How would you sum up your first year and a half as Labour leader?
Far from a typical first year.
I have never underestimated the task I had to turn the Labour party inside out, following the last general election, but when Covid-19 hit it meant we had to rip up our plans for day one onwards and start again.
It’s been frustrating to be locked down and unable to get out and about – I had to make my acceptance speech to my living room furniture – but compared to what many people have ensured over the last 18 months, I can’t complain and like everyone else we have got on with it.
This summer has been my first opportunity to really get out around the country, to share my ideas and set out Labour’s vision. Given I’ve been visiting seats held by the Conservatives, the reception has been really encouraging – people are open to giving Labour a hearing, they like our plans, and want to hear more.
I’m more determined than ever to secure more Labour wins, to grasp the opportunity that emerging from the pandemic provides, and to start changing things for the better.
When you stood for the leadership, no one could have predicted the challenges Covid-19 would bring. Now we are emerging from the pandemic, how would Labour steer the recovery?
It’s clear that we can’t go back and simply patch up a failed system. The pandemic brutally exposed the inequality and injustice in our country that 11 years of Conservative government has exacerbated.
We need to support our NHS. We need a rescue plan to deal with the record waiting lists of patients in desperate need of operations.
We can’t allow this generation of children to be permanently left behind. They should be at the heart of our recovery, receiving all the support and resources they need to catch up on the learning they missed out on.
People ought to feel safe in their own communities, not left unprotected by a decade of cuts to policing, justice and youth services. As well as more bobbies on the beat, we’d support youth services to steer kids away from crime.
And our economy is too low paid and too insecure for too many people. Labour’s new deal for workers, and plans to make, buy and sell more here in Britain would create the kind of jobs that you can raise a family on.
I love this country and we can achieve so much more. With Labour under my leadership, we can.
What is your vision for the country under a Labour government – and how do you get that across to those voters who say they don’t know what you stand for?
A Britain which is the best place to grow up in and the best place to grow old in; world class public services for all; and an economy which provides security and dignity for workers.
That’s the vision I started setting out this summer. I’ll be saying more about it in my conference speech, and getting it across to people every day until the next election.
Many of the voters in areas which suffered most under austerity have turned away from Labour. Why do you think this is – and how can we win them back?
I’m under no illusions about the scale of the task we face to win back voters’ trust.
My job is to make three things clear. First, that our plans are credible, which too many voters haven’t believed about us for too long.
Second, that we are in tune with the challenges people are facing every day, which is exactly what I’ve been focused on this summer, highlighting the Conservatives’ record of failure across areas like crime, education and work.
Third, we back their aspirations for a better future, and will help deliver them with a real living wage to tackle the scourge of in-work poverty, new rights around flexible working, and an economy where we make, buy and sell more in Britain.
And how can Labour both win back its traditional support which didn’t vote for the party in 2019 while retaining the – often younger – voters who want to see something more radical?
I reject the idea that we have to split up the population and choose between different sections of society. We have far more in common than that which divides us in this country.
From young people to those nearing retirement, everyone wants to be treated with dignity at work. Whether you live in urban areas blighted by anti-social behaviour, or small towns targeted by county lines gangs, you deserve to feel safe in your own community.
And as we have demonstrated through Labour’s plans for a green economic recovery, there is no conflict between tackling the climate crisis and delivering well paid, highly skilled jobs.
The climate crisis is perhaps the biggest issue of our time. How would Labour address it?
We are at a critical moment, requiring urgent action in the next decade to drive down emissions. That means Britain leading by example at home, and doing everything possible to bring about a plan at COP 26 which averts a climate crisis.
Labour has ambitious policies that I’m proud of. As the first step of a Green New Deal, Labour would bring forward £30bn of investment, creating 400,000 green jobs; pass a Clean Air Act; and check every policy of our government against a Net Zero and Nature Test, to ensure they are compatible with UK climate targets.
COP is the moment when the ambition around 1.5 degrees can and must be translated into concrete action, with unequivocal commitment to deliver. We are pressing the government to make it matter.
Is Brexit now history for Labour? How would you seek to resolve the problems our withdrawal from the EU has created?
The argument is no longer leave versus remain, but about ensuring the deals being made now will support our businesses, secure our industries and allow the UK to prosper.
The chaos around the Northern Ireland protocol and the supply issues we have seen over the summer show that the government needs holding to account on these issues.
In regards to Northern Ireland I know from my experience working to implement the Good Friday Agreement how delicate the peace process is, and we will be pushing for a serious, sustainable resolution to the instability. We are determined to work with business and unions over the coming weeks to put together proposals to try and fill in some of the gaps in the government’s bad deal.
Too often, Labour’s efforts and the media coverage the party gets are still dominated by internal arguments. Can we ever hope to build an election-winning broad church?
We will go into the next election with a bold manifesto, relevant to the needs of today, and rooted in my and the party’s values: a strong sense of justice, which drove some of the work I am most proud of with the NUM and Doreen Lawrence; and the common decency, honesty and integrity we saw triumph in Batley and Spen. I know that those values and the policies we are offering are what’s needed to win the next election, and that the party can unite around them.
You were a member of the Fabian Society’s executive committee before you became party leader. How do you see Fabianism informing the party in the run-up to the next election?
Look at the challenges we face: the climate crisis, a generation of children who missed out on months of education, a social care system that fails to guarantee dignity in old age, and millions of workers in low paid, insecure work.
These are problems of inequality that can only be solved with progressive solutions. The efforts of the Fabian Society in helping develop those solutions, particularly with regards to areas like the future of work and social security, are invaluable.
Read more of Keir Starmer’s vision in The Road Ahead, his pamphlet for the Fabian Society distributed with this issue of the Fabian Review, or available at www.fabians.org.uk
Illustration credit: Debbie Powell