill is stuck near the bottom, underneath an announcement about how ministers want “constructive” talks about a “fair and affordable” pay settlement for 2023-34 (but not about the 2022-23 pay settlement, which is what the strikes are about).
This is what the press release says about the proposed bill.
A bill will be introduced in parliament “in the coming weeks” to ensure “a basic level of service in some of our most crucial sectors when industrial action takes place”. This is routinely called minimum service level (MSL) legislation, although the press release describes these as “minimum safety levels” in many places.
The new rules will definitely will cover fire, ambulance and rail services. The department says:
Minimum safety levels will be set for fire, ambulance and rail services and the government will consult on the adequate level of coverage for these sectors, recognising that disruption to blue light services puts lives at immediate risk.
The legislation will also cover health, education and other services – although in these sectors the government will only impose minimum service levels if attempts to reach voluntary agreements with unions fail. The department says:
For the other sectors covered in the bill, which includes health services, education, nuclear decommissioning, other transport services and border security, the government expects to continue to reach voluntary agreements, and would only look to consult on minimum safety levels should these voluntary positions not be agreed.
The government will consult on what minimum service levels should be, but they will involve “maintaining core service provision in emergency services and ensuring key transport, travel and trade routes don’t completely shut down on strike days”.
Unions will risk having to pay damages if they fail to comply. The department says:
Trade unions will be bound to follow this legislation and will risk the employer bringing an injunction to prevent the strike from taking place or seeking damages afterwards if they do not comply with their obligations.
The government will also also increase the damages a court can award for unlawful strike action.
The law will apply to Great Britain.
The department claims the new law is in line with what happens in other countries. The department says:
Others countries across Europe and wider world have similar laws in place. Countries including Spain, Italy and France have statutory MSLs in place. The Netherlands, Germany, Spain and France all balance the right to strike with ensuring continuity of public services.
The International Labour Organisation recognises MSLs as a sensible solution to protect the public from serious consequences of strikes. The UK signed the ILO’s Declaration on Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work in 1998. The ILO itself accepts limitations on strikes is permissible where life is endangered or other serious consequences for the public.
When it comes to ‘blue lights’ services, Canada, Australia and parts of the USA have total bans on strikes. We are not going as far as some countries, who ban outright strikes in ambulance and fire service, as with police.
Starmer's speech shows UK faces 'choice between two Tory PMs' at next election, SNP claims
The SNP claims that Keir Starmer’s speech shows the UK faces a choice between “two Tory prime ministers” at the next election. In a statement issued by the party, referring in particular to what Starmer said about the limits of big spending and his desire to implement “take back control” policies, the SNP’s deputy leader, Keith Brown, said:
Today’s intervention from Keir Starmer promised a decade of renewal but the reality is another decade of crippling austerity for Scotland from Westminster.
The leader of the official opposition doesn’t only embrace the wrecking ball that is Brexit – he’s now stealing their campaign slogans. Meanwhile, Brexit is hammering Scotland’s economy in the midst of the deepest cost of living crisis in decades.
Labour are now carbon-copy Tories on Brexit, the co-conspirators to hush up the true cost of Brexit. Today’s speech only confirms that the next general election is a choice between two Tory prime ministers.
Brown said that in his speech Starmer did acknowledge why so many people in Scotland voted for independence in 2014. (See 11.54am.) But he went on:
Yet [Starmer] and his party continue to deny the democratic mandate for a fresh vote on independence.
That’s exactly why Scotland needs the full powers of independence – to guarantee we get the governments we vote for every time and to deliver on our priorities and our values, which clearly differ from those at Westminster.
Disputes over implementation of the Northern Ireland protocol have become the achilles heel of the EU’s relations with the UK, Annalena Baerbock, the German foreign minister said, before talks with the UK foreign secretary, James Cleverly, in London today.
It is key that we find a responsible and pragmatic solution for Northern Ireland, on the basis of existing agreements. It is the only way we will realise the full potential of our partnership.
As we engage in our new relationship, we are under an obligation to get the very best results for those who are directly affected. While we cannot turn back the clock, we can decide to step forward into a good common future.
Baerbock’s remarks show there is a willingness in Europe to test whether the new government of Rishi Sunak is willing to look for a solution to the dispute that has blighted relations with the EU, and to a lesser extent the US, ever since Brexit
They also underline how the post-Brexit trade deal’s impact in Northern Ireland is holding back progress on other issues, including the Horizon programme, and wider political cooperation.
Germany is also eager to improve bilateral relations with the UK as it sees daily contact between Germany and the UK in rapid decline, symbolised by the rapid decline in German language teaching in schools.
Baerbock would not be involved in the detailed future talks on the protocol which would be conducted by the EU Commission, but Germany can certainly set the tone. Relations between Baerbock, a strong supporter of arming Ukraine, and the UK government are broadly good even though the German Green’s ethical foreign policy may seem a long way from that of the UK Conservative party.
Momentum, the Labour group set up to promote Jeremy Corbyn and his policy agenda, says Keir Starmer should have been more radical in his speech this morning.
And it is also critical of his failure to commit, in the Q&A after his speech, to abolishing tuition fees.
Unite leader Sharon Graham demands assurance from Starmer that Labour will not return to austerity
Sharon Graham, the Unite general secretary, has also taken a swipe at Keir Starmer today. Unite has in the past been Labour’s biggest financial backer, and in a statement released after Starmer’s speech was delivered Graham said she wanted an assurance that Labour would not return to austerity. She said:
Right now our NHS is being deliberately run down and workers and communities are being lined up for another round of austerity.
So I want to hear Labour make it abundantly clear that the choices it will make will not lead to austerity – that we will not be getting some new buzz word that amounts to continued cuts to services and pay.
They cannot afford to tinker around the edges. We are a wealthy country and the money is there. We now need a government that is committed to making different choices.
Labour is not arguing for austerity and has repeatedly said that the cuts introduced by the Conservatives after 2010 went too far. But there is no agreed definition of what level of public spending amounts to austerity, and in his speech this morning Starmer said the nation’s problems could not just be solved by big spending. (See 11.54am.)
Unite and Unison criticise Sunak over proposed anti-strike law
Unite and Unison, Britain’s two biggest unions, have both criticised the government for wanting to press ahead with anti-strike laws.
Responding to reports that a government announcement on this will come later today (see 8.48am), Sharon Graham, the Unite general secretary, said:
Yet again, Rishi Sunak abdicates his responsibility as a leader.
Instead of silly posturing and game playing, he should step up to the plate, act as a leader and start negotiating to resolve the crises his government has created.
The game is up – everyday people can see through the Tories’ web of lies. They can see that this government is not interested in ensuring that workers and communities get their fair share. This is a government for the rich and powerful.
And Sara Gorton, Unison’s head of health, said:
The public and health staff would welcome minimum staffing levels in the NHS every day of the week. That way, people wouldn’t be lying in agony on A&E floors or dying in the backs of ambulances.
But limiting legal staffing levels to strike days and threatening to sack or fine health workers when there are record vacancies in the NHS show proper patient care isn’t what ministers want.
And this is from Caroline Lucas, the Green party MP, on Keir Starmer’s speech. She criticises him for not embracing “big ideas”, like a wealth tax, nationalistion of public services, a universal basic income and electoral reform.
The Conservative party claims Keir Starmer was just offering “empty slogans” in his speech. A party spokersperson said:
Today was another vacuous relaunch from Keir Starmer – his tenth bid to sell himself as Labour leader without a single solution to address the challenges we face.
He spent more time listing off his own supposed achievements than setting out Labour’s plan to deliver for the British public – failing to mention how he will cut crime, crack down on illegal migration and reduce borrowing …
This is same old Labour – empty slogans, uncontrolled spending, and no detailed plan to secure the future prosperity of Britain.
Starmer's speech and Q&A - summary
dHere are the main points from Keir Starmer’s speech and Q&A.
Starmer said that Labour would include a “take back control” bill in its first king’s speech to decentralise power away from Westminster. He said:
We will spread control out of Westminster. Devolve new powers over employment support, transport, energy, climate change, housing, culture, childcare provision and how councils run their finances.
And we’ll give communities a new right to request powers which go beyond this.
All this will be in a new “take back control” bill – a centrepiece of our first king’s speech. A bill that will deliver on the demand for a new Britain. A new approach to politics and democracy. A new approach to growth and our economy.
He also confirmed that he was deliberately adopting the “take back control” Brexit slogan because the desire for more local control was one aspect of the leave campaign in 2016, and of the yes campaign for Scottish independence in 2014, that he felt was justified. He explained:
I go back to Brexit. Yes, a whole host of issues were on that ballot paper. But as I went around the country, campaigning for remain, I couldn’t disagree with the basic case so many leave voters made to me.
People who wanted public services they could rely on. High streets they could be proud of. Opportunities for the next generation. And all of this in their town or city.
It was the same in the Scottish referendum in 2014 – many of those who voted ‘yes’ did so for similar reasons. And it’s not an unreasonable demand.
It’s not unreasonable for us to recognise the desire for communities to stand on their own feet. It’s what take back control meant. The control people want is control over their lives and their community.
So we will embrace the take back control message. But we’ll turn it from a slogan to a solution. From a catchphrase into change. We will spread control out of Westminster. Devolve new powers over employment support, transport, energy, climate change, housing, culture, childcare provision and how councils run their finances.
Starmer made this “take back control” argument last month, when he published a report setting out more details of Labour’s plans to decentralise power out of Westminster. But he did not announce then that there would be legislation for this in the first king’s speech, and media coverage of the December announced focused on his plans to abolish the House of Lords.
He said that Labour would not be able to solve Britain’s problems just by big spending. He said the party would set out its missions for government soon. But he added:
None of this should be taken as code for Labour getting its big government chequebook out. Of course investment is required – I can see the damage the Tories have done to our public services as plainly as anyone else.
But we won’t be able to spend our way out of their mess – it’s not as simple as that.
As the BBC’s Chris Mason reports, Starmer omitted a word included in the text released overnight in this passage that implied he thought previous Labour government’s spent too much. See 11.12am.
Starmer refused to say if Labour would match Tory spending limits at the next election. (See 10.33am.)
Starmer refused to confirm that he remains committed to abolishing tuition fees. In its 2019 manifesto Labour said it was committed to abolishing tuition fees, and Starmer said he supported this when he stood for the Labour leadership. But asked if he would implement this policy, he replied:
University tuition fees are not working well, they burden young people going forward. Obviously we have got a number of propositions in relation to those fees that we will put forward as we go into the election.
But I have to be honest about it; the damage that has been done to our economy means that we are going to have to, and we know we will, cost everything as we go into that election, and we will do that with discipline, as we have done so far.
I am not going to spell out our manifesto in advance … but I can say that every commitment we make will be absolutely fully funded. That is a cast-iron guarantee as we go into that election.
He said Labour would repeal any anti-strike legislation introduced by the Tories. He said:
Frankly, the government is all over the show on this. Every day there is a different briefing as to whether there is going to be legislation, what it is going to be and when it is going to come.
I think there is a reason for that and that is because I don’t think this legislation is going to work. I am pretty sure they have had an assessment that tells them that it is likely to make a bad situation worse.
Obviously we will look at what they bring forward, but if it is further restrictions then we would repeal it and the reason for that is I do not think that legislation is the way that you bring an end to industrial disputes.
He said the five promises announced by Rishi Sunak yesterday were “weak and low ambition”. He said:
I thought his promises were weak and low ambition. Inflation is the biggest example of that. So you get inflation down to a rate lower than is already predicted, it is not a big promise to the British public.
The idea that after 13 years of failure you can come along in the 13th year and say: ‘I have got five new promises please give us one more chance’, I just feel is so far removed from reality.
He said the Westminster political system was not working. He explained:
Yes, there are good people of course – many MPs share my determination to tackle Britain’s problems quickly. But as a system – it doesn’t work.
You know, sometimes I hear talk about a “huge day in Westminster”, but all that’s happened is someone has passionately described a problem, and then that’s it.
Nothing has changed, but the circus moves on. Rinse and repeat. Honestly – you can’t overstate how much a short-term mindset dominates Westminster. And from there, how it infects all the institutions which try and fail to run Britain from the centre.
I call it ‘sticking plaster politics’. And in a kind of last minute frenzy, it sometimes delivers relief. But the long-term cure – that always eludes us. And it’s at the heart of all the problems we see across our country right now.
And he said he had a track record of changing institutions for the better – including the Labour party. He said:
I came to politics late in my career. I’ve run large organisations, institutions that had to serve our country, and I’ve changed them all – including the Labour party. That’s why I came into politics eight years ago. A new way to serve. A new way to get things done. More opportunities to change our country for the better.
Culture secretary Michelle Donalan confirms Channel 4 won't be privatised
Yesterday it emerged, from a leaked letter, that Michelle Donelan, the culture secretary, wanted to drop plans to privatise Channel 4. This morning the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport has confirmed that privatisation will not go ahead. In a press release it says:
Michelle Donelan has decided not to privatise Channel 4 after reviewing the business case for its sale. The broadcaster will remain in public ownership but with greater commercial flexibility, increased investment in skills and jobs across the UK as well as new production arrangements to support its long-term sustainability and growth.
The government, following discussions with Channel 4 and the independent production sector, have confirmed an ambitious package of measures as an alternative to a sale. This includes reforms via the media bill, which will eventually allow Channel 4 to make and own some of its content and a new statutory duty on its board members to protect the broadcaster’s long-term financial sustainability. Channel 4 has also committed to increasing roles outside London and providing more opportunities for people from across the UK to gain experience in the sector as part of this package.
Starmer's speech - verdict from Twitter commentariat
Political journalists and commentators are more positive about Keir Starmer’s speech than they were about Rishi Sunak’s yesterday. Here is what some of them are saying.
From Sky’s Beth Rigby
From the Times’s Henry Zeffman
From my colleague Peter Walker
From LBC’s Sangita Myska
From the writer and broadcaster Steve Richards
From my colleague Rafael Behr
From ITV’s Paul Brand (commenting on the fact that Starmer was asked, by a Telegraph journalist, what the difference was between Labour and the Tories)
From Tom Harwood from GB News
Chris Mason, the BBC’s political editor, says that when Keir Starmer delivered his speech this morning, he omitted a word included in the overnight preview that implied criticism of previous Labour governments. In a post on the BBC’s blog, Mason says:
In advance of Keir Starmer’s speech, reporters were told he would say a Labour government led by him wouldn’t be “getting its big chequebook out again”.
That word ‘again’ was striking - implying that perhaps previous Labour governments had spent too much.
But, curiously, that word “again” didn’t pass Sir Keir’s lips in the speech itself.
And here is the Labour party’s summary of the speech in a tweet.
Here is the full text of Keir Starmer’s speech.
Q: Lisa Nandy has said you would align to EU law in more areas. What are those, and does it mean you would compromise UK sovereignty?
Starmer says he has set out the five principles that would govern how he approaches that. He says he does not think anyone believes the current system is working.
And that’s the end of the Q&A.
Q: You did not mention small boats. Is that because you have not got a plan?
Starmer says Labour has got a plan for dealing with this issue.
Only 4% of people who crossed the Channel last year have had their claims processed. He says he could not believe that figure when he saw it.
Starmer refuses to confirm that he's still committed to abolishing student tuition fees
Q: Given what you say about not offering big chequebook government, does that mean you will drop the plan to abolish student tuition fees?
Starmer says the current tuition fees system is not working.
But Labour will have to be honest about what it can do, he says. The damage done to the economy means that it will have to cost everything it would do before goes into the election. He goes on:
And we will do that with discipline as we’ve done it so far.
I’m not gonna spell out our manifesto in advance.
When Starmer stood for the Labour leadership, one of his 10 pledges was that he would “support the abolition of tuition fees and invest in lifelong learning”.
UPDATE: See the post at 11.54am for the full quote.
Starmer says Labour would repeal anti-strike bill proposed by government if it becomes law
Q: Would you repeal the government’s proposed anti-strike government if it is law by the time you win an election? And do you think there is a case for minimum service level legislation?
Starmer says the government is all over the place on this. He does not think this legislation will work. And he thinks the government has had advice saying it would make the situation worse. He goes on:
If it’s futher restrictions then we will repeal it … I do not think that legislation is the way you bring an end to industrial disputes.
That is significant. In the past, Labour figures have said they would oppose the bill, but sidestepped questions as to whether they would repeal the bill if it makes the statute book.
UPDATE: See the post at 11.54am for the full quote.
Q: What would you offer nurses to end the strike?
Starmer says the government should talk to them. There has to be compromise, he says. He says nurses do not want to be on strike.
The government has got “no strategy whatsoever” for dealing with this, he says.
Q: Do you think there more scope for getting the private sector do deliver public services?
Starmer says he does not favour central government controlling everything, or leaving it all to the market. He favours “an agile, active state working with in partnership with private business”.
Starmer dismisses Sunak's five promises to voters as 'weak'
Q: How would your approach to resolving the strike be different?
Starmer says Sunak’s promises yesterday were “weak”. He cites the inflation pledge as an example, pointing out that inflation is expected to go down anyway.
On health, he says Labour has a fully funded plan to expand the workforce.
This is an example of what he means by not just having a sticking plaster approach, he says.
UPDATE: See the post at 11.54am for the full quote.
Starmer won't say if Labour would match Tory spending limits at next election
Starmer is now taking questions.
He says he wants to take quite a few.
(Rishi Sunak won plaudits from the media for taking 15 questions at his press conference yesterday.)
Q: Will you match Tory spending limits going into the election?
Starmer says he made the point about not using a big chequebook because Labour will inherit a badly damaged economy.
It already has its fiscal rules. It will stick to those.
But he wants a different approach.
Starmer says Labour will give communities “the trust, the power and the control” they need.
The party will set out the case for change, he says.
It will work every day to earn the public’s trust.
And it will work for a politics that does not hide from the challenges the UK faces.
Starmer says Labour will legislate for decentralisation with 'take back control bill' in first king's speech
Starmer is on to his second point: he says more decisions should be taken by local people, “with skin in the game”.
He says, during Brexit, he could not disagree with the argument being made by leave voters who said they wanted more control over what was happening in their areas.
He says the same factor was at work in the Scottish independence referendum in 2014.
And “it’s not an unreasonable demand”, he says.
(He is talking about decentralisation, not Scottish independence.)
Starmer says Labour will legislate to devolve power in a take back control bill, which will be in its first king’s speech.
Starmer identifies the drive to net zero as an example of how Labour’s approach, focused on a mission, and long-term planning, would make a difference.
Starmer says there will be two steps to this.
First, he will modernise central government.
He says he wants government to become “dynamic, agile, strong and, above all, focused. Driven by clear, measurable objectives: national missions.” He goes on:
A new approach to the power of government. More strategic. More relaxed about bringing in the expertise of public and private, business and union, town and city. Using that partnership to drive our country forward.
Starmer says the Tories do not accept the need for dynamic government. A “hands off” approach won’t work anymore, he says.
But it is not just Tory politics that drives the “sticking plaster” approach. It is the whole Westminster system, he says.
In a workplace you would never have the boss making every decision. But this is how we try to run Britain.
And it is why “for all the talk of levelling up, nothing ever happens”.
It is the old game, where nothing ever happens.
Starmer says “no more”. Now he is going to show how you can unlock the pride of Britain’s communities.
Starmer says one of the best things about being British has been knowing that you live in a country where, if you have an accident, you will get emergency healthcare.
Labour won’t let that be destroyed, he says.
Starmer says Rishi Sunak’s speech yesterday was an example of the problem. It was just platitudes and commentary, he says.
Starmer says Westminster politics is part of the problem.
He came into politics late, and he has run big organisations. He has changed them all for the better, “including the Labour party”.
He says the system does not work. He hears talk of a huge day in Westminster. But all that has happened is that someone has successfully described a problem. Then they move on.
He says you cannot overestimate how much a short-term mindset dominates Westminster. “I call it ‘sticking plaster politics’,” he says.
He says the energy price freeze is a good example.
He is not blaming the Tories for the war in Ukraine. He goes on:
But the war didn’t scrap home insulation, the war didn’t ban onshore wind and the war didn’t stall British nuclear energy. The Tory government did that.
The audio feed from the speech went down for a bit, but it is back up, and Starmer is now praising the talent available in the UK.
People have ambition, he says. But what they lack is a government that shares their ambition.
He says he is talking about untapped potential. What would happen if that was unlocked?
He wants to give people a government and politics they deserve.
Economic change must go hand in hand with political change.
We have an economy that hoards potential and a politics that hoards power.
That is why we need a new way of governing, he says.
Starmer says he is under no illusions about the extent of the problems the country faces.
Houses get burgled without anyone being caught, people wait at A&E, and children go to school hungry, he says.
He says people are having to cut back on things like presents – little things that mean a lot.
He says people say Britain has been through worse.
He accepts that. He remembers growing up working class in the 1970s. The family’s phone was cut off because they could not pay the bills.
But he says it should not have to be like this.
Starmer says Labour must show it can be 'bold, reforming government'
Starmer says voters looked at Labour again in 2022. And he felt, “for the first time in a while that we could return their gaze with confidence”.
But Labour must not rest on its laurels. It needs to push forward, and show it can be a “bold, reforming government”, he says.
This is his message of hope for the new year, he says.
Keir Starmer is speaking now. He is at the same venue where Rishi Sunak spoke yesterday. But Starmer’s speech was reportedly scheduled first, and he jokes that he won’t tell Sunak where he plans to go on holiday this year.
Rachel Reeves says voters should ask themselves: 'Are you better off than 13 years ago?'
Rachel Reeves is introducing Keir Starmer.
She jokes that the year is off to a slow start. It is 5 January, and she is still on her first Tory chancellor of the year.
She says the last few years have been difficult. Food prices have reached record highs, up 13% in a year.
The crises the UK has faced have been global. But each time Britain is “uniquely exposed”, and that is because of what the Tories have done. She goes on:
They have degraded our public services and time and time again they’ve elevated short-term political interest over the long-term goals of our economy.
Ask yourself this. Are you and your family better off than you were 13 years ago?
Are our public services, our schools, our hospitals and our transport working better than they did a decade or so ago? Frankly, does anything in Britain work today better than it did 13 years ago?
And after the answer to these questions is no, I think you know that it is time for change.
Keir Starmer is about to start his speech. There is a live feed at the top of the blog.
Alsef leader says proposed anti-strike bill won't affect his union because minimum service level laws 'don't work'
Mick Whelan, the general secretary of Aslef, which represents train drivers, told the Today programme this morning that he did not think the anti-strike legislation proposed by the government (see 8.48am) would make life harder for his union.
He suggested the law would lead to unions like his having to organise strikes across more localised units, instead of nationally.
If we’ve got to sit down in 15, 20 or 30 different undertakings and agree different levels of [minimum service], all it means is that we put more strikes on to pick up the shortfall, create greater strife, the connectivity of the railway falls apart, the logistically it’s impossible.
He went on:
There have been minimum [service] levels in European countries for several years. They have never been enacted because they don’t work.
He also said that employers could already sack workers who go on strike, if they are on strike for more than six weeks. The government was just “posturing”, he said.
Almost no trains will run across England on Thursday as drivers strike
Almost no trains are running in most parts of England today as train drivers at 15 operating companies go on strike, my colleague Gwyn Topham reports.
Northern Ireland secretary's Twitter account hacked
The Twitter account of the Northern Ireland secretary, Chris Heaton-Harris, has been hacked days after the Twitter profile of another cabinet minister was altered, PA Media reports. PA says:
Heaton-Harris’s account posted a spate of tweets, suggesting security had been compromised.
Some of the tweets included swear words and one a racial slur.
The Northern Ireland secretary deleted the tweets and wrote on his account: “My Twitter account was hacked this morning, messages not posted by me have been deleted.”
However, the tweet disappeared shortly afterwards and his account posted a string of further tweets, which suggested security had once again been compromised.
In one, the account said: “We are passing a new law soon, all transgenders and homosexuals will now serve 10 years behind bars.”
Gillian Keegan, the education secretary, had her Twitter account hacked on Monday.
This is from my colleague Aubrey Allegretti.
Labour says it will oppose new law that would make it easier for striking public sector workers to be sacked
Rachel Reeves, the shadow chancellor, has been doing a broadcast interview round this morning before Keir Starmer’s speech. On the Today programme, asked about the government’s anti-strike bill that may be announced today (see 8.48am), she said Labour would not support it. She said:
The NHS relies on the goodwill of doctors and nurses and other people who work in our health service.
If you say that people can’t take industrial action, to say that we’re going from clapping our nurses to sacking them for taking industrial action – which is what the government is now threatening – the idea that that’s going to produce outcomes and reduce delays for patients, that’s just for the birds.
And that’s why Labour would oppose it if the government go down that route.
Keir Starmer to promise ‘completely new way of governing’ in major speech
Good morning. Less than 24 hours after Rishi Sunak delivered a major ‘vision for Britain’ speech, Keir Starmer this morning will respond with his own. Labour has issued some extracts overnight and, in the preview, there are two dominant messages.
Starmer says the next Labour government will not be able to rely on big spending as the solution to the nation’s problems. He will say:
Let me be clear – none of this should be taken as code for Labour getting its big government chequebook out again.
Of course investment is required – I can see the damage the Tories have done to our public services as plainly as anyone. But we won’t be able to spend our way out of their mess – it’s not as easy as that. There is no substitute for a robust private sector, creating wealth in every community.
My colleague Pippa Crerar has more details in her preview here.
Starmer will also promise a “completely new way of governing”, with no more “sticking plaster politics”. He will say:
This new year, let us imagine what we could achieve if we match the ambition of the British people, unlock their pride and their purpose, give them an economy and a politics they deserve.
That’s why I say Britain needs a completely new way of governing. You can’t overstate how much a short-term mindset dominates Westminster. And from there, how it infects all the institutions which try and fail to run Britain from the centre …
I call it ‘sticking plaster politics’. This year, we’re going to show how real change comes from unlocking the pride and purpose of Britain’s communities.
Labour gave more details of how it would stop the UK being run from the centre in the report from Gordon Brown’s Commission on the UK’s Future, published last month.
The Starmer speech will be important, but it may be overshadowed by the publication of the government’s plan to limit the right of public sector workers to go on strike. In the Times Steven Swinford says details of this legislation will be announced “as soon as today”. He says the law would make it easier for workers to be sacked. He says:
Rishi Sunak is poised to announce legislation to enforce “minimum service levels” in six sectors, including the health service, rail, education, fire and border security.
The laws, which will be announced as soon as today, will require a proportion of union members to continue working to retain a “minimum level” of service.
A government source involved in the discussions said that strikes would be deemed illegal if unions refused to provide the minimum level.
Employers would be able to sue unions, and union members who were told to work under the minimum service requirement but refused to do so could be dismissed.
I will post more on this shortly.
Here is the agenda for the day.
10am: Keir Starmer delivers his speech, which Labour says will set out his plans for a “different way of governing”.
Morning: Mark Spencer, the farming minister, speaks at the Oxford Farming Conference.
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